Monday, March 7, 2016

The story of my tattoos... (so far!)

Every time I get a new tattoo the question arises, what does it mean? So I thought I would do a little story blog of my tattoos so far. Call it a retrospective tattoo diary if you may.

Before I start my journey down memory lane, I just thought I would write this quick bit about tattoos in general. For decades they were a sign of poor lifestyle choices, mixing with the wrong crowds, pledging allegiance to some sort of group with evil intentions and so on. Basically, if you had tattoos you were simply undesirable. This whole image took a long time to change, and as the generations went on, and tattoos became a little more mainstream and available to people, the stigma went from dangerous to dirty. With unlicensed shops popping up, people working from home, and basic hygiene not quite up to scratch, infections became "common". No not actually common, but it was the belief.
Because of this, even into the 80's and early 90's people with visible tattoos were shunned from any form of work where hygiene was an issue. Hell even McDonalds wouldn't hire people with visible tattoos.

Thankfully in the early 90's things started to change, and with licensing and health inspections being done, as well as the business being regulated, more tattoo studios / shops / parlours started popping up. But we are talking one to each town at best. Usually mixing trades such as piercing and tattooing to stay afloat, as tattoos were really not yet a big thing.

As the new millennium came around, so tattoos started their journey into popular culture. Movies seemed to show more people with them, in both the good guy and bad guy roles. People in the public eye started revealing their tattoos more, and slowly but surely the younger generation jumped on board with the whole idea. People designing tattoos starting to become more creative, and as the industry picked up speed, so did the development of new techniques, equipment, and of course the inks. Anyone growing up in the 70's and 80's would be familiar with older relatives having blurry and blotchy marks on their arms, vaguely resembling anchors, love hearts, and the occasional poor attempt at an animal. Usually a good few years old and now turning green.

The revolution in tattooing, at least amongst the genuine artists, and not the backstreet wannabies would put an end to this image for tattoos forever. Fine lines, rich colours, blended colour palettes, intricate designs, and longevity were all on the horizon. Tattoos were about to explode onto the scene.

The work was improving into the 90's and the boundaries were falling fast,new generations of artists bringing their own techniques and artistic ideas to the industry. Tattoos were on the brink of becoming almost glamorous. But not quite there yet.
In 2005 a show hit the TV screens. Miami Ink. Now I have to say that this was NOT the actual turning point in the industry, that had come a good few years before. But for the mainstream culture, it was about to change a lot, especially in the UK.
While tattoos continued to be frowned upon in the UK, the publics eyes not yet opened to the full potential of what was possible with a tattoo, suddenly there it was on TV. Holy cow, you can have a life like picture of a loved one tattooed on you, which will stand the test of time, and do the original image justice. (if you go to the right artist of course!)

Anyway, I digress from the actual point of this entry.
In short, from early 2000's tattooing came into its own, gained popularity and mainstream acceptance, and all sorts of new artists, styles and equipment flooded to the scene. Obviously with all this popularity comes fakers. Scratchers, bullshitters, and people with no idea what they are doing, but in it for a quick buck. As a whole though, the revolution had begun, and things were about to get interesting.

When I speak of the revolution, I think you will see as I progress through my pieces, that at a certain point the work becomes a little better. Some looking at the pictures will say obviously the older ones look worse because they are, well older, but the truth is, some were before the revolution, and things were just not quite as good before.

So lets begin.
My first tattoo, the first time I dared walk into a tattoo shop and ask for a piece was around 1996 (pre revolution) After the birth of my daughter I wanted something on me forever. Not knowing at that time that we would one day be torn apart, I decided I wanted something to symbolise my affection for her. Cue Tas!
Walking into Fantasy Tattooing in South London, as was done in the day, I had a choice of anything I wanted... As long as it was in one of the folders or on the wall as a piece of flash art. Pricing was based on a coloured dot next to each image, and once chosen a stencil would be taken of the piece, or in some cases, the stencils were already made, and sitting in a draw, waiting for someone to come in and as for #63 etc.

Choosing my right shoulder / back to get this amazing tattoo on, avoiding disgusting anyone with this terrible decision I was making. Not wanting to become one of the dirty tattooed type people. I sat down, and after what seemed like an eternity, but was probably about 45 minutes, paid about £35 and left, scared for life, but over the moon.
Today it is fair to say that Tas has kinda stood the test of time, colour still visible, lines just about in tact, and a basic idea of what it is meant to be.
As you can see from the picture below, it has done OK over 20 years, and lasted better than some of the post war tattoos some had. But is far from "great"

See what I mean! Either way, it served its purpose at the time, and has a story attached to it, therefore it goes down as a success.

The next tattoo I would get would be as equally well thought out, as in not really thought out at all, seeing a picture on the wall and asking this time for a #57 and parting with about £40. It was after all now around 1997. This next piece was driven by two factors. Firstly I was now separated from my daughters mum, but still very much in touch with them both. I wanted something that made me feel like I always had one eye open, watching over my daughter even while I was not with her. And secondly that a new tattoo shop had opened locally, run by a guy I used to go to school with. Everyone needs a tattoo from an old school mate! Seeing an amazing design, incorporating what looked like what I called the all seeing eye, and in this new style called "tribal" I decided that was the one for me.
Shut up and take my money was the order of the day, and down I sat. An hour later, there it was, this heavy black, bold expression of myself on my arm for all eternity, and I was delighted.
That evening I went over to visit my daughter, and showed her mum my new piece of art. Explaining what it was and what it signified, I was greeted with hysterical laughter. Well that went down well. None the less, I was happy with it, and as I say to people even today, if you are happy with it, sod what others think. Not that I for one second now believe it is anything much more than a heavy mark on my skin, like Tas, it served its purpose and holds sentimental value to me.
As you can see from the pic of it below, on the grand scheme of things, its rather..... well you decide.

You can kinda see the eye part.... Right? No, ok moving swiftly on...

The third piece I was to get would show me growing up and learning more about these tattoos. While barbed wire and other such arm pieces were starting to become popular, spurned on by the film "Barbed Wire" with Pamela Anderson (I think) I decided it was time to go big or go home. I was training hard at the gym now and my biceps were really starting to pop. It was 1998, I was 25 and in my prime, and I needed something big and masculine to show off to errm all the other guys at the gym. It was time for a tribal arm band!
Walking into the same shop in Sydenham, I knew this was the day I was going to get my masculinity affirmed, I was ready, encompass my arm with your finest band of tribal ink please sir.
Errrm Houston we have a problem. It appears that all the wonderful flash art on the wall was designed to fit people of normal size and stature. My arms were now around 19" in circumference, and nothing was going to fit. So instead of getting a tattoo all the way around my arm, to show how manly I was, inner arm of no concern to me, I was suddenly faced with the wimps option, and just on the outer section of my bicep.

Getting the piece done, it was positioned in such a way it gave the illusion of going all the way around, but if asked to see it, I would have to explain my arm was just too big on the day. Because people believed that, right! On the day I was undecided on having it shaded on the tips, the new style of lighter tribal, or going full on black. In the end I went with full black.
The significance of the tattoo was not quite fixed, but the coming month would change that. With a trip to Tunisia planned with a friend, I was all ready to enjoy a new beginning, when disaster struck. My daughters mum was about to make a life changing decision, and break contact between me and my daughter. Suddenly this tattoo now marked the point in my life where my daughter was torn away from me.

The piece that marks this time in my life is quite fittingly sharp edged and dark. Or at least was when it was done. Not so much now, but still quite imposing all the same.
The late 90's and tribal, what a great time for tattooing. But things were going to change soon. But not just yet!

So here is #3

I know, I know, amazing right! To be fair, this was probably the first piece to actually start to stand the test of time. After 18 years there are still points where there are meant to be, and quite a dark consistency to the whole piece. The two whispy bits at the top are the amazing seamless join to piece #2 . Crazy I know!
Incidental , in about 2012 while in Wet and Wild in Florida, my girlfriend at the time pointed out the American guy queuing in front of me for a water slide had the exact same tattoo as me! 4000 miles away, and he picked the same piece of flash art as me! Great!

So now I was left with the dilemma. Would I walk this earth for the rest of my life with one of those wimp tattoos, too scared to have the inner arm done too, or would I find a way to make this happen. Well obviously I needed to go back to see Tony in Sydenham and get this sorted out, so off I went. I would say it was now 1999, 26 years old, and ready to complete the band.
In I walked, explained what I wanted done, and the solution was a simple on, pick another band from the flash selection, and they would use it to join the two ends up. Maybe some small adjustments here and there to make it fit. 1999, and now they are going all freestyle with a Bic, this is amazing!

Finding the piece best suited, we cracked on and got it knocked out, in no time my arm was now fully banded with black tribal. I was in awe. As you can see from the picture below, it was the best piece I had had yet, and completed my dream of an arm band. Full on man!

Now I know by this point you are wondering how tattoos can possibly improve from this point, but I am about to blow your mind.
By 2002, some places were now allowing you to bring in your own ideas, and turn them into a tattoo. Talk about thinking outside the box. I don't know who pioneered this technique, but bless them! (I am being sarcastic before people start ranting)
I was ready for something epic, something that was totally different. Deep in a relationship, turning a corner and finding positivity, feeling brave and ready to take on the world. It was time to get matching tattoos! And, not only matching, but writing!
What on earth I hear you say, I know its crazy but the following story really happened!

While having a rather deep moment in my life, reflecting deeply on things I was going through, and in a relationship with a girl of Greek heritage, we decided we would get the word "butterfly" in Greek tattooed on our lower backs. Hers was in defiance of the rule of the relationship she had escaped. Mine was a slightly deeper meaning. I will use this exert from a little book I am writing to explain it fully.

For me the significance of the word is quite profound, and holds even
more meaning since we split up. To me it relates to experiencing the
touch of a butterfly. I have told the story many times while explaining
the tattoo, and most get it, so lets see if you do.
A butterfly moment. Imagine yourself sitting in the countryside on a
bench. Relaxed in the tranquillity of your surroundings, you see a
butterfly fluttering around you. Hopeful, you hold your hand out and to
your surprise it lands on the tip of your finger, fluttering before folding
its wings, resting for a moment from its journey.
You hold your breath, afraid to move, wanting the moment to last as
long as possible, but knowing all the while that this moment won't last. It
is temporary before the butterfly continues its journey.
Touched by beauty for a moment. Sharing a perfect moment before the
world around you moves on, leaving you forever with the memory of the
time you were touched by a butterfly. A moment you can't force, a
moment which you may never experience again, but one which will live
with you forever. The butterfly of course is metaphorical, but the beauty
and the memory are as real as life gets.
Nicci was my butterfly. Touching me so deeply, leaving an ever lasting
memory in my mind, which each time recalled is as real and fresh as the
day it happened.
So there you go, the idea was set in stone, and soon to be set in ink also. A lot of explaining would follow for years to come, but as dull as it looks now, it was truly the first tattoo I ever got with such deep meaning.

The pic below shows the original piece, surrounded by tribal (yes more tribal) These were added a couple of years later, just to flesh it out a bit. Pretty poor attempt, but worked for me at the time.
Here is #4 "Butterfly" Along with #5 "More tribal"

Again I have to say, there is absolutely no regret in getting these tattoos done. While mediocre at best by today's standards, they have marked very significant times in my life up until this point, and I am proud to have them to remind me of those times.

Now, remember I was saying about the revolution. Well my next piece would come after this time. Just as things were starting to really get exciting.  The bar had been raised, so it was time to really get creative. Roll on 2007...

In 2007, after a number of years with no tattoos, I really thought my days of wanting anymore were long behind me. I had always wanted tattoos in places where I could wear shorts and a t-shirt and no one would be any the wiser. Not because I was against visible tattoos, but at the time I just didn't think they were for me. However life was about to take a violent turn, with my mum being diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. It was all a bit of a shock to the system, having been left so late before seeking medical attention, there was really no long term hope, so a journey begun.
I decided I needed something radical, I had so many ideas floating around in my head for tattoos to show my emotions about this and a number of others things in my life.
Referred to a tattooist used by a friend, someone I will speak about later in this entry, I threw some ideas down on the table. A scroll, with Japanese on it, with mini scrolls, with dates on them, with a koi and flowers and cherry blossoms. It was a big ask, but Heather of Rising Phoenix took it all on board and came up with an amazing modern Japanese design. Just what I wanted.
Lots of research was done on the piece before getting started. I was off work sick at the time with issues with my arm, and seeing a private physiotherapist. On speaking to him about the design one day, and mentioning the Japanese writing and the need to get it checked, it transpired he was married to a Japanese woman, who kindly confirmed the translation was as close as it could get.
The long scroll in the picture below translates roughly to "One life, one chance, no regrets" A motto I have lived by for many years, and continue to do so. The translation is not perfect but about as near as it gets.

On the day it was to be started, I booked in for a 3 hour sitting in Leighton Buzzard, and took my mum along with me to be there for the piece, just to add some depth to the meaning of the day. Sadly the sitting took over 4 hours to get it lined in, so she was less than impressed, but later admitted she was happy to have been there. In total the piece would take approx 14 hours to complete, broken up into a number of sittings. The piece itself is a sheet of A4 paper, just for reference.

So here is the first REAL tattoo I ever got, and the start of a long journey in both the cancer battle, and the tattoo story. Tattoo #6

After this epic piece was complete, I decided I wanted another leg tattoo, covering the entire left thigh, inside and out. So again I sat with Heather and we worked on a Japanese warrior fighting with, not against a traditional Japanese dragon. Taking an old style of the two fighting against each other, and turning it into a protector piece for me. Facing outwards, fighting off negativity and threats to me. At this point I was still caring for my mum in her battle, and felt I wanted something of significance to help me too. The seventh piece was about to start.The initial drawings were exactly as I imagined. However life was about to be a bitch once again.
While being tattooed in sessions, I started introducing friends to the tattoo studio. We would block book days to share amongst us, but this soon turned sour when wires started getting crossed, and I ended up spending the day there and having no work done at all. Communication was poor, and I grew tired of being forgotten. So about 15 hours into the piece, I called it a day. From 2008 til present, the tattoo sits there untouched and nowhere near finished. Sadly the direction it was going in started to stray too, so I am left with a piece that needs a complete rework.

Sometimes things just don't work out, even when you think you know the person doing the work. A lot of trust in the industry was lost at this point. Below is tattoo #7, incomplete and unsatisfactory. One day I will get it sorted.

After the above situation, it was going to take a bit of time for me to get my confidence back in the industry. I also realised that a 120 mile round trip for 2 hour tattoo sessions was not a great idea, so when the next tattoo came around, I was blessed to find a much more local, and dare I say competent artist.
The next piece would start a a phase of tribute tattoos for me. In 2010 I lost a life long friend in a motorcycle accident, I immediately knew I had to pay my respects in ink, and keep his memories with me forever. Time to get the creative juices flowing again.
Taking aspects of John's life, and cues from the event, I finalised the idea. This was the first time I had the confidence to throw a whole bucket of ideas at an artist, and know I would get back an amazing interpretation of what I had asked for. The design base would be a Japanese Hannya mask, its representation fitting for the tribute, and its image both crazy and wild, just like his true life character. I wanted a cloth mask across the eyes of the mask, in an almost bandit style. Bandit being the bike he was riding in the tragic accident.
I wanted to incorporate a sand timer, with the glass broken and the sand pouring out to signify the time stolen from his life, and how it was cut short. And three leaves to signify the three children he left behind.  To say that Michelle took the idea, ran with it and scored a touchdown is an understatement. As you can see from the image below, it came out better than I expected.
You will also see from the picture that this was a continuation of my new habit of not having pieces fully finished. This time not because of lack of satisfaction, but time was about to become a real rush for me, and as the next pieces came about, I have started to build towards a session of which its sole purpose will be to finish all the pieces. You will see what I mean.

For now, here is tattoo #8 RIP John Littlebury

For anyone wondering. The foot really wasn't that bad to have done. The piece in total took 15 hours, again session work, and to this day, 5 years later, looks as crisp as it did the day it was finished. This was to be the beginning of a long relationship with Michelle Collenette at Innocent Needle in Croydon. I now had an artist who could listen to my design briefs, take the reference work I gave her and come up with something even more amazing than was in my head.

For me this kind of relationship with an artist is key to really meaningful pieces. Some people can draw, but have no idea what makes a good tattoo, some have amazing ideas that just don't translate. And too many artists are happy to throw any old rubbish out the door just to take a few quid off you. Finding someone you click with, that has creativity, imagination and the skill to do it all is where it's at. And has been the only way I will get tattooed these days.

In August of 2011 my mother sadly passed away following her long battle with cancer, and of course I wanted to get something started ASAP to pay tribute to her.
This time around I took a couple of memories with mum, and put them together. For years we had a fish pond in the back garden, a very hit and miss affair, losing many gold fish along the way. But in the middle of the pond was a lily. One mum had bought but in years it had never flowered.  Amazingly the summer of the year she was diagnosed the lily flowered for the first time. Producing a beautiful rich pink flower. I took a picture of the flower and printed it for mum. In her last weeks of life, setting up her room she asked for her lily picture. So I framed it and it remained with her.
The koi aspect comes from the gardens of St Christopher's Hospice in Sydenham. While having respite breaks there mum grew quite attached to the very mature koi pond they have in their gardens, and would often sit watching them for ages.
While there I noticed there was a particularly active koi which would leap from the water when feeding.
After mum passed away, I returned to the hospice with my camera and took the picture below of the koi, so its pattern could be incorporated in the final design.
The actual picture is below as are a couple of the references I used to guide Michelle towards what I pictured.
The stories of the pieces gets a little longer from here on in, mainly due to the collaborations with the artists.

From these cues, Michelle put together a much more fluid piece, and below is the finished piece. Again this was 15 or so hours in the making, but the end result was astounding! This was my first experience of where tattooing had got to since my first tattoo in 1995. Colours blended, images copied to perfection, fine line needle work. Amazing. (note the leaf in the top right of the tattoo, unfinished, I told you it was my new thing)

Tattoo #9 RIP Ann Snasdell

Now, if you look very closely to the bottom left edge of the picture, just away from the tattoo, on the other side of my chest, there is a single line drawn, following the curvature of my chest. There is a story behind this, and it is not a slip of the machine.
I had planned all along for this tribute to my mother to be finished on her birthday, Feb 23rd. On Feb 23rd 2013 I went along to Innocent Needle to have the piece finished. With the appointment being in the afternoon I had time to receive a phone call late morning. The call was from my aunt's carer in Wales, telling me my aunt (mums sister) had passed away that very morning, on mums birthday. Knowing long in advance that the other side of my chest would be dedicated to my aunt, I decided to have the first line of her tribute tattooed on on the day mums piece was finished, and on the exact day she passed away. It seemed too fitting a chance to pass off. Tattoo #10 was about to be conceived.

A tribute to my aunt would be tough to get right. Having spent a long time out of touch, I was slightly unsure what aspects I could draw together to make a fitting piece for her. A little deep thinking and consideration to her loves and heritage, and it came to me. Keeping the theme Japanese to fit with the other piece, but wanting a dragon due to the Welsh connection, I decided I wanted a Japanese style dragon mimicking the pose of the traditional Welsh dragon. Also I wanted to incorporate rocks and hills, and an owl. Owls being a great love of my aunts, since I had since learned.
As you can see from the stunning and realistic concept drawing I came up with below, I now had it firmly in my head how it should look. Just for added effect it was also decided to put a pagoda in the background.

Now it was over to Michelle to see what she could come up with from it all.
Needless to say, once again she didn't fail to deliver, and below you can see the final design, finished in all its glory.
Many people choose this as their favourite of my pieces based on the intricacy of the design, the attention to detail and the sheer depth to it all. It is not just a black and grey lightly shaded low def piece, but a crazy detailed design executed to perfection, in my eyes anyway.

I should also add, the colour scheme for the dragon was shamelessly stolen from a dance video made by a group called "Dragonhouse", which featured this mural in the background.

Tattoo #10 completed, and now my mum and aunt both paid tribute to, close to my heart where they belong. Both tragic losses to breast cancer. Seen together (below) , the pieces work beautifully with each other, facing each other, but missing something to connect them. Tattoo #11 would take care of this I was sure.

In July of 2013, as requested in the will of my late aunt, we gathered in Wales (Conwy) to scatter the ashes of both her and mum together, out at sea near Puffin Island. The boat was chartered, the day was perfect, so off we went. On the day I took a lot of photos, including the one below, which is of Puffin Island itself, in profile. This photo would go on to be the foundation of tattoo #11, and the piece which would tie the other pieces together.

Over recent months, spending more and more time looking at tattoos, styles and influences, I stumbled across Trash Polka, a wild and frantic new style, mastered by Florian Karg in Germany. The style uses many fonts and character sizes, mashed together to make what can look like a ransom note style word layout. In heavy black, and purposely messy, with ink drops and splashes, the style would be perfect to stand out from the other two pieces, yet tie them together. Using the outline of the island, and the numbers making the coordinates of where we scattered the ashes, I came up with this concept.

Passing the numbers on to Michelle, she once again pulled all the stops out and created this little beauty.
The birds are both a trait of the style, but also a very common sight around the island, so fitted perfectly
Now we had almost the complete and perfect idea, but it was missing one thing, just a little more content and depth.

Time to take another influence from another of Karg's pieces, crosses and beams, again in the very heavy ink, but in a brush stroke style. Making a cross would show respect, highlight subtly the fact it was a tribute, and just tie the piece together once and for all. The day came for tattoo #11, and when all the machines had stopped buzzing, this was what was left. First picture is a close up of the piece, the second picture is of 9, 10 and 11 all together.
Note the subtle 1 and 4 in the design in red. That is my little egotistical touch, being born on the 14th of February, with both mum and Joan being born on the 23rd and 27th respectively, I just wanted to put myself in the mix somehow.

So, here is tattoo #11

By April of 2014 I had decided that it was time to take a break from getting tribute tattoos. Not that I didn't feel the same way about them, but it was time to get something for myself. Looking back on the intentions of tattoo #7, I decided I wanted to try again, and find something big and bold. Interesting to look at, but at the same time to have something with significance to what I was trying to achieve.
For a year or so I had been driving past a Chinese restaurant in South London on the way to work in the mornings. Each time I did, I was presented with two Foo Dog statues, a male an female pair. Used to guard the gateway to places traditionally, striking the balance of fierce protector, and nurturing mother. It was an idea for a tattoo I had long liked, but understanding the balance between them, it was soon obvious that if I got one, I would have to have a pair. So what better place to plan one than the bicep / shoulder area. Flanking my body, setting up a perimeter of protection around me. I was soon sold on the idea. Obviously a problem presents itself with tattoo #3 being on my right bicep, but that was something to worry about later.

For now tattoo #12 was about to become a reality.
I took my camera with me and grabbed a couple of shots of the Foo's, and then found the perfect reference image from Google, then handed the idea to Michelle once again for her touch.
The reference work is below.

As you can see from the top image, the pagoda in the background really makes the whole idea pop much more. Colour scheme was going to be a difficult choice though. I didn't want it heavy and bold, not feint and grey. So doing some more searching I found pictures of them made in metals, so we went with a copper / bronze colour with some green hints to accentuate it a little. The eventual piece was never meant to be as big as it turned out. But while in the shop with Michelle and her super-sized line drawing of the final design, and working out the placement for the piece, it became apparent that the larger version worked perfectly where it sat, so we left the size as it was and went shoulder to elbow.

Again, the finished piece was beyond my expectations in both detail and presence. Some won't like the colour palette chosen, but for me it strikes the perfect balance I was looking for.
Presenting, tattoo #12

To date this was my most visible tattoo to date, and the shorts and t-shirt rule was well and truly broken. That said, I was 41 by this time, so who cares what other people think eh!

Now for the next piece everything becomes a bit of a jumble. Timelines go all over the place, so let me explain a bit. A couple of years before, a very dear friend of mine Graeme had passed away. Far to young, and leaving a huge void in my life. His life truly deserved remembering in a tattoo, but the right idea had evaded me for a long time. I like my tattoos to tell a story, but without shouting it too clearly and loudly. It would need to be something that truly meant something.
Now in 2012 a new series hit the screens of US television, Ink Master. While on holiday out there, getting ready to go out for the day I just caught the commercial for it, and it looked good. Sadly before it aired I would be back in the UK. Not wanting to miss out, I found a way to watch the series back at home.

As the seasons rolled on it reached season 3, and featured two artists and a style I had really not seen much of before. They were Craig Foster and Jime Litwalk, and the style was "New School". Big bold pieces, bright colours, and challenging every boundary traditional style tattooing had ever set. I was immediately in love! Knowing I would travel back to the US that summer, I threw emails out hoping to get a piece from one of them. Sadly Jime was working at H&H in Orlando at the time, and they were very vague about being able to make an appointment with him, so I switched my attention to Craig. Based in Carrolton, Georgia, he was going to be a bit further away, but his style was wild, so worth the trip.

Email's were exchanged, an ideas thrown around. But no solid agreement to do a piece, or commitment to a date. A week or so before flying out to Florida in the summer of  2014, Craig got in touch and said he could fit me in the next week. It was a deal, and we set the date.
The full story of the trip, complete with pictures can be found here...

The above link is worth reading in itself as it details the full story of the meaning behind the tattoo, how the final design came about, and how the day went. I won't repeat it all here again, but it's a good tale.

Short version though. Met Craig Foster, my new tattoo idol, 100% genuine nice guy. Came up with a design on the spot and draw it there and then. Encompassed everything I wanted to simply.

The bit worth reflecting on here though is the different experience. This was my first international tattoo, first new school piece, and would be my longest sitting to date, taking about 6 hours in total. The location chosen on my inner lower leg was interesting too. The difference between normal tattoos even with quite heavy colour saturation, and a new school piece is tough to explain, but this is the way I have always tried to explain it to people.
Imagine yourself doing a drawing with a pencil. You draw the outline, then tilt the pencil to the side, and shade, adding more layers for a gradient effect, and working back and forth until the desired finish is achieved.
Now take the same drawing but decide you want colours in it. To really make it pop the colour has to be solid and heavily saturated. To get this effect you need to press a little harder, work the area more, and not stop until there are no gaps in the colour. Where colours or shades of a colour meet you work over them again to get the right blend. In short, new school works the skin a lot more than some other styles, and unlike even sold colours, the difference here is the number of times the same area will get worked. It can be quite sore but so worth it!

The finished result blew me away. Here is my tribute tattoo to Graeme Breen, RIP my friend. Tattoo #13
Note also the line drawing Craig had done on the day. Refinished, signed and presented to me as a keepsake.

I now had a new love for tattoos, and the industry in my eyes had now moved on yet another step. New school fascinated me, but I was still very much in touch with the other styles too.

For tattoo 14, an opportunity presented itself to me, finding out that Craig Foster would be travelling to the Netherlands for a week, to guest spot in a local studio. That of a very talented lady Verlee London. It was pretty short notice really, but not an opportunity that I could easily pass off. Much more local than Georgia in the USA, I had to go. Problem was I had absolutely no idea what I wanted.This was just going to be a fun tattoo, for the sake of it. Not something I have really done up until this point. Knowing it would be in new school, I knew I could have some fun, so I decided to go with a little piece to show my love for my two Alaskan Malamutes (dogs!) Taking some cartoon reference pieces, and sending them to Craig, by the time we arrived in Alkmaar, he had the plan in his head.

In typical Craig fashion, the artwork was done there and then before my eyes. And a very relaxed time was had during the whole process. Once again I blogged the whole experience, so the full story is here....

Shortened version, me, my girlfriend at the time, and a good friend Jason piled into a Mini, drove to Dover, got the ferry to Calais and drive 350 miles to The Netherlands, had lunch, I sat for the tattoo, then we reversed the trip. 24 hours, 4 countries, 700 miles, and a great adventure.

The end result of the trip was a pretty sore leg, and an amazing piece of art.
Tattoo #14 Image shows, reference images, drawn design, and the final piece.

I now took a rest from tattoos for a while, to allow my mind to consider what was next, what the end goal was with the pieces, and tying them together etc. Over the winter I had many ideas, but none that would actually make it into a tattoo, not for the time being anyway.
As summer came around, I was fortunate enough to be dumped by my girlfriend of 12 years, so suddenly found myself a little bit of a free spirit, and the ideas I had put to bed started coming back into the foreground of my mind.

With no deliberate connection between being dumped, and the next choice of piece, the first idea to come back from the archives of my mind was a Day of the Dead girl. A style I have loved for a long time now, but one which has so many variations, it is hard to be both creative and original. As usual, I got digging through the internet for inspiration, and put Michelle on warning that I had a new idea brewing. After a meeting with her to discuss location, size and ideas, I went away, and as usual came up with a wonderful design brief for her. As seen below. It was again one of those ideas which I could see in my mind, but was completely unable to translate into an image. This was my best shot.

My idea was to take a praying Mary image, and turn it into a praying Day of the Dead girl. Original image on the left, with my drawing of some DOTD make-up on her face, hands repositioned slightly to shorten and condense the image, and a patterned extension to the hood. This was probably my best design brief ever! And will probably remain that way.
Needless to say I didn't actually want the face in the image, so supplied a few new examples of make-up and faces. And this is how the design came back to me.

My brief on the right, Michelle's design on the left. As usual I was gobsmacked and delighted, so we got on with it. It was to be a pretty quick piece, as it was all being done in black and grey for once, with tiny red highlights for the hood pattern. 2 sittings later and the piece had exploded to life on my leg, and was positioned perfectly to be shown off in shorts.

So here is tattoo #15
2 images, one a little closer, to show the attention to detail.

By this point I was in full solo swing. Ready to get out there and get all the tattoos I have ever wanted. Not that anyone had ever stopped me before, but because deep down inside being tattooed is the normal thing for me to do when I'm feeling crap about something, and need a distraction.
Unfortunately my mind was about to take over, and by the end of the summer of 2015 I was hitting rock bottom. Realising I was falling deep into depression, I needed to fight as hard as possible to stay afloat.
I needed something different, an inkervention!

Since my love of new school tattoos had been born, I had followed a guy by the name of Craig Measures on Instagram. Some of the work he puts out is amazing, taking animation style images, and making them pop from the skin of the person. Bright, bold colours, edgy designs, and the sort of thing if you can imagine it, he can create it. So in November, reaching the point of knowing I needed to do something, I stumbled across a post from him on Instagram saying he had free days that week.
Email fired off immediately, and discussion of what I wanted started. My brief was simple, yet complex. I wanted a cartoon angry hulk, not playful, angry! But wanted it to represent me smashing through the barriers before me, and fighting back against my depression. Not in a deep and sad way, but in Craig's bright, animated way. An evening of emails and sketches later, and I set off for Birmingham, UK.

Driving up there that morning, I was fully aware that we had agreed to do a whole day, bang it out in one go, and then I would have a late evening 120 mile drive home again. Aiming for about 7-8 hours, I was ready for this. Whatever happened this was going to be a new record for me for a single tattoo sitting. Of course, it over ran, and we reached somewhere in the region of 10 hours in the end. Fun day all the same. Lots of laughter, conversation and movies watched. Would happily do it again, and have already discussed the next piece, which is yet to happen.

The trip was totally worth it, and this is what I came away with. Not only was it the longest tattoo sitting I have ever had, but also probably the largest colour palette ever used on me. On the day Craig was "experimenting" you might say, using a wider range of the pre mixed colours he has, rather than the more traditional way of mixing with white to make lighter tones to blend with.

So here is the palette and the finished piece.
Tattoo #16 Angry Hulk smashing through a field of candy.

The joys of being a sponsored artist, with all your inks supplied. It is fair to say that both Craig Measures and Craig Foster have a wide range to choose from thanks to their sponsors. And of course, the customer benefits big time!

Craig Measure's options for colours...

Now I know what you are thinking by this point. How many more for goodness sakes. Well, good news. This is the last one. Tattoo #17 Word star.
As my recent trip through depression has shown me, there are a few key things in life which help us through hard times. Some others give, some we have to find in ourself. As my strength returned, and my mind started to settle, I decided I wanted a reminder. I already have the Hulk to remind me of the fight, and how I push back with positivity, but now I wanted something a little simple and sincere.
In my usual style, not wanting a readable and easy to interpret tattoo, after consultation with people I decided to go with Latin. I found the style I wanted to get, knew where abouts I wanted it, but was stuck with the complete design. Eventually deciding to get the word star done on its own, and carefully consider what comes next. I have of course, since this piece was completed, decided on what comes next.

Choosing the words carefully, and deciding how they should be laid out. Even going to the extent of choosing the font I wanted to use, which is Corsiva out of interest, the idea was ready, I just needed Michelle to work her magic on it. This was going to be a pretty simple, single sitting piece, pretty large really, but easy to knock out. And it was done. On the same day a good friend had her tattoo completed, I got my word star started and finished.
So here it is, the final piece in the story so far.
Tattoo #17 Word Star

It means a lot to me, and is nice to be building a collection of tattoos which remind me of my own personal battles, and not just the people I have lost in life. All the styles I have had, and all the reasons for getting tattoos are equally important to me. Nothing is regretted, and I can look at each of them the same way someone would look through a photo album. I am immediately taken back to the moment which inspired the piece, and can smile or pay my respects to the moment.

So that is the end of the story of my tattoos so far.
I should add that I am seeing Craig Foster at a tattoo convention this weekend, where me and a friend will be tattooed by him. My design brief has already been forwarded to him, and involves animated new school marshmallows. I am sure I will share the finished piece when it is done. This piece will almost complete the wrap of the lower leg sleeve of new school pieces.
The word star will also soon be joined by an idea I have of a Daruma Doll. This will also almost complete the right lower leg sleeve. So I will have the left leg in colourful new school, and the right in black and grey.
Roll on the summer and the dirty looks, and occasional smiles of admiration.

Thank you for reading all of this, even if you just looked at the pictures and skimmed the words.

All that is left for me to do is share some links of art and info from some of the artists mentioned above, and express my sincere thanks and gratitude to them all for working with me, I know I can be awkward, but I like to think that between my mind and your talents, we have created some amazing pieces and memories together.

Here's to the continuation of the story.

Michelle Collenette

Craig Foster

Craig Measures