Results tagged “Celtic tattoo”

09:15 PM
colin dale celtic tattoo.jpgceltic tattoo colin dale.jpgCeltic tattoos above by Colin Dale.

UPDATE: Just added a new tattoo above by Colin Dale, and some more words from Pat.

Yesterday, NPR posted a radio piece and article entitled, "The American Origins Of The Not-So-Traditional Celtic Knot Tattoo" -- a rather obnoxious discussion led by Ari Shapiro, who seemingly knows nothing about tattoos, but finds himself funny to mock them. Ari focuses his snarky lens on tattoos inspired by Celtic art, which he describes as a "sort of the 'lite rock' radio station of tattoos: pretty, bland and inoffensive."

In the article, Ari interviews Kevin McNamara at the Dublin Ink tattoo parlor, who states that he tattoos, although "not a literal number," about 40 of Celtic knots and shamrocks, a week, mostly on Americans with fanny packs and baseball hats. He explains that, for the first couple of years, that's how he made his money. Putting aside the bad taste of publicly mocking clients who contribute to one's retirement fund, what is left out of that interview is really why Americans of Irish heritage seek that type of artwork, how many want to celebrate their roots and feel a connection to something they hold important.

The only redeeming feature of this piece is tattoo historian Anna Felicity Friedman, who runs the blog TattooHistorian, and has been a guest blogger here a number of times. Anna explains that there's no evidence of Celtic tattooing in antiquity, but that the practice only came to Ireland in the last century. She also offers some thoughts on the American origins of Celtic tattoo work. With her expertise, Anna should have been asked more substantive questions to make this a less superficial piece.

A more interesting conversation should also have included Pat Fish in Santa Barbara, CA, who has been tattooing Celtic designs for three decades, and says that she finds it "endlessly fascinating and challenging to bring the intricate art of the ancient illuminated manuscripts and standing stones to life in skin."

When I discussed the NPR piece with Pat, via email, here's what she said:

Well, isn't THAT a bit rude. Except for the fact that, if it "started" on the West Coast in the 1980s, that was solely down to me. No one I met at the time in the USA was doing any Celtic designs, too busy with kanji and Harley wings! As for tribal/blackwork Cliff Raven was doing what he called "Pre-Technological Black Graphic" tattooing in the 1980's but what we now call "Tribal" didn't start becoming wildly popular until that 1991 flash by Leo Zulueta...But I always saw the inspirational Celtic tattoo work by Europeans at the conventions, from the very beginning in 1984, I was watching Micky Sharpz, Lal Hardy, John Sargerson, and Tattoo Eus. They were all ahead of me by years.

In 2010, when I worked in Ireland at the Traditional Arts Tattoo Festival, I was the only person doing traditional Celtic designs. I think they are a lot better than kanji, that's the perspective that comes from watching trends come and go for 30 years. In the 1980s, I had both Cliff Raven and Ed Hardy do Celtic designs on me and both said they'd prefer never again.

It IS accurate that there is no evidence of Irish tattooing in antiquity. Lots of descriptions of the Picts in Scotland, but the Romans never invaded Ireland, so no mention of the Irish by their historians, tattooed or not. BUT there was a great deal of cultural exchange, so it seems very likely that the practice would be shared.

All in all, the tone of the article is way too much like the derisive "tramp stamp" attitudes that poisoned the lower back as a placement of choice for women. Which can of course be a lovely feminine and discrete place for a tattoo, but now it has become a bad joke.
On Pat's site, she shares more of her work and thoughts on Celtic tattooing. I also highly recommend you check her process of creating the designs on this page of her site.

Another artist who I would have loved to see included is Colin Dale of Skin & Bone in Copenhagen, who is renowned for his Nordic & Celtic tattoo work, particularly his hand tattoo work. Colin curated and wrote the introduction to the chapter on Celtic and Nordic tattoos in my latest book, Black Tattoo Art 2, showing the power and beauty of these designs.

But to present something weighty like that would take more work, and it's much easier to point & laugh.

celtic tattoo leg.jpgpat fish celtic tattoo.jpg
02:54 PM
In the recent issue of the National Tattoo Association newsletter, there's a feature on the "Queen of the Knots," Pat Fish, which includes new Celtic tattoos as well as a really fun and interesting bio. I had to steal a bit from it. Here's Pat in her own words:

When I was a child, I had no ethnic identity, and I yearned for a connection to a bloodline and history. As an orphan I felt so alone, denied my place and race. I'd go to sleep at night praying "God, when I find out who I really am, please can I be Irish?"

When I was finally able to meet my true relatives I was delighted to learn that I am a Pict, a Scot, Clan Campbell on both sides of my heritage. My ancestors the Picts were the famous tattooed warriors of Scotland, known worldwide as mercenaries easily visible in battles with their tattooed faces. It was in an attempt to hold them back in the Highlands that Hadrian's wall was built.

Many histories will say that Europe woke up to tattooing when Captain Cook brought back "tattooed savages" from his explorations, and also his sailors who had been marked on their voyages. But in truth the Picts were written about by Caesar and other ancient historians, who said they were "pricked with diverse marks."

It happened that I met many of my true relatives and learned this heritage at the same time I began tattooing. It seemed a lattice of coincidence, that I was meant to do Celtic tattoos. I took it as my special goal to work to bring the intricate art of the ancient illuminated manuscripts and the Pictish standing stones to life in skin.
Read more here, and find more of Pat's work on Facebook.

Pat will also be tattooing at the 35th Annual (yes, 35 years!!) National Tattoo Association Convention, April 29 - May 4, 2014 at the Hyatt Regency Orange County in Garden Grove, CA. NTA is the oldest tattoo organization in the country. More on them can be found on Facebook as well.
07:33 PM
Pat Fish Icon.jpg
The inimitable Pat Fish -- "The Queen of Celt" -- is internationally renown for her powerful and intricate Celtic knot work tattoos. She is also known for being quite outspoken, calling bullshit on issues she believes harm the tattoo industry and collectors. Pat does just that in our Icon Q&A for Inked mag.

In the interview, she raises some of those controversial issues, like potential dangers in color tattoo ink as well as the ethics of giving clients exactly what they want. Pat also shares some of the lessons she learned from her mentor, the legendary Cliff Raven, who changed her life, and how her pet mule, Tobe, has done the same. Here's a taste:

Your work has moved towards pointillism and other new directions, but still largely keeps to the traditional Celtic designs. Where are those influences coming from? Conventions?

Absolutely. When I worked at the NIX Tattoo Convention up in Toronto, I met both Colin Dale and Cory Ferguson, and I was stunned by their pointillism. All the time when I was at UCSB art school, I was using pointillism, using dots to do my shading. But I had never done it in tattooing. Why not? I don't know. So I started exploring how to pull that into my style. Also, I had a pretty strong feeling that the governments of the EU and the US were going to outlaw colored tattoo ink, but I was wrong about this. I figured, well, maybe it will just happen that I have to adapt my style so that black ink is all I'll have, and it's good enough. I can't imagine why [colored ink] is still legal. It's just wrong. It's a hugely dangerous thing to have something that nobody knows what's in it. There's no oversight or MSDS [Material Safety Data Sheet] provided. Here we are hoping for the best and sticking it in our clients.

Don't you think that there would be an epidemic, with so many color tattoos, if the inks were dangerous?

I think the big risk is that there are so many more suppliers today than there were in the past. It used to be that you would get powder and put it with your own preferred suspension agent and there you go, you have your ink. Now there are, what, a hundred ink suppliers and none of them have any MSDS, and even the really famous ones have ended up with fungus in a batch.

pat fish tattoos.jpg Beyond health issues, there are also moral issues to consider in tattooing. For example, there was a lot of buzz over a woman getting a huge "DRAKE" tattoo (in honor of the singer) on her forehead and whether the tattooist should have done it. What do you think about that?

I interact with a lot of the older generation of tattoo artists and they say, "Somebody is going to do that tattoo. Why do you pretend that you care about that person? It's money." My attitude is that I rather have them angry with me over something I didn't do than something I did. I have morals, and I have to be responsible in this life for everything I do. If I really feel that it will make them a person who relied on welfare because now they made themselves into a freak and can't get a job, then I need to step up and tell them No. I've had people come in and thank me later for not having done a tattoo that I refused to do. That's a nice moment.

You have a lot of people flying into Santa Barbara from all over the world to get tattooed by you, but is Celtic work still as popular as it was, say over ten years ago?

I've been selling my designs online now at since 2001, and there was a point where people were buying a lot more Celtic stuff than they are now, but it's hard to tell. Right now the trend is words. People will call me and go on and on about how much they love my designs and then just ask for two Gaelic words on their arm. Give me a break. For me, words age badly and look goofy. Unless they are really big, they don't have a graphic quality to them. I usually decline to do it, which is hard to do in this economy.

Read the rest in the latest issue of Inked and see more of Pat's work here.

pat Fish inked.jpgPat Fish
Tattoo Santa Barbara - LuckyFish, Inc.
2007 State Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93105
(805) 962-7552
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