February 2013 Archives

08:41 PM
Be back Friday!
07:58 AM
Editor's note: As I'm away on vacation now, we have the wonderful tattoo historian Anna Felicity Friedman back to guest blog. Her post has some invaluable info on important texts that you want to seek out for your own tattoo education.

RIP Donald Richie
By Anna Felicity Friedman

The news of Donald Richie's death on February 19 prompted me to dig out my copies of his works on Japanese tattooing and brought back a flood of memories of being a budding tattoo scholar back in the early 1990s, when library catalogs consisted of index cards organized in tiny drawers and the only real way to find out about then-obscure works on tattoo history and culture was via word of mouth (Ed Hardy, who was incredibly generous and supportive of my early tattoo history efforts, tipped me off to Richie's work as well as others').

It occurred to me that Needles and Sins readers might enjoy a round-up of some of these earlier works on Japanese tattooing--all but one of which are out of print today. You can find them in certain libraries (and a few via interlibrary loan), for purchase (albeit in limited quantities and often for a considerable price tag), or, in one case, online.

Sandi Fellman, The Japanese Tattoo (New York : Abbeville, 1986, 1987): In 1990, when I found a copy--on clearance--at the RISD bookstore of Fellman's incredible coffee-table book of photography of Japanese tattoos, I had just started getting tattooed and knew I would be sleeved (or more) someday. But these photos astounded me and still fuel tattoo desires today. The sleeve I commissioned in 1993 when I was just 21 years old was directly inspired by the images in this book. A photograph of a shishi tattoo by Horikin on his wife lingered in my memory until I had it inscribed in 2000 on one side of my torso--ten years of image persistence speaks volumes, I think, as to the power of the photographs in this book (as does how wrinkled and worn my copy is from incessantly paging through it). When I looked to find out how rare this book might be today, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the second edition is still in print! And for a very reasonable price (it's even Amazon prime eligible). So go buy it!

FellmanJapaneseTattooCover low.jpg W. R. van Gulik, Irezumi: The Pattern of Dermatography in Japan (Leiden: Brill, 1982): Another of the books that Ed Hardy recommended to me in 1992, van Gulik's book impressed me with its incredible level of scholarship--it was perhaps the first volume I had read that made me realize tattoo history could be a serious academic pursuit, complete with nerdy footnotes and scouring of archives. Van Gulik's book introduced me to the phenomenally striking Ainu tattooing as well as the concept of a prehistoric tattoo history that might be recovered from incised figurines. I have absolutely no idea where the School of the Art Institute librarians found a copy of this for me to borrow via Interlibrary loan, given that the book was, and still is, fairly rare (with fewer than 100 copies listed in Worldcat today). I was excited to discover recently that the book is now available via Google Books!

Donald Richie and Ian Buruma, The Japanese Tattoo (New York: Weatherhill, 1980, 1982, 1989, 1991, 1995, 1996): This collaboration between Richie and Buruma features some incredible photographs of older Japanese tattoos, when the style was what I would call more of a folk-art and less of a fine-art aesthetic--not as polished, rougher, more raw. It also has some phenomenal photos of tattoos in progress and amazing candids. The foreword is by Horibun II who offered Richie and Buruma what appears to be then-unprecedented access to his studio and process. For those of you who read Japanese, the bibliography gives an impressive listing of earlier texts about Japanese tattooing to track down. The later 1989-1996 paperback reprints can be found secondhand fairly easily (and for a not-too-terrible price) via Amazon and Abebooks. But the hardcover version is worth seeking out for those of you with the funds to add it to your book collection (it also features a much more compelling cover design than the paperback).
11:22 AM

Earlier, I posted on how Scott Versago of Empire Ink transformed the "world's worst portrait tattoo" into a proper tribute. But I can't help but think he was inspired by Misha's House of Reawakening Tattoo Salon, and the video shown above.
08:39 AM
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What the internet has deemed the "World's Worst Portrait Tattoo" (which is a pretty fair assessment) was given a great make-over by Scott Versago of Empire Ink in Akron, Ohio ... and the world has rejoiced.

I'm actually really surprised how this became an international news sensation, but it is a sweet story. Here's what Scott posted on Facebook along with the photo above.  

I got to tackle the official "#1 worst portrait tattoo in the world" today. I'm sure you've all seen it a million times online, as had I. I couldn't believe my eyes when this guy walked in and showed me this project. I think my jaw literally hit the floor. He went on to tell me the story behind the portrait; He had just married his beautiful wife and not even a month afterwards she was killed in a horrible house fire accident leaving him to raise their child alone. Shortly after he went to a local tattoo studio to memorialize his wife and was left with this abomination. He later returned to that studio for one more session, thinking that perhaps "he had done something wrong in the healing of the tattoo" and they butchered it even more the second time. Finally, he drove all the way to my studio, Empire Ink, just to meet me and to see what his options were. Touched by his story, I gifted the entire project to him for free. Now he has closure and I have an amazing story to add to my portfolio!
For more on the story, you can check this Fox News TV interview with Scott and Chad Stahl, who now has a more fitting tribute to his wife.
08:14 AM

In a wonderful marriage of tattoos and technology, the fine folks of TattooNow TV present The Paradise Artist Retreat Skype Preview Extravaganza -- live artist interviews streamed online, where you can also participate and ask questions from the chat room.

The extravaganza kicks off today at 5PM EST, with this brilliant artist line-up: Alex and Allyson Grey, Guy Aitchison, Jeff Gogue, James Kern, Chet Zar, Michele Wortman, Damon Conklin, and Steve Peace. The talk will be a taste of whats to come at the Paradise Artist Retreat, which takes place March 25-28 in Tamaya Resort, New Mexico. 

You can check the previous TattooNow webisode here featuring Guy Aitchison, Markus Lenhard, Gunnar, and Kelly Doty. A true tattoo education.

11:01 AM
Athletes bodies are generally not known for great works of art, despite the money available to them. One tattooist explained to me that he felt the reason why the tattoos of celebrities were so bad was because they are used to getting what they want, when they want it. And if you have someone who lacks impulse control and foresight, well, that can be a recipe for a tattoo disaster.

So, when I come across a story about a sports star who really put thought and research behind his tattoo, it stood out.

The Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Matt Kemp was in the news last month for his chest piece honoring his grandparents (his grandfather had passed away just a month before he was tattooed). The work was done by black & grey rising star, Jun Cha, who works out of a private studio in LA.

A couple of days ago, a behind-the-scenes video look of the tattoo, and Kemp talking about his thoughts on getting this tribute, was posted on Jun's site (and embedded below).  In it, you'll also see Jun's process in creating the work and his interesting stylization of the portrait. Worth a look.

07:02 AM
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My tattoos by Daniel DiMattia. Photo by Craig Burton.

Taking the day off today to celebrate my birthday.

As I look back on the last 40 years, I'm grateful for many things...including you! Thank you for your continued support of this blog, my books, and your company at our traveling circus of conventions, art shows and other events.

I kiss you!
08:58 AM
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Today, I wanted to share another artist who will be featured in my upcoming Black Tattoo Art IIGoldilox, an incredibly talented tattooist who works mostly by hand to creat soulful works of art. Goldilox can be found at Dawnii Fantana's powerhouse studio, Painted Lady, in Birmingham, UK.

I asked Goldilox for a few words on her work. Here's what she said:
I'm inspired by everything from botanical etchings to mehndi and geometry -- by the sacred and the silly. I feel that every tattoo I'm asked to do is an honour as that person has chosen to me to mark their skin with an image they'll carry forever. By keeping this in mind, I strive to make each new tattoo my best yet. A lot of my work is done by hand with no machines, just needles and ink. I adore the intimacy of the process with every tiny dot added one by one, using different tools but the same techniques used for millennia by our ancestors across the globe.
Check more of Goldilox's work on Facebook.

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07:39 AM
TattooNation_27x39_PosterLowRez_Final.jpgThere's been tons of buzz for the film "Tattoo Nation," which explores black & grey tattoo culture -- but really so much more.

Announced yesterday was the first 118 cities and locations for the screening of "Tattoo Nation," which you can find listed here on their Facebook page. This is huge for a tattoo-centered film, and I'm sure there will be more dates added.

I'm also fairly certain that these screenings will sell out in a lot of theaters, and so keep checking www.Dandeentertainment.com for info on buying tickets in advance in different cities.  In some cities, like LA and Modesto, the film will play for a week but in most others, it is an initial two-day limited engagement.

I had the opportunity to see the entire film and I feel it really does justice, not just to the black & grey genre, but to tattoo history in general as well as contemporary tattoo culture. I'll have a full review as time nears for the premiers. Meanwhile, check the trailer below. 

05:36 AM

The Gypsy Gentleman - Episode 06: Paris from Marcus Kuhn on Vimeo.

In the latest installment of Markus Kuhn's The Gypsy Gentleman series, the veteran tattooer travels to Paris to hook up with his renowned colleagues (and good friends) Laura Satana and the inimitable Tin Tin. There, he shows us the sights of the city, talks tattoos, and draws some skulls. Because of his closeness with Laura and Tin Tin, and Paris itself, it feels like you're watching a more intimate, personal video -- but one that is beautifully produced. Check it.
09:41 AM
marc couple tattoo.jpgmarc couple tattoo 1.jpgOn this Valentine's Day, I want to share the ultimate in tattoo love -- being part of a larger art work beyond one's own skin. Artist Little Swastika has been creating full scale tattoos that span two and even three bodies.

I asked him to tell me a bit more about his work. Here's what he shared:
Skin is just a canvas. I try to use the human body as such. To go so far as I can away from what I know about classical tattooing. To create my work free on the body. To play with the shape and dimension of it. I never search the technical perfection or go too much into details. I love it bold and big. To create art not tattoos...

I life far away from out tattoo society. I read no magazines. I go to no conventions and work no where else than in my private galerie. All my inspiration is life and my mind. I don't know how to categorize my work, and I don't want to. It's just the art I created in my mind and use it on a human body as my point of view.....

marc couple tattoo 3.jpg
07:35 PM
Baybayin tattoo.jpgThe greatest gift of this blog is getting messages from y'all sharing your own beautiful works of art and the stories behind them. Unlike what reality TV shows tell us, not every tattoo has to have some great deep meaning. Much of my own tattoos were done simply because I like the way they look. But surrounding the tattoo -- whether it be the process, the symbolism, the design, and even just what your mama said about it -- is, indeed, a story. 

Fellow New Yorker, Elaine, sent me a message about how she arrived at her recent work of art and was gracious to let me share it with you.

Elaine, who is of Filipino heritage, had commissioned West Coast-based artist Christian Cabuay for her own original Baybayin calligraphy. Baybayin was the ancient written language of the Philippines prior to the Spanish arrival in the 16th century. Christian is an expert in Baybayin, and I highly recommend exploring his site for tutorials and further information. Interestingly, Christian has a Baybayin translator on his site, but it comes with the warning not to use it for tattoos, as "the program is accurate but it's only as good as what you enter." As in most general tattoo advice, it's best to get it done custom and by an expert.

With her custom calligraphy in hand, Elaine was looking for an artist to translate the design on her body. She found Black Tattoo Art and my writing on the Tatak Ng Apat Na Alon Tribe -- a group of people, largely based in the US, of Filipino ancestry, who are reviving Filipino tattoo traditions.  The Tribe works with a number of tattooists around the world in translating the ancient tattoo patterns and writing on skin, and one studio they work with is Tattoo Culture in Brooklyn, NY.

Tattoo Culture's renowned resident artist, Gene Coffey, worked with Elaine to create her Baybayin tattoo, incorporating his trademark splatter and color swath, resulting in this wonderful work shown above, which Elaine is "over the moon about." I love hearing that!

In sharing her story, I wanted to convey that coming up with a work like Elaine's could often take time and a lot of research, but the result is worth every bit of it all.
03:47 PM

"Hi, this is Fox News..."
(Translation: your arch enemy would like to pull some Old Testament shit and invite you into the lion's den, Daniel)

"We'd like you to come on and just talk about tattoos... it's pre-taped so no prep-questions are necessary."

(Translation: we are going to edit the shit out of this piece to fit our own agenda)

"Can you come in at 9am?"
(Translation: you will be extremely tired and barely coherent)

That said... How could my internal "media-whore" say no?! After all, if they're going to be interviewing a can-tanned PR agent and a dude from the NY Giants, they should at least have one tattooed person on the show, right?

Now, if I can clarify: I have no problem with uncoverable/facial tattoos. I think (when done well) they can be a beautiful thing. What I was commenting upon was the majority of young folks making such extreme choices early in their life - and, more importantly, the lack of ethical concerns from tattooists who are more than willing to, for example... tattoo their name on a woman's face.

As a guy who rides the subway in Brooklyn every day, I've seen far too many names inked into the hands and necks of young men and women who are barely old enough to legally buy cigarettes, much less make such a lasting life-decision. (Personally, I believe in the "judge and jury" rule - I don't want a tattoo that I can't cover with a suit and tie, lest I be discriminated against in an important situation). In such instances, I think it's an irresponsible decision from those on both sides of the tattoo machine.

I'm also very upset that they edited out the bit where I said, "I think the NFL has a negative impact on tattooing. These men are millionaires and they get some of the most mediocre work I've ever seen."

But, I will admit that I'm kinda glad that the offensive tackle didn't hear me say that.

So... enjoy the puff-piece.
08:44 AM
tattoo history love .jpgImage above (cropped) from Tattoo History Daily. See full image and caption here.

This Thursday, forgo the flowers, candy hearts, and love poems, and spend your Valentine's Day with stories of "disfigurement, murder, and flayed skin (with a bit of cannibalism and sadism thrown in for good measure)" -- with red wine of course --  at Morbid Anatomy (8pm) in Brooklyn, NY for the Tragic Tattoo Tales: A Valentine's Day Lecture and Reading.

The illustrated lecture and reading is given by our favorite tattoo scholars Anna Felicity Friedman and Matt Lodder, who will offer up tattoo history tied to romance and the macabre. Here's more on the talk from Morbid Anatomy:

Through illustrated slide lectures, Drs. Friedman and Lodder will present comparative historical material to provide context and deeper understanding and to separate fact from fiction. Learn about wide ranging tattoo topics in both Western and non-Western cultures and have questions answered that the stories raise. Did people really preserve tattooed skin? What were people reading about tattoos in the early twentieth century? Were Maori really tattooed head to foot? What were the connections between Ukiyo-e and Japanese tattooing in the Edo period?

And the stories... Come hear the account of a young Maori woman and an English sailor who had himself completely tattooed to gain her favor, only to be forcibly returned to his ship (in John Rickman's 1781 travel narrative from Captain James Cook's third voyage). Cringe at the tale of a businessman tattooed in Italy with an elaborate scene, but who was prohibited from ever showing it to anyone, swimming, or leaving the country (in Saki's 1911 "The Background"). Shudder at the story of a Japanese woman lured into a tattooer's studio, drugged, and forcibly tattooed (in Junichiro Tanazaki's 1910 "Shisei (The Tattooer)"). Enjoy the fantasy of a young and not-yet famous Chaim Soutine who, during a bacchanalian evening, rendered a dorsal portrait of a tattoo artist's wife that later mysteriously turns up as a "canvas" in an art gallery (in Roald Dahl's 1952 "Skin"). Additional images related to the stories will be screened during the readings.
Anna also told the Brooklyn Daily: "
There's some short stories about tattooing and romance, which are kind of creepy and weird. They always end with death, or some macabre consequence like being splashed with acid, or having the tattoo flayed off the skin." 

Sounds like an average Thursday night for Brian & I, so we'll be there. I hope to see y'all as well. It's only $5 for admission, so you can bring a few dates to Tragic Tattoo Tales.

Also, check out Anna's irreverent Valentine's Day mini-series on Tattoo History Daily (which includes the images in this post). It's not related to the lecture content, necessarily, but similarly cynical and awesome.

valentines day tattoo.jpg A pair of lovers, part of a trio posted on Tattoo History Daily. From Riecke, 1925.
07:16 PM
elayne angel trademark tattoo.jpgI had a wonderful time yesterday at Fordham Law School for the Fashion Law Institute's discussion entitled Art Attacks: Perspectives on the Use of Fashion Logos, where I chatted on their panel along with Ralph Lauren's in-house counsel Anna Dalla Val; brand consultant and former in-house counsel of Louis Vuitton, Michael Pantalony; and David De Buck, owner of the De Buck Gallery, whose roster includes prominent street artists. The panel -- and the Fashion Law Institute as a whole -- is the brainchild of Susan Scafidi, whom I've had a law nerd crush on for a long time after discovering her fantastic blog, Counterfeit Chic, many years ago. She's a pioneer in fashion law, which -- like tattoo law -- is constantly developing and is pretty exciting.

The focus of the discussion was fashion logos and their appropriation in art as well as commerce. Naturally, I gave the tattoo perspective. As requested in our Facebook group, I'll give y'all a taste of my talk.

But before we get to it ... What is a Trademark or Servicemark?
  • Trademark & Servicemark protect the owner's reputation and goodwill.
  • A Trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.
  • A Servicemark is the same except it relates to the source of a service, like tattooing.
So, think of it as protecting your brand, identity and logo. Now, as the US Trademark & Patent Office says, federal registration isn't required to establish your rights in a trademark/servicemark. Common law rights arise from actually using of a mark, which could be in advertising, your shop signage, business cards, and the like. But you get perks with registration: greater protection of your name or logo; it discourages others from ripping off your brand; and you get more money should you sue for infringement and win. There are many other benefits as well, but the big motivators are protection & profit.

registered tattoo.jpg Ok, with that in mind, I started my talk off with the very first tattoo to be issued a registration by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Master piercer Elayne Angel's famous wings backpiece, tattooed by the infamous Bob Roberts in 1987 -- a tattoo that inspiring a myriad of copies throughout the world.

Those wings just didn't become easily identifiable with Elayne, but her piercing services and Rings of Desire studio in New Orleans (which closed post-Katrina). It was Elayne's brand.

In 2003, when I wrote "The Tattoo Copyright Controversy," I interviewed Elayne about her servicemarked tattoo, which had been registered the year before. She explained that a customer, who was a lawyer, told her that he felt her wings were recognizable enough -- in relation to her as a professional piercer -- that protection was warranted. The process took six years but, on November 5, 2002, her backpiece was registered. It was not just the first tattoo registered, but it is believed to be the first feature of the human body to be registered. Cool!

But then I turned my discussion to people who get the brands of others on their bodies. People like the Gucci face guy or the Louis Vuitton sleeve dude below.

tattoo logos.jpgI tried to get in touch with these logo lovers, but to no avail, so I put out a call on the Facebook group page asking people to tell me about their logo tattoos. I'm grateful for all the responses. Many of y'all have band tattoos and great stories behind them, but as the focus was fashion for the panel, I was particularly interested in the story of talented tattooist Ania Jalosinska, of Kolektiv Tattoo in Warsaw, Poland.

Ania wears the United Nude logo and shoe design, which you can see here. The work was designed and tattooed by JEF. Here's what she said about it:

It says nothing more then a total loyalty, love and appreciation of a brand. Their shoe design is brilliant, both from an aesthetics standpoint and engineering standpoint. Getting a logo wasn't an initial idea; I wanted a leg on a side of my leg, but since I love UN shoes and wear them all the time, it was a no brainer what shoe the leg will wear. Their logo is just one of the graphic elements, which I also put in there because, as a tattoo artist and a graphic designer, I do appreciate design of it as well.
I also think the Coco Chanel quote, "Elegance is refusal," is a nice touch to the tattoo.

Naturally, I also had to talk about how some brands are banking on tattoo cool in their marketing, like Marc Ecko's Branded for Life promo, where those who get Ecko logo tattoos also get "20% off For Life" on Ecko merch. When I first heard about the promo, I really couldn't imagine anyone would buy into it. I was really, really wrong. The Ecko tattoo fan gallery goes on for pages, filled with thumbnails of the tattoos like those shown below.

marc ecko tattoo.jpgIn the Ecko case, the brand courts the tattooed masses.

But what about luxury brands?
Do they want the great tattooed unwashed repping their fashion houses?
And if they don't, what can they do about?

Simply wearing the logo will not necessarily get you in trouble as there's little "likelihood of confusion," whereby, one could believe that the brand sponsored or is associated the wearer of the logo tattoo. Do we really look at the Gucci face guy and think he really is the new face of the brand?

Then there's the argument of "trademark dilution," in which the brand believes that the tattoos would "tarnish" their identity by presenting it in an inferior light or associated with "unseemly services." It's a fun legal argument, but practically, I don't think we have to worry about Louis Vuitton going after our skins.

I ended my presentation by acknowledging the power of logo tattoos and the desire to brand oneself with a brand that speaks to them, which can be beautiful. Of course, I couldn't help but note that we should also honor our very own identities, and like a couture gown, get a work of art that is specifically tailored to our own bodies.

Like everything else on this blog, it's not intended as legal advice. Just my personal blah blah.
10:29 PM

dotwork tattoo russian doll.jpg
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As my next volume of Black Tattoo Art is in its final stages, set to launch later this Spring, I wanted to offer you a preview of some of the work that will be featured. And considering it's the birthday of my tattoo artist today -- Daniel DiMattia of Calypso Tattoo in Belgium -- I figured I'd post one of his more recent works that will be in the book:  this adorable dotwork Matryoshka dolls (or Russian nesting dolls) tattoo . I love the background dot patterns with the henna-inspired line work as well.

Check more of Dan's work here. You can also read about my last couple of sessions with him as we continue my body suit here and here.

More previews to come!
04:00 PM
huck spaulding.jpgAnother tattoo legend has passed:  Huck Spaulding, whom many know -- not just for his tattoos -- but for having one of the first international tattoo supply companies, Spaulding & Rogers, which still going strong today.  Huck also published what many deem the "tattoo bible," Tattooing A to Z: A Guide to Successful Tattooing.

Early this morning, this message appeared on the Facebook page of the Tom Spaulding Tattoo Studio:

We are all deeply saddened to let you know of the death of Tom's dad, Huck Spaulding. He was a pioneer in the tattoo industry. His innovations brought tattooing out of the back alleys, and into mainstream America, as well as around the world. He was the first worldwide distributor of quality tattoo equipment. He was at the forefront of tattoo safety, with disposable needles and autoclavable machine parts.  He was a big man who lived a big life. He was a trapper, a stock car racer, a big game hunter, and a classic car enthusiast. He was a husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather. He was so proud of his wonderful family. He will be sorely missed by his family and friends.
RIP Huck.
12:05 PM
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Some of the most creative of expressions are those that reflect on love. Flash mob proposals. Bikers stopping traffic to get romantic. Having someone's name tattooed on your face. And naturally, many will say that you can never go wrong with diamonds.

Now, if you take tattoo art and diamonds...you have my attention.

David Cooper is heavily tattooed gemologist and designer at Jeff Cooper Designs -- a family business specializing in classic, handmade bridal jewelry. David teamed up with the renowned Mike Rubendall of Kings Avenue Tattoo (who's spent plenty of time with Brian), and together they created a beautiful collection that melds Mike's artistic eye with the jewelry designer's signature refinement.

The Heirloom Diamond Pendant, in gold and diamonds, is the first pendant design of their collaboration. To celebrate the launch of the collection, David is offering a Valentine's Day Giveaway.  To enter, head to the Jeff Cooper Designs Facebook page, "Like" them, and fill out the contest entry form. The winner gets picked on February 14th.

There's a sweet backstory to this collaboration, which is noted on the Jeff Cooper blog. Here's a bit from it:

Anyone can network on the golf course, but our own David Cooper launched a new creative venture right from the tattoo chair.

While being tattooed by another artist in Mike Rubendall's studio, David was getting to know the legendary Rubendall, and they hit it off right away. 'Mike would pop his head in from time to time, and we'd talk about everything we had in common. Besides being artists and business owners, we shared similar perspectives when it came to life, work and family.'

At the time, Mike and his wife were expecting their first baby, and David and his wife expected their second child around the same time. When David introduced Mike to the idea of a 'push present,' they decided to collaborate on a pendant for Mike's wife.

A push present, or baby bauble, is given to a new mom by her partner. It's usually jewelry, and the idea is to pamper her, honor her hard work, and celebrate the birth in a meaningful, memorable way.

That first pendant design, brought to life in gold and diamonds, proved their aesthetics were compatible. They immediately decided to create a full collection based on stars, initials and religious symbols. Millgrain edges give the pendants a vintage feeling, and they have the same refined simplicity you'd expect from any Jeff Cooper piece. As David puts it, 'Mike has an eye for lines, proportion and flow. That's what makes these pendants truly unique and special.'

08:24 AM
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There has been some exciting buzz surrounding tattooed women, and it hasn't been in the form of the latest celebrity regret or the alt-model home wrecker. It has been about our tattoo godmothers, the women who bore full colorful body suits and traveled beyond their kitchens. The ones who first picked up a machine and had men lining up at the door to pay them for art and nothing more. The original riot grrls of the early 20th century whose impact could be seen on the skins on feminist punk rockers in the eighties to the tattooed lawyers of today.

That media buzz has come from the recently released third edition of Margot Mifflin's Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo.

Tattooed women, clothed or not, are a sexy subject. The New Yorker's feature on the book and its accompanying slideshow has been posted on Facebook over 20,000 times. The link to Flavorwire's article and slideshow has been messaged to me from all over the world. Even my mom, who logs onto the Internet only when reruns of Murder She Wrote are preempted, sent me this The NY Times link from yesterday. [Mom: "Oh look, a book on tattooed women. You should look into it." Me: "Um, mom, I'm in it."]

bodiesofsubversion mifflin.jpg Being in this book is important to me on many levels. Margot released the first version of Bodies of Subversion in 1997. At that point, I only had two small tattoos and was hungry for any information I could find on the art. I searched tirelessly for tattoo tomes. There were plenty of references for indigenous tattooing and books that told the stories of the men who brought back tattoo souvenirs from tribes, and also Japanese masters, to America and Europe. At the local bookstore, there were records of oral histories from gritty tattooers who worked on sailors streaming into port. There were no records on the women who did the same, at least not exclusively on the subject. The information could be found in the Women's Studies section of university libraries but was conspicuously absent outside of academia.

Margot brought the discussion of tattooed women into popular discourse -- from sideshow attractions to Victorian society women to women tattooers who struggled in the 70s and 80s to change tattoo culture, such that young tattooers today can say that being a woman is a help not a hinderance to their profession. 

The new edition of Bodies of Subversion includes most of the wonderful information she provided in the first edition. It also talks about how today's explosive popularity of tattooing has changed perceptions of tattooed women--but also how a lot has stayed the same.  During the course of her research for this edition, Margot and I chatted a lot on this. Upon completion of the book, I wanted to know how she felt about all the new material she had acquired and written about.

Our Q&A is as follows: 

What is the highlight of Bodies of Subversion for you personally?
The highlight is the new chapter on the new millennium--especially the section on the artists themselves. The general quality of tattooing has improved so vastly since my first edition was published in 1997 that the sheer volume of good work was a pleasure to see. My task was happily impossible: there was no way I could have included all the women worthy of coverage; I had to pick a few dozen to spotlight in order to illustrate certain developments or trends or techniques. 
Any particular aha(!) moments? Did you learn anything in your research that surprised you?

I was surprised at the number of lesbians artists working now. Virtually no one I interviewed for the first edition identified as a lesbian. This time, five or six women talked about it and I was surprised to hear that even in this historically male dominated and even historically macho profession, lesbians are not getting a lot of attitude from other tattooists or customers--even outside of New York and San Francisco.
What was the most difficult part to get info on?

The appalling dearth of black women artists--even 30 years after Jacci Gresham became a household name in the tattoo world. It's not like there aren't tons of tattooed black women--half my black students are tattooed. There are just so few women doing it, and it was difficult to nail down the reasons without having access to artists who could talk about their experiences. Jacci Greshman helped me, and a couple of artists in particular I found, Kimberly Williams in New York and Alex Smith (from Chicago),were very thoughtful and articulate on the subject, and ultimately helped me theorize it. 
Tell us about the greatest change between this edition & the first volume.

Kat Von D.  If you had told me in 1997 that within 10 years a woman would be the single most famous tattooist in the world, I would have laughed. Back then, women artists were just struggling to make a living and happy to get some media coverage and respect.

The draw to tattoo culture -- what was it for you?
It grew out of my interest in visual art. I don't see how you can be engaged with fine art or design and not have some interest in tattooing--especially as it's evolved in the past decade and because of the fact that you can't avoid seeing it every day. In my opinion, this is a huge cultural blind spot for most visually literate people I know. Tattooing is a fascinating and technically difficult art that's layered with sociological and anthropological meaning. Sure, most of what you see is awful (which some would argue is also true for contemporary art), but you have to consider what's happened to it in the hands of the people who are bringing a more sophisticated design sensibility to it and propelling it beyond the fixed iconography of its folk legacy--there's something very interesting and radical happening there. 

I can write a thousand more words on this exceptional book, but you must read it for yourself. You can purchase Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo for just $15 on Amazon.com.

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