Celtic 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.On Pat's site LuckyFish.com, 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.
Art. Sex. Safety. Cash....
Naturally, Graphic Armor's Tattoo Condom Design Contest caught my attention. But what really made me post the contest on this blog is Graphic Armor's tagline, "We are changing the way the world looks at condoms by changing the way condoms look!" I think that's important, especially after reading recent stats from the US Department of Health, stating that "over one in eight high school students did not use any contraceptive method to prevent pregnancy during their last sexual intercourse."
Make condoms fun. Keep people safe. Considering that the professional tattoo industry holds health and hygiene at utmost importance, this way of engaging the community is a good fit.
The contest was recently launched and is open to all, not just tattooers and designers. Voting is also open to all. As Graphic Armor notes, "The top three designs, as determined by the voting public, will be printed directly on our approved premium latex condoms for sales and distribution around the planet." Yup, the planet. Here's what else they say on their site:
The winning designers' names will appear on all packaging, including the condom itself! In addition, the top three winners will get:
1st Place - $1000 plus 200 Tattoo Condoms
2nd Place - $500 plus 100 Tattoo Condoms
3rd place - $250 plus 50 Tattoo CondomsVoting is open to until 10/6 at 8:00pm (EST) and the winners will be announced on 10/7 at 8:00pm (EST).
Details on how to enter are here.
Already there are some great designs to vote on -- all submitted so far by tattoo artist Pat Fish, known for her Celtic artwork, which she plays with in her condom design. Pat's work has been getting a bunch of votes, so if you're thinking of entering, best to do it sooner than later.
Having no drawing/design skills at all, I won't be entering BUT I did order some condoms with the Needles & Sins logo, which I'll be giving out soon to readers to share the love.
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.
For further reading on our blog, check these past posts:
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?"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.
In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I naturally had to feature work from The Celtic Tattoo Queen herself, Pat Fish.
Collectors from around the world travel to Pat's Santa Barbara studio for her intricate knot and dot work tattoos. Last year, I posted an excerpt from my Inked mag profile on Pat, and I figure it's fitting today to post a bit more from our Q&A, where we talk about how she earned her royal title:
You're called the "Queen of Knots" in the tattoo community. How did that get started?
Lyle Tuttle gave me the name "Queen of Knots, and the title "Celtic Queen of the West Coast" came from a Skin & Ink magazine article. When I started [to tattoo], I was thirty years old. You can really do what you want till you turn thirty, but at that point, you better specialize and chose a profession, something that you are. I put myself through college doing research interviewing, and then I got hired by the local weekly newspaper to interview people. I did it for over a decade. But after a while, I got to where I didn't want to be edited anymore, where they'd brutally cut my work to make room for more advertising. I finally just decided that I wanted to do art full time. At that point, I thought that tattooing seemed to be the most legit way to do art. That's when I went on my quest to find who I should learn from and the rest is history. Now it's almost 28 years. Simultaneously, I decided something else I really needed was to find out my true identity because I was an orphan and lived all my life with a chip on my shoulder that somewhere, in some office, was the truth of about where I came from. I put a private eye on to find out who I was, and it turns out that I'm Scottish. It just made sense to me that everyone else in the world has ethnic pride--has an identity--and here I was finding it out and at the same time learning to do this new skill. So I decided to specialize in Celtic art, bringing back that tattoo tradition of the Europeans.
Like what traditions?
People think that the Europeans started getting tattooed when Captain Cook came back from Tahiti with tattooed sailors, who had gotten souvenirs when they went and explored. That isn't true. The Pictish people were known for their tattoos. It turns out that I'm a Campbell and the clan Campbell are Picts. It's an extremely small ethnic group. I thought it was something I should explore and one of the ways to do that would be to bring back alive this tradition of the heavily tattooed Pictish people--to bring these designs back to life in skin. One of the better choices of my life was to learn to tattoo and then to specialize in this.
See more of Pat's work on Luckyfish.com. Slainte!
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.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?
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:
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.
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 Luckyfishart.com 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.
In this guest blog, Pat Fish pays tribute to tattooist and author Pati Pavlik.
Pati Pavlik began her tattoo career studying with Cliff Raven at Sunset Strip Tattoo in Hollywood, and went on to own several studios, most memorably the Laguna Beach Tattoo location that gave several of today's prominent artists their starts. When she sold that, she semi-retired to a large ranch in Tehachapi, CA, where she maintained her cosmetic tattoo pigment supply company Cleo Colors and did private work at Tehachapi Tattoo. She established the Tehachapi Mountain Research Center to promote the arts in the local community.
She authored "The Breast Book", a guide to areola re-pigmentation for breast cancer survivors, which she was. She also wrote a memoir "Through My Eyes" that told the story of her many experiences in the tattoo industry, especially her role in establishing the National Cosmetic Tattooing Association (NCTA).
In recent years she had been working on another more private autobiography, however she was in failing health for a long time, and died peacefully on 2/5/12.
In the last 120 years, have you ever seen a tattoo machine tattooed by hand?
This Paul Roger's Mad Bee machine tribute is hand-poked by Colin Dale of Skin & Bone Tattoo in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Colin is no stranger to this blog. We've filmed him skin stitching at the Traditional Tattoo & World Culture Fest. We wrote about him tattooing a 103-year-old woman. And featured his own 3D Celtic Tattoo, a collaboration with Pat Fish & Cory Ferguson. Colin is not just one of our favorite artists, but a pal and confidant. We thank him for being a friend.
For more of the tattoo viking's work, check his online gallery.
Tattoo by the fabulous David Allen
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and tattoo studios across the country are working for the cause.
In Aurora, Colorado, 5280 Tattoo is tattooing free pink ribbons every Saturday this month on breast cancer survivors and the loved-ones of breast cancer victims. Reni Soto has already made her appointment, telling Fox 61 News "I'm getting 'faith' underneath it. I kept my faith through the process. Every time I look down I remember what I went through."
In Pomona, CA, this Saturday, October 10th, is the Second Annual Tattoos for a Cure where the artists of Ink'd Chronicles will be tattooing the pink ribbons and other designs at their Pomona Art Colony location (there's an $80 minimum). All the proceeds will go to the Breast Health program at the Robert & Beverly Lewis Cancer Care Center. There will also be an art show and live bands.
For years now, the Healing Art Foundation has been "Saving the Boobies" bringing awareness and raising money through tattoo and fine art. They also hook survivors up with tattooists for tattoos, permanent make-up, areola repigmentation, and cover ups.
Those interested in getting a pink ribbon tattoo with a Celtic twist, see Pat Fish's story of how she created her endless knot of remembrance tattoo design, which can be downloaded for purchase here.
One of my favorite tattoos is this F*uck Cancer rendering that I found on Punk Rock Mommy a couple of years ago, but be warned, it's a heartbreaking tale of one badass woman's fight against the disease.
On a personal note, my mom is a breast cancer survivor, and in her 70s, is still kickin major butt. She did tell me that if I wanted to honor her battle, "a nice Italian dinner" would suffice and not to get needled on her behalf. No worries, mom. Reservations -- no tattoo appointments -- have been made.
I'm starting a new section on N+S on interesting tattoo projects, and the stories behind them. Not stories of the dog that died and that's why I got this Kanji on my shoulder, but stories meant to inspire and inform on the creative tattoo process. I'm snotty like that.
Here's the first in the series: Colin Dale's 3d Celtic Tattoo.
Colin's tattoo was a culmination of a project started on his own leg last February in California and involved various artists in the process. The original idea was to design a piece of Celtic knotwork that wrapped in an unbroken piece around the entire leg -- not just a band but also running from top to bottom in a three-dimensional tattoo encompassing the entire calf.
The design came from Pat Fish, aka The Queen of Celtic, a master at knotwork. The design was then given to her technical assistant and webmaster Colin Fraser Purcell who then made a 3D template that could be wrapped around Colin's leg in a cone shape. Pat then applied the design ... and got it right the first time! Not an easy task, even for someone as experienced as she is. Pat then spent 3 hours adjusting and freehand drawing it to fit before she even started to tattoo. The original outlining ran into the early hours of the morning.
Colin returned home and began to thicken up all the lines himself. This was actually more painful on the hip joint and lower back than the actual tattoo. [Imagine tattooing while touching your own toes for 2 hours at a time!] This was followed by Colin dot-shading all the negative spaces on the instep and shin. Unfortunately the tattoo wasn't finished in time for the Northern Ink Xposure convention in Toronto, but Colin took the opportunity to have Cory Ferguson to fill in the negative spaces in the left side and back where he couldn't reach. Cory is another talented award winning artist and friend who specializes in the pointillism technique combined with mandalas and tribal patterns.
After this was completed Colin took it down to Alex at Rites of Passage who did all of the greyshading of the knotwork. Alex specializes in Black&Grey and Portraits work, so this was sort of like asking da Vinci to paint a ceiling...with a roller. But it was decided that a simpler more graphic approach was the best way to compliment the Celtic style and complete Pat's original vision.
After this collaboration of three great artists, plus to artist/collector himself, the Three Dimensional Celtic was completed.
And that's just one way to get a kickass tattoo.
[Editor's Note: Thrilled to have Pat Sullivan blogging here, especially today!]
Photo taken from Pat Fish's Tattoo Portfolio Video.
St. Patrick's Day is here and though it's possible that by the time you read this it may have kicked your ass in a drunken Irish twister of green beer, Clancy Brothers sing-a-long, and maybe a brawl or two, I thought a quick and semi-scattered minute on Ireland and tattoos might be fitting.
Let's start with the inventive Irishman Samuel O'Reilly, who opened up shop on the Bowery in NYC's Chinatown in 1875. O'Reilly modified Thomas Edison's "autographic printer," essentially creating the modern electric tattoo machine that would revolutionize tattooing overnight. O'Reilly later apprenticed Charlie Wagner, one of the most well known (and well documented) tattooists in the good ol' USA who was ingrained in the tattoo-freak-show-New-York of the 1930s and 40s.
Next up is Norman Keith Collins, Sailor Jerry, Old Ironsides himself. Though trying to tie his Collins bloodline to west Cork and Ireland's own Michael Collins is probably impossible, his ancestry is undeniable. Equally undeniable is, of course, Sailor Jerry's influence on the world of tattoo -- now made even more so by the Sailor Jerry brand -- for what he brought to the craft, the artwork and, lets be honest, the 'tude.
Dedicated to keeping the Celtic and Pictish tattoo traditions alive today is tattoo artist Pat Fish aka the Queen of Celt. Working out of Tattoo Santa Barbara in California, Pat Fish has amassed a dense library of designs on what has to be thousands of clients. Her work is amazing and if I happened to live on the other coast, I'd be over there in no time.
Most likely belting out a rebel songs about this time is the crew at Classic Ink Tattoo in Dublin. Though they work with other styles, their traditional ink punches up that old fighting spirit, whether it's a harp, a memorial or just a classy naked lass. I've never met the artists there, but let's just say it's one more reason to get back to Dublin.
So when you raise your glass this St. Paddy's, give a small cheers for those tattooed Irish and Irish Americans who have been part of the story and those who keep the needles buzzing.
Happy St. Paddy's Day!