the liberator may 27, 2010
Permanent Ink life & feature
the liberator may 27, 2010
art by Isabel Legate
Meaning reflects individuality
Under their skin As the tattooing industry continues to evolve, more and more people are getting tattoos. Below, teachers and students reflect on the meaning behind the tattoos they have acquired over the years.
Jamal Brooks LBJ senior
First Tattoo at Age: 17 Number of Tattoos: 7 Tattoo Significance: “I got [one tattoo] for my granny, because she passed away. I got my last name on my back, just because it was my first tattoo. And I got ‘Trust no man but God’ across my chest, because people were shady those days. My tattoos are on both arms, and I did one of them by myself. It’s about the place I’m from, the ATX.”
LASA Planet Earth teacher First Tattoo at Age: 18 Number of Tattoos: 2 Tattoo Significance: “It’s a combination of the sun and a compass rose. The quote is ‘Sight of the sun is life and life is love.’ I call it my ‘happy feel-good tattoo.’ I was a biologist studying life, and it was the thought that without the sun, nothing would exist. The part about life being about love was because I feel like the whole point of being alive is to pursue something.”
From Sketch to Reality Step-by-Step Tattoo Process
On May 7, The Liberator accompanied LASA science teacher Alison Earnhart as she went to get her fourth tattoo. After observing Earnhart and speaking with LBJ senior Jamal Brooks, amateur tattoo artist, The Liberator gained insight into the tattooing process.
LASA Sci-Tech teacher First Tattoo at Age: 21 Number of Tattoos: 4 Tattoo Significance: “The comic book the tattoo is based on is Girl Genius. The heroine of the story is one of those crazy mad scientists who builds all the stuff, and whenever she, or any of the other mad scientists in the comic, invent or create or get into a mad frenzy of doing their science, they sing this amazing mythical song which is what [the tattoo] is.”
Choose the design. Tattoo parlors usually provide pre-drawn designs that clients can choose from. “You can walk in and point out something and say, ‘I want that, and I want it here,’ or you can bring in an idea or some concepts, and then have the artist make something for you,” Earnhart said.
Inside a quaint yellow house bordered by a small poppy garden, the steady buzz of tattoo needles fills a sparsely furnished room. Brightly colored drawings of butterflies and dragons, devils and angels, skulls and hearts, and demons and fairies cover every surface, from shiny wood floors to crisp white walls and even the low ceiling. LASA Sci-Tech and astronomy teacher Alison Earnhart, however, has no need for these drawings that clutter Mom’s Tattoo Parlor. After a year of careful contemplation, she knows exactly what she wants. And compared to the four years she spent thinking about her first tattoo, this could be considered a hasty decision. “I’m not one of those types of people who stumbles into a tattoo parlor and goes, ‘Yeah, that design looks kind of cool. I want that permanently etched on my body for the rest of my life,’” Earnhart said. “I’m very cautious about it. You’re making a lifetime decision when you get a tattoo. It’s not something you can take lightly. If you’re going to get something on you that’s more permanent than marriage, I suggest you think about it a little bit.” Although Earnhart spent years planning her tattoo, the decision process varies from one person to the next. Earnhart said that by considering the tattoo for many years and designing it herself, she ensured that it would always hold meaning to her. “I chose placement and design very carefully,” Earnhart said. “You picture yourself that way and if you’re still cool with it two or three years down the road, then it might be something you’re willing to live with. I had [my first tattoo] drawn out when I was sophomore in college, and I didn’t get it done until three years later. It became something that I would doodle. It became something that I would write about sometimes, and after a while, [I was] like, ‘Okay, I think I’m ready. I’m willing to commit to this.’” LASA biology teacher Amanda Walker did not personally design her tattoo. But she did put plenty of thought into what she wanted. Eight years ago, Walker asked her art students to create sketches of potential tattoos for her. “I’m not really all that creative, but I knew what I wanted [my tattoo] based on,” Walker said. “I wanted to look at a bunch of different ways that creative people had interpreted that. So when I said I wanted it based on DNA, I got 50 designs that were all different, and I liked a lot of them. I had had a design kind of in mind, and it turned out that I liked a lot of the ones the students made a lot better. It was kind of hard to pick from how many good ideas there were.” Like Earnhart, Walker continues to find her tattoo—a swan’s head surrounded by a circular strand of DNA— meaningful. By contrast, LASA English teacher Brad Sharp said the decision to get a tattoo of a star on his wrist was more spontaneous. “I was in Paris, and getting a tattoo sounded like a good idea,” Sharp said. “I don’t even think about [the tattoo] anymore. It’s just there.” This nonchalance reflects a cultural trend—the prevalence and widespread acceptance of tattoos. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 36 percent of people
Transfer the sketch. The tattoo artist sketches the design on transfer paper. After cleaning and shaving the area to be tattooed, the skin is wetted and the sketch is placed onto the skin. The artist then removes the paper, leaving an outlined design to guide the artist as he inks the tattoo.
ages 18 to 25, and 40 percent of those ages 26 to 40, have at least one tattoo. While tattoos are becoming increasingly common, LASA Planet Earth teacher Claire Barrett said that when she decided to get her first tattoo at 18, the perceptions that came with her body art were not always positive. “I’m really close to my mom, but she said, ‘Honey, you know I’ll always love you, but when I was your age, only whores got tattoos,’” Barrett said. “And I was like, ‘Um, okay. Well, Mom, I’m not a whore.’ And that was it.” According to tattoo artist Craig Sheets, who works at Atomic Tattoo in Austin, reactions such as Barrett’s mother’s were common when he first began tattooing professionally as an 18-year-old. However, as the industry grows, Sheets’ clientele continues to change. “When I first started, there were a lot of bikers in the industry and things like that,” Sheets said. “I think it’s becoming more and more actual art students and professionals, and the art keeps getting better and the tattoos keep getting better, and more people are getting them. It’s become more wide and varied. It’s an evolving industry, and I love where it’s going.” As tattoos become more popular, the demand for tattoo
My mom said, ‘Honey, you know I’ll always love you, but when I was your age, only whores got tattoos.’ -LASA Planet Earth teacher Claire Barrett artists, including LBJ senior Jamal Brooks, rises as well. After getting his first tattoo, a cursive lettering of his last name across his back, Brooks said he was inspired to become a tattoo artist. As Brooks continues to gain more experience, he hopes to open his own shop in order to pursue tattooing professionally. Although he has yet to receive his license, Brooks said he remains secure in his tattooing abilities. “You’ve got to go into the tattoo confident,” Brooks said. “Like you’re going to go into a football game.” Brooks learned to tattoo from his cousin and subsequently set up a workspace in his room, where he has tattooed more than 100 people. Brooks said the more clients he tattoos, the more knowledge and experience he gains. “Everybody has different kinds of skin, so you have to see how the skin takes to the ink and kind of work around that,” Brooks said. “Some people have like alligator skin, really rough, and some people have smooth skin that takes to the ink real good.” In addition to differences in skin type, reactions to the tattooing process are also varied. While Brooks said the pain associated with a tattoo is similar to a bee sting, Barrett said her tattooing experience was even more painful. As the artist began to ink the tattoo onto her skin, Bar-
Ink the tattoo. After preparing the tattooing needle, the artist begins to ink the tattoo on the skin. “You get the tattoo gun ready and fill the ink tube up,” Brooks said. “Then, when you start tattooing, you spread the person’s skin and make sure you draw straight lines and go slowly.”
rett recalled closing her eyes, uncertain of what to expect. “So the next thing I know, I’m running through a field, like in the ‘Sound of Music’ or something,” Barrett said. “It’s like this green hill with all these flowers, and I’m running through this field and it’s all beautiful, people are singing and I hear someone say, ‘Claire, Claire, Claire.’ And I’m like, ‘Is it God?’ Well, I had passed out. I had totally passed out. So that person saying ‘Claire, Claire’ was not God. It was the tattoo artist, and he was trying to get me to come to.” Barrett regained consciousness within a few minutes and the artist finished her tattoo, a Welsh dragon. Although Earnhart remained conscious during her first tattoo, she said that, similar to Barrett, the experience was unforgettable. “Having [the tattoo] done over my sternum, I could feel it in my fingertips and my toes when it was happening,” Earnhart said. “It was 45 minutes of pure agony. I remember getting up out of the chair afterwards, and I was literally wet. It looked as if I had stood in the shower with my clothes on because I was sweating so intensely from the pain.” Although there is potential for pain, LBJ senior Afrikaan Frye said he trusted Brooks rather than a professional tattoo artist when receiving his first tattoo. “I’ve seen him draw before,” Frye said. “I trusted him.” Sheets shares Frye’s attitude that tattoos provide an artistic form of expression for both the artist and the client. “People like adorning their bodies, just like people adorn their bodies in every other way, shape or form,” Sheets said. “The feelings of wanting to decorate oneself are allowed to roam free, so people get more and more [tattoos].” Similar to the phenomenon that Sheets described, Earnhart began to picture herself with more tattoos after her first. However, as Earnhart collected more and more tattoos, she realized she wanted a sense of balance on her body. “Once you get one, then you start looking at the rest of your body going, ‘So, something would look good there, something would look good there,’” Earnhart said. “And for me, I’m actually obsessed with symmetry because I’m a scientist, so I’ve been walking around for a year with something on my back, chest and arm, and nothing on my other arm, and it really freaks me out.” Earnhart’s most recent tattoo, a music staff on her arm, fulfilled this need for symmetry. Like all of Earnhart’s tattoos, the music holds a personal meaning, which she said is the most essential characteristic for her designs. “To me, it’s a very spiritual thing,” Earnhart said. “Everything I have on my body is there for a reason, it has multiple meanings for me. It’s something I’m committed to having on my body for the rest of my life because I feel so strongly about it. Sometimes people ask me about [my tattoos], and I can talk about them. When I look in the mirror I see them, and it reminds me why I got them, reminds me about their own symbolism.” story by Abigail Cain, Alana Hauser, Katie Pastor and Rebecca Pittel
Clean and bandage area. Once finished, the artist cleans off excess ink from the skin. Before wrapping the tattoo in protective gauze, the client can view their new tattoo in the mirror. In some cases, the tattoo artist may ask to take a photo of the finished product for their design portfolio.
Keep skin sterile. The client receives antibacterial cream and cleaning supplies to prevent infection. “You have to clean it properly, because you do have an open wound on your flesh,” Earnhart said. “They literally cut your skin. Now, for the next two weeks, I’m going to wash it religiously.”
infographics compiled by Abigail Cain and Alana Hauser
Teen honors mom, acquires new tattoo
My left middle finger is imprinted with four cursive letters that spell “fear”—my mother’s last name. Fifteen minutes and $10 bought me a physical representation of what is meaningful to me—an image of stability in a world where emotions send me spinning into not altogether graceful pirouettes. I see a mostly chaotic world where people use routines and habits to create reliability where there is none. However, one thing, my love for my mother, has been an undeniable constant throughout the 17 years of my life. My love for my mother is what saves me. It’s beautiful and perfect in a world where people disappoint and even flowers wilt. We are two people separated by genes and experience and a divorce. But we are also two people connected by the titles “daughter” and “mother.” We have shared experiences, which are created because I feel her emotion and she feels mine. We are moved by each other’s emotions, each feeling a tug from the other because love cannot help but cause happiness and pain. And so, when my mother cries, I cry, and when she laughs, so do I. My mother is a thoroughly independent and sassy woman with enough poise and graciousness to show up the British queen. People are constantly falling in love with her warm, enveloping personality and sophisticated fashion sense. Standing exactly five feet tall, she is the personification of “fun size” and a little firecracker of energy who always keeps people on their toes. I am astonished and grateful that this powerful woman is my mom. I’ve been told that together we make quite a duo. I don’t share her last name, but I have the honor to uphold hers. My tattoo is a moral compass that points toward dignity, not for me, but for my mother. As an agnostic, the “fear” on my finger is the closest thing I have to a religious text. It reminds me where I came from and what I should do. Already, there have been instances where I have been unsure of what direction to take and my tattoo, acting as a sort of Magic 8-Ball, administers advice. In times of doubt, I just ask WWMMD (What Would My Mom Do). Deciding to have the tattoo done wasn’t a huge leap of faith. Despite the significance behind my tattoo, actually making the choice was just as casual as evaluating whether to get Hot Cheetos or Hot Cheetos con Limon at 7-Eleven. Maybe those Nike commercials with the “Just do it” slogan sneakily proliferated in my subconscious, or maybe my still-developing teenage amygdala nudged me toward delinquency. Either way, I wasn’t concerned about my parents’ reactions. The thing about teenage rebellion, unfortunately, is that it has no regard for consequences. The permanence that discourages some from getting a tattoo has never concerned me. My love for my mother makes a permanent mark on my life; my tattoo is an equivalent of that. Even if the importance of our relationship fades, the permanence will not. The fact that it was once important to me carries enough weight to fend off any regret I might have in 30 years, though I can already say I will not feel regret for an instant. I’m not concerned with the fact that I might change my mind years from now. A thousand things might happen years from now. I have the experience of 17 years telling me that my love for my mother has been the one constant thus far.
Step-by-Step Tattoo Process Alison Earnhart Jamal Brooks Claire Barrett My mom said, ‘Honey, you know I’ll always love you, but when I was y...