The Art of Choosing Ink

Today’s Daily Prompt asks, “Do you have a tattoo? If so, what’s the story behind your ink? If you don’t have a tattoo, what might you consider getting emblazoned on you skin?” 

Towards the end of my teenage years, I dreamed of getting a tattoo. I wanted to pick the perfect design. It had to be just right. It should signify something about my deeper personality, and represent who I really thought I was.

Those are lofty expectations and I sort of paralyzed myself into inaction. I’m sure my mother was secretly relieved.

It wasn’t until I was almost 28 and leaving Ireland to return to Canada that I carelessly chose a tattoo at the last moment. I wanted something permanent to carry with me forever from Ireland.

But strangely, I didn’t choose anything remotely Irish.

I chose the four Japanese symbols which together – allegedly – mean “protector.” I had them tattooed, very small, at the top of my back, centred on my spine. I thought it was smart, a sort of play on the “watch your back” idea.

I’m told that if you look at it quickly it looks a bit like a bar code, which wasn’t really the look I was going for, but the tattoo artist did have slightly shaky hands. Probably the first sign that you’re in the wrong studio, but there weren’t a lot of choices in rural Ireland.

The thing about tattoos, I’ve noticed, is that they become addictive. Once you have one, and realize that the pain is short-lived, you begin to look for a design for the next one soon after.

I had my second one done in Ottawa. I desperately wanted a tattoo and so was scouring books and the internet, looking (again) for the right one, the one that would signify something important about me.

I was in a card and paper shop and came across an ex libris sticker which was decorated with a little ink drawing of a fairy sitting cross-legged on a knoll, its back turned to show its wings, and holding a large book across its lap, its head bent reading. I had the fairy placed halfway down my spine, centred under the first tattoo.

For a time, I had second thoughts about the selection. But I’ve come to appreciate it now as something that does reflect my personality.

My third tattoo I got in honour of my son who was, at the time, four months old. It is an aquamarine blue star, about an inch wide and bordered with a navy line, placed on the inside of my left wrist. I always called my son my little star and thought that when I returned to work after maternity leave, it would be nice to have something to remind me of my first months of motherhood.

My fourth and final tattoo represents the four elements. It is a four-pointed star, with each point a distinct section and a separate colour; pale blue for East, red for South, mauve for West and forest green for North. The sections meet at the centre, where there is a small line drawn in a circle, and another circle runs behind their points, about a quarter of the way down. This last tattoo is at the base of my spine.

Sometimes, I think I would like to get another. I had once thought I would like to scatter the constellations across my back and I’ve always wanted to copy a Moorish design from an old market or temple.

It’s strange, though. Most of the time I forget that I have any tattoos, mostly because they are placed out of my line of sight, but also because I just don’t seem the type of person that would have any. At least, I don’t think I do. I have a respectable job, for which I dress respectably with my tattoos hidden away, and a pretty straight-laced lifestyle. To look at me, you wouldn’t think I would have four of them.

But I like my tattoos, when I think about them. They bring back fond memories and, now that I consider them, I realize they do achieve all those lofty expectations I had hoped they would. They reflect who I am and who I have been, my past and present interests, and the most sacred and constant aspects of my personality.


More thoughts on tattoos:

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14 thoughts on “The Art of Choosing Ink

  1. Can you share pictures of your tattoo? The one with four elements sounds pretty neat.

    I have a tattoo myself, and am itching to get at least three more 🙂 Once you start with a tattoo, you end up with more than one.

    While workplaces are more accepting towards tattoos these days, there is still a lot of stigma attached to it. Which is sad

  2. I could have written this post — or one very similar with a slight detour here or there to make it truly mine. I didn’t get my tattoo in Ireland, but the Lower East Side of NYC. And I too carefully chose the symbol (representative of where I was in my life then) and strategically selected the location. And I too forget from time to time that it is there. And I too for sometime felt addicted to getting them. But I never did get a second or a third, though I did contemplate it. I think, perhaps, it may be time to do so.

    • Ah, I missed our synchronicity while I was away from blogging. But, do I want to be responsible for inciting you to get another? 🙂 If you feel like sharing, I’d love to know what yours is.

        • You may just be my long lost twin. I had considered a butterfly when I was younger, in a brilliant blue to commemorate a book my mom used to read to me, The Lion and Blue, but expressly didn’t get it because someone – Drew Barrymore I think – beat me to it.

  3. Don’t have a tattoo myself as I have a real fear of needles, but If I were brave enough it would probably be a Chinese symbol…… and then I would probably want to change it ! maybe temp. tattoos are for me ! Hubby has a few but they are all ‘bike’ related.

  4. I have a few, some bad choices I’ve had to cover.. my last cover I just recently had done.. it took me years to decide what I wanted because I didn’t want to make another error in judgement.. ahh youth and impulses, lol.. this time I chose a tribal hare and moon because it means something to me. I find them to be quite addictive 😉

  5. When I thought about this prompt, my first thought was the Celtic Tree of Life; but, I decided to go with my children’s birthstone colors on the inside of my wrist. Of course, I don’t actually have tattoos. I am afraid of needles 🙂 I like that you have tattoos, but it is something nobody would expect of you. Interesting, in a cool way.

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