COLLABORATION WITH: KATIE, FELIX & MIA

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I love working with clients to commemorate triumphs that never would have occurred to me. Katie's story fits that bill. Reading her story I was reminded of all of all the friends I had who had moved to New York after college. There was a fierce tenacity and commitment to making it a city that was often times impossible to survive in. 

Memento mori means remember we are just mortals. This tattoo reminds me to always depend on God. It also to commemorates what I have learned from the four years of living in New York. and the possibility of what humans can achieve. We are merely humans and have limits to what we can do. Trying to survive in New York, many of us overlook and break these restraints and limits to go after dreams and goals, and many succeed to overcome these impossibles. 

Now I have New York with me forever.

Thanks so much to Katie, for sharing her story, to tattoo artist Felix from White Rabbit Tattoo, and to photographer Mia Yen. 

BIRTHDAY GIFT TO YOU & COLLABORATION WITH JESSICA VALENTI

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Hello dear readers, 

Three events conspired to bring you this blog post.

The first event is that I had the honor of collaborating with Jessica Valenti, a writer I have long admired.  Jessica commissioned the tattoo above in honor of her daughter. She writes:

My daughter was born under pretty precarious circumstances - I was 28 weeks pregnant when I developed severe pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome. We had to deliver by emergency c-section to save my life, and my daughter - Layla Sorella Valenti-Golis - was born weighing just 2 pounds. 

We came up with her name in the midst of a lot of confusion and fear, but I wanted 'Sorella' both as a nod to my feminism (it means sister in Italian) and to honor my own sister, Vanessa. 

Layla spent two months in the NICU and continued to have prematurity-related health issues for the first two years of her life. When she turned 3 this past August - healthier and happier than ever - I wanted to get the tattoo to commemorate all my family has been through, and all Layla has overcome. She is truly a wonderful, smart, funny kid and I feel lucky every day to have her in my life.

So I was getting ready to post Jessica's story when is started to think back on all of the incredible women I have worked with on tattoos. Like Jessica they've commemorated transformative, difficult, life-changing experiences. There is Deb who took the leap and overcame her professional fears, Natalie who mustered the courage to start her own business, Stephanie who overcame cancer, Catherine who memorialized her remarkable, in spiring grandmother, Lisa who conceived despite being told she couldn't, Sabine who conquered her fear of heights, Courtney who inked a reminder to walk towards what scares us, not away from it,  Claire who honored the passing of a friend who saved her marriage. Karen who left her job as a corporate lawyer to defend the rights of prisoners on death row. The list goes on. And on. Not to mention the remarkable men who have honored incredible women in their lives, like Sam and Karl.

The final event that brought me to this post is that I turned 34 this weekend. It has been a blessing and honor to work with every brave, inspiring client who has crossed my path. And I wanted to mark the occasion and give thanks. So, inspired by Jessica and all of the like-minded sorelle (and fratelli), I'm offering 10% tattoo orders (just mention the promo code SISTER when you contact me), and I'm donating 10% of proceeds from these commissions to Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. now through February 10. Thank you to Jessica, my muse and collaborator! 

{Tattoo by Stephanie Tamez, Saved Tattoo, Brooklyn, NY. Photo by Vanessa Valenti}

COLLABORATION WITH: KATELIN, FLICKA & PHILA

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Katelin just sent along photos from our collaboration.  My yoga practice has deepend these last months (thanks to this wonderful studio in Portland).  I remember at the very beginning of my practice teachers would talk about setting intentions and it sounded like they were speaking Greek. But now, it makes a lot more sense. Katelin's story explains how powerful this can be. So much so she had the intention inked. 

The literal translation of Jai Ma is: hail to the mother. The interpretation of this Sanskrit mantra that most resonates with me most, however, is: the love is so strong. In essence, it refers to the deepest, most selfless, and radical kind of love that I can imagine. In the Buddhist tradition they say it's like the kind of love a mother has for her only child, however, instead of reserving this magnitude of love for just those who are close to or alike us, it's meant to be extended far and wide. It's the ultimate mission: love unbounded for all, and the subsequent presence in the world that follows. 

I was in a relationship some time ago with a woman who lived, slept, and breathed this. She didn't talk about it, she just gave. heart wide open. Her love was big. Not just for me, but for everyone that crossed her path. Boundaries of self extended to include other in utter compassion and kindness. The love limitations of a hardened ego- barely existent, in fact, none that I could see. At the time, I couldn't commit to her in a lifelong kind of way, although our bond and connection was of the cosmic kind. The following separation was emotionally crushing for more than a dozen reasons, but amidst the heartbreak, a deep well of love remained. My only refuge during this time was a vow of the heart, to try to embody the beauty that she represented for me. 

So… on my wrist I tattooed the mantra 'Jai Ma' as a lifelong reminder to let my guard down and let fiercely open-hearted love exist in the spaces within, without, and in between 'the silky oscillation between me and we,' as poet Mo Lohaus puts it. The wrist was the perfect place.. as a yogi, every time I practice sun salutations, I lift my hands overhead, look upwards, and am reminded why I practice, my very reason for existing. This gorgeous piece of art is dedicated to my Heart Teachers, my Mom, all the mothers and brothers, sons and daughters, sisters and fathers, and to my future self: the mother I one day hope to be.

Thanks so much for sharing, Katelin. And thank you to tattoo artist Flicka and Phil Manijak the photographer. 

COLLABORATION WITH: DEB, JAMES & MIKE

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Every once in a while the internet magically brings together kindred sprits, and such was the case with Deb, the designer and visionary behind Cococello studio. I was so honored when Deb asked me to create her tattoo, and I've been surprised by how often the words she chose cross my mind. Here's more: 

Early 2010, my husband and I found ourselves both self-employed. It was scary. It was stressful. We made the most of it by sacrificing a lot of our favorite things and the luxuries we had once believed to be necessary. It was a humbling experience.
The year I was to turn 40, I decided I wanted to do more. I had no idea what "more" meant but as if the universe was listening, I was offered the opportunity to teach design as an Assistant Professor in the Multimedia Photography & Design department at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Teaching. Seriously, never in a million years did I ever imagine.
"Be Bold" is a phrase I share with my students, my clients and during speaking engagements for independent creatives (mainly photographers). I encourage people to be bold, be awesome and be you. It's about allowing yourself to dream, overcome fears and give yourself permission to define what success means to you.
My tattoo is a reminder for me to do the same.

Thank you to Deb; to James at Halo Tattoo in Syracuse, NY; and to photographer Mike Davis. What words to live by.

COLLABORATION WITH: NATALIE, Jed and Penny

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NATALIE: GO EASY ON THE SOUL
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Every tattoo collaboration and subsequent story is special but there are some that are, for me, unforgettable. Natalie's is one. Last summer, en route to Provincetown, I got her email while on a train to Boston. Between jolts on the train tracks I managed to send her photos of the designs from my phone, and the final file when I reached my destination. That was the summer of calligraphy by land and by sea. Natalie just sent along the photos and I couldn't be more pleased with how it turned out. I'm so moved by her story (and her dad's sweet words of wisdom). Perhaps it's because I'm at that age, but the anxiety-inducing conversation around "having it all" seems to be inescapable these days. It's nice to be inspired by people like Natalie who have chosen, instead, to have enough. 

In June of last year I made the decision to close my business of 7 years to be a full-time Mum. It was an absolutely gut-wrenching decision but after juggling both for almost two years and feeling constantly torn, something had to give.

My bricks-and-mortar baby would forever run a distant second to my flesh-and-blood baby, so I chose to let go of the business and take my life in the direction of calm simplicity. A huge change for me, and a time that I felt needed a permanent marker.

The words are my Dad's paraphrased version of the Desiderata. He says them quietly in my ear with every big, reassuring Dad hug that he gives. He is my ever-supportive voice of reason, always sharing his pearls of wisdom.

I was on a wait-list for my tattoo artist and got a call sooner than I'd expected. As I sat down to email the studio, it happened that all the type-tatt images I was about to send as examples had been penned by Neither Snow. Despite my appointment being in three days time, I figured I'd email Mara instead! 

From her train seat on her way to Boston she emailed and, working with the 15-hour time difference, was able to get my words ready for inking.

Mara did the most perfect job for this perfectionist. I wear my words proudly, their placement reminding me to 'go easy' twice a day - just after breakfast and just before bed as I brush my teeth!

Thanks to Jed at Holdfast Tattoo in Perth, Western Australia for interpreting the work so well, and to photographer Penny Lane for the stunning photos. And most of all, to Natalie. 

COLLABORATION WITH: LAUREN, TODD & LISA

Lauren sent along these snaps of her final tattoo honoring her two children. I think the location of this tattoo -- on an abdomen -- is a first. I love the way it turned out. Here's Lauren's moving story, which may resonate with many women: 

It's always been my dream to be a mother. I married the most wonderful man and we decided to start a family, only to find out that it wasn't going to be easy. The doctors told my husband and me that we would never be able to have children on our own. Our only option was IVF. We continued to pray for a child, but after so many let downs, we decided to make an appointment to start IVF. 
That morning, I woke up and decided to take one more test (just to make sure)... and it was positive. I was pregnant with our son, and we named him Levi, which means "joined together with God." 
When Levi was 5 months old, I was putting him to sleep for the night and praying over him, when I heard the Lord tell me, "Her name is Zoe." I had no idea what or who he was talking about, but I remembered thinking, "okay... well... good for her." Two months later I felt a little sick so I decided to take another pregnancy test... and it was positive. Again. Once we found out she was a girl, I told my husband about that night in Levi's room. His first question was, "What does Zoe mean?" So we looked it up. 
Zoe is Greek for "abundant life." It appears in John 10:10 - "The thief comes comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." The Lord is good. He wants us to have life with Levi, and abundant life with Zoe. 
I wanted this tattoo because it's my story, my heart.

I decided to place it on my ribs to symbolize how woman was made out of the rib of man, and I wanted to the tattoo to end with a needle piercing the mother's womb (so my tattoo artist added that for me)  to symbolize Psalm 139:13-14 "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." 
That's my story. I adore my tattoo. Thank you with everything I am for capturing exactly what I wanted.

Thank you to Lauren and tattoo artist Todd Wilson (Anderson, SC) and photographer Lisa Warsham. As always, you can find images of my portfolio of tattoos here.

COLLABORATION WITH: TOM, RAOUL & JESS

 

Tom Basson, who is a pastor in South Africa, sent along these photos of the tattoo we worked on together, and I'm moved as always to share his tattoo story. He writes: 

I really want my life to count for something greater than myself. And I really believe that if I want my life to matter, than I must learn to live into the things that matter to God. Of course, that begs the question, "What maters to God?", to which the ancient scriptures respond "To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly."For me, these three statements become a vision statement for my life.

DO JUSTICE - That everyday I would fight for the cause of justice in this world: to be a voice for those who have no voice; to stand up for those who cannot stand at all; and to help those less fortunate than myself.

LOVE MERCY - To love those around me wholeheartedly; to extend grace and forgiveness, acknowledging my own deep need for grace and mercy.

WALK HUMBLY - That I would learn to carry humility with me wherever I go and accept the opinions and beliefs of others without judgement or a false sense of self-righteousness.

DO LOVE WALK.

There are a couple of things that I've been struck by with my tattoo clients, and it is how often they embark on the process as a way to remind them of something that is greater than themselves. I'm surprised at how their their stories always remind me of the same thing. Thanks, Tom, Raoul & Jess!

COLLABORATION WITH: DONNA & MATT

Very happy to share photos of my latest tattoo collaboration with designer Donna Downey. She writes: 

"Live inspired" is my personal mantra as an artist to see every moment as an opportunity. when searching for a calligrapher i kept coming back to your art...something about it captivates me and i wanted it on my painting arm as i create. i also do weekly videos on my blog and knew it would be seen as i create.

Matt Simmons over at Sinners & Saints in North Carolina translated the work beautifully. Thanks so much, Matt and Donna. Certainly words to live by!

COLLABORATION WITH: JORDAN, NAOMI & STUART

I've been wanting to share photos of this tattoo since Jordan instagrammed them right after he got inked. The wait is over! As I reflect on the dozens of tattoos I've created, what strikes me is that nearly all of my clients are motivated to mark the most optimistic thing we can hope for in life: there was darkness and then came the light. It's an honor to be called into service in my clients' lives when that light appears. Jordan writes: 

The past year has marked a lot of positive changes in my life. This time last year I was in a job which was making me really unhappy and so I decided to take the plunge and have a complete change of career. Almost 12 months on and am a full time journalist and photographer and loving every moment! I also married the love of my life this summer and wanted something to mark this positive part of my life.

Diriget deus translates from Latin into 'God will direct' and is a nod back to my family's roots in Scotland when this was the clan motto on the Butters coat of arms.

Photographs were taken by my wife, Naomi. The tattoo was done by Stuart Archibald at The Family Business in Exmouth Market, London.

Thanks so much Jordan, Naomi and Stuart! 

COLLABORATION WITH: Jess and Stephanie

Every once in a while a client will commission a tattoo of a word that I've never heard of. I'm embarrassed to say that such was the case with Jess and ubuntu. (Although once I was keyed into the word, it appeared everywhere). I enjoyed falling down the rabbit hole of exploring the word's infinite meanings and watching this TED talk by Chris Abani about the topic. Of the idea he says: "there is no way for us to be human without other people." Jess writes: 

Being in my last semester at university studying Peace and Development, friends and family often ask me how I think I will cope everyday facing the realities of poverty or living in a the middle of a civil war and WHY I want to do it? They are always questions that I don't really know how to express an answer for. So in a way, I guess ubuntu is my 'why'...

Ubuntu is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. You can't exist as a human being in isolation. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, about compassion. A person with ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole. They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are.
It is uplifting for me to think about all of the places Jess will go in her life-- places of unimaginable poverty, suffering, and hope -- and she will transport this idea of ubuntu, on her body, to the world that awaits her. It inspires me to do the same.
Many thanks to Jess and Stephanie at Victims of Ink in Port Melbourne. As a reminder, you can see a portfolio of tattoos over here
{Photos by Jess' friend Mitch}