It’s hard to describe- the feeling when you walk into a tattoo shop. It’s bright and cold- the smell of latex consumes you instantly- the sound of the tiny motor of the tattoo gun rings in your ears. The walls are covered with tattoo art- pictures of classic Sailor Jerry tattoos that adorned men of the past, Japanese Geishas tempt you with their stare, and always the Chinese symbol section that should be retired for all eternity. To me- this is a happy place. A place that I had frequented often in my young adult life and continue to enjoy now as I get older
I got my first tattoo when I was 21. I was living in Chicago and throwing a party at my boyfriend’s house. My best friend from when I was growing up was in town with another friend from high school. We drank too much, we crashed a high school reunion, lost a cell phone on the L, and ended up in a tattoo parlor on Belmont street getting tattoos together from a man that smoked unfiltered Marlboros. Memories that last, people, memories that last…
I got three stars on my foot. Did they mean anything? No. Was the tattoo the best ever created? Absolutely not. However, that moment in 2002 sparked something in me that made me return time after time to tattoo shops.
Then in 2003 while living in Austin, I decided that I wanted to get a half sleeve. This time I knew better- I researched an artist and made sure that I was looking into a piece that I would want to see every day of my life. It took 8 months to convince Jason Brooks, a well know artist for traditional Japanese tattoos, to create my half sleeve. He insisted that I research the piece I wanted – as is tradition in Japanese tattoos there is a story- a history that is present. He was not going to place a random geisha on my arm but I had to find the story that resonated with me. I found her in a picture of an old vase- her name was Amaterasu- The Sun Goddess. She was curious, beautiful, and renewed the world and life when she emerged from a cave after she had banished herself because of her brother’s violence toward women. The vase was in black onyx and mother of pearl and it depicted rays of sunlight rising from this beautiful geisha. I had found my story- I felt captivated by her honest beauty and how her vision was feminine AND strong. Something that was important to me working in an industry that was male dominated and often times soul sucking to a female. It took 12 hours over 3 sessions. I recall it hurting an F-ton. I’ll be honest- it doesn’t feel good- you sweat, you bleed, you become swollen, you bruise… However. Totally worth it.
Since that half sleeve I have received over 8 other tattoos- ranging from a small little forget me not Swallow after leaving Austin for the second time, to a tiny star behind my ear that I got in my last day in Thailand after spending four months in that lovely country. I made the silly decision to get a matching tattoo with a boy- the relationship didn’t last but that tiny finch sure did. A large rib piece after surviving what felt like the worst job and relationship ever, to a music quote on my arm after really surviving the worst job and relationship ever. I have a recent addition of a Russian Matryoshka doll to remind me of my mom, sister, and grandma- who are the strongest women I know and to be strong with them. And my favorite, a small anchor with a heart in it for my husband- who is indeed the one thing in my life that keeps me grounded- no matter how rough the waters get.
It was about 4 years ago that I noticed that a great deal of cooks and chefs were getting themselves “tatted” up- it was becoming such a trend in the hospitality industry that I started to feel that it was a fad which made me feel really… uncomfortable. Once, a guest made a comment that I must be the chef since my arms were covered and that’s how I got the job. To insinuate that the ink on my body was more important than the 15 years I had put into this business infuriated me. So- instead of ripping off that guest’s head- I went to my fellow chefs and inquired why they felt the need- and I tell you, it’s a need- to get a tattoo. Many said they liked the look of it- it made them feel pretty or masculine. Others- it ran in their family- their father had tattoos so it was a tradition for them. Dana Cree, pastry chef of The Publican, brought another perspective to light- she enjoys engaging with tattoo artists and working with them in a different medium- our canvas is food, theirs is skin. To collaborate with an artist on something so personal as a tattoo that will forever be on you can be an intimate experience- there is a great deal of trust that must be given and received. I feel my friend Rebecca Masson said it best when she told me “it represents a time in my life or symbol of sisterhood, and celebrating my passion in what I do.” Amen girl. Creative people gravitate to other forms of art to be a part of- it is not a surprise that those who work in kitchens partake in that. It isn’t a fad, a pinterest trend, and it is definitely not a job requirement- it is how we love ourselves, heal ourselves, and express ourselves.