By Judy Parker
Believe it or not, when I was a child, I was kind of shy. Some people noticed my nervous habit of drawing, to kind of hide away myself in new environments with new people. They became interested and it helped me to socialize. People would speak to me and ask me to draw things for them. It was a way of making friends and learning, at the same time. I didn’t know it at the time but I was learning to draw on command. I was learning a lot of the skills that I would need later on, to be a good tattoo artist. Before long, I found myself drawing on people, kids, of course. One of our games was taking their names and turning them into pictures, usually faces. Basically, I was learning how to regrettable hide names or images, one of the most common tattoo requests. Not always, but often. So, I’ve been drawing on people since elementary school. Before long, I had so many requests that I was able to charge a fee… their lunch money. I was learning to make money with my art, from the start. In 33 years of doing this for a living, it never ceases to amaze me that I get requests for something that I have never tattoo before, on a pretty regular basis. You would think that I’ve tattooed almost everything by now. Not so. It keeps the job of being a tattoo artist a lot more interesting.
People often ask me what was the strangest tattoo I ever did? There have been so many that would fit in the category of strange, to me at least. In this day and age, tattooing of the eyebrows and eyeliner is pretty commonplace. But in the first week of my career in tattoo, a young lady came in and asked me if I could tattoo her eyebrows. At first, I didn’t even notice that she had none, but what she had were drawn on with a pencil. To me, that was pretty unusual, even though I had only been tattooing a short time. It turned out that she been in a car accident some years earlier and had lightly burned her face and hairline. She explained to me that preparing her face each day for work was quite an effort and took her a lot of time. The least she needed was a template for her eyebrows… until she pulled her hair back. I had not noticed the shininess, the pulled-back hairline and the lack of eyebrows and eyelashes. In the many years that followed, I did everything from an eyebrow that was made up of someone’s name to a prenuptial agreement on a man’s and woman’s hip. I’ve turned scars and birthmarks and a wide assortment of discolorations into images that someone can live with.
Most of my customers are quite interesting as are the stories behind their tattoos. One man came to me with an unusual birthmark, which consisted of a very large dark mole, with a lot of long black hair coming out. Eewwww. Poor fella. The doctor said it was not something he would feel comfortable removing surgically, complications could arise. The man told me that he would go to the bar and try to meet ladies, dance or carry on a conversation , but as soon as she saw the unsightly dark hairy spot on his forearm, the conversation would end abruptly . I came up with a mythical flying lion using the dark, hairy spot as the end of the tail, and making the lion whimsical. To my astonishment, a few weeks later. he called me up and we both had quite a laugh. He told me that the other night he was in a bar speaking with a woman, when he noticed her playing with the tail on his flying lion. Maybe she had one too many, maybe it was less of a repulsive mark now but, in any event, it belonged there. It was quite amusing.
Many times, surgical scars, especially when women get a tummy tuck and such, can be difficult to deal with. And sometimes it gives me and my customer some of the greatest satisfaction to be able to disguise or camouflage that Mark with an image that they can relate to and enjoy. I took one jagged scar from a tummy tuck and used only sepia, pinks and orange in creating a very delicate, leafy flower design, to camouflage and create a lingerie effect. It worked nicely. When the woman had a tummy tuck, in the first place, to help her feel comfortable in her own body, the jagged scar took away from it, but, luckily, we were able to add this lingerie effect to complete the transformation and make her happy.
That part is probably my favorite part of being a tattoo artist. What might be strange to one is a meaningful image to another. And I know a lot of people aren’t going to like to hear this, but I’ve made many mistakes, and learning to fix them has taught me a lot.
Many people are very conservative, tend to watch television and assume that most people with tattoos are somehow bad. In the past, between the banker in the bank robber, one would assume that the robber would have the tattoo. Nowadays, the tables may be turned. The truth is, a lot of really good people and a lot of crazy people and a lot of so-called normal people, like to express themselves in much the same ways. I hope I never go to prison, but if I do, I’m sure I would still be able to draw on people and help them better express themselves. I feel very fortunate indeed to have been part of this art-based industry, full of interesting characters, images and customers.