May 31, 2018

Well, it’s time to let the cat out of the bag.

Tsunami Tattoo is moving!

We’ve been keeping Operation Power Move hush-hush as we traversed the pitfalls of city permitting, unforeseen complications, a framing nail shot through the palm (not mine), and various other travails for almost nine months. Nine months! We’ve brought this baby to term, and we’re all ready to pop with excitement!

With great joy, we’re delighted to introduce you to the new Tsunami Tattoo (Tsunami 4.0 for those of you keeping track)! She’s a healthy 1800sqf second floor space, built in the early 1900s. She has four tattoo stations, a spacious waiting area, brand new oak floors, decent parking, and even a fireplace – she’s an elegant lady.

Our new location is at 583 Forest Avenue at the corner of Clifton Street (directly across from Trinity Episcopal Church, aka the church with the fountain).

We will be moving this TUESDAY, JUNE 5th, and some of us will even be tattooing on June 6th, so there’s very little transition time.

The shop will be boxes and bundles for a little while, but it’s a work in progress (aren’t we all?), so thanks for your patience as we make this shop the last and best iteration of our vision for Tsunami Tattoo. We didn’t reinvent the wheel, so the color and overall décor will feel very familiar.

THANK YOU to everyone who’s supported us since 2003 when we first put out our handmade sandwich board in the Old Port at 9 Union Street. It’s been a great ride on Pleasant Street, and we are very excited to be near Woodfords Corner. Get tattooed! Grab a coffee at one of the many coffee shops nearby! Have a bagel! Have lunch or dinner at Woodford F & B! Burgers and beers at the Bear! The possibilities are endless…

We’re elated for the next chapter of the shop on Forest Avenue.

In the immortal words of Obi Wan Kenobi: May the Forest be With You!

New is the New New

August 1, 2016

Good grief, I think it’s been over a year since I manned the keyboards… For that I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s me.


There are so many things afoot that if I told you them all, you wouldn’t believe me. It would sound like a total “dog ate my homework” story, but I’m telling you, it’s all true. Some things I can share with you all. Other things are secret, but we’ll reveal them when the time is right. We don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

I’ll start with the easy stuff: We repainted the shop façade. We made new t-shirts with the amazing folks at Table 6 Designs. I went to China and ate a scorpion (among other things).


This is the first time we’ve fully put our logo on a t-shirt.


White is the new black.


Tastes like chicken!

Here’s exciting stuff: we have a brand new website.

This is the big thing that I want to talk about for a few reasons. The first reason is that it’s our third iteration of the shop’s site, but it’s the first one that we’ve done without Greg Geisler, our original web designer in Austin, TX. Greg’s been with us since 2002 (before we even moved to Maine!), and he’s been integral in inspiring us and helping us mold a vision of the shop’s digital presence. The crazy thing is that we’ve never met him, don’t know what he looks like, and may never meet him (unless we end up in Austin some day). This is the world we live in. We’re so fond of this guy, and yet we couldn’t pick him out of a Saturday night line-up. (Fun fact: Greg was one of the animators for Richard Linklater’s film A Scanner Darkly starring Keanu Reeves.)

The internet is a different place from the one that we started in when we launched the site back in 2003. Now there are a million more sites. People spend less time on a site. It’s all wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, make an online reservation, click here, swipe right.


Our new site has to reflect these changes (sort of). The original site had behind the scenes commentary on all the tattoos. It had “casual” pictures. It had a links page (linking to tattoo/random/funny sites that we liked. Remember “Homestar Runner”?!). Who has time for this now? Not us… not with kids, jobs, motorcycles, books to read, drawings to do. I recently read an article about  what to do when there are so many great TV shows and not enough time.  What do you do?  You watch TV at double the speed… obviously. Or not so obviously. We like things the old-fashioned way, but we’re also open to the dynamics of change.

What’s the function of the website now? Much the same, we think, but in a different way. Function?  See some sweet tats (yup, I said it). Get our phone number or email. Figure out where we are. It’s quick and dirty.

BUT…  For me and Sue, a big part of the new site’s job was to convey, as quickly as possible, a feel for the shop’s physical space. We wanted the new site to be warm, inviting, and well curated (as the old site was). We wanted the color palette to be similar to the shop’s actual color. We wanted you to see our newest works. We wrote brand new FAQ’s (that no one will read!).

New to the site: We wrote a mission statement as well as a statement of ethics because we’re people with ethics and we’re on a mission. I could make a joke about the missionary position here, but I won’t in case my mother-in-law is reading this… But seriously, we had a shop meeting,  and we talked about the ethics of business and politics—about whether it was important for businesses to be political.  It’s the climate that we’re living in right now. We were not unanimous in our feelings on this. Some of us thought that the shop should remain apolitical (neutral) because it was a position that was comfortable and respectful for everyone (client and tattooer).  I get that.

I’ll speak for myself since I (Phuc) am writing this blog post. I think that there are moral and social justice issues that I (Phuc) cannot be “neutral” on. I cannot remain neutral on institutional or systemic racism. I cannot remain neutral on the Black Lives Matter movement. I cannot remain neutral on sexism, homophobia, or rape-culture. We had a passionate debate on what the ethical thing was for a business to do. Needless to say, the statement of mission and ethics is the first of a few changes.

I look at the NBA refusing to do its All-Star game in North Carolina because of recent trans-phobic legislation, and the NBA’s decision feels right to me. There’s no financial reason for the NBA to withhold its business from North Carolina (they’re gonna make money wherever), but there are a whole host of ethical reasons to flex their moral muscle. Kudos to them.

It may be an extreme analogy, but who was awesome in 1940’s Germany? Businesses that were politically neutral or businesses that recognized their ethical duty to help Jews escape? I’m hoping that you’d agree that it was the latter, but if you don’t, I hope that you’ll still feel that our shop is a place to have a civil conversation. We do our best to respectfully hear all opinions.

So that’s where we’re at.  We are on a mission.  We are busting our humps over here at 21 Pleasant Street. Cyndi Lou is crushing it with her tattoos. Matt is making a great transition to the shop. What a great summer… We’re so happy to share it with you.

Finally, a big, big, big thank you to Meghan Lambert at Perchmade for the site design. In vulgar parlance, she is the motherfuckin’ shit. For real. We gave her a visual mission statement, and she took it to the next level. And also big, big, big thanks to Independent Street Photography for shooting almost all the new pictures.  It was not easy to wrangle us for a photo shoot, and for me there’s just my awkward side and my other awkward side. Louis is the best.

Please check out the site; we hope you’ll like it.  And of course, please us know if there’s something missing that you’d like to see.

And as always, we’re doing what we do because of your ongoing support.  There are now over 16 (!) tattoo shops in Portland, so thank you for helping us be the best shop that we can be.

Welcome, Matt Dunn!

April 30, 2016

We are thrilled to announce that tattooer Matt Dunn will join the Tsunami Tattoo family on May 9th! Matt got his start at Chameleon Tattoo in Cambridge, where he has been working since 2011. We’ll be launching an all-new Tsunami web site soon to feature Matt’s tattoos along with new work by Phuc and Cyndi Lou. In the meantime, please enjoy these samples of Matt’s work – for more, check out his Instagram @13mattd. And if you’d like to schedule an appointment with Matt, please contact Tsunami by phone (207-756-6766) or e-mail (tsunamitattoo@hotmail.com).

Sue, here. When my day-job colleague sent me the link to this video that was posted by The Atlantic, I immediately thought, “Really? In this day and age, are there still people who actively hide their tattoos from their family?”

But then I watched it.
And I thought about it.
And then I watched it again.

The short film, created by Bianca Giaever, with help from This American Life and m ss ng p eces, was made for a young woman, named Maggie, who is contemplating “coming out” to her conservative Christian parents as having tattoos. It’s well made, Maggie is very likable, and her story has a great arc with some surprises along the way. I highly recommend it.

In the end, it didn’t leave me thinking so much about hiding tattoos from our parents or loved ones, but instead, I found myself ruminating more on the idea of hiding tattoos from the larger world. What do you think? Are there certain people in your life who don’t know about your tattoos? Are there specific tattoos that you choose to not share with a wide audience? If so, why?

Cyndi Lou and I did this blog post about four weeks ago, and I was all set to post it; then the church shooting happened in SC, and then the whole conversation felt really trivial to me.  It didn’t seem like the right time, but in the interest of our poor blog, which feels so neglected, we’ll post it now.  I know it’s a month late, and in internet time, that’s like seven years, but I’m going to go with the “some content is better than no content” philosophy.  This conversation was about a woman whose project was turned down by a tattoo shop in NYC because she wanted a neck tattoo, and the tattooer didn’t want to do it.  She fired off a blog about the whole experience, and the tattooer wrote a responding salvo.  While we try to stay out of “he-said, she-said” debates, the controversy brought to light some interesting topics, and enough clients asked me about that I thought it would be worth sharing our thoughts.  Here’s the original conversation that we had last month.

Phuc: Thanks for agreeing to do this. So you had a chance to read both Jane Marie’s blog and Dan’s response? I had a few clients and friends tag me in the posts on Facebook this week to ask me what I thought, so I figured this would be an interesting opportunity for us to have a quick chat about it.

Cyndi Lou: I did read them both. Let’s chat it up!

P: Go for it: so the obvious (and maybe simple) question is: was Dan in the wrong for refusing to do the tattoo? But maybe there’s a more nuanced question or answer to this?

C: I would say no. It was his right to refuse any project that he didn’t feel comfortable doing. However, I feel that the way he said no may not have been the best response in this circumstance.

P: So it’s not what he said but how he said it? And is this based on her account of the incident or his response in Inked Magazine? Say more about what was problematic about his response.

C: It’s based on the assumption that her account is accurate in description. Of course, there are two sides to EVERY story.

P: She seems to be playing the victim card in this scenario.

C: I think running to the internet to attack someone’s career over an undone tattoo is always tacky and unwarranted. However, there’s a difference between a small concealable text tattoo at the base of the hairline and a giant obvious neck tattoo. If she was, in fact, lectured on her decision-making in the way she makes it sound, as an adult—female or not— condescending.

P: I was surprised that she made it an issue of her being a woman like when she asks him “Would you be saying this to me if I had a dick?” That’s aggressive.

C: It is making a judgment on him for sure—which is exactly what she thinks is happening to her.

P: Maybe it was? Maybe it wasn’t? His response in Inked Magazine asked people not to resort to calling her a c— or b—- because it was not about her being a woman.

But let’s get back to the issue of doing neck (and hand) tattoos since we can’t REALLY know what happened between them. Will you do neck tattoos?

C: Yes. But not always. You?

P: My policy is “not unless HEAVILY tattooed” and even then, I reserve the right to refuse.

C: Agreed.

P: When have you refused?

C: I am not sure that I have had to. Most of my neck/hand-clients have either already been heavily tattooed, well on their way to it or have been tattooers themselves. But a small something at the base of the hairline or behind the ear isn’t something I treat as the same scenario.

P: Interesting! That’s true about the tiny tattoo on the hairline or behind the ear. I guess I’m thinking about the giant neck-jobber.

C: My last neck tattoo was on a local bartender, who has served in war. I feel like he can do whatever he wants.

P: So how do you keep clients from leaving the shop feeling like they didn’t get what they wanted or feeling like they didn’t get the neck/hand tattoo that they wanted you to do?

C: You mean if I talk them out of it?

P: I guess another way to put it is: how could Dan have handled it differently? (Though I still think it’s 80% the customer’s fault for the negative interaction.)

C: I think the negative interaction is definitely 80% on her or more. But I would ask her how long she wanted the tattoo. And if I felt like it wasn’t a good choice or if I just didn’t feel comfortable doing it, I would refrain from calling the idea “tacky” and also from comparing her to an “unbaked cake with candles.” It’s funny to us tattooers but shitty to an every day client or keepsake-tattoo getter.

P: Right… Saying that it’s tacky is making a judgment about her and not owning your own feelings on it.

C: And it set the stage for the whole thing I think.

P: Fair enough. So there’s the customer service piece to it.

C: When I have clients that want any tattoo that I think won’t look good, I throw myself under the bus immediately and show them some of my shitty old tattoos without passing a judgement on them or demeaning their idea.

P: What would you say to the supporters of Jane Marie who think that she should’ve been serviced at NY Adorned? That Dan was in the wrong for not doing the tattoo?

C: I’d say Dan absolutely has the right to back up his craft and refuse any project that he doesn’t feel is for him but I don’t agree with the poor treatment.

P: And for those who feel that it’s just another example of sexism?

C: That’s tough. Because sexism still runs rampant in the tattoo industry. I think it’s important to acknowledge that women as clients and tattooers aren’t always treated equally. But this is not the situation where I see sexism as the issue. I think she’s crying wolf because he was offensive on one level but not ALL levels, and it is—in turn—just passing judgment right back.

P: So was it lose-lose? Or win-win? I mean: he didn’t do the tattoo, and she got the tattoo that she wanted. How did anyone lose in this scenario? It’s like it’s almost a non-story.

C: My true feelings are that the blog blast is just as unimportant as Yelp.

P: Any parting thoughts? That thing you mentioned yesterday?

C: That’s a new conversation about what IS craft and tradition… and how do we let it evolve.

P: Interesting… that IS another conversation to have.

C: Yes I think so. Thanks!!

Here’s some recent(ish) work that I (Phuc) have been working on.  Thanks for looking!

IMG_7218 IMG_7210 IMG_7393 IMG_7495 IMG_6857 IMG_7370 IMG_6801 IMG_7371 IMG_7372 IMG_7373

Springtime and #YOLO

April 7, 2015

In another life of mine— exactly twenty years ago, in fact—I was writing my undergraduate project about Horace. Quintus Horatius Flaccus, aka Horace (aka Horshach), was the top-level boss of Roman lyric poetry. In a genre that was essentially a mashup of Greek forms and Roman function, Horace did his best Girl Talk imitation, melding things that were recognizably Latin and Greek into some potent blend of panty-dropping lyric poetry. Catullus sparked it off, Horace fanned the flames, and Propertius straight-up burned the house down. Much in the way that Beethoven overloaded the arc of Classical composition (breaking it into Romanticism), Propertius went bonkers. Horace, however, was the shining exemplar of its perfection. He wasn’t Elvis or Chuck Berry, who will historically get props for being the first one on the rock and roll bus, but he was the Beatles, the one who took it to the next level.


From Horace, we get the phrase carpe diem. Yup—he was that guy. You love him, right? We all love him. Without him, we wouldn’t have all those bumper stickers, mugs, t-shirts, or Dead Poets Society. Carpe diem was YOLO before YOLO was YOLO. It’s the old school YOLO. Ye Olde Yolo. I bet you could even conjugate it. Yolo, Yolare, Yolavi, Yolatus. Boom.

carpe diem_1409745147

Anyway, I spent the spring of my senior year in college writing about a handful of Horace’s poems, and several of his poems are set in the spring, a conceit which often serves as a starting point for a rumination on death. A.E. Housman once read Ode IV.7 to his university classs, wept, announced to the crowded lecture hall, “That I regard as the most beautiful poem in ancient literature,” and then walked out. It was 1914, and my man Housman read the poem and then dropped the mic. Boom.

Here’s the poem’s translation by A.S. Kline (it’s not the Latin original, but it’s good enough.

The snow has vanished, already the grass returns to the fields,
and the leaves to the branches:
earth alters its state, and the steadily lessening rivers
slide quietly past their banks:

The Grace, and the Nymphs, with both of her sisters, is daring enough,
leading her dancers, naked.
The year, and the hour that snatches the kindly day away, warn you:
don’t hope for undying things.

Winter gives way to the westerly winds, spring’s trampled to ruin
by summer, and in its turn
fruitful autumn pours out its harvest, barely a moment before
lifeless winter is back again.

Yet swift moons are always repairing celestial losses:
while, when we have descended
to virtuous Aeneas, to rich Tullus and Ancus, our kings,
we’re only dust and shadow.

Who knows whether the gods above will add tomorrow’s hours
to the total of today?
All those you devote to a friendly spirit will escape from
the grasping hands of your heirs.

When once you’re dead, my Torquatus, and Minos pronounces
his splendid judgement on you,
no family, no eloquence, no righteousness even,
can restore you again:

Persephone never frees Hippolytus, chaste as he is,
from the shadow of darkness,
nor has Theseus, for his dear Pirithous, the power to
shatter those Lethean chains.

That spring, I was wrangling with the imagery of that first stanza, in particular the image of the “lessening river” nevermind the transition in the second half to a meditation on the underworld. How do you go from spring-time to “we are only shadow and dust”?

The snow has vanished, already the grass returns to the fields,
and the leaves to the branches:
earth alters its state, and the steadily lessening rivers
slide quietly past their banks:

Many scholars point to the idea of the spring flood subsiding, rivers having been swollen by the melt, but that reading seems unsatisfactory to me. The next stanza moves into talk of the gods, and it’s an invitation to read the poem metaphorically; the Roman gods weren’t as anthropomorphic as they were numinous beings. Why the “lessening river”? I spent days upon days coming back to this question. Standing in line at the cafeteria; walking the trails on campus; sitting on the balcony of my room; I thought about the “lessening river” flowing in spring time, and it didn’t make sense. Rivers flood in the spring, not lessen.

I thought about it so much that, in a random conversation with my dad, I brought it up (my dad who knows nothing about Latin or Greek). I read him my translation of the poem and then read him the first stanza again. “What the hell?” I thought. “Maybe my old man has something to say about the idea of spring time coming back and the imagery of the rivers decreasing in their quiet flow.”

I asked my dad what he thought.

“That’s life.”


“That’s the problem of life. The seasons come and go, nature moves in a circle. Our lifetime, however, is a line, and it passes through that circle. It creates a strange feeling for us, to think about nature returning, snow thawing, and through the middle of this growing circle, the straight path of our lives.”

Damn. That was it. My dad got it. How? Because he was in 40’s. He was in the midst of contemplating this very thing. Why didn’t I get it? Because I was 20. I was in the midst of trying to get laid, write a thesis, play in a rock band, bring closure to my time at college, connect with anyone in a meaningful way.

I’m 41 now, almost at the age that my father was when he and I had that conversation. And I get it now. I really get it. The cycle can make you psycho; you really do gotta yolo. You do need to carpe diem and then drop the mic; and in the midst of that linear course, everything loops in cycles around you: first days of school, trick or treating, shovelling your driveway, opening presents around the tree, Easter egg hunts, summers on the beach, back to school, raking leaves. Wash, rinse, repeat. The paradox is that in the midst of the repetition of these things, we’re only in this moment once. I know this now so starkly when I see my daughters. They’ll only be this young age once, and it makes me sad if I dwell on it too long. It’s the line that cuts through the circle of the cycle.


There’s a joky sign that hangs in many tattoo shops. The sign reads: STRAIGHT LINES AND CIRCLES AT YOUR OWN RISK. It’s a tough-in-cheek message not-so-subtly announcing that the tattooer is going to try his or her best, but tattooing is hard, and the tattooer may pull a crooked line or two.

Straight lines and circles at your own risk.

Maybe it’s not just tattooing that’s at your risk. Maybe that’s what Horace was thinking. That’s what my dad was thinking. I watch my daughters stumbling and falling, and that’s what I’m thinking.

Straight lines and circles at your own risk, indeed.

Love, Actually.

March 7, 2015

If you follow Tsunami’s Mike Rourke on Instagram or Facebook, no doubt you are well aware that love is in the air. Please join us in wishing Mike all best wishes as he prepares to move to Arizona to live with his other half, Marissa.

Mike’s last week at the shop will be April 13th, so if you have unfinished work or small projects that you’d like from Mike, please email the shop (or contact Mike directly).

What’s the only good reason to leave friends and family behind? It’s love, actually.


On Sunday, November 2nd, we will be hosting a tattoo benefit to raise money for our dear friends Jenn and Brendon Whitney. Jenn was diagnosed this fall with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. Thankfully, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a treatable form of cancer. Once in remission, survivors are known to lead healthy, normal lives.

Bren, Jenn, and Aiko

Bren, Jenn, and Aiko

That said, Jenn’s ability to work during her 6 months of treatment will be very limited. She is an early childhood educator, primarily working with special needs children and low income families, and if you’ve spent any time with a roomful of toddlers, you know what a petri dish that environment can be. Chemotherapy significantly lowers the immune system and makes patients highly susceptible to germs and other illnesses. As a result, Jenn will likely need to be out of the classroom for the duration of her chemo. This benefit will raise money to help support Jenn’s family weather the difficult days ahead. 100% of our earnings go directly to them.

PHUC, CYNDI LOU, and special guest BETH POTTER will be offering $150 lucky little birds and lobster claw tattoos on Sunday, November 2nd, from 9A to 7P.  If you are interested in getting tattooed during the benefit, we encourage you to make an appointment as there are only 10 available appointment slots per artist. Please note that all benefit tattoos will be limited in design to what will take each artist no more than 1 hour from start to finish – remember, friends: this is about raising money!

Please e-mail us at tsunamitattoo@hotmail.com with questions or to schedule your benefit tattoo. If you think of it, please include the subject line “TATTOO BENEFIT.”

Thank you!

How are we doing?

October 4, 2014

As we prepare to embark on drafting our next ten-year plan for Tsunami Tattoo, we’d like to get a better sense from you, our clients, about what we’re doing right and what areas need improvement. So we’ve created a short, anonymous survey: 


It should only take about five minutes to fill out, and we would really appreciate your feedback. Thanks so much for your help!



September 30, 2014

No, not that “Signs.”

The summer has been a whirlwind of things, and I’ll try to recount some of them in a little bit more detail if time and momentum allow. The truth is that we’ve been so busy living our lives and jobbing our jobs that we haven’t had the time to blog about it. And while that is bad for the three of you who like to read our blog posts (mom, dad, and creepy basement dude), it’s ultimately a good thing, right?

So we didn’t document the summer nor did we blog about all the tattooing and silly things that we did as well as we could have, but we sure as heck had no shortage of things to do.

It’s the equivalent of putting down the iPhone and just being in the moment. I remember in college learning that we had evolved to homo sapiens sapiens, the second sapiens denoting that we (as a species) were engaged in metacognition, trying to understand how we know what we know, etc. It was heady stuff, but now technology has steamrolled over the sapiens and made us homo selfies sapiens. If the internet were any indicator, our species is now primarily concerned with how many likes our latest instagram pictures got or how many followers we have. I’m not leveling a unilateral critique of the internet, but it’s difficult to strike a balance between doing stuff and documenting the stuff that you’re doing (in this case, blogging about it). As a parent, I’m always torn between being with my kids in the moment and thinking about how cute the photo would be of the moment.

The highlight reel of the shop’s summer would include doing my guest spot at Landmark Tattoo in Denver, CO; tattooing; our good friend Bill working at the shop for a few weeks; tattooing; having the whole shop speaking at the Peaks Island Lecture in August; tattooing; the Boston Tattoo Convention; and tattooing.

I read some books; I saw some live music; I went on vacation with my family; I rode my motorcycle; Sue got her motorcycle license; I watched my daughter’s sense of humor grow. I watched my other daughter’s teeth grow. I hit a telephone pole with our car; we had lots of laughs all around.

This fall seems no less full of milestones. Kids going off to school. Friends moving closer. Friends moving away. Friends having babies. Babies growing up.

Here are some tattoo photos of various works in progress and things we saw in Boston, Denver, and beyond.  Big things, little things, beautiful things:  it’s a task to capture it all.

We’ll do our best to write thoughtfully about it when it seems like we have something good to share, but we hope you’ll trust our silence.

The silence is a sign of a life worth living.