An Eye Is Upon You - 207: New Beginnings

Published: 05 January, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 207, January, 2012

Whenever I’m asked which of my tattoos is my favourite, I always say, “the newest one”; and it’s true, whichever is the most recent feels the shiniest. I think my attitude is a healthy one, the opposite of nostalgia.

Rather than wearing rose tinted spectacles for the past, I’m celebrating the present. Of course, ultimately I’m celebrating the future too, as I know that today’s favourite will be superseded by the next new one, my collection is always moving forward always looking for the new.

New Year is often inspiration for fantasies and ambitions of newness – new lifestyles, new hobbies, and new careers. I imagine that many Skin Deep readers are aiming to make 2012 the year that they begin their own tattoo career journey by starting to study art or finally securing that elusive apprenticeship.

Most tattoo enthusiasts must have considered learning how to make their very own tattoo art, even if only fleetingly. After all, most of us are not cut out for such a career move as even those blessed with outstanding artistic ability don’t often posses the rest of the wide-ranging skill set required; so if you can’t draw, forget it. However, if you are one of the few who can paint with as much ferocity and single mindedness as you have love for tattooing, if you know about the hard work, the long hours, the back ache and repetitive strain injury, the difficult customers, the financial uncertainty of self employment and the immense responsibility required when marking someone for life AND still want to make 2012 the year you finally begin an apprenticeship, I wish you much luck as you walk a difficult path towards your future and I look forward to enjoying the artistic output of the next generation of tattoo artists.

Others approaching a new year knowing their ongoing journey may be an uncomfortable one, are the many tattoo enthusiasts who have used their ink to punctuate periods of difficulty in their personal lives. That is, those that have become tattooed to commemorate or celebrate, to ‘reclaim’ their bodies for themselves or to dedicate them to others, to bid farewell to their old selves and to welcome their new lives. Those that are brightly coloured phoenix’s rising from ashes, flying into new worlds.

Our tattoos change our bodies in obvious ways, but they also change our minds in ways that are far less easy to quantify, ways that empower us forwards into new beginnings. If anyone reading this is contemplating their own new start, again, I wish them much luck and love on their journey and assure them that their tattoos are totems and talismans and with them they will never be totally alone.

Other, less fundamental yet still important newness will be found in the very art that brings us all together. Like all visual forms, tattooing features observable trends and movements, travelling far from early primitive marks, through naive figures and on to the realist, hyper-realist and super stylised images we see today. In the last few years, the two extremes of realistic colour images and pared down black line work have become increasingly popular; incredibly different ways of constructing images, both seemingly unthinkable a decade or so ago.

Tattooing acknowledges its own history but is not static. Instead it looks backwards and forwards simultaneously. The best tattoo artists constantly ask themselves how to make a tattoo brighter, bolder, and more solid, how to give it more longevity and how to push the imagery as far as they can without compromising the integrity of the technical application.

I’ve been collecting tattoos for over 15 years and have seen a kind of ebb and flow of subject matters, trends that have cycled and traditional images that have been resurrected, even almost forgotten machine types and techniques have enjoyed a renaissance. But one aspect has constantly moved forwards, the solidity of application, through which the quality of contemporary tattooing continues to climb.

I like to think that in the future I’ll be a blurry old lady, covered in fuzzy blue tattoos like the ones my grandpa and great uncle sported, but that future seems increasingly unlikely. This year, I’m incredibly excited to add to my collection, to fall in love with new imagery, new styles, and new artists, and to find ways to integrate them with the tattoos of my past…


Text: Paula Hardy-Kangelos