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 March, we wrote about the Personal Ink Project or P.INK, which is an incredible resource that offers tattoo inspiration, ideas and info for breast cancer survivors. It also is a place where these women can research and perhaps even connect with skilled artists who can transform mastectomy scars into beautiful works of art.I've had the pleasure of working with the P.INK team, in a small way, on this event. P.INK is a "nights-and-weekends passion project" of a handful of employees at the Boulder-based ad agency CP+B who had been affected by cancer. Their goal is to see this project expand, including more P.INK Days should this first event be a success.
On October 21, 2013, that connection will be made when 10 tattoo artists will tattoo scar-coverage or nipple-replacement tattoos on 10 breast cancer survivors at Saved Tattoo in Brooklyn, NY.
You can help make this event happen by being a part of the crowd-funded project for as little as $10. There are also tons of perks for those who can give more. For $50, there's digital swag and temp tattoos. For $500, you get an art print of one of the tattoos you helpedg fund.
And the art is guaranteed to be stellar considering the line-up:
If you can't contribute, spread the word by sharing this page and using #PinkTattooDay. You can follow P.INK on Twitter and on Facebook.
Learn more about the project from the video below.
While I get a regular stream of emails asking for tattoo artist recommendations, in the past couple of years, more of these messages have been from women who have fought breast cancer and are looking to transform their mastectomy scars into beautiful works of art.
I attribute the greater number of emails to two particular posts on this site:
Now, there is a wonderful resource I can point to for tattoo inspiration as well as artists adept at working with mastectomy scars: the Personal Ink Project aka P-ink.org or P.ink.
P-ink is a Pinterest-based forum that "provides tattoo inspirations, ideas, and artist info to breast cancer survivors." The site invites artists, collectors, patients, supporters -- everyone -- to share or pin your own stories, design ideas, and favorite artists by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The people behind P-ink are those at Crispin Porter + Bogusky and David Clark Cause, which explains the sharp design and outreach.
One of the most beautiful pins is the video of 47-year-old Molly Ortwein, who had a double mastectomy and then kicked some more ass by getting a 7-hour tattoo over her scars. The video shows Colby Butler of UnFamous Miami creating the work, from start to finish, and Molly glowing at the end, proclaiming that she can't wait to be naked on the beaches of Brazil soon. It's beautifully badass.
In light of the recent headlines about Facebook banning an image of a post-mastectomy tattoo, we need to put even more info out there to inspire these types of tattoo transformations, and P-ink is a great source to do so.
Many thanks to Lisa Solomon for the link!
I've gotten a number of emails in the past couple of years asking me about tattooing over mastectomy scars and nipple reconstruction, and I've referred breast cancer survivors to long-time practitioners, listed below, for this type of tattooing. [It's an issue close to my heart as my both mother and aunt have had breast cancer.] Beyond realistic tattooing in creating the look of the nipple & areola, decorative tattoos over these scars can be a beautiful option.
A perfect example is this work by tattoo artist David Allen, whose blog I've been a fan of for years. I talked to David about the tattoo and he gave me some interesting info on the process and procedure. His client, fellow New Yorker Adriana, also offered her thoughts on her tattoo.
Adriana was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer at age 31 in September 1999. She had a modified radical mastectomy removing a 5cm tumor. At the time of the surgery, she had reconstruction and several follow-up surgeries after chemotherapy and radiation. As the radiation ruined her skin, she was unable to have a nipple reconstruction. Almost exactly 11 years to the date from her surgery, Adriana made an appointment for her first tattoo.
Adriana came to David with a basic idea of "vines or branches with flowers" that could "go across the scar." But because she knew the skin texture varied along the area, she was open to suggestions. Before her appointment, David picked out a number of floral designs but no matter how many photos he saw of the scar, he needed her presence to make the tattoo flow and fit her form. Here's how he described the tattoo process:
"After sizing and spending awhile figuring out placement, I realized I could mask the scar by pulling the eye away from a horizontal line, accentuate the curve of the implant and make sure the organic nature of the flower blended in with the most obvious areas of the scar tissue. The implant was directly under her muscle, as the fat layer was removed, so the transition from chest to implant was abrupt. Making sure the design blended the two was important.
David adds that he'd like to see Adriana again to darken the blacks and see how well it hid the scar. He says that he's never done this type of work before, but would definitely love to do it again.
As for Adriana, she had lived with what she saw as a disfigurement for ten years. David said that when she looked in the mirror, she was amazed and proud of what she saw, which was overwhelming for both of them. Adriana told him, "I feel repaired and whole for the first time in ten years. Incredible. I want to flash everyone to show them. It's a beautiful piece."
It's an inspiring story, and I'm grateful to Adriana and David for sharing it.
See more of David's tattoo work here.
Noted studios who do do nipple & areola reconstruction as well as decorative tattooing over mastectomy scars:
Photo of Rockin Rollers Derby by Natalie Ujuk via Londonist.
I know you've been starved of your tattoo news updates from the old Needled.com times, but please, no Top Model mob behavior please. I appreciate your patience, the way you smile with your eyes, and how you let me talk incessantly about myself ala Tyra, and for this you will be rewarded with an extra-yummy news update. But first, go eat a cookie.
I, for one, prefer beautiful women brawling on skates, like The Broads of London's Rockin Rollers. Check out the fabulous photos of them by Natalie Ujuk on Londonist.
Ok, onto the headlines ...
The biggest news: TATTOO KILLS MAN! Sadly, a UK man died 10 days after his calf tattoo, which had gotten infected, but the cause was actually deep vein thrombosis, when a blood clot traveled to his lung. Granted thrombosis could have arisen from his inactivity in healing the tattoo but that is one of many potential causes. Still, the story will motivate me to get off the couch after my next session.
[Death may be an extreme fear but infections are not uncommon. Read about it here.]
Even the mere fear of infection has sparked a $20-million class action lawsuit in Canada. Lesson here: no matter how clean your studio, make sure that all your inspections, autoclave spore tests, and associated hygiene practices are in order, not just to protect clients but your studio from suits.
The biggest non-news: Suicide Girls get bacon bro tattoos at SXSW! My girls at SG are trendsetters as the bacon tattoo is lookin like the new tribal armband.
The biggest dirtbag news: Roxbury tattooist Jeffrey Dekmar is charged -- for the second time -- with sexually assaulting clients. Read the disgusting details from the arrest report:
"The patron wanting the prayer inked on her skin has alleged that she refused Dekmar's request that she remove her underpants, but that he yanked them down, digitally penetrated her, and then said, 'My bad,' according to an arrest affidavit."