May 2015 Archives

09:58 AM
baby portrait face tattoo.pngOver the past few weeks, an internet meme has resurfaced that's almost a year old: Christien Sechrist and his facial portrait tattoo of his baby. The tattoo, which was done last summer, unsurprisingly got tons of media attention at that time, but is making the rounds again, like in this article on the 20-year-old piercer from Deer Park, Texas.   

You can find more photos of Christien and his tattoos on Facebook here.

The reason I'm linking it today is that it raises an interesting discussion following the "You Won't Regret That Tattoo" video I posted last week, in which the meanings behind the tattoo choices of older generations of collectors are explored. Looking at tattoo regret in the context of today's teens and twenty-somethings -- a generation where visible tattoos, including facial work are not as taboo -- I wonder if can we still apply the same accepting lens for their decisions when the consequences (if any) of their choices are unknown. It's much easier to say Que Sera Sera to a retired woman exploring her independence with her first tattoo, but less so for those who have full baby portraits on their cheeks before legal drinking age. Or is it?

When you see extreme body modifications on younger people, is it harder not to critique their choices even in light of today's more accepting climate? Share you thoughts in our N+S Facebook group or Tweet at me.    

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06:15 PM

You Won't Regret That Tattoo from angie bird on Vimeo.

Today, Brian posted in our N+S Facebook Group, a link to a gorgeous film entitled "You Wont Regret That Tattoo."  I watch a lot of great tattoo-related videos, but Director Angie Bird did a phenomenal job discussing some familiar issues in a fresh way with wonderful characters.

On its Vimeo page, the film is described as "a short documentary that explores the meanings and memories behind the tattoos of an older generation, and challenges the belief that ink is something we will come to regret." It's much more than that. The context surrounding many of the tattoo decisions of those featured challenged the way I look at some tattoos -- ones that I may have seen as poorly done or trite. It was a reminder that something like a small bear paw tattoo could represent personal renewal or a butterfly could be the first time a woman in her 60s asserted independence in her life.

The film is heavy. There are many smile-worthy moments -- particularly about love & drunken decisions -- but there are also discussions of sexual abuse, illness, and death.

Above all, it is inspiring. As Bernice Williams -- who first got tattooed at age 68 -- sings at the end of the film, Que Sera Sera. She highlights that, indeed, the future is not ours to see, and so we must lives our lives on our own terms, the way we want, with no regrets.
03:05 PM
cindy ray bev nicholas.pngOne of the world's most famed "tattooed lady," Bev Nicholas, aka Cindy Ray, is featured in ABC News Australia today. While the first seconds of the video profile are cringeworthy -- with the whole cliche about tattoos no longer being for "bikies and rock stars" -- it's most definitely worth a watch to learn about her extraordinary life -- in her own words.

One of the most interesting, and troubling, subjects of the interview is that she never profited from her name and image, but rather, was taken advantage of at the age of 19 by the photographer Harry Bartram who convinced her that she could make lots of money touring the country as a sideshow attraction. According to the report, Bartram profited greatly, selling countless photos of Bev through a mail order business, as well as books and tattoo machines -- all she got from him were her tattoos.

Bev's life in tattooing wasn't limited to sideshow. In fact, she is one of the first prominent contemporary female tattoo artists in Australia, something that she got into accidentally, when her boyfriend at the time broke his hand and needed her to take care of customers. There are some great stories about tattooing sailors and reactions to her as a woman in the business in the piece. Bev, who will be 73, still tattoos in Melbourne today.

Recent discussions on Bev's life, by fans and fellow tattooers worldwide, often note the injustice of the beautiful young blonde having been exploited for her tattooed body. And yet, it's what so much of our media still does today. If we really want to honor Bev's contributions and legacy, maybe we should include a discussion on how that exploitation should be dealt with regarding our "tattooed ladies" of today.
07:05 AM
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Photo of Jack Rudy above by Edgar Hoill.

Some interesting tattoo headlines over the past week, including international convention coverage, a tattoo idol interview, and a talk about the "tramp stamp." Here we go:

Starting off, in another great tattooer profile, the OC Weekly interviews Jack Rudy, legendary black & grey artist. In it, Jack offers some history on fine line tattooing, muses on his own start in tattooing, ponders Instagram trolls, and bemoans the popularity of tattoos in his own special way:

Tattoos weren't ever supposed to be this popular. I remember Don Ed Hardy used to say that he wanted tattoos to be more acceptable and respectable. At the time, it was a great idea, but looking back, I'd tell him to just let the sleeping dog lie," Rudy says. "When something becomes too popular, it loses its coolness. It's a good thing tattoos hurt, because otherwise, every pussy in the world would have one."
Read more of the Q&A here.

In Greece, the 9th Annual Athens Tattoo Convention took place this weekend, hosting over 230 artists worldwide, and garnered some international media attention in the process, including The Baltimore Sun and a more extensive slideshow on Citizenside. I've been following the show on Instagram to check some amazing tattoos created at the show, including this one below by Roza of Sake Tattoo Crew, which won "Best of Show Big."

GWTW tattoo.pngThe Liverpool Tattoo Convention also received media attention, including this article with slideshow.

Taking on the whole "tramp stamp" label, Chiara Gabriel talks about feminism, tattoos, and derogatory terms assigned to popular placement on women. While the title is unfortunate, "Don't Call it a Tramp Stamp: How the Patriarchy Ruined My Tattoo," she makes some great points on that special kind of tattoo discrimination reserved just for us ladies. Here's a taste:

I was only able to enjoy my LBT [lower back tattoo] for a few years before it became a complete and total joke. "Tattoo on the lower back?" asks Vince Vaughn's character in 2005's Wedding Crashers. "Might as well be a bullseye." Branded a whore. Must want sex. There's no equivalent phrase for men, no flip expression for the thing Nick Lachey has encircling his bicep even though it's equally emblematic of the early 2000s. It's so hard to come up with a name for bad man tattoos because it's so hard to demean men sexually and boy, do they get upset when you call them date rapists. Herpes early warning signal? Creep signature? American slang has failed me.
Recently, the tramp stamp has been joined by the skank flank, a term for a tattoo on the side of a women's ribcage--a similarly strategic choice of placement, with a similarly insulting name. If you are a woman, and you want to control who can see your tattoo, that still rankles people. If it's visible, you'll be judged, but if you're careful about keeping it from being too prominent, you'll be judged too. I haven't yet heard of a term for tattoos on women's stomachs, or thighs, but I'm sure that as a society we'll find clever rhyming slurs for those spots, too.
She's right. I've jokingly used these terms myself, but in light of the continual use of these type of terms, I realized that it's just not that funny. Glad to see these issue discussed in wider forums, and coming up on social newsfeeds.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this and other news items in our Facebook Group Page or Tweet at me.

02:59 PM
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Last week, Vice published "The History of Tattooed Ladies from Freakshows to Reality TV," in which writer Zach Sokol interviewed Anni Irish, who had just given a talk at The Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn entitled "The American Tattooed Ladies: 1840-2015." This article, which followed up on the talk, has been getting a lot of traction on social media and caught the attention of academics, who uncovered a number of myths and misstatements in the piece.

On her Tattoo History Daily Facebook page, Anna Felicity Friedman posted a link to the article and invited other tattoo scholars to point out errors in Anni's interview. Experts flooded the comment thread. I highly recommend reading them all.

Instead of just writing a critical blog post on the article, Anna wrote a post offering guidance to journalists: "Questions to Ask When Writing About Tattoo History and Culture." Other contributors to the list include Matt Lodder and Amelia Klem Osterud, author of the book "The Tattooed Lady: A History."

Questions include the following:

Are you reiterating or perpetuating any broad popular assumptions that might be myth? Two classic myth examples are that modern Western tattooing derived from Cook's voyages to Polynesia and that Western tattooing was previously only the purview of sailors, bikers, criminals, gangs, the lower class, etc. etc.

Do you know that the major sources of western tattoo history: Burchett's "memoirs" and Parry, upon which most of the others confound, but also Ebensten, Hambly, Steward, and Scutt & Gotch, are all fatally flawed in various major and minor ways? Do you know that even some of the otherwise excellent edited anthologies of the first wave of new tattoo scholarship (e.g. Caplan, Thomas et al.) have sections that have subsequently been proven untrue?
I hope that this list of questions, and the discussions behind them, get just as much attention as the Vice article.

Here are some more N+S posts on tattoo myths:

* Tattoo History Myths Exposed

* The Cook Myth & Western Tattooing

* Setting the Tattoo History Record Straight

* Tattoo Cliches Through the Ages

08:38 PM
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Portrait of Isobel Varley by Antonio Florez.

Yesterday, the wonderful Isobel Varley passed away at the age of 78, leaving behind a universe of fans. Isobel inspired, entertained, shocked and awed. You could fall in love with her just hearing her bawdy laugh.

Isobel is widely known as the world record holder for Most Tattooed Female Senior Citizen, but to me, she will always be a beacon of badassery -- the one I will continue to point to when people ask me that ridiculous question: What will you look like with all those tattoos when you're older? I want to look like Isobel. I don't necessarily mean having the same look aesthetically, although she had some beautiful tattoos by some of the best artists; I mean that I want to have that look in my eyes that I just enjoyed doing something bad, like getting some younger people to take off their clothes and show me their tattoos while I show them mine.

Isobel did that to me over ten years ago, maybe almost 15. I was at one of the smaller European tattoo conventions at the time, I can't recall which one now, when I saw her hanging out in the lounge area. Actually, I probably heard her first. Like Isobel, I also have one of those loud "particular" laughs, so there was immediate kinship there. We were introduced by a mutual friend, and almost immediately afterward, she was giving me a tour of her body, pointing out some of her favorite tattoos, especially the erotic ones. I'll never forget seeing her masturbating frog ejaculating tadpoles tattoo. Yup. You could also tell that she had a lot of fun showing off her numerous genital piercings. But she wasn't just sexy, she was sweet and lovely. And she had amazing stories.

Her story of how she came to tattoos is interesting because she did so later in her life, around her late 40s. Guinness World Records wrote on Isobel's passing today and what sparked her tattoo love:  
"A visit to a tattoo convention at London's Hammersmith Palais in 1986 saw her go under the needle for the first time, kicking off an obsession which saw her have an incredible 200 pieces of body art inked over a ten-year period. During that time Isobel estimated she spent over 500 hours having her body decorated."
Guinness also notes that, at last tally in 2009, Isobel had 93% of her body covered in tattoos. Here's a clip of her below when she appeared on UK TV show Guinness World Records in 1999 when she had 72% of her body covered.

As a media darling and muse, Isobel was painted, filmed, and photographed by numerous artists. One of my favorite portraits of her is shown above, taken by Antonio Florez in Berlin in 2008, when she began to tattoo her head. [I also love this photo of Isobel and Antonio together, which Antonio just posted to Facebook.]

On Isobel's official Facebook page, her family has invited everyone to share their experiences and photographs with her on her page as a tribute. There you can see what a dynamo she was and how many smiles she inspired.

RIP Isobel.

07:54 AM
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Just before my 30th birthday, around 12 years ago, I started thinking about tattooing my body in one complete overall look. Going beyond just some cool pieces that I already had, I began envisioning a body suit (one that could be covered under business suits for work) in ornamental blackwork patterns, like what you'd find on ancient Greek vases. I wanted something feminine and graceful and -- like those vases that remained intact over millennia -- powerful and timeless.

And as luck would have it, I happened to be married to a renowned blackwork tattooer, Daniel DiMattia of Calypso Tattoo in Belgium. Moving toward the blackwork bodysuit I wanted, Dan created (during our marriage and afterward as good friends) beautiful works for my sleeves and backpiece, ribs and stomach, my snake hips, thigh, shin, and even a fancy foot. And there's more planned with Dan for the future.

With lots of room on my legs, however, I thought it would be a great opportunity to collect work from another artist, but whose style could harmonize with my existing tattoos. I had a particular artist in mind, one whose work I had been admiring since I first saw it around 2003 online: Nazareno Tubaro in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Nazareno, Naza for short, has a portfolio that spans from strong heavy black to refined and delicate dots. Naza masters how those designs fit with the shape of the body, so that they beautifully complement the wearer. I had featured Naza'a work on my old blog, as well as Needles & Sins, and he has been a part of both of my Black Tattoo Art books, and in Tattoo World.  In working together on these projects, we became friends, and I knew that if he tattooed me, I would not only have gorgeous tattoos, but also a lot of fun. I was absolutely right.

Finding the opportunity to take a week off from work, I booked my tattoo vacation to Buenos Aires, leaving May 1st, and arriving back to NYC yesterday. Naza suggested that we start on one leg, my left one, which had existing work from Dan, so that I would have one complete piece first, before moving on to my right leg, which didn't have any work other than my snake. We'd tattoo for three days, spacing out the sessions for rest and healing. I also didn't want to immediately jump on a 10 1/2 hour plane ride after our last session. I worked out the details with Naza's assistant Ander, and the schedule was all set in advance.

Prior to my arrival, I had sent Naza some photos of my leg, and also indicated which tattoos he had done in the past on others that I really liked, so he had some idea of what I was looking for. [Naturally, this was only for reference, and never to copy an original custom tattoo.] I didn't even think to ask in advance of our first session for any sketch or preview of the design because I trusted that Naza would come up with something that I would love. That trust is key for me.

tattoo freehand.jpgThe day I arrived in Argentina, Naza and his girlfriend Xoanna picked me up from my hotel, just a few blocks from Naza's private tattoo studio in the hip Palermo Hollywood area of Buenos Aires. They took me for the yummy steaks the country is known for, some sightseeing, and I also got to hang out and watch the practice for his band Ruda, in which Naza plays a mean bass.

[Obvious note on tattoo vacations: You want to load up on the sightseeing prior to any major work because of swelling and just general fatigue after long painful sessions. Save the post-tattoo days for book reading and flooding your friends' social media feeds, as I did.]

On the day of our first appointment, Naza showed me what he had sketched out -- and it was perfect. Floral ornamental designs, of varying shapes, to be lined and filled with dots. We then took some time to find the proper placement, to fit my body and existing tattoos. Naza also drew freehand along with the design stencil so that there was a seamless flow.

With all that done, it was time to tattoo. Prior to the session, I had taken about 5 droppers of Pamela Shaw's Quaternity Holistics "Pain-Free Tincture", which is an all-natural tincture to help pain sensitivity, and it chills you out. I also had a bottle of Advil in my bag, in case I was really in pain.

Tattoos hurt. We all know this. And tattoos on the knee and in the knee ditch are a particular bitch. Gratefully, however, Naza works super-fast, as well as meticulously, and he's also a "light-touch," in that you don't feel that he's drilling into you. He asked me what my favorite music was, and played Nick Cave and PJ Harvey, some of our mutual favorites. He cracked jokes, and engaged in conversation, so that my focus wasn't on any discomfort. The sessions were actually ... enjoyable. You don't hear many people say that when a tattooer is running a thick black line from your ankle, up your knee, and across your thighs.

nazareno tubaro tattoo.jpgThe outline was done in one session, for what we would get done in this trip. [Some more spaces on my left leg will be filled in my next trip.] The following day I rested, keeping my leg iced and elevated. For a spaz like me, keeping still is the greatest challenge of all, but I forced myself to do something I never do: relax. [Ok, ok. I did sneak away for a bit to see some old friends from the body modification and performance scene. How could I pass up a chance to have La Negra Modified Goddess make me panquques con dulche du leche?!]

The remaining two appointments were all dotwork and some fine line fill-in. The dots were tiny and layered expertly for some buttery shading. It's a painstaking process, although, actually, less painful and easy on the skin. Naza also used fine lines as the veins of the leaves in the design for added texture. In total, just counting the time the needles were in my skin (outside of design, coffee and cookie breaks) Naza did all that work in only 6 hours!

Nevertheless, after that third and last session, I was beat. The next morning, after 9 hours of sleep, I was feeling great and took a couple of hours to sightsee. But before I did, I had wrapped my leg the night before with Saniderm aftercare medical bandages. Tattooer Jess Yen was swearing by it at the last NYC Tattoo Convention for faster healing, and to keep it safe and clean. I kept the bandages on for the next day as well, until right before I got on the plane (as I didn't want too much compression when taking the long trip). [See more on how Saniderm works here.] The final night before I left, I partied with Naza and Xoana, and made plans for my next trip back to finish the leg and then start the next one.

I am grateful, not only for the beautiful tattoo, but for the kindness and the wonderful experience I had getting tattooed. Creating that kind of experience is what distinguishes good artists from truly great ones -- ones worth flying to another continent, even with so many greatt artists in your backyard. I look forward to further tattoos and giggles soon.

For more photos, check my quick Flickr album of my sessions at Naza's studio. You can find more of Naza's work on Instagram.

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07:55 AM

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When I was a teenager, I'd jump on the subway from Brooklyn to the East Village in Manhattan to follow around skater boys like a puppy. During some of those trips, I nervously found myself in underground illegal studios, watching the boys get tattooed. This was way before the NYC tattoo ban was lifted in 1997. It was a time when I felt a certain awe and trepidation when I walked into those studios. But there was one shop, a storefront on St. Marks Place, that none of us dared to try to get in -- and probably wouldn't be let in if we wanted to: Fun City Tattoo, which belonged to tattoo outlaw Jonathan Shaw

Shaw had the reputation of being a great artist and even greater badass. His reputation, on both counts, drew celebrities like Johnny Depp, Iggy Pop, and Jim Jarmusch. There's a great account, which Shaw told The Telegraph, on his tattoo pact with these celebs. Here's a bit from that:

Fun City Tattoo was an illegal tattoo parlour behind a boarded-up store front on the Bowery that you had to walk past bums and addicts to get to. It had no sign or anything - you'd call from the corner and I'd come and let you in.Inside, it was a colourful, crazy other world filled with antique tattoo memorabilia, shrunken heads from the Amazon in glass cases - just all kinds of weird shit covering every inch of the walls and ceiling. That became our clubhouse.

One day I was showing Johnny, Iggy and Jim my collection of antique tattoo design sheets. Iggy came across a skull and crossbones with the words death is certain around it. He became obsessed with that design. The idea was born that we would all get the same tattoo to commemorate our friendship. I wore a skull ring and, at around the same time, everybody decided they wanted a skull ring like mine. So we all wore this ring, we all got the same tattoo - and we became the Death Is Certain Club.

Jonathan Shaw Johnny Depp Jim Jarmusch.jpg Around 2005, Shaw sold Fun City to Michelle Myles & Brad Fink, who own Daredevil Tattoo, in order to dedicate his time to writing. [Myles & Fink later sold Fun City to "Big Steve" Pendone, who apprenticed under Shaw.]

In 2008, Shaw's debut novel, Narcisa: Our Lady of Ashes, was released and became a cult classic. As Rolling Stone recently reported, a few years ago, Shaw was at Johnny Depp's home when Depp told him that he was starting an imprint with publishers HarperCollins and wanted to re-release Narcisa. Shaw's reworked version of the original novel was released in March, and Shaw is on a highly publicized book tour.

A description of the novel on HarperCollins site says:

In the wild backwaters of Rio de Janeiro and New York, motorcycle-riding, nomadic outlaw poet Ignacio Valencia Lobos--known as Cigano--attempts in vain to curb the unhinged habits of his lover Narcisa, a crack-smoking philosopher prostitute. Though he knows they will destroy each other, Narcisa is an exquisite poison he cannot resist. As they navigate the chaos of her downward spiral--dragged deeper by the gravity of drugs, burglaries and violence, Cigano recounts a love affair doomed by insanity, dysfunction, and vice.

With Narcisa: Our Lady of Ashes, Shaw has been compared to Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, and Hunter S. Thompson. The novel can be found in major and indie booksellers. I just purchased my copy online at HarperCollins.

Check Shaw's Facebook fan page for readings and also tattoo guest spot dates.

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Johnny Depp being tattooed by Jonathan Shaw in Paris in 1998.
10:53 AM
augmented reality tattoo.pngBlending tattoo art with augmented reality, Australian comic book artist Sutu can bring one of his characters to life via an app by Boomcore technology.

In Sutu's augmented reality comic book Modern Polaxis, "secret information, paranoid delusions and conspiracy theories" are unlocked through the Polaxis app. When Sutu got his Polaxis character tattooed on his arm, he was surprised to find that the app also worked on skin. He posted the result on Instagram, which is embedded below.

This isn't the first animated tattoo. My posts on tattoo tech date back to 2011, like this augmented reality tattoo by Karl Marc. Still, I love to see how modern innovation brings another dimension to an ancient art, and look forward to seeing more possibilities in the future.   

✋Close up of my AR tat✋#polaxis #ARtattoo #augmentedreality

A video posted by Sutu (@sutueatsflies) on

08:44 PM

Yesterday, I had my first tattoo session on my leg with Nazareno Tubaro in beautiful Buenos Aires, Argentina. [Here's a sneak peak on my Instagram of the initial outline.] As is normal for a long leg session, there's some swelling and I have to rest up, so I took this time to review the latest tattoo news and pick my faves for you.

A number of you have sent me links to the story that wrist tattoos are interfering with the Apple Watch's heart monitor. On its support site, Apple wrote, "The ink, pattern, and saturation of some tattoos can block light from the sensor, making it difficult to get reliable readings." To take care of the tattoo problem, Conan came up with a fix: the Apple Watch Hand. It's a cute parody and worth a look for a giggle. The video is embedded above.

Another big story was the extensive temporary tattoo on model Cara Delevigne at The Met Gala. NY tattooer Keith "Bang Bang" McCurdy, who has created permanent tattoos on Cara, used markers to create a cherry blossom tableau that caused a buzz, even amid the near-nakedness of Beyonce, J-Lo, and Kim Kardashian. Cosmopolitan interviewed Bang Bang on how the temp tattoo was created, as well as his celebrity clientele and tattooing Bieber on a plane.

In a more thoughtful article, S.E. Curtis writes on Millenials, tattoos and feminism for The Riveter. In it, there's a great quote from author Margot Mifflin on the whole "What will your tattoos look like when you're old?":  "This is the comment of someone who may not understand that a whole demographic of people are going to share tattoos on aged bodies, which may indeed look worn and stretched, just liked aged bodies look worn and stretched," she says. "I think on some level this is an expression of older people's anxiety about their own aging bodies." I also found Margot's thoughts on tattoos & Millennials quite interesting:

"It's harder for Millennials to be original than it was for previous generations, because so much is digitally shared and the information moves so fast, and because trends are commercialized and commodified so quickly." According to Mifflin, tattoos are a way for a person in their 20s and 30s to self-define. This kind of body modification is less likely to be a statement about their cultural status or affiliations than it was in the past.
Today, BoingBoing also wrote of Margot's must-have book "Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoos."

OC Weekly has another fantastic tattoo profile, this time on the legendary Rick Walters. The 70-year-old tattooer, with 50 years of professional tattooing under his belt, offers some gems in this feature, such as the following:

Tattooing doesn't really change, it just keeps going in a vicious cycle," Walters says. "Every 15-20 years, we get some art kids who think they can tattoo like they oil paint. They don't realize it has to have the black in it, because the black ink is carbon-based, so it dries, gets hard, and acts like a wall. The color wants to keep spreading, so if you don't use enough black, it'll just look like a puddle of melted crayons after 15 years."

In Walters' eyes, the problem for some modern tattooers isn't necessarily not using enough black. The American traditional legend believes that some of today's neotraditional artists are using black lines that are too thick, which could affect how their tattoos look over time.

"These new kids talk about doing traditional tattoos, but they're really doing neotraditional tattoos and trying to make them look 15 years old," Walters says. "Those black lines are going to keep spreading over time too. They're going to double in size every five years, so when they're 20 years old, the lines will look like they're done with electrical tape. In the old days, apprentices learned that shit. These days, 80 percent of tattooers don't even learn to tattoo the right way. Just because you can paint a picture doesn't mean you can tattoo."

 Some other interesting tattoo news links include:

* Another lawsuit against Black Ink Crew for tattoo scaring and infections.

* Canada's Global news writes on "The dangers of do-it-yourself 'stick and poke' tattoos."

* Kansas tattooer helps breast cancer patients.

* Video from Sochi's first tattoo festival in Russia.

* Famed blackwork tattooer Curly Moore and his wife Jacqui are featured in The Mirror as the "Most Tattooed Couple in Britain" [although, they never claimed to be -- and it seems that The Mirror didn't get it all right].

My second tattoo session is tomorrow. I'll be writing about my experience soon. Meanwhile, I'll try to keep up with the blog on my post-tattoo rest days.
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