These days it’s not uncommon to walk down the street and see a lot of ink. Fresh, weathered, old, young, man, woman, barely legal, geriatric, metalhead, parent, reggae lover. Everyone’s decided that our skin is a canvas. And I love this embrace of our bodies as art.
I suppose the advent of safer practices, safer ink, better training and cleaner studios (not to mention a general bit of ‘spare cash’ floating about, ha-ha) means that tattoo stigma has fallen and they’re not just for pirates, felons and degenerates any longer (what are you talking about? I’m definitely all three).
I’m amongst the tattooed generation – those under the age of 45 who it’s rare to find don’t have tattoo, even a small one. I love the variety in these tattoos – there’s really something for everyone. From micro tattoos, simple and minimalistic, to great back pieces or even just something as symbolic as a Hello Kitty or a badly done Daenarys Targaryen to show everyone your undying love for ASOIAF. Tattoo artists are flexible and adaptable, so it’s no wonder we’re getting inked much more than ever before.
My tattoo adventure started when I was 18. I’d thought about getting one for about 2 years before that, but 1. Never had the balls and 2. Never had the funds. I was actually 19 before I even got my first tattoo, waiting another 15 months after my 18th birthday before I knew I definitely had to get this as my first tattoo – the heartagram you see above. It made sense for me to get something which I thought was a cool design, and meant a lot to me. It’s got a story behind it. The heartagram symbol is the symbol from my favourite band. I’ve loved them since I was 11. Maybe that’s outdated, maybe I’ve got staying power – but either way it’s a part of me, who I am, and my tastes. It lets other people know about what music I love to listen to, what subculture I identify with, and some of my own values. I think this cost me £45 and took less than 2 hours. It wasn’t painful, really, and was a pretty non-adventurous thing to get. No colour, just lines and solid black colour.
My next tattoo adventure was completely different.
I’ve always been fascinated by snakes. I love their symbolism. In fact, all my tattoos are symbolic of something. According to the ‘original zodiac’ (if you believe in this), I’m not Sagittarius – I’m Ophiuchus. It’s very difficult to find anything about the personality traits of this sign (again, if you believe in this stuff), but it works a lot better for me, as I’ve sometimes not identified with the description of a Sagittarius. Ophiuchus’s symbol is the entwined snakes around the rod – the same symbol you see on ambulances and hospitals. These days it is mostly used to symbolise that to do with medicine. But it’s just another reason I love snakes.
They’re also considered exceptionally powerful in magical circles. Snakes have to do with the fall of man. But by far my favourite thing that snakes represent is that of rebirth, immortality, and healing. Snake venom is an incredibly powerful thing, not to mention the fact they shed and renew themselves every so often once they’ve grown out of their old skin. The Ouroboros is one of my favourite all time symbols, thought to have originated from Ancient Egypt (something else I have a long-standing fascination with). But it progressed through different civilisations – Ancient Greek, Western Alchemy, Norse Mythology. It permeates through so many of my favourite historical moments; it’s ever-present there, meaning so much to so many different people throughout the history of the world. I think that’s incredible.
So, get a snake, I thought. On my shin.
Except that when I went to discuss this snake tattoo, I got told; you know, it’ll look static on it’s own. Better to have something with it.
I agreed with the artist – they know what they’re talking about, I thought. Best to let them get on with it. He’s the artist. Trust him.
I put down my deposit and went back a few weeks later to see the design I’d had drawn up. Er, yeah. Shin sized… it was not. Thigh sized? Yes. This actually ended up benefitting me a lot, since my job requires tattoos to be coverable if they’re large. I love the style of my snake, though – it’s very typical of the style of the artist I chose, very Japanese inspired, and I’ve got a lot of lovely colours and flowers on there too. It’s the entire size of my hip to just above my knee, and I love it. 16+ hours of work and the best part of £1k later I had my second tattoo (inked over 2 years, because I get bored and can’t sit well for more than 3 hours).
My third tattoo came for my 21st birthday. In my family, it’s a tradition to get something meaningful and lasting on your 21st birthday. You’ve emerged from adolescence into young adult status. This is where you start to build yourself. You’re more sure of who you are. You’ve more than likely finished education. You’re taking the first steps of your career (I’m going to stop because I’ll make myself laugh). Anyway, as soon as I heard that from my dad (who actually brought it up on my sister’s 21st, 5 years before) I knew I wanted another tattoo. Of what, though, would take me a few more years to realise.
When the day finally came, I parted with the birthday dosh my dad had bequeathed me for my tattoo, and got my family crest inked onto my side. In little under 4 hours I had my third tattoo. It was pretty difficult to pick out the correct image – the bear had to be rampant, red clawed, chained and muzzled, and the family motto had to be correct too. But what better to signify my family, those closest and dearest to me?
My crest was finished. It wasn’t for at least another year that I got another tattoo to symbolise something else.
Once I’d met Harry, it didn’t take long for us to want to get matching tattoos. I always remember thinking I’d never be the sort of person to have someone’s name tattooed on my skin. But matching tattoos? That was cute. I looked through designs on Pinterest, not much catching my eye. Nothing seemed to fit what I wanted it to say… I wanted it to be unique to us, to say something about our relationship. To be a bit odd to look at, to quiz the eye.
So I designed something for us. Ville Valo’s often described his heartagram design as the yin and yang of metal. I love the symbolism behind the traditional yin and yang; it’s a lot of how I feel about relationships. There must be balance. Right around the time I got this tattoo, I also was discovering the importance of balance – it’s the key to a happy healthy life as far as I’m concerned. So, with that in mind, I only tweaked the yin and yang design slightly – so that the pointed ends of each side reflected our individual star signs. I’m very into the zodiac (can’t you tell?). So mine has a fish tail (and looks something like a small whale, but represents Pisces) and Harry’s has an arrow, representative of the Sagittarian archer. I was a little disappointed with these tattoos as they were a rush job done in less than 10 minutes, but I love them nonetheless.
My most recent tattoo is a Manchester Bee. (insert picture) I’ve always admired bees for, well, you can guess why. They’re hardworking and exceptional creatures, as well as being damn cute. As it’s also my initials, plus it’s the animal of Manchester, a city which I’m very fond of, I’ve wanted a little insect for ages. When the Manchester Bee tattoo fund started, I was more than happy to donate money to the cause. Sweet ink for me, money for the charity, exposure for a brilliant artist. Many thanks to Rebecca for my awesome new tattoo – and it’s a little present to myself, too, for finally, FINALLY finishing my degree. I knew I promised myself no more ink until I’d finished for a reason – what a great motivator.
Next time I’ll be talking more about what graduating has brought forth for me.
In the meantime, I’d love to see any photos of your ink, and I’d love to read any stories behind your tattoos. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on Facebook!