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:
Tattooing's transformative magic is none more evident than on the fierce women whose battle scars with cancer are morphed into beautiful works of art. We've gotten many messages since our P.Ink Day post, in which we wrote about how the P.Ink or Personal Ink Project brought ten tattooists and ten cancer survivors together to create exceptional tattoos over mastectomy scars. So grateful to all of you for your inspirational stories.
One kickass woman, Sheri, has allowed us to share her exceptional story. Her "bra" tattoo, shown above, is by Shane Wallin of Twilight Tattoo in Minneapolis, MN. Alli from Twilight wrote:
We saw your blog and it's great. We reposted it to our Facebook page along with some photos of one of Shane Wallin's recently finished tattoos on a wonderful woman name Sheri. Two weeks after getting her tattoo finished, she found out her cancer returned after years of being breast cancer free and it is terminal. She told me she was so excited to "bring her sexy back" with her new tattoo and those two weeks were the happiest she has been in years since being diagnosed and her mastectomy. It was both heart warming and breaking all at the same time. Reading your blog and seeing those other images of work that other women have gotten reminded us of Sheri and I just wanted to share the images with you. Sheri asked that we put her photos out there and raise awareness, however we can, so I want to honor her in that.Thank you, Sheri and the Twilight Tattoo crew, for the inspiration.
Above: Blackwork tattoo by Roxx 2Spirit. Floral tattoo by Joy Rumore.
On Monday -- P.Ink Day -- a group of truly exceptional tattooers, exceptional in their art and in their spirit, dedicated their time to transform mastectomy scars of kickass women into beautiful life-affirming creations. Just taking a look at Gigi Stoll's photos of what went down at Saved Tattoo in Brooklyn that day, offers a glimpse into just how powerful and magical tattooing can be.
As I've posted here before, P.Ink or Personal Ink Project 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. On Monday, P.Ink brought artists and survivors together in person, and picked up the tab via an Indiegogo campaign -- that still needs help with funding.
To learn more about P.Ink and the transformation of mastectomy scars from the perspective of the tattoo artist and the client, check this HuffPo video (below) featuring P.Ink's founder Noel Franus, artist Joy Rumore and Megan Hartman, whom Joy tattooed on Monday (tattoo shown above). Joy also blogged about her experience, which is a great read.
For all the inspiration and beauty, thank you, P.Ink and the artists who made it all possible: Stephanie Tamez, Virginia Elwood, Ashley Love, Michelle Tarantelli, Roxx, Shannon Purvis Barron, Nikki Lugo, Miranda Lorberer, Jen Carmean, and Joy Rumore.
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!