Monday, July 30, 2012

Tattoos...and the Story of a Rhino

Nothing will reveal a person’s propensity to stereotype and leap to conclusions more than a good old-fashioned tattoo.  Seeing someone with body art (which is how I prefer to call it, as you will see shortly) conjures up all sorts of reactions in people, often of a visceral nature...both good and bad.  Someone will say a particular tattoo is really cool or really gross.  Note the adverb “really” gets thrown into the comment, often leaving little middle ground in which a coherent discussion can take place.  Minds are made up, assumptions drawn, and stereotypes promulgated.   Women with tats are sometimes seen as tramps and immoral, and a man must be either a biker, spent time in prison, or an otherwise less than savory character. 

How do I know this, you may ask?  I tell people I just had a tattoo placed on my bicep…and wait for the expressions. The immediate ones are either pleasant surprise and genuine curiosity, or a frown of disapproval.  Some take a little more time for the thought to register, largely because on the surface I don’t seem the type to have a tattoo.  Yet, that is precisely one of the reasons I did get one.  Among other things, I take a certain pleasure in shaking another’s impression of who I am.  On the surface I may look fairly traditional, with my hair (or what’s left of it) cut short in a conservative style and my dress mainly of a business nature.  I adhere to the philosophy that one cannot…should not, judge a book by its cover.  We are often admonished that beauty is only skin deep and we should look beneath the surface to find the real person. 
People get tattoos for a multitude of reasons.  Many do so to memorialize important events or others that had an effect on them (hence the plethora of “Mom’s”).  Butterflies are popular among young people to symbolize surviving a difficult period of life through the emergence from a cocoon.  Aside from the delight of shaking another’s perception of who I seem to be, I also like the idea of a symbol that represents a special time, or in my case a special trip.  Many of you recall I travelled to Kenya, Africa in 2009.  Without going into the specifics of that trip, I was deeply moved.  One of my traveling companions on that trip had many tattoos, and I was intrigued by them.  Before I boarded the plane to return to the US, the seed had been planted that I would want one to symbolize that experience.
The challenge then became what the symbol should be.  Of the 1200-plus images I took on the trip, I settled on a photo of a rhinoceros…one we had driven far to find, and a rare sight even in the Kenyan wildlife reserve.  That photo became the symbol, pictured here:

Now that I had settled on the image, what should it look like?  Would it be a simple profile or something more elaborate?  Living in the neighborhood that I do, I have had the pleasure of meeting many who have amazing body art…and I truly mean art!  I asked around, and I was told Rowan at Bless This Mess was the person I should talk to.  It would be yet another several months before a happenstance meeting at the Montavilla Street Fair, that Rowan would enter my world.
Rowan is a tattoo artist.  Like many artists, she looked at me somewhat askance when I introduced myself and explained what I wanted. (Remember what I said about appearances and how I don’t necessarily fit the image of a tattooed person?).  However, her interest and later excitement grew after I showed her the photo.  A few days later she sent me a sketch of how she would do the tattoo.  A few more exchanges and we set an appointment.

I would be untrue if I said I wasn’t nervous.  A tattoo is permanent…and then there is the prospect of possible pain…or of a design gone awry.  What then?  But Rowan is a true professional.  Watching her procedures before I even bared my arm was impressive and helped allay my fears.  There are so many safety precautions, many mandated by the State and others that just seem a part of her professional demeanor.  Before becoming a tattoo artist, she was a graphic designer (which explained the quality of her sketch).  Her excitement grew as the image slowly manifested itself on my bicep…as did mine.  (Yes, I took the photo, with my iPhone.)

Thoughout this process I learned a lot about tattoos and tattoo parlors.  Most of us think of a place we walk into and choose a design out of hundreds on the wall or in a book.  Those are called flash shops.  Bless This Mess (and Rowan) is not one of those, but instead a custom shop in which a design is specially created that is unique to the customer and to the artist.

Almost four hours later, we were done. I am still carefully applying my skin treatments as the skin heals, but each day the initial redness abates and the true colors become more apparent.  It is difficult to see but the colors are basically grays, black and a hint of golden grass in the foreground.  What is particularly interesting is the shading and detail in the image of the rhino. 
I am thrilled!

In case you are interested, here is a link to my blog about the trip to Africa, and a link to Rowan's shop:

1 comment:

tattoosdesigns said...

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