My artwork on my skin: an Introspective

At the age of fifty I realised that the long desired tattoo had not been etched upon my skin because I hadn’t drawn it yet.

This was a revelation. I had started drawing and painting again to soothe my mind and develop skills to illustrate my own stories. I had already e-published one of my stories, having purchased photographs from a skilled wildlife photographer. I decided I wanted to do my own illustrations and pencils grew from my hands.

I doodle all the time, if I am not using my hands for anything else. It seems to be a point of fascination in meetings at work, with the mistaken belief that I am not listening, until I say something precisely on point. Doodling keeps my anxiety, at being in a room full of people, at bay. It keeps my “busy mind” occupied, so I can focus on the discussion. More on doodling another time

When my drawing and thoughts of tattoos coincided, I realised that I needed to draw my own tattoos. I had always wanted a tattoo but never liked anyone’s artwork enough to have it needled into my flesh. I started drawing tattoo ideas.

Butterflies are one of my many favourite things. I drew butterfly after butterfly while I searched for an artist whose tattoos I liked. Found one, showed her my drawings, discussed exactly where I wanted it and we were away. I let her have free reign and we were both happy with the result. Original artwork, inspired by my own art, etched into my skin.

The really interesting thing was it didn’t hurt. Not one bit. I had researched where the least painful parts of the body were for tattooing and knew that I wanted to give my hump wings (you know the hump at the back of the neck that comes from too much slouching and reading). It was just right.

I knew that I wanted my next tattoo, knew what I wanted it to be and figured out an approximate cost. I decided they would be an annual birthday gift to myself. The next tattoo was of a seahorse with wings. I played with this image for a long time and came across another artist closer to home. I visited her at the studio and liked her, her art and the studio more. Her take on my design was more appropriate for a tattoo. My drawings and paintings were much softer, her’s are striking. I love my winged seahorse, he divinely sits on my back right shoulder, waiting patiently.

This year I had a round-bellied, silver teapot with a flannel flower design needled into my skin and I discovered that when you tattoo your non-dominant side, it hurts, rather a lot. I am right handed and the work on the back of my neck and my right shoulder became intense but not at all painful. The teapot was painful. Very. It is also perfect.

I have been wondering why I am willing to endure the needles, hours of it, wounding my skin for the image to be permanently placed there. I feel the wounding is necessary as the wound heals and in its place there is an image of my own artwork, on my skin. This is uplifting and delighting in a way I don’t quite know how to express. Every time I catch a glimpse of my work (and I look a lot), I am pleased all over again.

There are many associations with each of the images I have placed. They are also part of what will be a whole piece when I am done. I don’t know that I will ever put my tatts in a place for others to see easily. The only time others see them is in summer or when I am in my bathers (as I swim frequently, they are frequently seen, usually by the grey-haired set, keeping their curls dry. That’s another story.). I don’t have tattoos for others, I have them for myself. Each piece and placement has more than one significance. The next piece will be on the painful side too. I’ve already drawn it.

One question I am often asked is why they are on my upper back where I can’t see them? I can see my upper back by turning my head or looking in the mirror. Don’t other people look at their backs? The pieces are for me, not anyone else. They signify things for me. They elicit a range of stories, memories and concepts for me that are pleasurable. Isn’t it curious that people seem to think I have created them for others? I confess to not really understanding that. They are mine, I know they are there, I know what they signify and I know the whole piece it will become.

This is artwork designed by me, inspired by my design that I get to wear. It has taken more than half my life to get to this place and there is such freedom in it.

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