I have two (three?) tattoos – one on my lower back and a matched pair in progress on my shoulder blades. The first was acquired in 2010, after several years of thinking and looking at a particular piece of art.
Growing up Dad had a collection of tattoos, so body art seemed utterly normal to me. But personally I was cautious, because I was also very aware of their extreme permanence. Some, like the Bamm-Bamm and Pebbles on his pecs, he was still very happy with. Others, like the odd skull with butterfly wings that had faded to near illegibility, while they were still good memories, the art itself and the choice that lead to it, since it was essentially flash from the wall of the shop, he was not as fond of these days. It didn’t help that I would look back at who I was 10 years ago each time I considered a tattoo, and kind of wonder what that person would have chosen, and would the person I am today be happy with it.
To my credit, some of the things my past self would have chosen would have been fine. But some of it, well, I am a different person by a very large margin in many ways. Back in high school I loved Star Trek: Voyager. And X-Files. And a TV show nobody remembers called The Pretender. Any of these would have made bad long term choices. But my love for Star Wars is still strong, I would not regret Leia or an X-Wing, after all. So how does one successfully guess what will still be part of their lives down the road? What is true fandom and what is passing fancy?
Another factor that always weighed on me was a job. When I worked at Knott’s Berry Farm as a ride operator, their rules on visible tattoos was strict, and I watched coworkers struggle to find the appropriate cover ups. Long sleeve shirts in the brunt of summer, goopy make-up, “bandages” where there was no wound. So I agreed with myself that a t-shirt should always be able to cover up my art, in case I ever need to accept a minimum wage job with strict restrictions again. It was always “What if I had to go back to Knott’s tomorrow?” Which has become a bit silly, as I develop a professional career with options even if I leave my current position, but that doesn’t do much to the phantom voice inside my head asking that question.
So why get a tattoo at all? The way I see it, it’s an ultimate form of personal expression. Art and self that you can carry with you and display. I don’t do it for others, I do it for me, to take a little piece of my inside and let it be part of my outside. And getting it done, that’s quite the endorphin rush at some points! Also… pretty! Not all tattoos have to have deep personal meaning, sometimes they’re just fun, but for me they all have to be something – a tribute to a creator I admire, a bit of my inner self, a message to the future me – and that’s what’s right for me when it comes to tattoos, which is why getting one is a many-year process.
My first was acquired after what was probably over 5 years of deliberation. I knew it would be a cat, those are my initials and cats have always been special to me. The only way I felt sure to make it feel timeless was to go with a stylized approach. Once I’d settled on this idea, I let it percolate for years and confirmed that I did want a tattoo after all. So I did tons of searches and crawled all over the internet. In my mind it was a seated cat, looking over it’s shoulder. Or maybe facing the viewer? But on DeviantArt I found a beautiful piece that had the right style, even though the pose wasn’t right, so I tacked it up everywhere, just to get used to the idea. At home I had a white board in my room it was taped to. There was also a whiteboard at work. Computer wallpapers all got switched over, too. I had to look and think about this art for over a year on a daily basis. And it turns out that this image, originally “not right” grew on me. So I contacted the artist and got her permission to use it exactly for my tattoo. She was happy to give me the okay, so I used this:
And it was perfect. Or, I suppose, purrfect, if you will. I wasn’t able to make arrangements with the artist I wanted, but with a lot of homework and research I a place that was close and clean and well reviewed. My artist was great, she was even able to handle it when, half way through shading, I got nauseous and had to be quite sick to my stomach. We just cleaned up, drank some water, and finished.
Before I’d even gotten that tattoo scheduled, though, my head was already working on the next. That’s why I was so cautious with the first – they’re very much like potato chips and you can almost never get just one. On my shoulder blades I wanted an angel and a devil, but for me, they’re cats.
So for the last 6 years, I’ve had a matching set of stylized cats with the appropriate accessories to turn them into an angel and a devil waiting in the wings. But one night about a year ago a dream changed the plan. Sure, it would still be an angel and a devil cat, but they were going to be in color, almost like a stained glass window, in an art nouveau style, a la Alphonse Mucha.
So a few phone calls with the artist I had originally wanted, and I had a consultation appointment. She pulled the ideas out of my head, even the ones I hadn’t said outloud, and last May delivered the art… the perfect art.
I had to wait just over a month, but I was thrilled. Right now we’re at the first stage, we’ve done the outlines. In a few weeks I will finish with color, and you bet I will be sharing that with you here! I was able to sit like a rock, and her technique is just amazing, so there were no troubles.
To me these are so much more than good and evil. They are also caution and adventure. Duality. Day and night. All the two halves that make up the more beautiful whole. Each of these are lovely on their own, but together they stand as a greater piece – which is why I’m not sure if they count as one whole tattoo in two places, or two separate tattoos!
So for me, a tattoo will always be a little bit of the inner self, allowed to fly free and breathe life.