I have five tattoos. Sometimes, people find this out and say things like, “You don’t seem like the type of person to have tattoos!”
I never know how to take this. Is it a compliment, like, “you seem like a good person,” or is it more like a backhanded compliment, such as, “you seemed like a good person, but then you showed me your tattoos, so obviously you are not.”
Anyway, I find it hard to take it well, since even if it is meant as a genuine compliment it is making bad assumptions about people with tattoos and since I know plenty of people with tattoos, shouldn’t I be offended for them?
But the point is, I have them, and I like them. And I want to share them with you! Along with a little bit of the backstory of each.
– location: lower back. Artist: some guy at Explosive Tattoo
in Salisbury, Maryland
I got this butterfly tattoo when I was 16. Arguably, I may have been a bit too young, but it should make you feel better that I was very nearly 17, and also that my mom was with me, which is the only way you can get a tattoo under the age of 18 in the state of Maryland. I’m from close to the border and MD has laxer tattoo laws than Virginia. I knew I wanted a butterfly, but had no design in mind so I picked this one off the wall. I chose it, both because it was pretty and because, sort of ironically, it has some religious significance in Christianity. The reason that’s ironic is because I later saw it as a symbol for my change away from being so strictly religious (plus, a lot of Christians think tattooing is wrong).
Dragon – location: upper back. Artist: Dave at Explosive Tattoo
Shortly after getting my first tattoo, I started looking at art for a second (even though I had said I only ever wanted one). I found this sort-of “tribal” dragon and loved it. But I waited about a year to get it, to make sure I still wanted it. So this one was done when I was 17, almost 18. No real reason for this one, just thought it was pretty. At the time I did think dragon was my Chinese zodiac symbol – I found out later that I’m really a rabbit, after I learned more about the Chinese New Year. But that didn’t matter in terms of the tattoo. Dragons are cool.
Pegasus – location: left thigh. Artist: Rob Preston
The next three were all gotten at age 18. I got this one in February of 2006. I love horses and mythology, and after finding a cool Pegasus that was from a British Museum, I had to have something like that done. Luckily my mom had found an excellent artist, Rob Preston, who tattoos in Onley, Virginia. He doesn’t have a shop because Accomack County won’t allow it. He tattoos out of his house – but before starting that, he had 11 years experience at a shop in Massachusetts, and he is very professional. And his work speaks for itself. This tattoo took 2 and a half hours, and yes, it hurt.
Chimera – location: right thigh. Artist: Rob Preston
The Pegasus was part of a thematic set which was finished a couple months later with this chimera. In Greek mythology, the chimera
terrorized Lycia until the hero Bellerophon killed it by shooting it while riding Pegasus. As you can tell, these creatures are related. But Pegasus is generally good while the chimera is evil. So it’s a duality of nature thing. For this tattoo, I gave Rob a few classical depictions of the chimera but told him I wanted it more realistic, so he used drawings of real lions to come up with the pose and drew this up for me. Again, totally thrilled with it.
Family tattoo – location: right upper arm. Artist: Rob Preston
My latest tattoo (done in July 2006, so not that recent) is also the most colorful, and the most meaningful. My mom designed this tattoo, and Rob brought it to life skillfully. In 2003, my grandfather (on my dad’s side) passed away. We were quite close with him. My grandmother still owns the vacation house on the river that inspired this tattoo, which is in memory of my grandfather. There’s a tree by the river, and when the sun sets it is right behind it.
Here’s some leaves from that tree, with a sunset behind it, to give you an idea.
So the tattoo represents that tree, and also, the leaves are vaguely in the shape of the Celtic trinity symbol, which sometimes is taken to mean family and/or togetherness. Someone once pointed out to me that it also resembles the Klingon symbol for Star Trek, which I looked up since I’m not a Star Trek fan, and I had to conclude they were right. Pretty sure that was unintentional.
This latest tattoo matches one my mom got and one my dad got (though he added fish hooks to the bottom of his). My mom and I have both considered that it could be a starting point for an undersea sleeve, but I am not ready to commit to such a large or publicly viewable level of tattooing yet.
You may hear that tattooing is addictive. I think what people mean is that once you get one, you realize a couple things: it didn’t hurt that much, and it looks really good. So the barrier that might have been there to getting more goes away. It doesn’t happen with everyone. I haven’t gotten a new one in 5 years. Why? I’m not sure. I haven’t found something I absolutely must have, although I’m thinking I might design something to commemorate my great adventure. Perhaps the biggest reason is I haven’t had a chance to be home long enough to schedule another appointment with Rob.
Do you have any tattoos?