Getting a tattoo is a painful process, but it has the silver lining of gaining a piece of art on your body. There are many reasons to get a tattoo—some of them being more common than others — such as honoring a loved one or commemorating an experience. The act of tattooing is not a one-sided experience; you have to consider the side of the artist. A tattoo artist is personally invested in the piece because it reflects their capability as an artist and represents the parlor where they are working. A person can get a tattoo to deal with personal adversity, but how does an artist working on a piece react when they receive news of tragedy?
Around two months ago, I was in the second session of a 12-hour long piece. In between the buzzing of my artist's hammer and the sweat and blood coming from my left shoulder, a new type of pain entered the room. A close friend of my artist had entered the parlor and delivered news of a friend's passing the night before. It was evident that the artist was in pain and in shock after losing someone close to him so unexpectedly.
After a few minutes of silence, I expressed my condolences and informed him it was completely understandable if he wanted to stop the session and complete it another time. Without hesitation, he said all he wanted was "a short cigarette break," and then he would resume.
When he returned from his break, the mood in the room was somber. The buzzing of the needle was the only sound for a few minutes. As the artist worked on shading my piece, I watched as the expression on his face slowly changed from one of pain to tranquility.
There was an odd duality between my piece and the artist’s situation. The inspiration for my raven was originally a tongue-in-cheek reference to Edgar Allan Poe and a fondness for his poem, "The Raven." But after getting into a serious accident that placed me in the hospital for a week, I developed a much stronger connection to Poe's writing and my interpretation of "The Raven." My artist knew about this going into the piece, and it was evident he understood its importance to me. The significance of this piece grew as the passing of my artist's friend had now became an unwelcomed but accepted factor in the creation of my tattoo.
The act of tattooing had become like a mantra for my artist. Rather than escaping the mourning process, he utilized tattooing as a vehicle to accept the tragedy. The beauty of what I had witnessed was a rare expression of art as therapy — specifically how performing one's craft can be used as a means to deal with the outside negativity impacting an artist's psyche.
Once the piece was completed, we discussed the tattoo and the events of the day over a brief lunch. He explained that he had a lot of fun working on my piece. I was not so much surprised as much as I was grateful to hear he found some positivity in completing my project. I walked away from our final session learning two things—I had found the artist I wanted to complete all my future projects, and the power of utilizing one's art craft as an expression of healing is strong.