Today I have the esteemed pleasure of meeting with J.P. Bonanno, of Inkline Studios to begin work on my newest tattoo.
I got my first tattoo in Spain. I now have five, the subsequent four all inked by a wonderful woman, Tanya, who no longer lives in the area. When she and I left New York around the same time my interest in tattooing waned. Partly because I didn't have an artist I trusted to bounce ideas off of but secondly because it isn't until now that I feel the process is worth reapproaching.
To explain, I consider tattoos within a spiritual rite-of-passage realm. The process is quite transformative, cathartic. All tattoos I have, regardless of how acutely I am still moved by their symbolism or not, are records of important moments in my life, moments that I feel required documentation. What's more, the way in which your body responds and copes with the entirely unnatural act is quite remarkable. The tattoos on me are of various degrees of intricacy; however, all triggered a similar sensation. What begins in pain is ultimately combatted by the body's natural efforts to not hurt. The release of endorphins causes a strange calming effect: In many of my more involved tattoos I have fallen asleep.
As I prepare for this next venture, this exciting new journey, I feel that this experience is valuable.
Now, I have seen some mediocre work, some terrible terrible work, and as a person with tattoos I am often approached to discuss their symbolism, my favorite tattoo parlors, etc. Because it has been five years since my last tattoo I often have no advice but am offered names of artists and studios regularly. I knew, though, that for me I was not willing to get just any tattoo from just anybody. I needed to find someone, like Tanya, who respected the process beyond the artistry and recognized a similar spirituality.
I was first shown Anil Gupta's work. His technique is masterful, using typically single-needle work and achieving incredible detail. His skill for modeling light and shade is remarkable. In particular, I was drawn to his miniature work. I had never seen anything like it before.
As I clicked around the Inkline website I discovered a tattoo that moved me - Not by Anil but by J.P. Bonanno. It was a bird flying across a man's side, the bird kind of watercolored on, expressive line work and use of color; this wasn't a tattoo, this was art. And it was untraditionally beautiful. I appreciated its semi-awkward position, its unexpected orientation on this man's body. (To see click link and select the "Color" category. It is the first tattoo.)
To finally reveal what I haven't, and for no other reason than that it hasn't naturally entered discussion yet, my newest tattoo is a female cardinal perched on my left wrist. I have a tattoo already on my right wrist, a simple line drawing of a vajra-topped curved sword, held in the first right hand of goddesses in Buddhist iconography, a defense against things internal and external that can distract or harm us. I wanted the cardinal on my left because first, the association with the left hand and the heart (wedding rings, for instance, go on the left hand) and second, because I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of a simple line drawing and what will be a detailed nature drawing of a female bird. Additionally, the coloring and general silhouette complement nicely.
To meet with J.P. I had to fill out a questionnaire detailing my relationship to my new tattoo: how long had I thought about it, how sure was I about the design, what was the design, what were my reasons, what was the symbolism behind my choice. I will say that this was an intimidating exercise. I sent along an image of what I wanted and pictures of the two tattoos that I felt would "interfere" in any way (I was worried that I would look cluttered, that the colors would clash, etc.).
J.P., as fate would have it, loves tattooing birds. I think that in any tattooing process you must connect with your artist and he/she must connect with your concept. If there is any resistance or lack of passion, especially if your design is symbolic or meaningful, I could not imagine still going through with the process. A tattoo is private (despite its often public display) and the process is profoundly intimate. For J.P. to tell me he hopes to only need two sessions to achieve his artistic intention is, for me, not daunting, but a sign of his connection with his art (and tattoos are art, just so that point is clear).
One final note about tattooing, in anything that ultimately is decided upon, while I agree with Queen Michelle's insistance to consider the permanence, an oft ignored fact is that your body is the canvas. Any art you decide to commit to your skin must work compositionally. For instance, a tattoo on my shoulder that rounds the cap, because of its circular design would have looked quite unremarkable on, say, my hip or lower back. The work is completed in its relationship to your body.