Beautiful mastectomy scar transformations have been featured numerous times on the blog -- the stories behind them as powerful as the artwork. What hasn't been explored in depth here are the technical considerations in tattooing over those scars. Thankfully, Pat Fish has shared the information she provided to Patricia O'Grady's book The Guide to Breast Reconstruction on her blog here. Here's a bit from her Q&A with Patricia:
O'Grady: Is it harder to tattoo on a woman who had made the decision not to do reconstruction because she is down to the bone?
Fish: No, the tattooing process is very shallow, no deeper than the width of a dime, so the issue is the nerves and where they may be. With anyone whose anatomy has been shifted surgically, there are phantom pains and unexpected sensitivities where the nerves have regrown.
O'Grady: While a tattoo cannot eradicate a scar or the skin's texture, it does seem to hide it very effectively. Is it more challenging for you as an artist to tattoo over a scar?
Fish: The scar tissue is not as strong as normal skin, and so requires an adapted technique. If normal tattooing is done, it can chew up the skin and the ink will be forced out in the resultant scabbing. So we have specific ways of using a pointillist technique to build up the tattoo on top of the scar tissue. This way, there are fewer holes poked into the area, and it has a better chance of healing and retaining the ink.
O'Grady: Does the skin hold the ink differently due to the thickness of the scar tissue?
Fish: Not the thickness, per se, but the composition of the collagen in the tissue is very different, and regeneration of the skin is impeded, so when you place foreign material into it, the possibility is that it will over-react and try to force the irritant out. In this case, that would mean the tattoo ink would scab up with lymph and then peel away, leaving only part of it in the skin.
O'Grady: I know that you truly specialize in Celtic design tattooing, and I would think that the intricate patterns would work well to cover up scars.
Fish: It is actually difficult to conform a Celtic design to the body, and if there are scars, it is necessary to adapt the pattern so that if there is ink rejected by the body, it has minimal visibility within the pattern. I do all sorts of tattooing; my particular love is Celtic and Pictish work, but I am very happy reproducing botanical prints and any precisely rendered archival material.
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