Let body art be art embodied

Carrie Pavlin is a local freelance writer and collector of tattoos

In the early decades of the last century, tattoos were dark bluish-green designs scrawled across the wrinkled, sun-worn flesh of sailors. Curiosities rarely seen on “civilized” folk, tattoos were so unusual that traveling freak shows often featured tattooed ladies alongside the frog-eating geeks.

These days, 25 percent of the young adults in America are tattooed. In Sacramento, there are a dozen shops and thousands of tattoos in the downtown area alone. Most people who have one tattoo actually have more than one. Each new tattoo is a new chance for beauty.

And yet, I see the same designs every where I look: butterflies, dark black tribal symbols, cartoons or Asian kanji. Why?

Part of the reason is that tattoo shops often have sheets and racks of “flash”—pre-drawn designs—hanging on their walls to inspire their customers. Many customers simply request the exact drawing they see on the wall. The artists who draw those designs sell photocopies of the same flash set as often as they can.

The same drawings exist in almost every shop in the nation. Any person in any of those shops could request the same tattoo. What are the chances that you’ll really have the only one?

Tattoos are called “body art,” though not all are artful. What a tattoo is, every time, is permanent. It can be as terrible and ugly as a prison tat, inked by an inmate with no artistic skill and nothing like a professional machine, or it can be a colorful expression of both your personality and your artist’s style.

Let your tattooist be an artist! Let them draw for you, let them talk to you and give them the time to help you find an original idea that really means something to you. More than that, insist on it. Don’t just get inked by the first person who offers you a cheap price. Remember: Good tattoos are not cheap, and cheap tattoos are not good. And for God’s sake, never let a friend practice tattooing on you.

Your skin could carry around an embarrassment for years to come, or it could proudly display the works of a modern Michelangelo. Choose to be the person who has the best, most original tattoo. Be the person who is art embodied.