Tattoos I Know: Erika's Ink (Part 2)

This is part 2 of Erika's ink (part 1 here). Erika has a lot of tattoos, so I had to split the post, since she generously offered them all up for Tattoosday.

Tattoo #7 is actually #7 and #13, as one element was added eight years later. We'll focus on #7 now, which is the flower on the inside of Erika's left wrist.

Erika, in her own words, went through what she calls "an experimental phase" in her life, during which she began dating women. To show her "true colors" at the time, Erika and her cousin, who was also dating women, got the same tattoo...a rainbow-petaled flower above a doubled female sign, to proudly display her alternate lifestyle.

The flower was inked at a shop called Murda Ink Tattoos, in Jamaica, New York.

Flashing forward to the Summer of 2006, Erika was having a cover-up done (see #8 and #12 below) and asked, as an afterthought, if the artist could cover the interlocking female insignia, as well. Erika's fiancee (now husband) didn't like the "advertisement" of the prior lifestyle. The leaves were added under the flower at Triple X Tattoo, now known as Red Rocket Tattoo on 46 West 36th Street in Manhattan.

Tattoo #8 was a boyfriend's name, inked along the front of her waistline, by Joe at Between the Lines. This name was covered up (see below) in 2007.

Tattoo #9 is a Chinese dragon on the middle of Erika's back. Her dress at the company holiday party afforded me a great opportunity to photograph it without her having to remove any clothing.

Joe at Between the Lines did this piece as well. Erika recalls just hanging out at Joe's shop and talking about how she wanted a big piece for her back. Joe was happy to oblige, and drew up the dragon free-hand.

She said that it took about ten weeks and three sittings to complete. The reason for the multiple sittings? The pain. To quote Erika, "I'll never forget how much that shit hurt."

The other elements of the tattoo are the kanji. When I asked Erika what they meant, she said, "Well, one of them is supposed to mean "to love life":

and the other is supposed to acknowledge that former lifestyle and say "to love women":

Erika, when she told me this, seemed to have her doubts, and was receptive to the idea of me looking into their actual meanings.

I went to my resident Chinese language expert, who quickly debunked their meanings. They do not mean what she thinks they do, he said. Because they don't make much sense. The best translation he could give was "good girl" for the top and "born/appear" for the bottom.

If you look at the kanji for "love,"

you'll notice it's not similar to any of the kanji in the tattoo.

Tattoo #10 may look familiar, as it is the first one I noticed on Erika which started out this whole business. Despite "never being crazy about tattoos on arms," Erika inked this in the Summer of 2003, while on a date. She doesn't recall the name of the shop, just that it was somewhere in the East Village. Of course, the East Village is likely one of the few places in the U.S. where tattoo/piercing shops outnumber Starbucks.

So, Erika still had a soft spot for little girl things, unicorns and fairies and such, so she designed this fairy, using several different drawings to create a composite she liked.

She designed the wings and changed the outfit color to red. Why red? As a tribute to her younger brother, who was in the Bloods, a gang whose colors are red. I, for one, appreciate the irony of a pixie sporting gang colors. This is definitely a tough, New York fairy, not some wimpy woodland nymph!

Tattoo #11 also has a pretty interesting story. Erika got married in the Spring of 2007, but she met Lance, her husband-to-be in February 2004.

They dated for a couple of weeks, but she knew he was still dating another woman. Erika thought that this other woman, who had been seeing the guy first, was going to be a problem and that, as long as she was still in the picture, their relationship wouldn't go anywhere.

Erika made a conscious decision to "steal him away" once and for all. Because he had kids from a previous relationship, she plotted to surprise him on Father's Day with a surprise trip to Florida. He had never been to South Beach in Miami and she wanted him to experience it. And so she did.

The day before they were set to return to New York, they were walking around South Beach and they stumbled upon a tattoo shop. Lance already had one small tattoo with some kanji, so Erika suggested that he go in and get a new one. The subject of tattoos had come up before (how could it not when you already had 10 pieces?), so they went in and he got a new piece on his
arm, a huge lion with a crown, representing his last name in Hindi.

It's incredibly hard to be an inked person and watch someone get a tattoo and not want one for oneself. Therefore, Erika found a piece on the wall that she liked and had it done on her back, below the bluebird, above the dragon.

Sorry, the name of the shop and the artist are not recalled.

Tattoo #12 came in the early Summer of 2006, around late June/early July. She and Lance were engaged, and she wanted to cover up the name of an ex-boyfriend tattooed across her lower abdomen.

A co-worker recommended Red Rocket Tattoo, and it was there that she had this lotus inked on her waistline:

Yep, no name anymore!

Now, for some disclosure. Erika is the first Inked Person to let me photograph her stomach for Tattoosday. I did have a mutual friend present, Sephora, who was the first person who hosted a tattoo here.

Erika wanted the lotus for two reasons. In addition to wanting something pretty to cover up an old name, she had heard that the lotus was a symbol of fertility, and she hopes to have kids some day. She hopes the lotus will be lend good luck for future procreative purposes.

There are over one hundred various types of lotus, so I can't pinpoint the exact one this is modeled after.

Once this cover-up was done, Erika asked for the leaves on the flower mentioned above to cover up the double female insignia.

Well. a hearty thanks to Erika for her participation here! She definitely holds the record for most tattoos offered up to the Tattoosday masses. Her ink is closing out the year for Tattoosday. Here's hoping that her lotus will spawn a healthy blossoming of tattoo posts here in 2008!

Tattoos I Know: Erika's Ink (Part 1)

A long, long time ago, in a place called BillyBlog, an idea was formed. It was the idea that became Tattoosday. I decided to celebrate the many tattoos I encountered, with a photo (or two) and a story. A Miami Ink for the blogging crowd. Nothing about the artists' personalities, all about ink. In fact, all you see is the art, and very little else of the hosts.

The idea was to find strangers willing to let me take pictures of their tattoos, and post them with an accompanying text explaining when and where and why they chose to be inked. But I needed a guinea pig, so I started with a co-worker, Sephora, who seemed to enjoy talking with me about tattoos and music of all sorts. She was game, and she inaugurated the Tattoosday feature here.

And the rest is (brief) history. The Tattoosday feature, appearing every Tuesday was so much fun, I spun it off into its own blog and it has enjoyed a small, small viewership. But a blog can only dream. Through the odds and ends and goods and bads of Tattoosday's growing pains, I would occasionally saunter over to Sephora and chat about tats. The woman who sat in front of her, Erika, would often join in the conversation, but was mum about her own tattoos (if she had any, I couldn't tell. I wasn't scanning her clothing edges for ink slippages.)

Then in November, Erika was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and lo! and behold! What did I see?

Well, now I was chatting with Erika about tattoos and she mentioned she had a lot. I asked her if she would be interested in Tattoosday and she was game. So, over the last few weeks, starting with our holiday party when she was wearing a dress that showed off most of her back, through very recently when I snapped the pictures of the last of Erika's dozen (or so) tattoos, I managed to capture the catalog of Erika's ink, which is presented here for the Tattoosday readership.

Enough of my gab, lets roll with the body art!

Erika doesn't know exact dates on all her ink, so we're going to go chronologically. First up is this basic, rudimentary rose on her right lower calf.

By the way, Erika's tattoos all have pretty good story behind them. About 14 years ago, circa 1993, she was 18 and went into Your Choice Tattoo, in East Meadow, New York (on Long Island, for you non-New Yorkers). She was scared to death of what then pain would be like, Her boyfriend suggested the location on her lower leg because it wouldn't hurt so much. Of course, in hindsight, that's one of the more painful spots because it is so close to bone.

The co-owner of Your Choice Tattoo, Joe, made her go home and get her birth certificate, because he thought her ID was fake. He even joked that she would need to get a letter from her mother!

Two years later, at 20, she was back at Your Choice, this time working with artist Michelle, who put this unicorn on the right side of her lower back:

Erika explains that she was still a kid at heart, and that she had a lot of unicorns in her room. She saw this design on the wall and went with it. It's a reminder of that little girl she once was.

A year later, she was back at Your Choice Tattoo, with Michelle again. Like for most people, Ericka's tattoos serve as signposts for different periods of her life. In 1996, she was dating a guy who was heavy into the Black empowerment philosophy. "He was a big 'Power to the People' guy," Ericka recalls, "And I wanted to show him I was down with that." She exhibited this commitment by having an Egyptian ankh inked on her left shoulder:

Because the symbol simultaneously recalls Egypt and represents the hieroglyphic symbol for "life," it still resonates as a powerful image on her skin.

A year later, she had befriended another tattoo artist, Joe, at Behind the Lines II Tattooing in Jamaica, Queens. She had this small piece inked on her right shoulder:

The piece in question is the heart with the crown and the name "Marie". It's a tribute to her mother, Marie, who, Erika acknowledges, is "the Queen of her Heart". Below the tribute to her mom is another piece by Joe at Behind the Lines. It's a hybrid of the Puerto Rican flag and the Haitian flag. Her father is from Puerto Rico and her mother is from Haiti and she wanted a tribute to her heritage.

A year later (approximately 1998), she was hanging out with Joe and things were slow in the shop. He offered up, "I'm bored. Want a tat?" Ericka was game and this bluebird was inked on her neck:

She acknowledges that there is no real story behind it, but that she does like the art. Ericka is a great example of how tattoos can be addictive and that, once you get one, you want to keep going.

This concludes part 1 of Ericka's Ink. Stay tuned for part 2!

Thanks again to Ericka for sharing her tattoos!

Dana's Stargazer Lily

At the beginning of November, I found a cool tattoo where I least expected to: a bat mitzvah. Such occasions are not generally tattoo-displaying events, especially with the misconception that tattoos and Jews do not go together. However, we here at Tattoosday know better and I, with my two, and my spouse with her four, are always appreciative of a finely-inked piece.

The bat mitzvah girl was too young to be tattooed, but her older sister wasn't, and she had something on her back that I noticed in the shul. Nonetheless, she was not the person who ended up here on Tattoosday.

During the cocktail hour, post-service, pre-dinner, my lovely wife spotted a be-flowered bicep of a woman at the party.

However, she disappeared once we are all seated, and I figured that was that. Besides, I had no printouts of the blog with me, just the camera.

Later in the evening, post-dinner, post-performance (the bat mitzvah girl did a song and dance for the guests' entertainment). A bit after that, I spotted the woman on the other side of the
ballroom, seated at a table. I hate interrupting people while they are conversing with others, so I waited.

A bit further on, I saw her just outside the entrance, smoking a cigarette. Smoking may be hazardous one's health, but it seems to be Tattoosday's Best Friend. I've found the Smoking Tattooed among the most approachable, as they are standing around and not necessarily in a hurry anywhere. And by talking to them, I am not interrupting anything (generally speaking).

So, out I went to introduce myself and tell her about the blog. And, of course, she was totally cool. It turns out she had been the bat mitzvah girl's choreographer. Her name is Dana Athens, and she is a singer as well (check out her website or her MySpace page). I finally got a good look at the flower on her right biceps:

Dana explained that the tattoo is a stargazer lily, inked for inspiration as it represents "always reaching for your dreams". It is one of five tattoos she has.

When I asked her where she had it inked, she started, "A great artist named Peter...."

I cut her off...."At Body Art Studios?"

There's something about having been mutually tattooed by the same artist. It's more than just both knowing the same person. You both have let the same person artistically alter your respective bodies for life. I think it's a bond only the tattooed truly understand.

So we chatted and I took pictures of her lily. After we went back inside, I tracked down my wife, Melanie, and brought her over to Dana to introduce her.

Again, there was that connection between the mutually-tattooed. Melanie has had 3 of her 4 tattoos inked by Peter. She showed Dana her tattoos and we chatted awhile.

It was an unexpected bonus to an already festive evening.

My apologies to Dana for the delay in posting this sweet tattoo. Thanks again, Dana, for sharing your lily with us!

Jason's Koi and Flower

While wandering aimlessly at work, I ran into Tom (see his tattoo here) with a couple of contractors. One of them had a cool tattoo and when I mentioned it to Tom, he told me to go get my camera. And so I did.

Tom introduced me and summarized my Tattoosday project.

The guy, Jason, actually had two pieces that formed a quarter-sleeve that covered pretty much the entire upper arm.

The inner arm/bicep has a flower on it which he referred to as a pantisse.

I checked an encyclopedia and found no such name. I could spend a long time trying to figure it out, but am not willing to do so.

He got it at Fly Rite Studio in Brooklyn. The artist is Elio Espana.

The outer arm hosted the koi tattoo, which was the one I first noticed.

Jason is a Pisces, and the koi represents good luck.

This piece was inked by Damien Bart at Bruce Bart Tattooing in Ft. Lauderdale.

Thanks to Jason for contributing to Tattoosday!

New York City Marathon

Ok, so I am late with this post.

I live a half block from an early point in the New York City marathon route. Everyone is fresh and cheery, and the Kenyans are more of a blur than they are at the end of the race.

This year, I endeavored to see how many tattoo candids I could snap of runners as they passed by. I did not have high hopes. The mass of humanity that is 30,000 souls is a blur and by the time your brain registers something interesting, it is already gone in a trail of cells just starting to sweat.

I snagged one partial shot. (Don't forget, one has to factor in the photographer's ineptitude and the several-years-old technology of a Kodak Easyshare camera.

Of course, I'm not counting painted on flags like this one:

That's Pia Larsson from Sweden, by the way.

Anyway, I did catch this guy as he blew by:

I know what you're thinking...."What tattoo?" Take a peek at the guy on the right side of the photo and see what I salvaged:

And then lightened:

And then blew up:

I don't know exactly what it is, but there is definitely a patriotic theme here.

That's the best I could do. Sorry!

Tattoos I Know: Brooke's Courage

Here's another piece from a co-worker:

Brooke Goetz moved to the New York City/New Jersey area a couple years back, transplanting herself from Salt Lake City, Utah.

Earlier this year, in May, she was hanging out with some friends at a bar in Hoboken called Mikie Squared. One of her friends, Christian, was talking about tattoos. Brooke has two koi on her back (subject for a later post, hopefully) and another friend at the bar, Bill, admitted he did not have any tattoos. One thing led to another, and Bill posed the question to Brooke, "If I pay for it, will you go get a tattoo right now?" Brooke was game and agreed, without hesitation.

They called around but couldn't find any shops that were open. So the proposition died. Or so Brooke thought.

The next day, Bill called her and asked her if she was still up for the tattoo. "Sure," she said, and the rest is history.

The funniest part of the story, in my opinion, is that, on occasion, if Brooke's out with Bill and other friends at a bar, Bill will ask people, "You wanna see my tattoo?" When they say okay, Bill grabs Brooke's arm and shows them the tattoo.

The tattoo was inked by Robbie at Hoboken Body Art.
This kanji cost $75 and Brooke actually went back a few months later because she wanted it darkened. They re-inked it for free, an impressive pro-customer move.

Brooke chose the kanji for "courage" to represent the courageous act of leaving the relative "safety" of Utah for the faster-paced and exciting life of the Tri-State area. She likes having it on her inner wrist because she sees it all the time and it is a constant reminder to her to always be courageous in life.

Of course, Tattoosday has had its share of kanji tattoos in our short existence. The problem with kanji tattoos are that they are prone to errors and misinterpretation. It's hard to throw a cyber-rock on the web and not hit a story about an ill-inked kanji tattoo.

This one, however, seems correct, much to my relief. It would suck to have to tell Brooke her tattoo doesn't mean "courage" but "angry goat" or something silly.

Take a closer look:

Which is pretty close to this piece on the web:

Still, I like to get a second validation, which I found here:

Below are some of the characters styles you can choose for your "Courage / Bravery (alternate)" calligraphy when you select this option...

xingkai ying

xingshu ying

kaishu ying

lishu ying

zhuan ying

You can see from the above selection the differences in the same character, done in the different kanji styles (each labeled ____ Shu).

Kanji tattoos continue to simultaneously intrigue and befuddle me. Thanks to Brooke for sharing her courage with me.

Memorial for a Father

On a cold morning in the beginning of November, I spied a tattoo on the bare left calf of a guy at the corner of 31st and 7th in Manhattan. He crossed the street, walking the same direction I was headed and, lo and behold, headed into the Starbucks in my office building.

He was ahead of me in line and after he ordered, I expressed admiration for his tattoo:

Obviously, it's a memorial tattoo. The host's name is Jim and, as he explained, his father had passed away 3 years ago. I didn't notice until later when I uploaded the picture, the dates 1961-2005, making his father 43 or 44 when he died. The inscription reads "In Loving Memory James R. Frederickson".

Jim explained the tattoo for me. His father wanted to be cremated, so the tattoo is an ersatz grave site. He also added in the cheap, wooden cross, because his father always had been critical of people who spent a ton of money on grave markers.

Jim explained that the piece took him 2 1/2 years to design and get just right, so it must have been completed in the past year. It was inked at Lake Geneva Tattoo.

Thanks to Jim for sharing his tattoo with me!

Tattoos I Know: Jeff's Lifelong Long Life

Tattoosday is back after a November hiatus. If you want a further explanation, check out BillyBlog. Pickings have been slim, but I still hope to present a tattoo or two through the winter months. I have a few posts stored up to carry us through December......

Today's tattoo is from a co-worker named Jeff.

This piece is on his upper right arm. He got this at a tattoo shop in Rhode Island about a dozen years ago when he was 19. He'd always wanted one and designed this "under the influence of narcotics".

He thought it had meant "life-long" but found out later that it meant "long life". I have neither the time nor the wherewithal to fully research kanji mysteries like this. Here's one example of a stock "long life" kanji:

I don't see the similarities, but at least it doesn't mean "cow," like previous tattoos I have featured.

Either way, thanks to Jeff for sharing his tattoo!

Tattoosday Doldrums

Autumn has come to New York and the tattoos have all but disappeared. Despair not, oh readers of this blog, there is hope.

To the woman I met outside of Rite Aid with the rose tattoo on her ankle that she said din't mean anything, I'm curious to hear about the tattoo on your arm, hidden last Sunday, which you want to get removed. You said there's a good story behind it. Please e-mail me.

To the woman at Duane Reade in Penn Station who sold me the Advil Cold & Sinus, I hope you're reading this and will participate in Tattoosday so I can get the story (and photo) of the ink on your wrist.

Alas, we fired a woman today at work who I had hoped to ask about the tattoo on her leg. My friend at Starbucks with the pine trees on her arm, commemorating her homesickness for Michigan, has transferred to a different location, unknown to me.

There are two co-workers who are prepared to offer me their tattoos for the blog. Patience, dear readers, and tomorrow is Halloween and it's supposed to be warmer.

I also have a New York Marathon post planned for next Sunday. 30,000+ runners will be zipping by me at the corner of 92nd Street and 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. How many tattoos will I capture?

I will leave you today with a pre-Halloween shot, a candid I snapped on the streets of Manhattan back in August, when I was a timid Tattoosday blogger.

I don't know the story. I don't know anything, except that it's a pretty cool black tattoo.

A New Awakening

At the beginning of the week, Summer was still clinging to the Northeast, which meant that there were still tattoos to be spotted out in the sunshine.

Monday afternoon, I noticed a woman in the plaza outside of Borders with a cool ring of flames and a lion tattooed around her ankle.

When I approached her about it, she was kind of down on the piece, saying the guy who did it out in Huntington, NY overcharged her and messed it up. It still looked pretty cool to me.

She also showed me her first tattoo, a star in a circle, on her lower back.

However, the third tattoo, which I hadn't seen until she pushed her hair back from her neck, was her favorite. That was the one she liked the best:

She gave her name as "Marla," which she acknowledged wasn't her real name. She slipped later and said what her real name was, but I will honor her desire to be anonymously misidentified.

Marla had her piece inked by Cheryl at Ink Alternative in Ronkonkoma, NY. She spoke nothing but praise about the shop. Marla was thrilled to not only let me photograph her tattoo, but was excited when I showed it back to her on my camera as she hadn't seen it in a while.

Marla said she had the tattoo done after getting through a hard time and that it represented "a new awakening". The symbolism of the sun and the tears represented the moving on from the difficulty she had just gone through.

Thanks to Marla for sharing this cool design with the Tattoosday community! Thanks also to Stacey Sharp, another artist at Ink Alternative, for identifying for me the artist who inked Marla's neck.

Update 7/27/2009: Stacey is now at Inkpulsive Custom Tattoos.

Mike's Quintet of Tattoos

Last week, in front of Madison Square Garden, I met a guy named Mike who had several tattoos.

I have found the most success with people in this area because, generally, people are loitering in the fresh air while waiting to head into Penn Station and catch a train.

That's what Mike was doing and I must give him kudos not only for being open to talking with me, but for proudly showing me all of his tattoos (5 in all) and for being forthcoming about his life, more than others may have been.

This is the tattoo that first drew my attention:

This piece was designed and inked by an artist in Miami at a shop called Art Attack, which is now known as Merlin's Tattoo.

Mike's ex-fiancee's pet name was "Jellybean," because, he said, "she was sweet". The name was merged with the express train logo by the artist.

Mike was a first for Tattoosday, as when I asked him what shop his tattoos came from, he hesitated briefly, but then stated matter-of-factly, "State Penitentiary".

So, four of his tattoos were credited to an incarcerated artist named "Kenny V." I must say, in my opinion, considering that these were not done in a shop, per se, the work is superb.

Below the "Jellybean Express" tattoo on his right arm, there was this dragon (because he likes dragons):

What was particularly cool about this dragon was that its rudimentary spine-like body wrapped around Mike's arm from the biceps down toward the wrist. It's hard to really capture the effect, but I did the best that I could.

On his left arm he had two tattoos. A wolf:

and below the wolf was a row of paw prints, wrapping around his arm. Each paw print, Mike said, was a tribute to a friend in the penitentiary.

Lastly, on his right calf, Mike had this intricate ace of spades with a skull inside of it:

Thanks to Mike for sharing his tattoos and helping display them here for Tattoosday.