Meanwhile… Tattoos

Tattoo artists have always impressed me. Not only are they highly creative with the styles they produce (particularly when doing cover-ups), but also because – on the basis that they can’t rub it out and have another go – they achieve all that while working under the pressure of having to get it right first time!

It’s hard to imagine early tattooers and tattooees caring too much about perfection. Given the positions of many early tattoos (coincident with acupuncture and other healing points on the body), it’s thought they were performed for medicinal rather than decorative purposes. That said, the very earliest evidence comes from an 8,000-year-old Chinchorros mummy in the Andes, who was found with a thin moustache tattooed on his upper lip – it’s hard to imagine how that was medicinal! Ötzi, on the other hand, the neolithic herdsman found frozen in a Tyrol glacier in 1991, had over 60 tattoos – made by rubbing charcoal into cuts in the skin – many of which corresponded to areas of previous injury or skeletal degeneration. Many other early cultures, from all around the world, are known to have used tattoos, with perhaps the Picts being amongst the most famous: the word “pict” coming from the Latin picti, “painted people” (pictus, to paint). The word “tattoo” itself comes from the Tahitian word ta’tau, meaning “open wound”.

The modern tattoo machine, which looks like a bizarre cross between a pen and a gun, started life as an electric stylus, invented by Thomas Edison in the 1870s. In the 1890s, New York tattoo artist Samuel O’Reilly patented his modified version of Edison’s stylus, and the modern tattoo machine was born. The accuracy of any given instrument is determined by how much control the artist has over needle depth, speed of reciprocation, and the force applied. It’s not just a matter of drawing a pretty picture!

I don’t yet have my first tattoo, but I’ve had one planned for years. I’ve been into a couple of parlours to talk to various artists, but haven’t found one I like yet. I’m told it becomes addictive, and that people get blasé about having tattoos done, but I don’t feel like that. As a newbie, I recognise I need to trust the artist 100%, before I can let someone scar my body, and “It’ll be fine, come whenever,” doesn’t fill me with the confidence I need to know it’ll be right first time!

Update: check out my Tattoo board on Pinterest:

Tattoo-machine tattoo.

Tattoo-machine tattoo.

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