A Good Reason To Get Tattooed
Some years ago, in an older issue of Skin&Ink magazine, I was perusing the New York City (Roseland Ballroom) convention coverage and noticed a photo of a fellow that had absolutely HUGE letters filling up his back. The letters were thick and bold and simply said, “BACK PIECE.” At first, I though it was pretty funny! (I get it, I thought to myself.) I just assumed this was his way of being clever. I noticed he had a rather large beer in a plastic cup that was just about to spill over like he was drunk or just not paying attention. Then I wondered what had led him up to the point where he chose to permanently display this blatant act of sarcasm for the entire world to see. Was he pissed off (or jealous) at all his friends, who had “serious” backpieces by world-class artists like Filip Leu or Paul Jeffries? Was this the only tattoo he would ever get? Did he actually make a personal sacrifice to show his contempt for tattooing? What, exactly, was his motivation for this? I wanted to know.
That tattoo really had power over me. Now, as I click away on my laptop, I wonder how much power it held over other people. What am I saying here? I’m sharing my feelings on how powerful lettering can be as a tattoo. Especially, if it’s BIG! Sure, we’ve all seen those big, scary biker/convict types with “Aryan Nation” or “Brown Pride” inscribed across their chests, but, we’ve also had some pretty straight-laced people come into our shops requesting some rather large lettering. Admittedly, if done properly, lettering can accent just about any part of the body just like various tribal styles.
So, as I’m writing this, I’m thinking that I personally don’t have many lettering tattoos. But, after peeling up my shorts to look at my legs and looking at various other parts of me, I notice that I really do have a sizeable amount. This includes my shocker, proudly displaying the “2P1S” to commemorate when about ten of us formed the “Stinky Pinky Club” in Dani O’s honor way back in ’04. Honestly, all of these have had special meaning for me over the years. They tell me where I was, how I was feeling and even “who I was” at the time.
I got my first tattoo in Hong Kong (back in 1972), by “Pinky” Yun. It was a row of roses arched with the letters “Gunner” inside. I was a Navy gunner’s mate on an old DD class destroyer during the last years of the Viet Nam War. I was very drunk, but liked it so much that I went back the next day (sober) and got a little scorpion on my back. I was really proud to get tattooed during the Viet Nam war by the same guy who tattooed my stepfather during the Korean war. It was official, we were Navy men! When I got back to “The World” (USA), several of my so-called friends, who saw the rose tattoo called me “baby killer” and “murderer,” so I had the lettering covered up with more roses. It really had power over so many people, including myself.
Some of my personal favorite lettering tattoos are the clever sayings arched across the chest of wayward souls that may say “Momma Tried” or “Send Lawyers, Guns and Money” or maybe even “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young.” I love to see flowery scripts surrounded by clouds and maybe a heavenly glow with words like “Only God Can Judge Me” displayed defiantly across tanned shoulders. So cool. Not long ago, a lovely Jewish woman came in and had me put a Hebrew prayer across her ribs. It was taken from her tiny ring, so drawing it was quite a chore. When it was all said and done, I had to admit it was a pretty impressive idea.
We commemorate our loved ones, warn those around us, proclaim our innocence and even honor ourselves. Catchy phrases, slogans and religious chapters adorn our bodies with pride and defiance. Pencil-thin scripts and bold block letters fill up our bodies. Just like a Polynesian tribal tattoo tells a story or describes the wearer’s traits, lettering not only can accent the body but can set our convictions in concrete. They let everybody know who we are or, at least, who we want to be.
The point behind my ramblings is that, although we may all have our own reasons for getting tattooed with lettering, this constant remains: Good or bad, lettering has strong psychological effects on both the wearer and the viewer. There are so many great tattoo artists who have mastered lettering that I thought share some of their awesome art (and some of mine) with you, the readers. Enjoy!
Faithful servant to the trade,