I got my first tattoo at the beginning of my freshman year of college. Here’s the story of its birth: I was in art history class discussing Flemish painter Jan Van Eyck’s painting ‘The Arnolfini Marriage.’ We dissected this image of a marriage contract, going over the placement of the couple’s hands, the dog, and the shoes on the floor.
I saw that Jan Van Eyck’s signature was painted on the wall behind the somber couple and next thing you know it was tattoo’d on my leg. I’m not sure what propelled me to do it. I never felt I needed it, but need is a silly word. It was a want.
I was running on impulse.
I’ve had a few more tattoos through the years. Half of them are cover ups of other impulsive tattoos. Art school will do that to you. Kills your judgment. Or maybe that’s just youth, making every thought you have seem brilliant and important. Now, I’m on the verge of getting another tattoo. This will be my final tattoo. The finality of it is self-imposed of course. This final tattoo is another cover up, a new design to blanket an old design that I once deemed worthy of living with me forever.
AND NOW A BRIEF HISTORY OF TATTOOS AS READ ON WIKIPEDIA! The practice of tattooing has been around for centuries. The earliest written record was in the late 1700s by Joseph Banks, a naturalist traveling on the HMS Endeavour through the Pacific islands. He discovered that the natives marked themselves and each mark spoke of who they were and where they stood. Communication through the body, modified to externalize the internal, the geographical, and the hierarchical.
This next statement may be important information to know before reading further!
HERE IT IS: I am not cool. I am not hip. I dress in generic button up shirts. Jeans. Khakis. Cargo shorts even. I’ve been known to wear a baseball hat (but I do stay away from flip flops. They feel weird on my feet). Basically, no one is stopping me on the street to compliment my style sense.
NOW, LET’S RETURN: Tattoos can be status markers as well as style choices – they are signs that can say, no matter the design, statements such as ‘I’m a feminine girl but I still want to be seen as rough and edgy’ or ‘I think deep thoughts. Let me tell you all about them.’ But most of the time a tattoo simply says, ‘I don’t give a fuck.’
When I got my tattoos I didn’t really give much thought to what they would say to the people that saw them, I was very much in the ‘I don’t give a fuck’ camp, but still – people ask. They want answers. They want the story behind the markings. Most of the time the truth is pretentious, or at least mine is.
In considering my upcoming tattoo I thought of designs that we’ve seen become common. Two came to mind – the tribal arm band and the tramp stamp. These are two distinct tattoo designs that lock a person to a certain period in time, approximately the late 1990s. At the time both were considered popular and unique. They were obvious tattoo choices for rebellious youth and those looking to mimic rebellious youth.
TRUTH: I don’t want to judge anyone who has either of these designs. They’re just frames of reference. I see a guy with a tribal tattoo and I wonder how many Godsmack concerts he’s gone to and if I had to guess I can pretty much bet that his first cellphone was a giant beast of technology.
This is not what I want my final tattoo to be, but how do you imagine how art will age in the future? How do you guess what will and what won’t become a mainstream and trendy design? What designs and tattoo placements are at their peak of popularity right now that won’t age well?
I spoke to my local tattoo artist Danny Sun of Chapter Tattoo to run my thoughts by him. My first question was this – what designs and body placements does he see growing as trends?
He gave me a brief rundown: For women there are two popular spots. The rib cage and chest tattoos featuring birds, woodland creatures, hearts and keys – sensitive yet bold designs. Flash art, or sailor art, is huge as well. Neck and hands are big. Kids want to show off their ink. Put it out there.
I asked about tribal designs and their place in the mainstream consciousness. Is there anything that will be like that? Like the tramp stamp? In the dark and cynical web of my heart I was hoping to hear Danny tear into tribal designs and lower back tattoos as horrible and atrocious, like Kurt Cobain giving his opinion on the Backstreet Boys. What I got was something else. Respect. He told me, ‘as long as it’s a good design, I don’t care. That’s all that matters. Tribal arm band or a butterfly on the lower back.’
‘Yes,’ I agreed. Damn. He was right. I had been looking at all wrong. I had been coming at it as a total jackass. I know people that have tribal tattoos and lower back tattoos. They love them. Who the heck am I? If you love something and can pull it off until the day you die you should totally go for it. Who’s to stop you? Maybe tribal tattoos and tramp stamps will make a comeback like 80s florescent colors and synthesizers and that guy with the giant goatee will have the last laugh. Or maybe that’s not the point. I said up there that I am not cool, remember? So why be concerned about it now?
As for my tattoo, my final cover-up, it’s his design and it is amazing. It’s a lower arm piece that is going to go below the Pinocchio tattoo above. He drew up something awesome and I don’t know why I’m stalling. Why I won’t commit. Maybe it’s due to my past tattoo mistakes, none of them are of the tribal or lower back variety, but my first tattoo? It’s on my ankle.
When discussing tattoo placements that are tied to the late 1990s, Danny and I talked about arm bands and tramp stamps. A few days later I got a text from Danny saying, ‘Oh, I thought of two more. Stars behind the ear or something on the ankle.’ So, there it is. No matter what, I’ll be pegged as a product of the grunge era. Of generation X. Reality bites. Slackers.
And no, I’ve never been to a Godsmack concert. Although I did see Korn once or twice.
POSTSCRIPT: I do love and admire quality tattoos, so no offense to the lovely and willing bodies that get stars inked on their faces, cupcakes on their feet, and anchors, banners, birds, and flowers on their chests. Keep it up and please feel free to mock my tattoos in the comments!