I am passionate about portraiture and I love the arts, so the chance to combine these two passions was irresistible. I also love how photos tell stories and even better stories when images are combined with words.
A lot of the tattoo photography I had seen over the years tended toward the sensational with little substance on the people and why they choose to mark their bodies permanently with ink. I knew that there would be stories connected to these pieces when I started this project, but I had no idea that they would be so fascinating.
Tattoo Plus You began as a book project back in 2012 and continues to this day, online.
This was the original text in the forward to the book:
“Why do people get tattoos? That was the simple question behind this portrait project.
Not surprisingly, it turns out that the answers ranged from the simple to the highly complex and deeply personal. I am so grateful for the people who had the courage to stand in front of the seeming scrutiny of the lens.
As a portrait photographer, people have been my primary fascination, and I have had the good fortune to photograph literally thousands of people.
It was through my portrait work that I started to see more and more tattoos showing up on my subjects. Body ink has moved into mainstream culture, no longer sitting on the fringe of sailors, bikers and rock stars.
The idea was this: if a person had a tattoo and was willing to share up to 300 words about the inspiration behind their body ink, then a portrait session was arranged. The response was amazing.“
That was then. Today, the project continues. If you have a tattoo and want to tell your story, send me a message.
People can change. I am the perfect example of that.
Before February 4, 2009, I would have been the least likely person to have highly visible tattoos. While the day my brother, Brian, took his life will probably be the most brutal day of my life, it also had a profound change in my beliefs.
When my father passed away in 2004, I had a small Canadian flag tattooed on my upper right shoulder. He had served in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) for 20 years, so it seemed fitting.
With my brother’s suicide, I sensed a major shift in my attitude towards tattoos and decided to act on it. Brian and I had always been huge Dwight Yoakam fans, so it didn’t take long to decide that a tribute to him would be Dwight on my arm. While I will never forget Brian, it’s great to look down at Dwight’s image and remember all of the good, and bad, times with my younger brother.
After getting that tattoo, I wanted something more for the memory of my father. I thought about it for a while, and, after making some important life decisions in early 2011, I knew it was time.
In the RCAF, my father served as an Instrument Technician aboard the Argus maritime patrol aircraft for the last seven years of his service. My earliest memories of him are of myself, my brother and my mother, waiting for him to come home from trips abroad.
I’m a huge aircraft nut, so it wasn’t hard to include an image of the Argus in the tattoo for my father. The design is fairly basic, but it’s the perfect tribute.
There will be more tattoos — ones with deep personal meaning for me, and me alone.
It was 2007 and my mom was dying of cancer. I would visit her regularly in the hospice, and we would talk about everything from family and friends to life and love, etc.
She was in a place of peace and kept reminding me that, “Love is all there is.”
I tattooed it on my arm.
I didn’t embark on getting tattooed until my late 20’s. As an avid art lover and aspiring artist, tattoos seemed like a new and exciting means of self- expression.
I began with a few tattoos on my back and then gradually started on my arms. For me, it’s not biographical. It’s about the art. I want to see the art every day, so my arms were an obvious choice.
Then, I worked towards getting my hands done. I love these tattoos. Both hands were done in one appointment. Altogether it took about three hours. Although a painful healing process, the art is worth it. I can see them all the time and never get sick of it.
Since my hands were tattooed, I’m working on getting both arms fully covered with art that is unique to me.
Obsessed with tattoos as a young girl, I used to daydream of what my first one would be. Growing up with a father in the RCMPRoyal Canadian Mounted Police, the general thought was that anyone with a tattoo was a criminal. Always the rebel without a cause, it made me want them even more. Now, I’m covered from my ears to my hips with an arm sleeve and the start of a leg sleeve. My boyfriend, Lawson, from Art & Soul (Tattoo & Treasure) in Courtenay, has done every one of my tattoos, with the exception of four small ones that I had done before we met.
I’m often asked if they hurt and tell people, “Yes.” But, they hurt nothing like life’s lessons. So, I welcome the pain I feel because it lets me know that I’m alive. Plus, there will always be some sort of pain in my life, whether it’s emotional, spiritual or physical.
Like our shop motto: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
A little after my 18th birthday, I had my first tattoo done by Nate at Tranceformations in Nanaimo, BC. After I graduated from high school, I was relieved to be away from the cliques, and life became very peaceful.
I chose this tattoo because John Lennon has always been an inspiration, and , for me, the meaning of Come Together is everyone being as one. I wanted my first tattoo to be simple and timeless, and the song is just that. Written in 1969, it is just as popular as ever.
We are longtime followers of the band TOOL. Theirs is a message of self- exploration, processing and learning. It is a tool for understanding and evolving. Our tattoos are depictions of our realization, internalization and evolution within ourselves and each othereach other and ourselves.
We offer oura brief explanation of DNA and our Consciousness.
As a species in its early stages, we were 3 1/2 to 5 feet tall. Our DNA had 42 & 2 chromosomes. Our vibration was harmonic and we existed in unity. We shared a collective consciousness.
We stand 5 to 7 1/2 feet tall. Our DNA has 44 & 2 strands. This is a transitional stage,stage; learning to exist spiritually cut off and separate from each other. We learn eventual manifestation, and exploration of individual consciousness.
It is speculated that when we reach 46 & 2 chromosomes, we will have evolved Christ Consciousness -— the highest state of intellectual development and emotional maturity; when one consciousness moves through everyone and we are all connected.
Our depictions of the 44 & 2 DNA strands that we wear on our flesh are reminders to practice these qualities in every moment -— reaching forward and pushing ourselves to consistently contribute our highest selves to universal awareness in every interaction. We aim to be the change we wish to see and participate in our species evolution.
The joy is in the journey.
I was going to talk about how the tattoo was an attempt to symbolize my identity as Norwegian, which was not met with the round of applause that I had expected. Instead, I want this story to be about my grief and the realization that I don’t need to publically wear a tattoo to signal my identity as a Norwegian. I can feel it.
I love my tattoo and wear it with pride. I have few regrets in life. When asked, “What about when I’m older?” I can say, with full sincerity, that I won’t regret it. I have had this tattoo for 10 years without a moment of regret.
My tattoo is a form of Norwegian painting that only a Scandinavian would immediately recognize. It is a cultural flag, so to speak. As a North American with only one generation on this continent, I have been blessed with the ability to walk where my ancestors from the north of Norway have farmed and fished, laughed and played, loved and struggled. Beyond knowing the names of people and places, I have been there many times.
This sense of pride inspired the tattoo as homage to the country that was so recently the home of my father, and still is to the rest of the family.
“Ja, vi elsker dette landet.”
I adore lilies with their sweet smell and that soft, almost spongy touch. And although I don’t have many favorites in life, the color purple makes the cut.
This piece of art joined my body while living in Belfast, Ireland, during a special time in my life. I was volunteering and living in a community called L’Arche -— an international network of smaller communities centered on people with learning disabilities. You live together, sharing everyday life, assisting in normal daily activities, all the while growing as a family. Your patience is tested and your nerves are stretched, but you are also smothered in warmth and encouragement. It was a time where I learned a lot about love, about the beauty of humanity, and about what it means to truly have faith.
My tattoo makes me feel beautiful, and it reflects certain aspects of who I am. It too is vibrant and flirtatious.
The flower signifies growth and the blossoming of my faith. Every time I look down at my left foot I am reminded of this. I am also reminded to take time out of today’s busy schedule to stop and smell the lilies.
I love art and its many mediums of expression. The idea of using needles to push ink layers deep into the skin has always intrigued me. I genuinely admire people’s unique tattoos and, along with the artwork itself, am always curious of its meaning. Every tattoo is a personal story that represents a point in one’s life.
There is a sense of trust, like no other, when you allow an artist to permanently mark you. You are their canvass and the work they do will be a part of you, and who you are, forever.
After several tattoos, with my first one at the age of 17, I have a deeper meaning of body art.
My back piece is of great significance and thanks to Steve Moore’s amazing talents, came to fruition better than I imagined.
I had a vision of sorts. A flock of flying ravens to represent the culmination of all the people in my life to this point—my loves, my losses, my lessons, and how each has left their mark on me, helping me to become the person I am today.
Ravens have always been my totem. I marvel at their mystery, their intelligent nature and their cunning manner. They have a sense of curiosity and independence that I adore and respect.
My ravens tell a story—-a bold artistic interpretation of my story— of all the people, in their varying degrees, that have come in and out of my life in whatever capacity, all intermingling to become a part of me.
Trying to avoid Poe-esque darkness in the piece, cherry blossoms were added for a delicate feel, where my initial gnarled branch would have failed dramatically. I wanted a symbol of hope and grace for my future, and of beauty and serenity of my past. In Buddhism, cherry blossoms symbolize the brief beauty and transient nature of life—-a perfect fit for my vision.
My first tattoo happened at a pretty rough shop on Davies Street in Vancouver. I walked in off the street with a strong desire to get a tattoo. I was sixteen-years-old and chose a band of Japanese plum blossoms that symbolize longevity. I chickened out having the band wrap around my arm, and walked out with a puffy, painful impression of flowers that I had no previous link to. My second tattoo happened between college classes. I went to renew my driver’s license and across the street was a tattoo shop. I wanted something on my collarbone to accentuate the lines. The artist and I looked through native designs and discussed making it into a bird. He drew a design that could be interpreted as turned into either a duck or a raven in turquoise blue tribal lines. We left it open to interpretation.
Two years later, in Vernon, BC, I added wings and made it into a raven. The lines just seemed to draw themselves over the left shoulder and onto the back with a little wing on the back of the neck. A year later, the tail was added and extends over my right hip. That same year, I added a dragon that covers the rest of my right hip and carries down the right leg.
The dragon was originally going to be a little piece at the front of the hip with Thunderbird wings. It had to be hot pink. When the design was ready it covered three 8×10 pages across and three down. It revealed a gigantic hot pink dragon with gorgeous Thunderbird wings and a very kind face. I was overwhelmed by the size and said, “I don’t think so.” The artists pleaded passionately with me. After negotiating a discounted price, provided that I enter a tattoo competition for the artist, I decided to go for it. We won best colour and most original design.
Tattoo left upper arm, Age 30, Artist location Ottawa, ON, Canada.
Wrapped around my left upper arm is a written piece -— a statement of truth and a solemn reminder of perseverance.
Non-transparent and disguised through Old English text and a mixture of upper and lower case lettering, my intention was to disclose my message to a select few -— my closest friends and family. Separated by three Zodiac signs —- Aries for my father and sisters; Pisces for my mother; and Scorpio for myself —- I inscribed three words: Strength of Will.
I arrived at this statement on exercise, during a past career in the Canadian Military. Driving shotgun with pal Tommy, chatting, kidding and laughing while trying to narrow down a phrase for a tattoo, he asked, “What’s your life about, why are you here? Give me something real. Dude, it’s going on your body forever.” I answered, “I am here because of my will to survive.”
Since 1993, I have struggled with extreme fatigue, migraines, insomnia, and, at times, severe depression. My journey has been a tough one. Words cannot explain my pain and despair. Hopelessness filled most of my days, as I tried to understand and care for myself physically, mentally and spiritually. So, when asked why am I here, I literally meant my strength of will to live.
As I travel through this life, I take nothing for granted. I cherish life with its beauty and brightness, knowing and accepting the darkness that lies beneath, above and around.
I have always loved dragonflies. I find them interesting and beautiful. After my father passed away (I was very close to him) and I left an unhealthy relationship, I started seeing them everywhere. A beautiful blue dragonfly greeted me after I landed from my first solo skydive.
I later learned that dragonflies symbolize change and freedom. I added them to my tattoo collection as a reminder that things change no matter how difficult situations become, and, sometimes, you have to seek your own freedom.
Most little girls dream of having children. I was no exception. Never did I imagine that single parenthood would be my reality.
Life never turns out as planned, and I wouldn’t change a thing if I had to do it over again. My son was born in January of 2010. His arrival changed me in so many powerful ways.
In the beginning, I couldn’t imagine being successful at parenting alone. But, I love every minute of raising my son. He blesses me with his curiosity, his humor and his adventurous spirit.
Not long after my son was born, I decided to get another tattoo. I already had several that symbolize important events in my life. Since his birth was the most momentous, there was no doubt in my mind about commemorating it with more ink.
Lawson Metail and I came up with an idea to incorporate my son’s footprint with a butterfly -— a symbol of new life. His footprint from his birth record became the wings complete with toe prints. My son was born with one of his toes overlapping the other, and Lawson captured that detail with a tiny colored spot that matches the ink print on his birth record exactly.
I’ve always considered myself a risk-taker, a daredevil if you will. In some ways I still am, but my perspectives changed when I became a mom.
I view life as a gift, a blessing never to be taken for granted. My son constantly opens my eyes to see the world as it really is -— an adventure.
What do you see when you look at us? Think beyond the chubby old lady and her killer dog, Diesel.
My tattoos are symbolic of my journey. You can’t see the rebellious 17-year-old who got a tattoo because a parent had to wouldn’t sign for her driver’s license. YNo license, but you can still see the ink.
It wasn’t all rebellion. The “Suebird”, as I call it, was an act of taking charge of my life when I left a bad home. It made me feel like I was finally free.
You can’t see my head injury and how it has forever changed me as a woman, a wife, a partner, a mom and a grandma.
But, you can see how grateful I am for Charlie and how important it was to honor him and hold him close. You can also see that I, like a persevering Magnolia, will follow the sun for its growth, its healing and its strength.
My head injury has opened my life like a book, even though I can no longer read a book. I don’t have crutches or a wheelchair. My disability is hidden in my head, making it a very hard road to follow for the help that I need. My beautiful friends support me and keep my life real.
I hope you yYou can see my strength and determination and . I hope that you can see the gentleness and love in how gentle and loving Diesel is.
Tattoos are art, and, just as love is, art is an ultimate expression. Feel the art without judgment. Be the art.
I do it because I believe tattoos make my hair grow. I suffer from Alopecia Areta (AA), a disease that medical professionals associate with stress. Hair loss is AA’s most significant characteristic. AA causes my hair to fall out in patches -— sometimes a little at a time and sometimes a lot.
When first diagnosed, I tried every alternative therapy imaginable -— aromatherapy, homeopathy, magneticand magnetic therapy. If the word alternative was in the description, then I probably gave it a try. But nothing seemed to make a difference. I eventually gave up the hunt for a “cure” and focused on owning a fabulous collection of scarves, hats and bandanas.
My first tattoo is on my left forearm. I sat for it at a time when I had three, or four, stubborn bald patches on my head. The next morning fuzz had grown over each of those spots.
Was it the anticipation of getting a tattoo? The adrenaline rush when the needles first pierced my skin? Or was it a fluke?
A year later the bald spots were back. I wanted to test my theory and had “East Coast, West Coast” inked on my left calf. The next day the fuzz was back and I was officially hooked on tattoos.
Over the next eight years, and a number of sittings, I completed my first sleeve, then more on my calf, my back, my chest, and, finally, the other sleeve.
I often choose art that reminds me of where I’ve come from, like the “East Coast” on my calf or the skyline of Saint John, NB, on my left shoulder. Other pieces represent people that I care about. For example, the birds on my chest represent my parents.
The sleeve on my right arm is a collection of office equipment that was started when I returned to school as a mature student. It artistically represents my goal of becoming an accountant.
As the Charles Bukowski quote tattooed on my inner arm reads, “You’re going to have to save yourself.”
I got my first tattoo at the age of 17, despite my mother’s threat of throwing me out of the house. I figured it was my ticket out.
I hid the tattoo for months until, one day, my mom busted down the bathroom door while I was in the shower. I chose that Tweety Bird thinking she may like it rather than hate it. She hated it!
After all the fun of torturing my mom was over, I disliked the tattoo and had it covered up with one much larger in size.
Now, I’m 70% covered in ink and enjoy adding art to my body by various artists. I love my tattoos. I love my body and how it has become a walking piece of art.
Each tattoo is a new experience, a new chapter in my life. I will continue adding to my collection. My most recent tattoos are inside my mouth.
When I was around five-years-old I started to draw on, or alter, pictures. It was kind of like doodling. I liked to draw scars and stitches, and black out the teeth, or the eyes, of whatever book or magazine I could. I was never happy with the way everyone looked, so I spiced them up a little.
When I was around 10-years-old, I talked a lot about getting a tattoo and started telling my mother that I was going to tattoo “Mom” across my knuckles. She wasn’t impressed and I was told that I couldn’t get tattooed.
That was a big mistake. I got my first tattoo when I was 15-years-old and hid it for almost a year. I never forget how proud I was of my new improved look, and of the sheer horror in my mom’s eyes as I finally rolled up my sleeve to show off my Grim Reaper.
I still love getting tattooed and don’t think I will ever stop. I find the whole process therapeutic and grounding for my soul.
My ups and downs, and my sorrows and fears are on me to carry at all times -— never to be lost, stolen or pawned.
And yes, I did get “Mom” tattooed on my knuckles, and when I showed my mom she got teary-eyed. As much as she is against tattoos, I know that she was proud of at least one of my tattoos.
I don’t care what others think about my ink. But, I’m happy to see society becoming less judgmental and more accepting of tattoos.
It all came together like the winds in the small coastal town that I was living in. I had just found my inspiration for this amazing tattoo when the owners of The Lounge Collection Art Gallery, where I worked, decided to have a tattoo art exhibit.
It was during this show that I met Cuban artist Leo Canosa, who had an extensive portfolio of incredible tattoos that spanned over 13 years. While he had done many animal tattoos, he had never tattooed a jellyfish and immediately offered to do it before heading back to Cuba.
That left only a short window of time. The work started the next day at 9pm., in the kitchen of a beautiful wood cabin by the ocean, and ended at 4am.
I chose the jellyfish because I find them breathtaking, so beautiful and tranquil in spite of the potentially deadly toxins in their undulating tendrils.
Jellyfish represent the fluidity and femininity of the natural world that surrounds us. It is an incredibly beautiful piece of art that I am happy to have on me.
Ahimsa is a term meaning do no harm. The need to print this on my body seemed to birth itself. It’s a big story for a small tattoo.
After living out of alignment with my values for some time, I was painfully hurled into the truth of how much suffering I had caused.
Non-harming, or non-wounding, speaks to me of the intention of a way of being. There is recognition that there is harm, as there can be no life without violence. But the intention is the link between a mindless and a mindful way of being.
This is the bridge between aggressively pushing myself and developing wise effort; between acting out of addiction and developing discernment; and between saying exactly what I think to prove that I have a voice and cultivating mindful speech. It is about the ripple effects of action into the world.
I still fumble. I still act and speak with harshness. I still demand a lot from myself, those around me and the earth.
But, when I look down and see it -— surprising me sometimes, catching me off-guard -— I soften, and remember the gentleness that wants to live within me and move in the world.
I was born with a cleft lip. When I moved to a town of 600 at the age of 11, I was deemed ugly and didn’t fit the town’s standards. This took me into a deep depression that I didn’t find my way out of until I hit my 20’s.
After moving to the Comox Valley I discovered pole fitness. It changed my life incredibly. Now, I am beautiful according to my own standards. The amazing people that I have met through teaching the art of pole have flooded my life with wonder and happiness.
My tattoo is actually two in one. The first was my butterfly. It was done when I was 17-years-old and about to enter into a marriage that was doomed from the start. Like my marriage, it was a decision without much thought.
The second tattoo was born from meeting a group of Medicine Hat tattoo artists shop posse at an Iron Maiden Concert. I wanted something that I liked to look at. But, looking back, it was more than that. It was about exorcising my past and marking a change in me.
This new attitude, and an amazing relationship, has allowed me to thrive. I am part owner of Femme Natale’s Pole Fitness, and competed in Miss Pole Dance Canada 2011 at a professional level. I brought home the People’s Choice Award.
“Smile, breathe and go slowly.” Thich Nhat Hanh.
I believe the skin to be the most beautiful fabric one will ever own. Ink upon it is a manifested life tale. My name is Nathalie and this is my tattoo story.
Miles apart but close at heart, breathe is our magic word. Breathe is our writing joined together forever in one word with many stories. Breathing is life and life is in God’s words. With His words I am always saved.
My papa, now gone but always present, taught me the importance of building a solid foundation without crutches. I chose “La Femme de Pierre” – made of stone she represents strength. The wings signify a way of life for me, the aspiration to always reach the greatest height of accomplishments. A fan of ancient philosophy, I was attracted to the oldest and best known life symbol in the world, the Yin Yang, meaning the balance of oneself and so much more.
I believe the planet to be my classroom. I am here to learn, grow and graduate into the best I can become. I’m grateful for all of the experiences that I have lived, as they brought me exactly where I am supposed to be – standing here, sur cette ile, surrounded by ocean, breathing peacefully.
I seek, and am eager to leave, a footprint full of life and hope, as I shall pass through here only once.
“Whoever hurt you in the past does not control tomorrow’s potential.” Isaiah 43:18
Traveling to Asia, I knew I wanted a traditional bamboo tattoo. Finding an artist that I finally liked, I gave him my concept and allowed him to create a design.
In traditional folklore, a purple lotus represents spiritual awakening and within the smoke, a vision appears to tell a story. My smoke shows a lady that is part tiger. She is my tribute to women around the world. She is a reminder of how special women are.
The tiger attributes represent the agility and strength in women everywhere, and that I was born under the year of the tiger. The bamboo in the background represents that I was tattooed the traditional way.
Traditional bamboo tattooing consists of a long piece of bamboo with three needles at the end. The bamboo is held with both hands, similar to that of throwing a dart, and creates the image with a very tedious procedure that involves poking. Each poke brings the artist three dots closer to the end.
My first tattoo was not the first one I wanted. I am thankful for that because, otherwise, I would have a black panther tattooed across my backside. That happened was when I was 21 years-old and I was talked out of it by my husband, God rest his soul.
The first tattoo I did get was Chinese writing that simply says, “Embrace life.” It is something that I didn’t realize would become such a mantra for my life.
Through the years, I slowly added to my story-—my recollection of feelings, people and emotions were like a book of my soul on skin. I added angel wings on my back, and stars and circles, and a memorial whale’s tail for a friend lost at sea.
I have two amazing children and wanted them forever by my side. I had an amazing tattoo artist, Curt Christiansen, add them to my story. They are on my arms and forever by my side. I cherish those two works of art the most.
My husband of 23 years passed away two years ago. A loss so great and consuming, and yet I found the strength to carry on and teach my kids of such strength. Maybe they have taught me.
When it would have been my wedding anniversary, I went to Curt and had the word “Strength” written on the nape of my neck.
I was raised by my mom who is a pillar of strength, courage and hope. I had always liked the picture of Rosie, The Riveter -— another strong woman -— so that was my next piece. Curt amazed me with a beautiful Rosie on my calf. I did Kim- it- up a bit and asked that he place an old school microphone in her hand.
My most recent tattoo is by Cody Walsh. It is another meaningful mantra that I try to live my life by. I had “One Love” with three Rasta stars of red, yellow and green tattooed on my left forearm.
I am far from done and eagerly await the next desire to add another chapter to my book -— art as far as I am concerned.
Everyone wants to know the type of bird that I have tattooed on my arms. Really, they aren’t a specific type of bird, just the silhouette of a bird; just a representation of a bird. Actually, the representation of what a bird means to me -— a meaning that I would, ideally, like to represent my life.
f. Freedom, m. Movement, t. The sound of wind in my ear and e. Excitement.
Birds strangely find their way into my life without me directly looking for them. I look up in the air and see a flock flying by in their peaceful, free- flowing formation – sporadic, yet organized, ; in sync with each other, reading the other’s next move. I stand and watch waiting for the last one to fly by, not wanting to miss the moment or the message that they bring.
My art is another way these creatures flow from my mind. I unknowingly makeing choices thato involve birds and often I don’t see them until this animal. I admire until I stand back and look at what I’ve created.
When my husband and I started dating, we had many significant moments involving birds -— from spotting owls in peculiar places, to eagles soaring right in front of us, to driving south and watching hundreds of flying V’s heading south for the winter. Each time, we took it as a good sign as to where we were heading in life.
Maybe it’s their wings I admireenvy. Maybe it’s their ability to fly away at a moment’s notice, with nothing to pack or leave behind, just moving forward.
That’s it -— not looking back, only forward.
Most of us regret many of the choices that we made at the age of 16. Even though I’m not much older, I’m not exempt from this rule. Although, strangely enough, and unlike most people, I still adore the tattoo I got the day before my sweet sixteenth birthday.
I consider myself lucky that every morning I wake up inspired by the flowers that bloom under my collarbones, reminding me of my infinite love for my grandparents and everything they taught me.
Although my body art can sometimes act as a brick wall against employment, and sometimes manners, I don’t let it get me down.
The world is changing rapidly, and people are slowly changing with it -— accepting and realizing that tattoos don’t define people, people define their tattoos.
Every piece I have is to remind myself that autonomy and knowledge are to be valued above all else.
Though I am an atheist, I have always been interested by the Bible motif of the snake and the apple. The story of choosing knowledge and dealing with the consequences is fascinating.
All of my work is by Rob at Black and Blue in Nanaimo, BC.
I am a Thalidomide survivor. From the time I was born 49 years ago, I have been rebuilt. Both of my ankles and both of my legs have been shattered and fixed. I’ve had a complete lower lumbar spinal fusion. I’ve broken both arms and have had 24 broken fingers.
I’ve been a hardcore machinist for over 30 years. I’ve spent over one and a half years in the hospital, undergone nine surgeries and received over 250 stitches, leaving me with a collection of unwanted and not so pretty scars.
Always a little concerned about my appearance on a beach, I started getting tattoos when I was around 16-years-old. I have continued until this day, and I will continue until I pass. Having an amazing wife and two incredible daughters allows me to be the man that I should be. My understanding, non-judgmental family shares my love for art and expression, which, in itself, is so rare.
Thank you, Gordon, for telling the world about tattoos and their stories. A wise man once told me, “Tattoos are scars, but with better stories.”
The family that tattoos together stays together.
It’s tough to get an entire family to agree on anything. They all came into tattoo culture on their own terms.
Terry has had tattoos long before his eldest daughter was born. Cindy got her first small tattoo to prove that she could do it. They raised their daughters with the important value that looks are only skin deep. So why not customize the skin you’re in? Anyone that chooses to judge you for the art you carry isn’t worth your time.
Amber got her first tattoo at age 21. Her tattoo artist often reminds her of how fortunate she is to not have to explain herself to her parents.
At age 16, Carly started her first piece -— a memorial for her grandparents on her chest. She was the only girl at prom with artwork and her parents couldn’t have been more proud.
Each one of them has different styles, but that diversity provokes important dialogue amongst them. Other families could only be so lucky.
Props go out to their artists: Desiree at Desire Tattoo, Rob at Black and Blue, Jason at Black Rose and, last but not least, Big Dave Miller of Lone Wolf for starting them down the twisting and turning tattoo road.
My tattooed life started at the bottom and made its way up.
When I was 17 years-old, I got the female symbol with a crashing wave inside. Being a tomboy as a child, I wasn’t aware of how empowering it was to honour my feminine side. This tattoo signifies the shift of awareness coming into adulthood.
A couple of years later, it was time for another one. I was finding identity in the magical behavior of the dolphin and so I had dolphins swimming around the galaxy tattooed on my back.
At the age of 22, I had groovy musicians playing their instruments tattooed on my upper arm to remind me to live my song, and not to pass on without being heard.
And, finally, my marriage tattoo on my forearm. It is the Yin Yang of a woman and a man, each holding the other’s feet for grounding.
Witnessing my first fire conclave was the most captivating primal experience in my life. The participants moved in a trance- like state, as one, in the flow of that moment, covered in clay coming straight from the earth. I came away from this mind-blowing experience at the Burning Man Festival, and wished for my life to be like that every day.
Driven to welcome fire into my life, I became a fire performer, producer and performance tool builder.
Body art has been many years in the making for me. I knew I wanted to represent this passion for fire and nature on my body.
We are working with the arm in mind and the latest addition is a powerful one. The mantra in the middle is Hum, Hum Sanskrit for the heart chakra, representing the heartbeats inside of me and my two beautiful daughters out in the world on their own journey. The waves represent how I believe my family will continue as a family through the storms of life, with space in our togetherness. Bonding with this portion is a bit of a challenge, but that is what I love about this art form and this experience.
This representation of accomplishments and the challenges ahead in a visual artistic form are a daily reminder of life unfolding, and quite a gift to receive from an artist.
As an art teacher, I’ve always had a deep appreciation of creative process, visual expression and all forms of art, including tattoos. However, getting one was not something that I’d truly considered until my life changed at the age of 44.
That year I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer -— Pleomorphic Liposarcoma -— and given only 50/50 odds for survival by doctors. What followed was a tumultuous journey of tests, treatments, surgery, and many years of worry and follow-ups.
There were significant trials and soul- searching along the way, but hope prevailed aided in no small part by the support and love of family and friends. I am happy and made a full recovery (knock on wood), but I was left with significant surgical scars on my left arm.
Getting a tattoo allowed me to cover the scars, to affirm my connections to art and to celebrate being a cancer survivor.
I chose an Asian dragon, as the main imagery for its symbolism of strength and protection, and integrated other design components for both their aesthetic and meaning. This included a Yin Yang for balance and harmony, the Chinese symbol for family (love), and a longevity symbol representing long life.
In the end, the tattoo means much more to me than decorative self- adornment. It is a culmination of experiences that reflect my core beliefs, a spiritual journey, a healing process and an affirmation of life.
I have always had an interest in tattoos, and knew that I would adorn my body with them. I just needed to be inspired.
On August 14, 2008, I was celebrating my cousin’s birthday with him. I had just come out of a very sad time in my life, and , for the first time in a long time, I was feeling at peace.
Over the past few years, I had spent a lotton of energy trying to hold on to something that was inauspicious. But through it all, I drew on the optimism and strength of my children. I was reminded daily, through their guidance, about the things we value: honesty, loyalty, honor, compassion, kindness and forgiveness. I owed so much gratitude to my babies.
When I reflect on our journey, I realize how truly generous my children were. We were all in pain, yet they contributed the greatest to our healing and growth.
I wake up every day and count my blessings, express my gratitude and love my kids. Christian and Cassidy continue to amaze me. They were my inspiration.
This tree is my second tattoo. Near the base of the tree is a little squiggle that was my first tattoo. It was my interpretation of tribal art from the 1990’s, inspired by George Clooney’s tattoo in From Dusk Til’ll Dawn.
Two babies and approximately 15 years later, I decided that I’d definitely like a second tattoo. I spent about two years thinking, grooming my husband, and securing Christmas and birthday gifts to pay for this baby.
One day, my sister-in-law mentioned The Tree of Life. I love trees and everything about them. I love their beauty, their strength, their asymmetry, their connectedness to the earth and their life-giving nature. They speak to me.
I decide to find a good artist, sketch some shapes and angles, and write down key words to vaguely describe what I would like permanently inked on my entire back.
I took this into Cody at Black Rose Tattoo in Courtenay, BC, showed him my stuff and asked him to create something for me. We made an appointment and I was committed.
A day before the appointment, I felt that I should see the work before the outline but ignored the niggling feeling. I went in and was shocked by the massive tree that I found on the transfer paper. After a string of profanities, I was asked if I wanted to go ahead. I said, “Sure.”
I gave Cody artistic freedom and license, and allowed him to determine the length of each session according to his energy and his mood. Thirteen hours, spread over a few sessions, and the same number of coffee mugs of wine (and perhaps an expired post-surgical morphine tablet) later, I have my tree. I love my tree. It represents all that I think is beautiful.
An expression of my life,
A reflection of my values,
Celebrate this journey.
Celebrate it all.
A few years ago, as I started to clean up the wreckage of my past, one of the many things that had to change was an unsavory two- time, cover-up unsavory looking tattoo on my right arm. I had not shown my arm for the better part of five years. The artist, Kurt Christensen, who eventually made the offending work into something that I was proud of, described it as chewing tobacco spit.
The right sleeve has beautiful lilies and forget-me-nots that represent my family. The “mom” was added as a gift for my mother on Mother’s Day, much to her chagrin.
My left arm is the sassy, flirty, attitude-laden lady barber -— a career I adore. She holds the straight razor as I do every day. I can only hope to be as precocious, animated and witty as she is.
The little dog is Edward Pitt 1 (Eddie) who secretly attended barber school with me. The artist, Ryan Walz, rendered the “Barber Kitty” pin up girl from meetings with me and images that I had brought him.
She is, like me, a work in progress.
It is the pain and honesty of the tattoo experience that I love. You can’t run from the pain, you have to embrace it. You either deal with it or you don’t. It really lets you know who you are.
The tattoo that I ‘m most proud of is my daughter’s name down my neck, done by Sugar Holland. It’s also the most painful and the most memorable, being that it was one of Sugar’s last tattoos at the age of 71.
I will continue to get ink until I run out of skin, or time calls my number.
I wanted a tattoo for a long time, but . But, I was cautious and wanted to make sure that I had a good idea of what I wanted before proceeding. Once I found the right artist, it was easier to relax and progress. Mikel at 4 Truths Tattoo, had the style that I was looking for and the attitude that this was, in part, a ritual.
The symbols on my arm are strongly influenced by traditional Maori art. The outside of my arm represents myself as a warrior in my passage through life and my family and community supporting that passage, with the symbols spiraling together to show their inherent interconnectedness.
The inside of my arm represents triumph over adversity, patience, honor, and flow. All are virtues that have great importance to me as a father with two daughters that I want to teach right living to.
I’m sure the story will continue.
When I was 12-years-old and told my mum that I wanted a lip- plate like the girl in the National Geographic picture that I was putting on my wall, she asked me to wait until I was 21-years-old, and then I could do whatever I wanted to my body.
I waited until I was 24-years-old to get my first tattoo -— my stars. Next was the forest on my back, with sunbeams and all of the pretty things that I could think of. That came out of the desire to get one cohesive piece instead of a bunch of smaller ones.
There will definitely be more.
In addition to the dandelion’s ability to hold the weight of a wish, it is a flower rich in symbolism subjective to individual interpretation.
The dandelion’s taproot signifies the state of solidarity towards which I endeavor – an ability to be present, to be grounded, to be planted per se. Alternately, its seeds represent the potential to grow in many directions, and, as importantly, in many dimensions.
Each seed-head that takes flight is an opportunity for exploration, cultivation and self growthself-growth.
The three words that gently ripple over the back of my right shoulder – emerging with grace – quite simply reflected my image of self. They are words that continue to be true of the woman I am today.
I am known in the art and music community as Iffer. I compose electronic music and I sing. I am passionate about artistic expression in all forms. I have a daughter, Viv, and we love to travel, especially to Mexico.
My tattoos are visual representations of my belief systems, my passions and my desires.
In May 2001, I got my first “real” tattoo at West Coast Tattoo. It’s an original piece based on an image that I had fallen in love with. The Canada Goose on my right posterior shoulder is a quasi Coast Salish design.
Canadian geese are both poised and clumsy, while showing wonderful character in their ability to work as a leader and as part of the team.
I like the idea of being strong enough to take charge and elegant, yet humble, enough to pull up the rear when the chips are down. The goose represents my self-image, and I love that this is one of the last things that people see as I walk away.
In 2003, I decided that a tattoo would be a nice gift to remind me of my strength and beauty. The tattoo on my left forearm acts as a left- right compass and a tribute to Geiger, Dali and nature. I call it my bio- mechanical lily. It’s a time travel machine, and a world of its own with several parallel worlds surrounding it. There are tubes and tunnels, leaves, a flower and snail top. It is hard to describe, but pictures speak a thousand words. So, feast your eyes.
Like many fathers, I wanted to broadcast the pride of my reproductive accomplishments with a tattoo. I have a son, Archer, and a daughter, Rowan. The design evolved over a few years and incorporates a kneeling archer and a Mountain Ash tree, commonly known as Rowan.
The H begins my last name and the surrounding Viking shield represents my Norse heritage. Celtic knot-work at the three points shows the Scottish ancestry of their mother, who encouraged me to actually complete the design and get the ink-work done after my 40th birthday.
To reflect how I feel when I think of my children, my right forearm was chosen so that I can see it easily and show it to others.
I wanted a tattoo one year before I actually went out and got it. It was a well- thought- out process. Everything was important -— the area, the size, the color, and, of course, the tattoo itself. One thing I was sure about was that it had to involve Muay Thai.
When I was 16-years-old, I joined this wonderful martial art because I needed a new hobby. It has changed my life for the better, in many ways, and I wanted something to signify my appreciation for the art.
What better way to remember something, and have an excuse to talk about your passion, than a tattoo?
I knew my tattoo needed a Muay Thai influence, now I just needed something to represent me. After discussing it with friends, training peers and family whose opinions I greatly valued, I made my decision.
I aim to be positive and cheerful at all times -— it may be the simple answer to having a healthy life. At the time, I pondered my motto and it seemed special and unique to me. So, I was tattooed with “Live, Love, Laugh” in the Thai language.
Seeing it drawn on my back for the first time, I became happy and giddy. Getting impatient, I wanted to get the process started. I had waited long enough. Finally, after booking the appointment, I could rest.
After the tattoo was finished, I looked in the mirror and had a huge smile on my face that lasted for a week. Each time I get a glimpse of it, that same smile grows on my face. When someone asks, “What’s up?” I start telling my story.
My life has been filled with many ups and downs, twists and turns. Past sufferings, losses and heart health challenges brought bitterness and resentment into my heart for a long time. As many can relate, there are times in our lives where we simply wonder “Why me?”
I had been trapped within this way of thinking since I was a very young child. I have been seeking answers and a sense of relief, letting go and looking for peace, for a very long time.
A few years back, I began taking yoga classes. Yoga opened my life to a sense of connection with me. I was introduced to Om and meditations, which began shifting my energies and perspectives on everything around me and within me.
Om represents the entire universe —– past, present and future. It is a state of enlightenment and consciousness. It is the place within all things, and ourselves, that makes sense of all that is. It is the peace and love, which is life and being itself.
This profound, grounding concept offered me a way of daily reflection on the purpose of all that I am in the world, and how everything is connected.
As a reminder of these wonderful gifts, I had this tattoo placed on my body to physically imprint the peace and love that I feel for this precious and beautiful life.
My life has been forever changed with gratitude, love and light.
My adopted son, Andrew, and I have always had a very strong bond, although not related by blood. He wanted us to have a tattoo that signified our dedicated eternal love and family commitment. The two tribal Eternity Dragons on the back of my neck are Andrew and I, shaped into a heart symbolizing love. The tails hangs through a double helix eternity symbol, indicating our timeless embrace as mother and son.
The tattoo on my right wrist is a wrapping floral design containing the word peace – my wish for the world. My mother loved this tattoo.
My mother, Margaret, was my hero in every way -— a truly beautiful soul. When she turned 85-years-old, she decided to get her first tattoo. I had it designed for her by Vancouver Island Tattoo, and we went there together and got tattooed at the same time. I had a peace sign put behind my right ear on my neck.
My mother passed away one year later. I returned to Sean, the same artist, and asked him to design a free- hand drawing to attach to the original peace sign and commemorate my mum. He added my mother’s initials and carried a floral design down my neck, onto my chest and across my right shoulder. I have more than a dozen tattoos. This one is my favourite.
I have always felt the lure of body art. I was in my late twenties when I got my first tattoo. It was a small heart on my hip. I felt a sense of power over my body with this new and permanent embellishment.
As a wife and mother of four, I was drawn to be inked again in my thirties. I added a tribal piece to my back. This well hidden act of rebellion said, “I am not ready to fade into the background yet.”
I’m now in my forties and living in a time of transition and rebirth, and called to tell my story through body art once again. I have three whimsical, and colorful, tattoos of a dragonfly, a butterfly and a ladybug. All three are visible to me while in the lotus yoga pose, offering me a daily reminder to surrender and be open to receive.
My favorite “diary entry” is the Tree of Suzanne’s Life that Lawson Metail designed. It was scary to have such a large tattoo, and then I remembered that this has been a large life. The size of this tree just shows that I can still be unpredictable and a little edgy too.
The tattoo began as an idea, a way to record life events after I was involved in a devastating car accident in 1997. The accident left me in a medically induced coma for two weeks.
After I woke up, I was sent to rehab for two months to re-learn physical functions, like walking, that I’d learned to take for granted. The pace and scope of my recovery was-—by any measure-—near miraculous considering the trauma that my head had sustained. I was lucky. I was grateful.
The image of a Rowan tree appealed to me, as the wood of this particular tree is famously strong. I liked the image of its roots deep within the ground and the ability to grow stronger and taller with each passing year, a testament to each year’s events hidden within its rings.
Embedding my daughter Maeve’s name within the roots came about after many years of discussion with Rob Hope, an accomplished tattoo artist in Vancouver.
Over the years, his original drawing grew in complexity and size. Beginning in 1998 and continuing to 2010, my back served as the living canvas for his unfolding idea.
It will likely be the work of a lifetime.
As someone who never felt different and never stood out, getting my first tattoo was an empowering experience. Here, at last, was something I could do -— something that made me different from my siblings, from my friends, and from everyone around me.
After that first intoxicating moment of needle to skin, I was hooked. It’s been a passionate love affair ever since.
I got more tattoos, spent time at the tattoo shop and started dating a local artist. I began to understand the history and the tradition behind tattooing, and that was when my love grew deeper. It wasn’t so much about me anymore; it was about how tattoos made me feel. It became a wider emotion -— one of respect and reverence.
There is so much to tattooing that isn’t seen by the mainstream world. It isn’t the scary, dark habit of drug lords and criminals. It was the souvenir of sailors long ago and the symbol of power and status to tribal leaders. It was what distinguished Russian thieves by law from one another. It was a rite of passage and a painful, humbling experience. The Edo Japanese wore them under their clothes as a symbol of wealth and beauty.
This incredibly rich history makes me proud to wear my tattoos, and gives me strength and conviction in my choice to cover my body.
I feel empowered. I feel beautiful. I feel more comfortable under my tattoos then I ever did in my plain skin. Tattoos are not an afterthought placed on my skin, or unnatural. For me, they are as natural as freckles.
I’ll never stop getting tattooed. I love them for their history, their tradition and the way they make me feel.
I shook when the needles started to hit my rib cage. Why am I doing this? Oh right, because this tattoo is pretty. But, I can also ascribe a more emotional meaning to it, as is expected when people permanently alter themselves. There must be a reason that this Petit Prince has simply grabbed a flock of migratory birds and is flying across my rib cage in painful torrents. I am trying not to tremble, to keep still for this permanent adventure, for what I do now will be forever etched on my skin.
Will I regret this? The sounds of the needles drown out the doubt. In the book, the Little Prince would sometimes miss the things he loved after leaving his home planet, but would learn that even though the things we love are ephemeral, if you let them tame you it will give you roots.
When my skin is sagging and weathered, the Little Prince will sag with me. And, I will be happy to have had this companion that reminds me to keep laughing, exploring, learning and loving.
“What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“All people dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous people, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.” T.E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia).
Sleepers, dream yourself awake and work reality.
I was 18-years-old when I was first tattooed. I went to the local biker tattoo shop and picked a howling wolf from the wall, an image that I had felt a kinship with as a disgruntled youth. It was the classic case of bored urban teen angst, a slightly outlaw action (I already had a youth criminal record for theft), and rock and roll coolness.
When he hit me with that wasp stinger of a tattoo machine, I tensed up, started sweating profusely and immediately got tunnel vision. I had no idea what to expect, thought myself pretty tough and was about to puke and pass out in front of a burly biker.
To his credit, he was professional enough to stop, let me catch my breath and level out. He explained to me that many first timers have this same reaction. When I was ready to continue, he stated, “Don’t worry, that’ll never happen to you again.”
I’ve been tattooed many times since and have yet to repeat that reaction. It has become a feeling that I’ve craved, endured and overcome. It’s a raw sensation, both invasive and comforting at the same time.
Sometimes I watch the artist work, marveling at the blood and ink pooling on my flesh, watching them wipe away the scrambled liquids to reveal a sharp, clean series of permanent lines or a riot of unnatural color.
Sometimes I take in my surroundings, always curious as to how tattoo shops (the more interesting ones, anyway) collect such oddities and inspirational pieces of art. Most often I just stare into space, going to a place beyond the discomfort of the act, knowing and trusting that, at the end of it, what I take away will be forever.
“None of my tattoos have any generalized meaning to them. I’ve never gone to an artist asking for an exact piece, but instead always walked in with a feeling. Instead of them being specific images that meant something to me it was the experience that lead up to them that help the significance. Negative ones. I’ve always had difficulty feeling pain during traumatic experiences and somehow I ended up turning to tattoos for the answer. When the emotional pain was too much to bear, I would heal myself with physical pain.
I had both my feet done while going through a pretty bad divorce. Which is how I ended up with a female and male swallow, one on each foot. They would never be together. The lotus flower in my armpit was done during the custody battle for my daughter. I needed to have the most painful part of my body done and the armpit was suggested.
Some people may think getting tattoos through negative experiences isn’t a good idea, but I love each and every one. They are apart of me and show what I have been through. Reminders of what I’ve survived and I wouldn’t give them up for the world. ”
– Rachel Hughes
I was immediately interested when the opportunity arose to share my tattoo stories in this project. When I was a kid, I saw the most tattooed people on earth in the Guiness World Records and Kat Vod on Miami Ink—to get my own tattoos became my goal.
I was raised in a semi-conservative household where tattoos were frowned upon. When I expressed my desire to get tattooed I was met with disapproval and negative comments. What about your wedding day? Men don’t like girls with tattoos. You will regret them. Over my years of getting tattooed, I can say that none of these are true for me! My partner loves my ink, even though he doesn’t have any himself.
I got my first tattoo at 18. I went with something small—a bible verse and cross on my wrist to ease my mom into it. It’s a cross wrapped in pearls with the verse “1 John 4:18.” I was hooked! I went on to tattoo my chest with a sparrow (for a charity event) and script from Bob Marley, “No woman, no cry.”
People often ask, “What do your tattoos mean!?” For me, a lot of them don’t have any particular meaning; their art just resonated with me at that moment in my life. Tattoos are my love of art immortalized on my body. What better appreciation of art than to wear it on your skin for life?
However, some do have meaning. The butterflies on my arm are for my mother because they have always been symbols of hope for her. On my inner arm, I have a honey bee on a honeycomb to symbolize a time in my life when I was a workaholic. I plan to cover the rest of my back and complete my sleeve as my life ebbs and flows. The themes will change and my love of art and tattoo design will only continue to expand and grow.
Rabbit white with watch in hand, I followed into Wonderland.
Since I was a little girl, I have always identified with the story Alice in Wonderland. At many times, my life has fallen down a rabbit’s hole, and, with hard work and determination, I have always found my way through the maze and back again.
My left leg has depictions of Alice, her “drink me” bottle and the hour glass which I had done in Amsterdam (adding the hooker legs for cultural reasons), along with two other pieces, by a recently departed artist that I was lucky enough to call a friend.
My right leg is my other heavy life influence -— Japanese culture. Soon, they will both become matching knee high socks.
My tattoos have always been a way to express myself, and a way to accept myself inside and out.
Every time I add a piece, I can identify where in my life it came from and why I decided to permanently place that imagery on my skin. The closer I get to completing my art, the closer I am to feeling complete in my life’s ambitions and direction, fully knowing that neither will ever be entirely finished.
I literally wear the people that I’ve loved and lost, the places that I’ve traveled to, and the choices that I’ve made on my sleeve – or, rather, everywhere else.
The art held by my skin is in the traditional Japanese style of Irezumi but with a contemporary touch.
Overall, like the dualities of In & Yo (Japanese Yin & Yang), my two sleeves and chest panels are balanced with a more feminine, spring, or In energy, expressed by tanchōzuru (red-crowned cranes) and sakura (cherry blossoms) on my left, and a more masculine, autumn or Yo energy, expressed by koi (carp) and momiji (Japanese maple leaves) on my right.
The tanchōzuru (red-crowned cranes) symbolize unity, happiness, and longevity. The crane in flight is for my eldest daughter Sora (Japanese for “sky”), and the seated crane for my youngest daughter, Tai (Japanese for “peace/calm”). The halos of light that encircle each crane are for the moon and the sun, and represent my mindset to always seek balance and harmony. Sakura (cherry blossoms) are woven into the piece to represent the fleeting nature of life, a reminder to be present and cherish all moments.
The motif of the right is symbolic of the partnership I share with my wife, the koi on my chest for motherhood and the one on my sleeve for fatherhood. The koi swim upstream to acknowledge the inevitable struggles of life and our resolve to persevere together. Momiji (Japanese maple leaves), a symbol of lovers, sweep through the piece, and their changing colours represent the passing of time, the cycle of life, growth and change.
Ojuzu (prayer beads) encircle my forearms to finish each sleeve, and hold the kanji (Japanese characters) for my daughter’s names on the left, and the characters for kokkishin (the spirit to overcome oneself) on the right.
Finally, a conversation of my tattoos cannot be had without mention of Stuart Teekasingh, the talented artist for whom I am honored to wear his work.
They say that every tattoo has a story; here’s mine.
I never thought I would ever get a tattoo. I thought it would be a hindrance to being a performer playing different roles.
I was diagnosed with oral cancer at the base of the tongue and my whole world turned upside down. This would be devastating to anyone; as a performer-teacher-director I knew it would be paralyzing if I was to let it take hold.
As treatment goes, if they couldn’t fry this cancer with radiation, then they would have to cut out my tongue. No thanks! Not a part of my plan! Keeping positive with a sense of humour and a vision for the future was my plan.
Prior to being dealt the cancer-card my plan was to go and work with elephants. Elephants fascinate and inspire me. So my happy place during my many rounds of radiation was to imagine looking into the eye of an elephant. I had always used the mantra Trunks Up when working with students and cast and crew of new productions. Trunks Up means good luck and remove all obstacles.
Support and encouragement came from my students, past and current, their families and the whole community. Everybody (including my nurses and oncologists) was wearing Trunks Up pins. It was a long journey with many continuing challenges but I am grateful for what I have.
Never leave things unsaid and pass on a Trunks Up to anyone who needs it because we all have obstacles to remove. Surrounded by my team of supporters I received my first tattoo designed by a former student. I beat cancer, I looked into the eye of an elephant and, yes, I got a tattoo.
In my opinion tattoos have always been a way to tell a story. They can be images that a person wants to project about one’s self, or a way to remember and share a part of one’s life. The back piece began as a concept when I was 20. It started as a way for me to reconnect with my earth-based Celtic and Viking heritage, but then as I aged and new stories and memories formed it became so much more. It also didn’t just happen to materialize in the physical through traditional means — I had to wait for the right situation and time. That time came one summer when I worked with and became friends with Conrad Burglund. I told him about my idea of having a tattoo with a tree that represented me and my life with a Norse world-tree theme. But I also wanted to represent death and the passing of friends, family and relationships as well as the birth-stones of my daughter and family. I also wanted the artist to add their own artistic flair to the image. The result was everything I had hoped for and more — it represents my connection to nature and family and my connection to my past. The piece will continue to evolve and it awaits the next session where it will grow like my life has…with more stories and memories layered in.