Carpe Diem

May 28, 2010

My apologies for what will be a somber entry, I think.  So along the lines of what tattooing evokes, this entry is about life and death and tattoos.  It’s been said before, but it bears repeating:  tattoos are reminders of our transience as well as an affirmation of perpetuity.  Tattoos paradoxically highlight our mortality while somehow still embodying “forever” in the cultural lexicon.  Tattoos declare “to be” and “not to be” simultaneously.  When your mom screeches, “YOUR GOING TO HAVE THAT TATTOO FOREVER,” what she’s saying is that you’ll have that tattoo until you die.  And after that, the tattoo will have you, since it will still be around, and you won’t be.

So where is the shuffling contemplation of this mortal coil coming from?  We had a client last summer named Linda who came into the shop and set up an appointment.  Linda seemed really nice, and she was excited to get tattooed.  I gave her the obligatory talk about scheduling and pricing, and then she set up the appointment; the appointment was for this past March, 2010.  About four weeks before the appointment, we called Linda to confirm, and she didn’t call us back.  Surprised that she wouldn’t return our calls, we finally tracked her down to find out that she was in the hospital in chemotherapy.  Linda, however, was determined to keep her appointment (at which I was very surprised), but after consulting with her physician, she postponed it.  Linda left us a teary voicemail, expressing her disappointment but swearing that she would keep the next appointment.  Not inclined to make her wait another several months, I told Linda that I would come in whenever she wanted me to, and we would get her tattooed expeditiously.  Sue and I wrote a little get-well note, threw some stickers in the card, and mailed it to her (her boyfriend had said that she was really crushed not to be able to keep the appointment, so we thought a little note to affirm her well-being would be nice).  We set up a subsequent appointment for June 17th, when she’d finally be able to get the butterflies and lilies tattooed on her shoulder and foot.

Linda’s boyfriend called last week to let us know that she had died from her cancer.

So over the last week, I’ve felt sadness for her and her passing; for her pain, her suffering, for her not getting even some small break like getting to have a tattoo in her last six months of being alive.  Having friends and family who have gone through chemotherapy and having one friend who is currently battling cancer, I’m experiencing her loss even though I hardly knew her.

In her final months on this planet, couldn’t she even get a stupid tattoo that might have made her happy in a slight (and insignificant) way?  Would her cancer and chemo have neutered the small pleasure of having a tattoo?   Or maybe thinking about the upcoming appointment was some solace to her as she watched her hair falling out and collecting in the drain after a shower? Maybe she never thought about the tattoo appointment at all.

Regardless, I again see tattooing as a metaphysical memo from the Departments of Being Alive and Not Being Alive, by which one may choose to affirm the brevity of “is” with the vastness of “isn’t.”  Many people have said to me, “I’ll get tattooed later– it’s just not the right time for me now because my job… blah, blah, blah… my parents…. blah, blah, blah… my situation.”  For Linda, there was not any “later” because she died before it could arrive.

There is a “carpe diem” feel to this train of thought, and while some people take fatalism too far and live like there is no tomorrow (when, in fact, there are many tomorrows), I want to redirect the cognitive locomotive on a different set of tracks.  I hope that Linda was able to do what she needed to do as she knew her prognosis; need-to-do takes precedent over want-to-do when the clock is running down.  Let your loved ones know that they are loved.  Make peace with yourself and the universe.  Maybe sneak in a good meal.  And her tattoo?  Tattoos can sit on the table with all the other want-to-do’s.

So here are a few items from others’ want-to-do list, tattoos that I’ve been working on (just to let you know that I’ve been keeping myself busy).  And in order not to end on a totally down note, the weather’s been beautiful in Maine, and we watched a sparrow eating bugs off the rose bush in front of the shop yesterday.  Hi-def, 1080p Nature happening right in front of our eyes.  Life and death, happening right in front of our eyes.

The End of an Era…

May 16, 2010

Betsy Too Shy

It is with a mix of sadness and excitement that I approach my last day at Tsunami. There is the excitement to move on to a new shop in a new area and to have new oppurtunities, but it is tempered by the sadness of leaving a shop that has become home. I will miss my familiar station, the sunny windows that look out onto the park,and even the red bookshelf that took hours to paint.

An early victim, er, client...

I will be eternally grateful to Phuc and Sue, not just for being their awesome selves over the last 5 years but for taking a chance on me and inviting me into their shop, giving me a start in tattooing. In the future I will approach everything I do with the tools they gave me during this wonderful experience.

Portland proved a great spot to start out in tattooing – I have gotten to do an eclectic mix of walk-in and custom work. I will miss my customers who, over the years, brought me etchings, 1950’s robots, cowboy kittens, even Barry Manilow’s autograph, among many other things, to turn into tattoos. As I move south, I am excited to see what new ideas and designs will walk in the door.

So Thank You Portland, its been great! And the biggest Thank You possible to Phuc and Sue who made this adventure possible!

Tsunami Crew

“Either you hide them well, or you just don’t have any.”

This is one of the comments I hear most often in my life. Today’s utterance was from my friendly, local bank teller. I don’t know how many tattoos the poor thing expected to see given that I was wearing a long-sleeved raincoat, knee-length skirt, and knee-high socks all the while sitting in my car at the drive-up teller window, but apparently he was expecting to see something. Some indication that I belong in a tattoo shop. Oh, he didn’t mean anything by it (at least that’s my working assumption), just as the dozen or so other people who make similar comments to me each and every month don’t mean anything by it. And like today, nine times out of ten, I am covered from head to toe with clothes when the comments are made (which I find hilarious on some level).

To once and for all satisfy all of you curious cats out there: yes, yes, I do have tattoos. And here’s the skinny on them (a little Sue Tattoo FAQ, if you will):

Am I as covered with tattoos as Phuc or Beth?

Did Phuc do my first tattoo?
Nope. I dare say the thought of tattooing hadn’t even crossed Phuc’s mind when I got my first one. It was a small tribal turtle (hey, cut me some slack, it was the ’90’s!) that I got as a graduation gift to myself. Not to digress too much, but it’s funny thinking back to that first experience. I went to a very reputable shop with a favorite childhood necklace with a turtle pendant that I wanted used as reference for my tattoo. The tattooer, who was pretty well known then and now, told me that I’d have to pick something from the wall because my turtle couldn’t be duplicated (please refer to Exhibit A and let me know if you agree). Anyway, I was 22, and didn’t know any better, so I chose the next closest thing, the aforementioned tribal turtle, from the wall (see Exhibit B). 

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Long story short, I was never happy with it, and not too long after we began dating (already weary of people assuming that Phuc had tattooed the thing), I talked Phuc into covering it up with a traditional swallow.

What about your other tattoos?
Phuc has done most everything else that I have which includes a second swallow (a bit of traditional American with a nod to Japanese aesthetic), a fairly large dragon on my back, a couple of doll heads on my legs, and a rather well-hidden Latin quote. The latter was actually tattooed by my dear friend Andrea X. Tasha at Mooncusser Tattoo in Provincetown.

Will you get more tattoos?
Most likely, yes. It’s hard to work in the industry and not want to get tattooed all the time. I’ve always envisioned myself to one day sport 3/4 sleeves (sorry, Mom), not to mention a few other gems constantly kicking around in my brain.

Will they all be by Phuc?
Some will, others maybe not. I really enjoy getting tattooed by Phuc. In particular, the many hours we spent on my back were (I almost hesitate to say this for fear of sounding sappy) a bonding experience of sorts. Mind you, having your back tattooed kind of sucks (if you don’t believe me, take a trip down memory lane with our longtime client, Jim), but it was a really great experience overall, and I imagine he’ll be the one to do my 3/4 sleeves (though I have to admit, as his wife and business partner, it’s difficult for me to put myself ahead of paying clients on his schedule, so I’m forever mentally bumping my own projects into the future).

I also have a short list of tattooers that I would like to get work from some day in the future. But then, don’t we all?


Perhaps some of you saw in the News section, but it’s official:  Beth (aka Betsy Too Shy) is moving on to greener pastures in Portsmouth, NH, and we’re excited for her.  She’s had her share of working at other shops doing guest spots (such as our friends’ shop Mooncusser Tattoo in Provincetown), but everyone needs to eventually move on from the shop that they started at.  I think she’s feeling anxious about it, but it’s the natural next step, and she’s taking the necessary leap of faith from the nest.

Tattooers are oddly migratory- perhaps unrivalled in their restlessness except for restaurant workers- and there’s a deep wanderlust that’s hard to fulfill in many tattooers I know.  If they don’t move from shop to shop (I know tattooers who have worked at over thirty shops!), they stay at one shop but do many guest spots, travelling as far and as fast as they can.   Prior to opening Tsunami, I worked only at three shops, but given that it was over a mere seven year stretch, that would still be a new shop every two years.  And what was the moral of the story?  It was hard for people to find me, difficult to build a clientele, and challenging to re-adjust to a different work environment.  Was it worth it?  Absolutely.  I got to work with some amazing artists as well as some seriously crazy people, and I learned as much from the crazy co-workers as I did from the excellent colleagues.  Here’s a shout out to the shops that took care of me and taught me so much while I was in New York (in chronological order):

Rising Dragon Tattoo (I was at the Chelsea shop which is no longer there)

Anil Gupta’s Inkline Studio

Red Rocket Tattoo (but when I was there, it was still called Triple X Tattoo)

The second best thing for a tattooer’s education?  Getting tattooed at other shops- too many to list here, but I’ll give it a run down one of these days; I still get tattooed, and it’s still the best learning experience for me.

So what are we going to do with the empty seat in the shop?  For now, we’re thinking that it will be vacant.  If any of our out of town tattooer friends come by for a guest spot, they’ll have free rein of the space, but we’re not in a hurry to hire someone permanently (at the risk of hiring someone who is not a good fit with the shop and its expectations); and I am definitely not apprenticing anyone soon.  I’ve got a whole rant about apprenticeships that I’m saving for a rainy day, but for now, the currents at Tsunami are changing…  Thanks for staying with us.

Here’s a photo of a 50’s sci-fi astronaut that I tattooed on Keith last weekend.  I know *gasp* it’s not a Japanese style tattoo!

And for all you gore hounds out there, here’s a little Eli Roth arterial splatter action (and this one is Japanese, just in case you were worried that I stopped doing Japanese style tattoos).

Inaction figure

May 1, 2010












Here’s a picture of a snake with magnolias that I just finished as a cover-up- before and after pictures.  Cover-ups are an inevitable part of tattooing, and now that we’re into the second decade of tattooing’s “golden era,” cover-ups are not going away.  In fact, I would say that it is rare when I’m doing large tattoos that the skin or limb is a blank canvas.  There’s always something to work around or cover up, and while it does make the project more challenging, it also forces me to be more creative in my problem solving.  Although some may decry the impetuousness of 18-year-olds running out and getting tattooed with whatever they can afford by whoever can do it, I actually think it’s an important lesson that they need to learn.  Aggravating for friends and parents and perhaps laden with rue for thirtysomethings, bad tattoos open the door for appreciating good work, good service, and a thoughtful process in deciding to get tattooed.  This skit pretty much summarizes it all.



Without at least one jaeger-induced night of binge-dude-ing, replete with beer pong, homoerotic wrestling (guys, you know what I mean- drunk guys always want to wrestle with one another at some point in the night), and fridge raiding, we couldn’t appreciate the moderation of maturity: jaeger meister is replaced by a full-bodied pinot noir, beer pong is replaced with board games, and drunk wrestling is replaced with the triple back pat as we hug our friends goodbye at 9:30pm because it’s a school night.

 So my advice to all you 18-year-olds out there?  Maybe you should run out there right now, go to the first shop that can get you in, and get the a random tattoo for the shop minimum (this is the key element).  The quality of all else will be determined by chance because you might work with a good tattooer who happens to be available; or you might also be working with someone not as reputable or qualified.  In both cases, however, getting a tattoo for only the shop minimum will insure that whatever you get will be naturally limited but the price and scope.  And in the future, you’ll be able to see how putting thought, effort, and patience into getting a tattoo is different from getting a tattoo through a random and hasty process.

 With a totally unreasonable transition here, I wanted to show you my “inaction figure” that Jim LoPresti made of me while I was at Lucky Soul Tattoo.  The joints don’t move, there’s no kung-fu swivel grip, and there are no accessories:  hence, the inaction figure.  This is payback for an inaction figure that I made of him while we were at the Boston Convention last year.  The “Swash Me Now” is a little joke about my swashdrive tattoo machine that is silent.  Some tattooers think it’s a little gimmicky, but I figure if it’s lighter and will save my hands, let me get on it (that’s what she said)…  Big sleeve ahead of me tomorrow!  More to come (that’s also what she said)!