I must be trying redeem my sins from a previous life. Why else would I wake up early to get to New Tribe for 11am to finish the dragon tattoo? I must admit that it was strange to be the first and only customer in a place that is normally jumping, but it probably made the endeavour go a little more peacefully. Both Kyle Hollingdrake and I were a little sleepy, but that certainly did not affect the experience too much other than that it was quiet; just the sound of the tattoo gun and some death metal playing in the waiting room.
I have thought a lot about the whole process of tattooing since I had the dragon outlined three weeks ago. Why pay to have ink injected via needles beneath your flesh? What could possibly be so visibly significant that you would want it embedded into you skin until you die? What is up with the pain?
Before I attempt to write about those questions, the image above shows the dragon at stage one. Again, it was far more involved than I had anticipated, even though Kyle works smoothly and truly does a first class job. I think that the outline hurt so much because the lines are long and required much longer contact from the needle than I was used to; it did feel like the lines were being carved into my back, which I suppose they were.
Tattoos have become symbolic of edginess, of being outside the social conservative norm, and of belonging to a cult who undergo the rites of passage. They have also become far more mainstream and acceptable than they were even a decade ago. Most people I know have some small tattoo somewhere on their body, and many of those were done in university days. Going to any nightclub in Toronto will reveal hundreds of women flaunting their latest tattoo, and going on adventure vacations will reveal many tattoos from fellow travellers. Full and half-sleeves are now seemingly ubiquitous on the street, despite the cost, time and pain involved.
Paying for the art is expected, and I certainly do not mind paying for the time of an artist willing to spend hours hunched over my body with a needle. What could be so significant to want it permanently become a part of my body? For me, I choose to have magical symbols etched into my skin as a way to remind me of my experiences. I might find a design at a temple in Egypt or Japan, maybe in a biblical reference or even a Japanese video game; I seek out what resonates deeply within me. Perhaps I do it as a talisman against a world that engage with in my most vivid of nightmares, or perhaps I do it as a way to connect with the spirituality lost in a scientific, logic-driven world. I do not care if they will fade and deform as I grow old, because I want them there specifically for when I die.
The pain is just part of the process. The moksha yoga classes V. and I took in the winter really helped to deal with the pain, as I have learned so much about how breathing can help the body stretch and endure pain. I tend to look on the pain fondly in hindsight and with terror in the moment. My body really does not do well with the shock of having my skin punctured for long periods of time. I get light-headed, sweat profusely and then feel sick for about 24 hours. I do not love the pain, but I do appreciate that some things must be endured to achieve other aspirations.
In the old days, sailors had tattoos to help identify their bodies at sea. Traditionally, other groups had designs inked to warn people that they were not to be tangled with: yakuza, Hell’s Angels, gang members and shamans. These days lawyers, teachers and accountants all have little designs, but I am not sure most of those people have much to say about their ink other than “I wanted a shamrock, because I am Irish” or “I saw this coy fish on Miami Ink and knew I had to get one, too.” People for whom ink matters know the difference between a poseur and kindred, and few pick their designs from the flash on the wall. Where do I fit in? I would assert that I am more of a shaman-type, and perhaps in a more religious world I would have chosen that path. As it is, I teach and I learn – so be it.
My next work will be the alchemical symbols found on my website. I plan to have those done in a falling spiral down my left arm above the elbow. I am not looking at those until next year though. There will be time, there will be time.
Today…I cannot count the scales traced into the dragon’s body, but I did feel every single one. I should note that the red pigment is actually my skin reacting to the process – it is not happy at all. Ouch. Ow. The addition of the scales makes the dragon look complete, and I am extremely satisfied with Kyle’s work today. Based on my original images, he was expecting to do one final session to shade in scales or add depth, but I think that I prefer the two dimensional quality of the piece. Adding shading may detract from the look I want, and I am not sure I could take any more time in the chair for this dragon.
“A dragon without wings…why that’s just a pony!”