Results tagged “Margot Mifflin”

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.
07:01 AM
picasso tattoo_david allen.jpgPicasso's Girl before a Mirror above by David Allen.

cathy johnson tattoo.jpgRoy Lichtenstein's Drowning Girl above by Cathy Johnson.

Yesterday, I found Jerry Saltz's "The Best Art Tattoos of All Time" slideshow for NY Mag, via the wonderful Margot Mifflin's Facebook page. I appreciate Jerry's love for looking at tattoos and his note on how some people are so moved by art that they wish to place it on their bodies forever. However, rather than a slideshow of "fandom" tattoos, as he puts it, he could have curated custom tattoo art by tattooists that he finds to be worthy of the term "fine art." But that's a lot more work.

Margot summed up my biggest problem with the piece when she posted the following with the link:

Nice that Jerry Saltz rounded up this collection. Unfortunate that not one artist--tattoo artist--is identified in it. It crystallizes the art world's chronic inability to understand that the best tattooing is not about copying. Now for a slideshow of the best art tattoos of all time showing original work by tattooists.
It really is time that the art world takes a serious look at custom tattooing, or at the very least, the fine art of those who tattoo. Seems only Scott Campbell -- who is the only artist actually credited within the article -- is really getting that kind of media attention, with other few exceptions.

With Saltz's slideshow are tiny credits (in small grey font) with "Photo: Courtesy of ..." and some of those photos are provided by tattooers like David Allen, Cathy Johnson and Pete Zebley shown here, but other credits belong to photographers and collectors. Crediting the artists should not be seen as just a courtesy but a legal responsibility.

Don't worry, though. I won't even bring up the tattoo copyright issues here!

Giacometti_Pete_Zebley.jpgAlberto Giacometti drawing above by Pete Zebley.
08:52 AM
pen and ink.jpg
Considering just how many tattoo books have been recently published, it's interesting to see how much media attention has been focused on Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them -- a collection of illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton depicting people's tattoos along with the stories behind them. MacNaughton and editor Isaac Fitzgerald, who based the book on their Tumblr (of the same name), highlight the tattoo stories of rock stars as well as "ordinary people" in an "exploration of the decision to scar one's self with a symbol and a story."

Overall, the book's reception (from outside of the tattoo industry press) has been favorable. For one, Maria Popova had quite a positive review of the book on her Brain Pickings blog (of which I'm a huge fan). In her review, which offers extensive excerpts and illustrations from the book, Popova writes:

From a librarian's Sendak-like depiction of a Norwegian folktale her grandfather used to tell her, to a writer who gets a tattoo for each novel he writes, to a journalist who immortalized the first tenet of the Karen revolution for Burma's independence, the stories -- sometimes poetic, sometimes political, always deeply personal -- brim with the uncontainable, layered humanity that is MacNaughton's true medium.
These stories are not necessarily well received by all. As Margot Mifflin writes in her review in SF Gate, she found Pen & Ink to be "a slight and parochial collection of anecdotes that reinforces some awfully weary tattoo cliches." She explains:

One [anecdote], occupying an entire page, written by someone who wears the words "pizza party" across her toes, says only, "I really f-- love pizza." Most of the other contributors muster a paragraph or two, saying in print what you can hear on any tattoo reality show, if you must: backstories for memorial tattoos, pet tattoos, relationship tattoos and "reminder" tattoos -- those permanent Post-its bearing personalized platitudes.
The entries that do rise to the level of storytelling demonstrate how good this book could have been if the authors had just thrown their net wider. Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy tells of her beating and sexual assault by riot police in Egypt, and the image she chose as a way of reclaiming her body afterward: Sekhmet, the goddess off retribution and sex. "I'd never wanted a tattoo before," she writes, "but as sadness washed away and my anger and the Vicodin wore off, it became important to both celebrate my survival and make a mark on my body of my own choosing."
Those of us in the tattoo community like to say -- especially in light of the endless reality shows -- that not every tattoo has a story. We can get a tattoo simply because we like it, and the design itself need not be imbued with grave significance and meaning. But really, every tattoo does have a story in some way -- the story of the experience of getting tattooed. And a key component to that experience is the artist. That seems to get lost in Pen & Ink. As Margot notes, "[...] respected tattooists [are] consigned to the back pages of this collection as footnotes to bar tales, some of whom are not even identified by name, but instead by "parlor.'"

As a lawyer, I was naturally intrigued over whether the tattooists ever gave permission to have their tattoos reproduced as illustrations. As I have written about endlessly regarding tattoo copyright, tattooers generally hold the copyright to their designs, or at least share them with the client, unless those rights are otherwise transferred, licensed or assigned. I wonder if the tattooers were ever even contacted to give permission to have their artwork reproduced. [In general, the copy need not be exact, and creators could retain their rights even if their work is translated in other forms.] I'll leave an extensive legal discussion out of this post, but only wanted to mention it in the context of how this book falls short by not giving the proper credit and respect to the very reason why the book exists -- that there were tattoo artists behind every story.
Nothing in this post should be relied upon as legal advice. Obviously.
07:08 AM
roxx 2 spirit tattoo.jpg
Tattoo above by Roxx of 2Spirit Tattoo.

In my Women's Ink post last week, I gave y'all a heads up that Margot Mifflin and I will be moderating the panel discussion "Women's Ink: Tattooing in the New Millennium" at Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn, tomorrow, Thursday, March 6, from 7-9 PM.

Today, I wanted to just spotlight the work of the inspiring artists who will be on the panel: Roxx of 2Spirit Tattoo in San Francisco, and NYC's own Virginia Elwood and Stephanie Tamez of Saved Tattoo. In addition to discussing the particular issues of being women artists in the tattoo industry, there will also be a show-n-tell about certain select pieces from their portfolios. Towards the end of the talk, we're opening up the floor where those in attendance can ask questions and share their experiences.

And if you don't have it yet, Margot will be signing her must-have book,
Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo.

For more on
Women's Ink: Tattooing in the New Millennium, check our Q&A with Cool Hunting, and Margot's talk with Inked.

Stephanie Tamez tattoo.jpgTattoo above by Stephanie Tamez.

Virginia Elwood Tattoo.jpgTattoo above by Virginia Elwood.
11:39 AM
womens ink.jpg
A couple weeks ago, while at a bar chatting with a friend, I felt a tug on my arm and then, without warning or even a word, my arm was being twisted and turned for inspection by guy who, not only felt it was his right to grab a stranger, but who was rather shocked when I took my arm back and told him that what he was doing wasn't cool. He became indignant that I wasn't flattered by his attention, saying, "What's wrong? I like your tattoos," as if his artistic approval of my work gave him a right to touch. I then took his arm, twisted it as he did to me, and asked him if he liked it. Then, completely accidentally, his own fist wound up in his own eye.

My non-tattooed friends were pretty shocked that some random stranger would grab me to look at my tattoos. I wasn't shocked at all. In fact, most of you reading this won't be shocked. It's something we talk about a lot -- how our skin becomes an interactive museum exhibit. This is particularly a common experience for tattooed women.

This discussion of our bodies as some kind of public space, as well as other issues experienced by tattooed women (and men as well), will be shared on March 6, 2014, on the panel discussion "Women's Ink: Tattooing in the New Millennium" at Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn. I'm honored to be moderating the panel with Margot Mifflin author of one of my most favorite tattoo books, Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo.

The panel is inspired by the third edition of "Bodies of Subversion," released by powerHouse Books a year ago. [I interviewed Margot at that time about the new edition.] The book was the first history of women's tattoo art when it was originally released in 1997, exploring the stories of tattooed women from as far back as the nineteenth-century. So many years later, it remains the only book to chronicle the history of both tattooed women and women tattooists.

The experiences of women tattooists are particularly fascinating, and there are so many questions that arise:  Do women tattooers still feel any form of discrimination from colleagues and clients? How do they feel about their representation in the media? How do they see their role as business women as well as artists? ...

These questions, among many others, will be addressed by a phenomenal group of artists: Roxx of 2Spirit Tattoo in San Francisco, and NYC's own Virginia Elwood and Stephanie Tamez of Saved Tattoo

We'll also open up the discussion to all. The panel, which will take place from 7-9 PM, is the day before the NYC Tattoo Convention -- it'll be a fun way to kick off the tattoo weekend celebration.  I really hope to see you there.

More details on the event via the Facebook invite.
08:27 AM
661016fa.jpg Yesterday, the Miss America pageant crowned its first beauty queen of Indian descent, which led to an onslaught of racist tweets by those who take beauty pageants seriously. "America's Choice," as decided by an online vote, was not the winner, but instead, a pretty blonde from Kansas who represented "American Values":  she's a sergeant in the National Guard, she's a hunter who can skin a deer herself, and she's tattooed.

Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail strutted across the stage with a large-scale rib tattoo of the serenity prayer, which she says she used to recite when bullied as a child.  Her tattoos were a big part of her platform, which centered around "empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers." She told ABC News:

"What I really want is just to inspire people by showing my tattoos," she said. "That's a bold move! And it's risky, it could very well cost me the crown. And if it does, I just want people to see that you can step outside of the box, you can be yourself. And I can only hope that it inspires them to do the same."
She didn't win the crown, but she won a lot media attention for being the first Miss America contestant to openly display her tattoos. Or at least that what the headlines touted.

But Teresa Vail was not the first tattooed beauty queen. It was Betty Broadbent, shown above on the cover of the first edition of Margo Mifflin's "Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women & Tattoo" (a must-have book). This cover photo captures the iconic circus attraction as she made history competing in the first televised beauty pageant at the 1937 World's Fair. As Margot Mifflin notes, "She knew that as a tattooed contestant she didn't stand a chance of winning, but she gladly reaped the free publicity." The same could be said for Miss Kansas.

I'm not a fan of beauty contests. Despite the fact that Miss Kansas has a degree in chemistry and speaks Chinese, she still had to put on stilettos and a bikini to put forth her "empowerment" platform. But I am a fan of those working in some way to stir a little trouble, to change up beauty ideals. So good on Miss Kansas for following in Betty Broadbent's high heels.
07:27 AM
bodiesofsubversion mifflin.jpg
This Saturday, April 13, at 2pm, Margot Mifflin and I will be at the Brooklyn Museum presenting "Art, Sex, and Power: Tattooed Women Today" in the Forum of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art (4th floor). The event is free with museum admission -- and it is an incredible museum -- so it's worth the trip all around.

Our talk and visual presentation center around how women's tattooing relates to sexuality, fashion, fine art, and feminism. These themes are wonderfully explored in Margot's absolute must-have book, Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo. [For more info, check my review of the book's latest edition and interview with Margot in this post.] These themes have also been explored on this blog, particularly in the context of sex and beauty.  On Saturday, we'll spend an hour chatting about everything from the reclamation of one's body, tattooed women stereotypes, the rise of the tattoo model as career choice, women tattooers of yesterday & today, and much more. 

And we really want to hear your opinions as well, so all those attending are encouraged to participate in the discussion. I also encourage everyone to share your thoughts on women and tattoo culture in the link to this post in our FB group page, or Tweet at me.
  • What do you think about the representation of tattooed women in mass media and our own industry media?
  • How do you define beauty through tattoos?
  • Have you ever used tattooing as a form of reclamation of your body -- either tattooing over scars, getting tattoos to empower yourself after a trauma, covering up a gang tattoo or mark that you felt was never your own...?
  • How does your race & ethnicity play into reactions to your tattoos?
  • Do you feel that tattooed women are hypersexualized more so today?
  • Do women tattooers still face obstacles to entering and advancing in the craft?
Feel free to raise other issues. Would love to hear from you.
And would love to see you Saturday!
08:24 AM
bodies of subversion.jpg
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

01:55 PM
tattooed lady.jpgPhoto from Amelia Klem Osterud's "The Tattooed Lady: A History"

Inspired by the Ladies, Ladies Art Show, today's holiday gift guide post features books that celebrate tattooed ladies through history. These titles have all been mentioned here before but worth repeating for those who haven't scooped them up yet.

* The Tattooed Lady: A History by Amelia Klem Osterud is a beautiful hardcover that explores the lives of tattoo's godmothers, complete with fascinating narratives and photos dating back to the 1880s. We wrote about its release last November, and it still sits close to my desk for reference. For more info, check out Amelia's blog.

bodies of subversion.jpg* Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo by Margot Mifflin remains a classic. From sideshow ladies to prominent female tattoo artists, the book looks at how tattoo culture has changed & the roles women have played in it. It features great stories and images as well. Margot's latest, The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman, is also an interesting read.

* The Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women by tattoo anthropologist Lars Krutak is a scholarly book on the role of women as tattooists in many indigenous cultures, with over 250 photos & illustrations. Lars has a new book out called Kalinga Tattoo, which is so gorgeous it warrants its own post. That's coming up.

* Madame Chinchilla's Electric Tattooing by Women 1900-2003 is a yearbook of women tattoo artists over a century. It's not a fancy book but it is a Who's Who of Tattoo up until 2003 with quotes from each artist.

* On the fiction front, check out Tattoo Artist: A Novel by Jill Ciment -- a story about a New York artist who is marooned in the South Pacific and eventually becomes a revered tattooist among the Tu'un'uu people at the turn of the century. It then flashes forward, 30 years later, when she returns as a heavily tattooed woman to New York. A fun read.

If you have your own favorites, feel free to share them in the comments.
03:34 PM
blue-tattoo.jpgConsidering one of my favorite tattoo texts is Bodies of Subversion by Margot Mifflin, I'm excited to pick up Margot's latest book: The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman

... so much so that I'm trying to rush my To Do list before I leave for Greece Wednesday in hopes I can catch her reading tomorrow night at the Book Court in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn at 7PM.

Once I get my hands on it, I'll do a review; meanwhile, here's a taste from the description:

"In 1851 Olive Oatman was a thirteen-year old pioneer traveling west toward Zion, with her Mormon family. Within a decade, she was a white Indian with a chin tattoo, caught between cultures.

The Blue Tattoo tells the harrowing story of this forgotten heroine of frontier America. Orphaned when her family was brutally killed by Yavapai Indians, Oatman lived as a slave to her captors for a year before being traded to the Mohave, who tattooed her face and raised her as their own.

She was fully assimilated and perfectly happy when, at nineteen, she was ransomed back to white society. She became an instant celebrity, but the price of fame was high and the pain of her ruptured childhood lasted a lifetime.

Based on historical records, including letters and diaries of Oatman's friends and relatives, The Blue Tattoo is the first book to examine her life from her childhood in Illinois--including the massacre, her captivity, and her return to white society--to her later years as a wealthy banker's wife in Texas.

Oatman's blue tattoo was a cultural symbol that evoked both the imprint of her Mohave past and the lingering scars of westward expansion. It also served as a reminder of her deepest secret, fully explored here for the first time: she never wanted to go home."

Pick up your own copy at here.

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