Tebori at Tattoo Hollywood
I have admired tattoos for a long time. As far back as I can remember. I have a very distinct memory of myself at about the age of 5, standing in my driveway, pushing my shirt sleeve up and staring down at my bicep thinking, "I'm going to have a tattoo there someday."
At this point, I'm no stranger to tattoos. I've been working on a sleeve for a while now. Since I choose to travel to my artist, it is a slow process towards completion. Originally my sleeve was meant to go almost to my wrist so that I could still cover it with a long sleeved shirt or sweater but as the piece is taking so long it's more likely that it will stop just slightly higher than that, at about 3/4 length.
Last year, I had been to the Tattoo Hollywood convention and being around all the tattooing made me itch for a tattoo. This year, I was back again and this time I had some spending money. I have had, for some time now, ideas for my other arm. Since I'm heavily involved in work with a particular artist for my sleeve and because I don't really trust anyone nearby to tattoo me, I was left just dreaming about other work and not realizing it.
Until now. I knew I was going to make that leap and have some work done. I thought about the different ideas I had swirling around in my head. I had admired the way some of my friends' sleeves came down over their wrists. I like how it looks. To me there was something delicate and feminine and beautiful about it. I wanted it too. I thought about the reasons that I had shied away from getting ink so low on my arm. I thought about how unhappy I was while I was teaching and had to wear long sleeves. My tattoos do not affect my ability to teach well and I suffer in the heat of a sweater in a stuffy classroom. I have equated so much of my life to song lyrics that it was not surprising when out of the blue, lyrics popped into my head from one of my favourite musicals, RENT!
"Take me as I am, who I was meant to be and if you give a damn, take me baby, or leave me"
The line played itself over and over in my head. I decided at that moment that I was going to do this for me. This is who I am. These tattoos are part of me, my personality, my life. With the decision clear in my head, I asked my friend Rachel who she would recommend for this tattoo. The convention was packed with incredible artists but each artist has a style that they're particularly known for and I wanted her recommendation for what I wanted. This summer, I had taken a photograph of some water lilies in a pond. They are so beautiful and delicate and the moment I saw them in person for the first time, I knew I wanted to get one tattooed on me. When I took that photo this summer, I knew I wanted to use it as a reference for the tattoo. All of my work is done in black and grey but I knew I wanted this flower to be in colour.
Rachel recommended I go see Horiren. With butterflies in my stomach, I approached her booth. Horiren is a Japanese tattoo artist. She uses a translator to communicate with non-Japanese speaking folks, like me. She also practices tebori, the traditional Japanese method of tattooing by hand. I explained what I wanted and Horiren sketched out a little drawing of a water lily and indicated she understood perfectly. Originally we set the appointment for Saturday evening but I needed to be bumped to Sunday. I was there helping out with the convention anyway so it made not difference to me. Sunday at noon, laptop in tow, I made my way to Horiren's booth. I showed her the picture I had taken. She took out a red marker (from a sterile packet) and began to draw on my wrist.
Watching the flower come alive on my wrist was quite amazing. I had never had anyone freehand a tattoo completely but this was apparently what she was doing. Once she was satisfied and my smile indicated my own satisfaction, she took out another marker, a black one, and began to draw again, fixing up the original drawing. Once she had finished and made sure this was what I was looking for she took some time to set up. I talked with the people who were with her and waited anxiously.
Because we were at the convention and time is short, she did the outline with the tattoo machine. Once she was ready, I kicked off my flip flops and climbed up onto the mini staging that was her booth. I laid out on a mat with my head on a pillow and she delicately took my arm into her hands and began to outline. She had a light touch and sat beside me, cross-legged. There was something intimate about us being there next to each other on the same surface, on the same level. With the outline complete she too a few more minutes to prepare and it was time to move into the hand tattooing.
I wasn't sure what to expect but I certainly wasn't prepared for this. It barely hurt. In fact there were times when I felt nothing more than the pressure of her touch, her hand on my arm and her body next to mine. A crowd gathered to watch her work. It was a strange feeling to be in such an intimate position with so many people standing and watching. I understood the curiosity but the strangeness made it seemed surreal. A few people asked me if it hurt a lot and I would smile and say that it barely hurt at all. They always seemed surprised. I was surprised.
The tattoo took two hours to complete. I didn't bleed. When she finished I looked down and there was barely any redness around my tattoo and the area was only slightly puffy. A big change from the work I'd had done the week before when my entire arm was bruised and red and raw feeling. I was given a robe to wear and Horiren cleaned up her area. She then gave me the stick (I'm sure it has a proper name but I'm not aware of what it is) and told me not to poke anyone with it. She had drawn little pictures on it and written my name. I climbed up on the staging with her and the other women that were with her and Hiro, who was also with her, took photographs.
Once we had finished with the photos I gave her back her robe. She gave me a small cardboard card on which she had drawn a water lily, a bird and a little frog (an inside joke between the two of us). I laughed and thanked her and felt overwhelmed with emotion. That evening as the show was closing, I found myself back at her booth with Katie, who had been tattooed by her on Saturday and another girl who had only just finished getting tattooed as the show closed. We all gathered in a circle and Horiren spoke in Japanese. Then we did a rhythmic clapping, three times and at the end of the clapping we all cheered and laughed. It was an incredible experience and one that I am very grateful to have been able to experience.
The tattoo was sore for a day or two but as I sit here writing this on Friday, there is no pain whatsoever. The tattoo is going through its peeling process and I moisturize it regularly. I look down at it often and the power of its meaning for me resonates each time I see it. This tattoo is for me and the depth of its meaning is mine alone. If my life were to be summed up by one song alone, it would be My Way by Frank Sinatra and this tattoo is the embodiment of it all for me.
The record shows, I took the blows, and did it my way!
submitted by: Jen
on: 30 Aug. 2010
in Hand Poked Tattoos
Studio: Tattoo Hollywood
Location: Hollywood, CA