Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Permanent Art of Tattoo

Yours Truly and My Annie, London, UK, 1990

Annie and Yours Truly, 23 years later, Orlando, FL this week (that's one old hat!)

Personal Connections

If you have ever watched that show America's Worst Tattoos on TLC, you already know that if your ink is bad, tired, or if you find yourself with your X's name emblazoned on your chest, you can always get NEW ink to cover it up. And what's more fun than new ink?

I worked and lived in London for six months on a work permit in 1990. Upon arrival, all the students from BUNAC were looking for jobs and housing together. I had arrived from the great state of Massachusetts, and Annie had come from California. We got to know each other, ended up living together, and both secured jobs as chamber maids cleaning hotel rooms. Annie was supposed to live-in at her hotel, but the conditions were kind of cramped, so she stayed on my floor for months. We couldn't have been happier. 

One thing Annie and I realized early-on, was that despite her being born and raised in CA and me from MA, her father was originally from Boston. Not just any part of Boston, but from the very same neighborhood where my father grew up. Annie's Dad graduated high school with my Uncle Jim, the same high school my father attended. AND Annie's grandparents had a small market "Papplardo's Market" where my Nana used to send my Dad for break and milk. No kidding. This ink was Kismet!

Art Nouveau peafowl image 

To Get Inked or Not to Get Inked

By the time I met Annie, I already had my first tattoo, it was a peacock on my right shoulder. A lot of thought process and consideration went into my first ink. My favorite period of Art History is Art Nouveau, I love all the organic lines, swirling woman's hair, and curled tail feathers of exotic birds. The peacock was a recurring theme in the Art Nouveau style. My first tattoo was very special to me, I designed it and I was proud of it. 

At some point Annie, my roommate Dave, and I decided to commemorate our time in London, our friendship, and our experience living and working in a foreign land, by getting tattooed together. All three of us would get the same artwork, in the same place. That was the plan.

By the time the three of us made it to Marc Saint's Tattoo Studio on Portobello Road in London, Big Dave had chickened out––all 6-foot Ohio State rugby player of him! Annie and I were on our own in making this permanent artwork not only part of our bodies, but our hearts and souls.

Annie and the Man who chickened out

Marc Saints Tattoo Studio, with a name like Saint, how could we go wrong?

The art we decided to have permanently inked on us was drawn by Yours Truly. It was simple black line art (we were, after all, broke), a graphic dove outline with a peace sign in the middle. We were listening to a lot of The The's 1989 album "Mind Bomb" in our little flat those days, and I have to say that I think the back cover art kind of influenced our creativity. 

The back cover art from The The's "Mind Bomb" 

To Cover up or Embellish?

Annie and I had first played with the idea of adding to our tattoo when I went to visit her in CA this April. We loved that fact that 23-years later, we still had the story of that tattoo, to bring back so many wonderful memories of our time together. Any time in my life when someone asked me about that dove tattoo, I got to relive some pretty great stories. 

one of my initial sketches for adding to the existing art

After some discussion, Annie and I decided that the dove had lived a long 23-years and had probably run its course. We thought we'd cover it up with something more delicate and beautiful, all the while knowing that it would always be underneath. We were going to add to the art and the Story of Us. She would be in Florida in the months to come on business.

The Art of Tattoo Cover Up

I had to have my original peacock art covered up. That original ink from my senior year in college had faded and blurred and really was hard to discern. As much as I wanted to be a purist and keep it, I knew that I could not continue to answer the question "what is it?"

My sister, ever honest, pointed this out to me: "If anyone does the math on how OLD you have to be to get tattooed in the first place, and how LONG it takes for ink to get really worn down, is really going to get the idea how OLD you (we? she has inked art too) really are!" You need to get that re-done. 

And there it was.

I found an artist who was known for his cover up work here in Orlando, I interviewed him, I made an appointment, and I had him cover up my very first tattoo with new peacock art.

Rick Johnson of Orlando Brothers Tattoo is an artist, not only does he sketch out ideas for you by hand, but he's a great draftsman and very talented with the needle. Rick told me that he could always draw, he had that talent since he was young. It was his brother who first started tattooing in Daytona Beach, FL and taught him how to translate his artwork from paper to skin with the gun. 

"In those days I was a roofer, in Florida. That was a nasty job, hot, dirty and lots of hours." he said, "When my brother showed me how much better I could do in Daytona at bike week in his shop, I was hooked."

what is it? 

The master of cover up at work

um yeah, it hurts. 

Last Summer

Last Summer I got inked with my Dad, He wanted to honor his parents and he wanted to do it with me. He came to visit from MA and we went to see Rick. My Dad's birthday was what we were celebrating, so I decided to have tattoo art on my right ankle in honor of someone very special to me too. 

Dad and I had a great time that afternoon, laughing and talking about his old Navy tattoo and my peacock cover-up artwork from the summer before. I bought my Dad's ink for him, I told him it was my birthday gift to him. I gave Al a gift he will have forever, not only the tattoo, but the experience. He will always be able to tell the story of how the art honors his parents, how his daughter bought if for his birthday, and how we both got tattoos together that day. That's sentimental.

My Dad down from MA, Rick Johnson, Yours Truly

My Dad got art and ink in memory of his parents. My Grandpa was French Canadian and my Nana was Irish.

I got a pink rose, the flower that was planted in Lockerbie in memory of my friend Suzanne 25-years ago when she died in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. A little Art Nouveau flare in my design.

This Week

Annie and I made our way to Rick's new space on Lee Road in Orlando. On the way there, we still had not worked out a good sketch. We had faith in each other and in Rick that we would come up with an idea. Since I had suggested and drawn the Dove art back in 1990, I was really glad when Annie came up with the idea of cherry blossoms as our art. "Think about it" she said, "they are short lived, beautiful blooms. For the Japanese the represent the frailty and fragility of life. World War II pilots had them painted on their planes."  And there it was. 

Rick quickly sketched out this cherry blossom shape to not only with perfect petals to envelope the Dove, but also to represent. He listened closely to our story, and he took it all into account before he went to sketch. 

"Two blooms, for two friends, " he said "and one blossom to represent new life, future experiences together." It was perfect. 

Rick Johnson's sketch for our cover-up work

Annie and Yours Truly have added a chapter to the Story of Us

From the Heart

Tattoos are artwork that you can take with you everywhere you go. When someone asks you about your ink, you can smile and remember a story, a loved one, an experience. This artwork is always with you, it's a part of you. Whether you get tattooed with your friend from college for the first time ever, with someone you met in a far away land who became one of the best friends you've ever had, your beloved father, or even your fun loving sister (yeah, she's coming next month! but she's going to Rick with my moral support only). It's art that evokes memories.

Annie put it really well that afternoon at Orlando Brothers Tattoo. She said, "For me it's about the experience and the underlying meaning of the image we choose. I am not an artist, so I cannot make a drawing, or art direct the design, I put that in the capable hands of the tattoo artist. I'll always have a very special place in my heart for the connections we have to each other, to the Peace Dove and to the idea that you have to cherish every moment you have in life, because the bloom of the Cherry Blossom is short." 

And we looked at the flowers and agreed, "it's so pretty!"

Thank you for being a part of my Art Journey,


  1. From my Dad via email:
    I was reading your blog this a m about your new ink with ann pappalardo
    that's quite the story how you two hooked up,and her being from Lawrence.
    tony and I used to stop in there mkt all the time.
    I was thinking about my upcoming b day and thought about our getting tattoos
    together,that was a day that will always be in my memory.
    we need to do one more some day
    you were quite a porker in those days!!
    I can picture you clearly,when we visited you at cuse,you didn't worry about calories too much then. you were always happy.
    sorry I missed talking to you the other day, I take it your were driving.
    look for you b day present tomorrow!
    happy b day bethie poo, I can remember the day you were born,i was out deep sea fishing,and Charlie brought mom to the hosp.
    I drove to the hosp and saw my beautifull daughter with all the dark hair
    and the beautifull blue eyes, I was so proud!!
    before long we had you eating steamers and sipping beer!
    I was so proud of you,hanging out with the guys.
    love you beth

  2. I really enjoyed this story. The fact that your ink has meaning and they are very beautiful, too, makes it so much more special. I don't have any ink - think I'm too old now - but just for a minute, I wish I did!

  3. Thank you Beckie. And I beg to differ, you are never too old. When was the last time you did something for the first time? :) Elizabeth.

  4. Such a cool read - I’m from london and used to pass saints studio all the time - it had an air of intrigue about it

    1. Thank you so much! I wish I still lived in London, and how funny that you used to pass his studio. It's a small world, for sure!


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