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The Tattoo

Before I get into the whys and hows of getting my tattoo, let me start off by saying that if you live in the Tampa Bay area, or can get here, and are thinking about a custom tattoo, go see JD (John Dixon) at Psychotic Ink in St Petersburg, FL. JD has a relaxed, laid-back attitude, is a great artist and does phenomenal work. He is one of those rare people that are truly "about the work."

Now onto the story:

About 20 years ago, I had decided to get a tattoo. I just wanted one for no better reason than "because." At the time, I drew up a custom piece that was centered around my joining the Navy as a Nuclear Electronics Technician. The drawing was a skeleton of an American Bald Eagle perched on a typical "Navy" anchor ("USN Nuke" written on it) with a mushroom cloud in the background. I had planned on getting the tattoo on the left side of my chest; however, for reasons I won't get into, I never got the tattoo.

A few years later, while I was stationed in Virginia Beach and still had the tattoo itch, I scheduled an appointment six months out with a tattoo artist up in northern Virginia. The tattoo was to be the album cover of Glenn Danzig's Black Aria (art by Michael Wm. Kaluta). This was at a time before MW Kaluta had decided to extend the drawing from the album cover to include the full wings, etc. and when tattoo guns were no where near what they are today. As a result, there were very few tattoo artists who could handle the size and detail I wanted (plus finishing the "missing parts" of the drawing), which was probably why the one I found was booked out six months in advance. Once again, this tattoo was going to be on the left side of my chest. Well, as luck would have it, come the time of my appointment I got stuck on duty all weekend and had to cancel.

Flash forward to the year 2010 and someplace in the back of my mind is still the itch for a tattoo. I still like the Black Aria cover; it is a terrific art and I love the good versus evil concept. But it has been done many-times-many times and I needed something original, something unique to me. Age and wisdom also have told me that the human body changes on a fairly consistent basis, so the location of the tattoo (whatever it was) should be someplace where those physical changes would be at a minimum (see the Blob's tattoo in the Wolverine movie for an example of what I am talking about).

While the tattoo itch was still someplace festering in my mind, it was something I hadn't really thought about in nearly 15 years time, so I felt inspired when the idea to get my tattoo struck me. "Andrew," my mind said, "take off that bra and panties, someone is coming." Wait. Sorry. Wrong conversation.
"Andrew," my mind said, "you are obsessed with gravity. You should get a tattoo on your back having to do with gravity, and what better representation of gravity than a Black Hole."

"Really?" I replied.

"Of course. Chicks will dig it!"
I had to admit my mind was correct. I am obsessed with gravity. Mostly about it being broken or rather that the formulas that represent gravity are broken. My mind was also correct in its assumption that it would be cool, so I set to working out the concept for this tattoo.

The concept for the art came to me pretty quickly (apparently, my mind had been hard at work on it for a long time while I was off doing other stuff): the personification of a Black Hole (or avatar), similar to the gods of old representing the human form of a phenomenon. Apollo is the god of the sun and, thus, represents what the sun would look like in human form. Hades is the god of the underworld and, thus, represents what the underworld would look like in human form. Wil Wheaton is the god of gamer geeks and, thus, represents what the gamer geek would look like in celebrity form (I know Vin Diesel is a gamer as well, but he does not look like a gamer geek in celebrity form, more like what gamer geeks look like in fantasy form, i.e. Den from Heavy Metal).

With the concept worked out, I only had one problem before I could get inked: I lost the ability to draw nearly 20 years ago (my belief is I gave it to my daughter when she was born). I had an artist in mind who I thought could handle creating my vision, but it was a student from one of my classes who I never ran into anymore and had no way of getting in touch with. I was pretty much screwed. This was a piece of art that was going to become a permanent part of my body and not something I could trust to just anyone. So onto the back-burner the tattoo idea went.

A few months later, toward the end of my spring semester of classes, luck intervened and I ran across a student drawing his final exam for an art class. His work was great and so I struck up a conversation with him about doing a custom piece and the concept of my tattoo. Long story short, he agreed to draw it up, gave me his email address and asked me to send over a photo of me in the pose I was thinking of for the Black Hole avatar.

Basic PoseInstead of snapping off a photo, I decided to use Poser 3D and Photoshop to produce a better visual of what I was talking about. The image to the right is what I came up with and I emailed it off to the artist with an explanation. Basically, the idea is the avatar coming out of a physical Black Hole (with muscles straining against the gravitational forces) to devour a star. Pretty neat, right? My computer graphic kind of sucked, but it was just to visualize the concept and show the pose I had in my mind.

While I waited for a reply from the artist, I set to work on researching tattoos, inks, and tattoo artists. I read up on the composition of inks (allergies), care for tattoos, and began looking for an artist who did good gray-wash tattoos (using only black ink) in the local area. I spoke with everyone I knew who had gotten tattoos in the area and looked at the portfolios for each of the artists who did the work. Again, this was going to be a permanent part of my body so I mentally critiqued the hell out of everything and everyone.

Time passed and I never heard back from the young artist I had met at school. Luck again intervened though as the tattoo artist my ex-wife (and still friend), Suzi, and her boyfriend, Carl (who is covered with tattoos), recommended was supposed to be a terrific artist. They both said that if I give him the concept and told him to put his own spin on it, it would be great. I was very impressed with the work of his I saw and setup an appointment to discuss the idea. Shortly thereafter, I had an appointment to get inked with JD at Psychotic Ink.

On the day of part one of the tattoo, my best friend (and fellow Pirate), Liz, and (then) girlfriend, Catherine, both came to watch the festivities. I am still of the opinion that they both came to see me in pain and were hoping for a good show of blood spurting and cries of agony. I disappointed on both fronts. Liz did bring her digital camera along so I have the following pictures to present (everyone say "Thank you, Liz").

OutlineBody shadingTattoo detail
From left to right: (1) This is the finished outline for the body and the "scratches" JD made to record where he would detail later. (2) A bunch of the body filled in just before a break. (3) An up close shot while on break. Getting pretty red, eh?

JD at workTattoo almost doneTattoo Part 1 Finished
(4) JD at work. (5) Almost done with the first portion. A little blood up in the star. (6) The first portion finished. Looks awesome, right?!?! Check out how red it is and the little blood specks.

I went alone for the second part of the tattoo, mostly because it was in the middle of a work day, but also because I think Liz and Catherine got too much enjoyment from my pain. As a result, there are no pictures of the second portion being completed. I will say this though, aside from the outline of the formula lettering, JD free-handed the entire second half of the tattoo. In case you can not tell from the pictures above, he also free-handed all the detail for the body of the avatar and star.

In answer to the question that everyone asks, "Not bad and like a son of a bitch." The question, of course, is "Did the tattoo hurt?" The first portion wasn't bad at all, except for the outline of the hand that crossed over the edge of my shoulder blade. The second portion made me want to cry like a hungry-hungry baby, particularly where the tattoo goes onto my side.

There was one time during this whole ordeal that I did cry out like a little girl and that was when I had Catherine put a liquid compress on the first portion of the tattoo the night after it was done. The compress was freezing cold and I am man enough to admit that I screamed; to which she apparently received great enjoyment as I was greeted with the sound of giggling.

Anyway, that is the story of me getting my tattoo. I will add that the tattoo is on the left hand side of my back, instead of centered for two reasons: (1) I thought the bony spine would hurt too much (it didn't hurt bad at all) and (2) I needed room to put the correct formula for gravity once I create it. And that is my story.

Oh, here's the picture of the tattoo two days after it was finished (still a little red). I am incredibly happy with how it turned out and the work JD did. It really is much better than I could have hoped for and captures my vision perfectly. Thank you for enduring the pain with me. Enjoy.
Personification of a Black Hole Tattoo

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Suzi on :

Wow that did turn out nice!

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