The Tattoo Project
This is what I look like now. For the complete story of how this came to be, read on. Or just enjoy the pictures.
How I avoided getting tattooed for so long.
Since I was young, I have been fascinated by people who were tattooed. Whether they were the sailors, circus side show people, outlaw bikers, or just plain folks who had tattoos, they were always interesting.
It was also strongly conveyed to me by parents, members of my extended family and the community in which I was raised that I should never be tattooed. Tattoos were for someone else, not "us".
Much of this was based in culture and religion. I was born and raised Jewish and learned that the Torah specifically forbids Jews from being tattooed (Leviticus 19.28). I was also (incorrectly) told that a Jew who is tattooed would not be permitted to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. The final reasons Jews were not to be tattooed had to do with the Holocaust. Jews taken to concentration camps had numbers tattooed on their wrists to identify them. The tattoo numbers on their wrists became a reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. Tattoos were for others, not Jews.
I also believe there was also another reason for the antipathy. Getting a tattoo is a primitive ritual, involving sexuality and the body. This was off putting to many members of my parents and grandparents generation. So I was admonished to never get a tattoo.
As I became an adult and started to relate to many non Jews, I can into contact with many who had either small or large tattoos. The permanence of the act of getting tattooed scared me. What if I made a "mistake"? What if I chose a design, and then regretted it later?
Together, all those forces inside of me stopped me from considering getting a tattoo. In recent years, I looked admiringly and longingly at others who had tattoos. They had "owned" their body and skin in a way that I never did. I wanted to own my body.
I was also scared about how far I might want to take this. I have always liked doing things with a passion, and wondered if I started, would I want to get a lot of my skin tattooed?
So for many years, I did nothing about this other than look. I said to myself I would get a tattoo if I could ever figure out what I would want to get a tattoo of, but never figured that out.
During the 1990's, I took many pictures of the people at the Folsom Street Fair and the Dore Alley Fair. I often concentrated on their tattoos, body piercings or other body modifications. When I saw a tattoo I admired, I would ask "Who did the work". A large number of times the response was Maddog. This is the professional name of Robert Roberts, an artist living and working in San Francisco.
1995 - Around 1995, one of my workout partners was going to have a tattoo applied by Maddog and I got to meet Maddog and watch the work being done. I spoke with him about an idea I had for a tattoo, a modern version of the Leonardo Da Vinci drawing of a man with arms and legs outstretched, framed in a circle and box. Maddog didn't think much of the idea, saying he thought it was too static an image. I listened carefully to what he had to say. He is a careful, thoughtful, sensitive artist and I knew that when I was ready, I would have him do the work.
1995-2004 - I thought about other ideas. One idea that kept coming back was a Phoenix, the mythological bird that is continually living, dying and being reborn, usually from the ashes of his burnt former body. In researching this idea, I find out that the Phoenix is a common myth in many cultures. To many in the West, it is a symbol of Christ. It also appears repeatedly in Chinese mythology. And there are references to the Phoenix in Jewish mythology. I continue to research the image but do not move forward with it.
2004 - The time of change.
Things began to change in a number of ways in 2004. On a vacation trip to Japan and China, I made a number of unexpected decisions. After working for the past 33 years as a queer marriage counselor, I decided it was time to retire. I stopped seeing clients at the end of July, 2004.
I also knew what I wanted in the way of a tattoo. I was inspired by China. I decided to have two tattoos applied.
June 19, 2004 - I am having my first tattoos applied. I decided to have the Hebrew name of my husband, Bob, tattooed on my left leg. I decided to have the name of my friend Frank, written in modern phonetic Chinese tattooed on the back of my right leg. During the previous week, Maddog and I met once in person and communicated via e mail and decided upon lettering.
Bob was there to take pictures. The photo on the left is after after the names have been transferred from the design paper to my legs. The middle photo is Maddog working. At the right is the completed work with one letter in Bob's Hebrew name not visible.
After I had these two tattoos applied, I kept thinking about a larger piece. The idea of a volcano kept going through my mind. In a lot of ways, I am like the Kilauea volcano Hawaii. I am constantly rumbling, but only occasionally exploding and virtually never blowing my top. But Kilauea as a volcano doesn't look very much like a volcano. Kilauea does not have the classic cone shape we associate with volcanoes. I play with this idea, researching possibilities on the web, and come up with nothing satisfying.
January, 2005 - I've been giving more and more thought to what I might want in the way of a tattoo, and have dropped the idea of a volcano. My thoughts go to my heritage as a Jew. I've been investigating Jewish iconography trying to understand what I might want.
March 13, 2005 - Getting a tattoo which depicts some aspect of the tribal nature of Judaism has been going through my head. And I also want the tattoo to have a primitive, sexual and masculine in feel. A lot to ask, but I came up with an idea. After talking with Maddog, he designed a menorah (candelabra), an ancient Jewish ritual item mentioned early in the Torah (Exodus 25:31-40). I asked him to use his artistic imagination around this loose set of instructions and he came up with a menorah using a cuneiform wedge shape as a building block of the menorah. I liked use of the cuneiform wedge; it gave the design an ancient look. I also liked on a metaphorical level the idea of a menorah gives off light and flames. It seemed to fit. I planned on having the work done.
Then, at about 5 PM one afternoon, a strange process began to happen. As I thought about the size and placement, I began to see grape vines framing the name tattoos and the menorah. Then after a few minutes, the menorah disappeared disappeared from my image of what might happen. The image that stayed with me, and the image that I have decided to get tattooed my body is that of a grape vine. The menorah may make an appearance eventually, perhaps on the side of my arm, but that will depend on how I feel about it after the vines are completed.
I like the grape vine on a literal and metaphorical level. I like how it looks. I like how it would look to have grape vines growing up my legs. It is an exciting image for me.
But on a metaphorical level, it has much greater meaning. Grape vines represent me. They get older each year, yet remain productive. The old vines each year produce new, young, foliage and fruit. It is an organic image, representing growth. The vines twist around each other at some points, and then separate and go out on their own ways. Sometimes they come back together; at other times they don’t. They put out tendrils, looking to see where else they can anchor as they grow older, thicker and more complex. I am like a grape vine. I decided to cover parts of my body with grape vines.
I had some more design consultations with Maddog and we came up with a set of ideas for the vines that make deep sense to me. After talking and trying slightly different forms, we can up with a set of design studies that would serve as the basis for the tattoo. Above left are three of those studies.
March 30, 2005 - The work begins. The picture on the left is the first days work. You can see the roots of the vines emerging and beginning to climb up my leg. Several leaves are beginning to emerge. This represents about an hour’s actual work.
The work will continue hopefully on a weekly basis and I will try to update this page to show you the work from week to week.
April 6, 2005 - The vines continue to grow up my leg. Grapes make their first appearance, as well as a large leaf on my calf. I am learning to make peace with the sensation of the needle.
April 12, 2005 - The vines are growing. Two hours work done on the leg. More vines, more leaves, more color. The below to the left are of today's work.
April 16, 2005 - Two more hours of needle work. The vines continue to grow. New leaves and grapes are appearing. And what do you know? A Monarch butterfly landed on the vine, and a spider built a web on another part of the vine. Go figure. The next work is scheduled for April 20, 2005. The major work on the left leg will be finished. There will still be other work to be done on that leg. The grapes will need to be colored, but all the coloring of the grapes will probably occur at the same time. And the green of the leaves will be overlayed with other colors. Pics at left.
April 20, 2005 - I spent about 2 1/2 hours with Maddog today. About half the time was designing today's work on my leg. He uses non toxic markers designed for kids to sketch out the basic design. He carefully takes into account the shapes until he gets it to a place where he likes it. Today he did that in red and the picture below shows that. Before he is ready to work, he redrew the lines with a darker purple marker so he could see which lines he wanted and which were errant. Then he begins with the needle.
Today, he worked on the left side of the left leg. All major designs for the leg are now in place. There is still a lot of coloring and shading to do. Some of this is waiting for the skin to heal. Much of it is because it has not yet been gotten to. Next time we will begin to work on the right leg and give the left leg time to heal.
April 22, 2005 - I spent another 2 1/2 hours with Maddog. Again, about half the time was his creating today's design on my leg and the other half of the time applying the needle and ink to my skin. Today we worked on the right leg for the first time. He did only the outline today and will fill in the colors later You can see in the picture on the left below that there is a gap in one of the vines as it goes up the leg. We are still talking about what to put there. A dragon fly might just appear. We are not sure yet whether it will be flying or have landed on the vine.
We also did a lot of talking about the vines on the upper part of my body. The images of where are still forming. I pretty much know where they will begin and how they will start to climb up the sides of my torso, but where they go after that is still under consideration. I want the vines to somehow compliment the masculine musculature, but what that will mean in practice is still to be seen. As always, at some point I simply say to Maddog, take what we have discussed and see where your artistic sense leads you.. That's the part where he is creating the design in magic marker. I go into a trance-like state resting there waiting for him to complete his design. Occasionally, I sneak a peek.
I have three appointments scheduled with Maddog for next week; Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
April 25, 2005 - It is spring all over California and all things are blooming, including the grape vines. After being pruned back for the winter, new leaves are appearing. Insects are doing their part to fertilize the flowers so grapes can appear. The cycle is continuing. In a few months, the grapes will be picked to eat fresh, make into preserves and for use in making vine.
Today, I spent 2 1/2 more hours spent with Maddog, working on the project. My vines are growing. Leaves are continuing to appear. Grapes are coming into being. Insects are doing their work. A dragon fly made an appearance. A ladybug landed on a leaf. (see photo at left). Again, about half the time today was designing the day's work, and the other half applying the outline. For the last three sessions, we have worked almost exclusively on the outline of parts of the vine. More of that to happen this Wednesday. Then, beginning on Friday, we will work on filling in lots of color in various places.
A lot of the work today was on the upper, inner part of right leg. Comparing the shots above with the shots below make today's work on the right leg obvious.
Body Image - The work is having a major impact on my body image. The brief history of my body image is as follows. I was teased by other boys about being skinny and and I thought that meant I was unattractive. But I was also getting positive feedback from my older female cousins, appreciative comments concerning the broadness of my shoulders, the large size of my biceps, calf muscles, and even to such features as my eyebrows. So I knew the boys thought I was skinny, but the girls were getting off on me. I was confused.
When I came out as a gay man I learned that I had in fact one of the iconic gay bodies. At 59, I amazingly still have essentially the same looking body as I had as a teenager. I was, and am, lean, ripped, muscular, vascular, hairless and smooth skinned. In addition, until recent years, my face looked considerably younger than my real age. When I was 18, I looked 12. At age 30 I was still asked for identification to get into New York City bars, at a time the drinking age was 18. So I soon learned that while I was not every gay men's "type", I was and still am considered extremely attractive to those gay men who have a significant erotic attraction for young looking lean, muscular, smooth skinned men. And I took advantage of that over the years.
But there was another side of me that never cared that I was considered good looking. The men to whom I was attracted, and who I wanted to be attracted to me were not the iconic beautiful types, but men with a lot more character, who I considered to be more interesting. Often there would be a slight to moderate "freaky" component to how they looked, and that could cover a wide range of possibilities. I internally identified both with my iconic gay body, and also identified as somewhat of a "freak" even though I didn't look the part.
Over the years, this has been in the background. In recent years, I have been getting away from the classic vgl look. I began shaving my head four years ago. Two years ago, I started to grow a long goatee that is now a 6 1/2 inch braid with a bead in it. I believe what I am doing in getting this large tattoo, is "freakifying" my body, but in a beautiful way. This is turning out to be one hell of a tattoo. I love it. It puts me into a "freak" class, but perhaps as a stunning freak. I feel more integrated. I am who I am.
April 27, 2005 - Today Maddog finished off the major outlining of the legs. We worked on the outside of the upper part of my right leg (see photo at left). It is also clear in this picture that he is following one of the major lines of musculature on my leg. He also applied a small amount of white ink to the butterfly on my left leg and in the wings of the dragon fly on my lower right leg. The dragon fly will also eventually have other colors, purples, blues, etc. to give the wings an iridescent look. On Friday we will begin to do some major coloring of the upper part of my left leg and my entire right leg. The legs are getting closer to completion. Then the work on my upper body will begin.
I have been getting good feedback from those who have seen the tattoos. I imagine that those who don't like them are probably keeping quiet. But the feedback I have been getting has been enthusiastic.
Observing the impact of all this tattoo work on my body has been interesting. I thought before this began that there was a possibility that no matter how good it looked, it might take awhile to adjust to the new image as the old image has been with me for so long. I found out I was wrong.
From the moment this project started. there was an emotional embracing of the tattoos on a fairly deep level. I was looking at them this morning and thinking that they don't feel new. They feel like they have been there a long time and are integrated into who I am. I suspect this will continue and get stronger in the next few sessions when the color is applied to my legs and the work begins on my torso.
April 29, 2005 - Today was the third time this week that I had Maddog work on the tattoo. A lot of progress has been made. We can actually see clearly that the work on the legs will end soon. I want this part of the project completed before I go on a 10 day vacation in Florida. That will happen in a little less than two weeks.
Today was all about COLOR and shading. No outlining was done today. There is still one area on my right leg where we will do some more outlining and coloring. But we haven't figured out what will go in that place.
The two colors that were applied today were brown in the vines, and green both in the vines and the leaves. It appears from work done earlier that my skin is more resistant to the green ink than any other color we have used. Maddog says this is common. Most people have more trouble with one color than any other, and it does not appear to follow a pattern. The scabs where he has put the green previously were larger and has taken longer to heal than for the black, red, orange or the other colors that has been used.
I also experienced today as a difficult day. First, he worked with the needle for three solid hours. And he worked in many places, including the upper part of my left leg and all over my right leg. And, second, I think I just felt a little off this morning. Combined, the two factors made this day a challenge.
I was more sensitive to the pain when he started; more sensitive than usual. We did work in a lot of areas where the skin is on bone and other sensitive tissue. I tried my hardest just to relax and accept what was happening, and to try to be with the experience. Mostly this worked, but it took a lot of "work". After awhile, the endorphin effect began and I wasn't reacting as sensitively as earlier in the day. Toward the end of the three hours, I began again to feel a greater level of distress. When it was done for today, I was happy and grateful.
The after effect of today has also been the most difficult. As this is being written, it is four hours later. Both legs feel quite sensitive and tender all over. Usually we work in a small area so the sensitivity is localized. Today it is all over both legs. I have been resting for the last hour. Now, I'll take off the plastic wrap that has been protecting the work an protecting my clothes from blood stains, and take a cold shower to wash away the blood. Then I will treat the tattoo with ointment and the process of healing can continue.
On Monday the grapes begin to get their color. Then, except for the area previously mentioned, it will be mostly touch up time. Below are the pictures of today's work.
May 2, 2005 - Today was a significant day in the tattoo project. Most of the work on the legs is now completed. If the project were to stop at this point, it would look complete, but there are several things that remain to do on the legs. The lady bug needs to be colored. The green leaves will probably be highlighted with small amounts of purple. The coloring of the vines might have to be evened out. Minor touch up will be necessary once healing is done and we can see what it actually looks like. For instance, the green scabs on all the leaves makes it impossible to know yet how much green is being absorbed. And there is still one area on the front of the upper portion of my right leg that will be filled in.
A lot of work was done today. Maddog worked on my legs for another three hours. All the grapes were colored, using two shades of purple and a shade of maroon. He also used the purple to highlight the wings on the dragon fly. Additional green was added to the leaves done early in the project, before it became apparent that I do not absorb green as much as other colors.
There will be at least a three week break in the work to let everything heal. During that period, I will be taking a vacation for ten days. This is very good timing because it will allow for this work to emotionally integrate, and to see what I want when the work resumes on my torso. Though I have a tendency to want to rush things, I know that most of what I have that I value today is because I was willing to be patient. So, I will try to be patient in the tattoo project, after a month of intense work.
The skin on my legs have been quite tender since the session three days ago on Friday. That was when Maddog did three hours of coloring in leaves and vines. Friday afternoon was the most physically intense period. There was a general pain in the skin of my legs all afternoon. The intensity has been getting progressively lessened as each day passed. I was walking with a slight limp this past weekend. My legs were feeling a lot better this morning. I will have to see how I feel later since I had another three hours of needle work today.
My usual choice to deal with this type of pain is is ibuprofen (Motrin, etc.). But I have avoided ibuprofen because it is also a blood thinner, and taking a blood thinner is not a good idea right now because doing so would increase bleeding at the next session. Instead, I have been using acetaminophen (Tylenol, etc.). I rarely use acetaminophen, but I have been using it a lot recently. I can now go back to ibuprofen since I won't have any work done now for several weeks, but I generally like to take this as few painkillers as I need. I don't however avoid it when I need it.
I've also been doing a lot of thinking and talking with Maddog about the work to be done on my torso. As of today, I am thinking I want the vines should begin again on my sides just above the waistline and continue up the sides, coming over the back of my shoulders, and around the side in the middle of my torso, perhaps framing my pectoral muscles. I am going to sit with different ideas and see what takes shape over the next few weeks, and then discuss it with Maddog.
I also did an Internet search for "new tattoo aftercare" and came up with many pages on the subject. What was interesting was how contradictory these pages were. All agreed that during the healing process you should not pick at the scabs, one should avoid the sun, and one should stay away from hot tubs or hot showers. But the suggestions as to kinds of ointments, etc. to treat and moisturize the tattoo and scabs is where the information became quite contradictory. I am reading all the suggestions, and then using my intuition and my knowledge of my skin to do what I believe is proper for my skin.
May 23, 2005 - It's now been three weeks since the last work was done. The tattoos have been healing. For the first week, there were green and to a lesser extent purple flakes of skin peeling from my body. This revealed the truer color of what lay underneath. Now, three weeks later there are still more small scabs of green skin still sticking to the skin. And I continue to be gentle with the tattoos, moisturizing them with Lubriderm, and not picking or rubbing them, letting heal at their own rate. The black and the brown of the vines healed considerably faster.
It's been quite a three weeks of reaction to the tattoo, both internally and from others. Each time I see them, I continue to feel a sense of comfort at how they look. On one level, I am feeling disconcerted in a minor way. This is not how I have looked for most of my life, and I feel the loss of how I previously looked. But this feeling is overwhelmed by the feeling of happiness. I believe I am understanding why some people as they get older tend to be quirkier than when they were young. They keep letting letting out the socially less acceptable parts of themselves out that they formerly kept more hidden.
I spent the last ten days in Florida. Keeping my legs out of the sun in Florida in May was a trick, but I managed to accomplish that. I used lots of sun screen, and kept my legs covered during the day with a pair of long legged bright blue light weight polyester exercise pants. I wore shorts as soon as the sun started to go down. And my legs did get a lot of looks. Bob and I walked many times up and down Ocean Drive in South Beach section of Miami Beach in the evening, looking at the people and the art deco buildings. The sidewalks of SoBe were lined with restaurants that have diners sitting at tables on the sidewalk. Sitting right there, these people were much more able to see my legs. And they did stare. Most began to smile. Several people commented positively. Anyone who had a negative reaction kept it to themselves.
And throughout the vacation, the same thing happened. Many positive comments, many positive looks. Those who are upset with the body art kept their thoughts and facial expressions to themselves.
In Florida, I began to notice that a surprisingly large number of people were showing tattoos. I had not realized how popular tattoos have gotten in some circles. I saw several TV commercials, one for the GAP, that had models with extensive body tattooing. While those tattoos are almost certainly body paint applied to a highly paid model, it is interesting to see that tattoos have become part of the popular culture. And of course, this is a "fad" that cannot go away. Virtually all of those who have tattoos will have those tattoos until their demise. And most are younger then me. There is a comfort in that permanency.Today, Maddog and I began to design the where the grape vines will go on the upper parts of the body. We decided to have the vines start again on the side of my torso slightly above where they ended on my hip in a mirroring pattern. The vines will then rise up the side of my torso, and make a turn to cross my chest under my pectorals. Then they circle up the pectorals, coming close together near the center of my chest before separating again and then go over my shoulders and to make a collar where they connect around the back of my neck/shoulders. We also discussed prominent placement of a grape leaf on one pectoral, and a bunch of grapes on the other pectoral. And, we discussed various critters might make an appearance here or there.
I've made a number of appointments during the next few weeks to have the work done.
May 25, 2005 - The work on the torso began today. Since the last design session five days ago, I have given the route of the vine on my torso a lot of thought. Much of this involved small details as to the course of the vine. I wanted to have the vines frame my pectoral muscles, following the route an artist would draw if they wanted to do a simple sketch me. The vines they would use to define my chest area. Much thought also went into the course of the vines up the sides of my torso and how they would go over my shoulders and circle the upper part of my back.
On the left is the basic course of where the vines will go on my chest, without leaves or grapes included. The middle picture shows the preparation work for the vines on my upper back. The picture on the right is the outlining work done today. The plan is to do all the outlining of the work on the torso before beginning to color it in.
The design part is perhaps the most exciting, with the actual needle work being the culmination of the long design process. One of the things that has become obvious as we did the design on the torso is that much of this work will pass over and cover sensitive skin on bone. The bones in my ribs, collar, shoulders are all pronounced and tattooing skin over bone is more sensitive than skin covering muscle. But it has to be done if I am to get the design I want tattooed on my body. I take a stoic approach to the pain/sensation. Yes it is there, and there is no way around it but to experience it. It is not as annoyingly bad as many people anticipate. If fact, it is quite different from what might be expected. It is what is is, and is part of the process.
Overall, I spent about two hours with Maddog today; more than half of it in the design stage and the last part doing the work.
May 31, 2005 - The work on the torso continued today. For the first time, we are working on my chest. For that reason, it seems like a significant piece of work. One has to look down to see the work on the legs, but the work on the chest is at eye level.
Several days has passed since the work on my back. That outlining work is healing and looking good. The work on my legs is now almost completely headed. There are still a few small "scabs", but I can now see how the color and texture of the work actually looks. I am pleased. No two leaves look the same. All are colored slightly differently, as are the grapes and the vines.
The work continues to get attention. It is still interesting to see how people notice the work when I am wearing shorts, but only a few will comment upon it.
Today's work was on the left side of my chest. The pictures show the work outlined in marker and then the completed work in ink. After beginning the work today, I realized there were not enough grapes in the design so we modified the original design, particularly under my pectoral to add more grapes. There is an area on the side of my left torso where the work had to stop today. There is the beginning of an outline of a leaf, but there will also be more grapes and another butterfly there. I have not decided what kind what kind of butterfly will be put there yet, but it will be colorful. I also decided that the bird I will have done on the front on my right upper leg with have blue and other colors in it; it will be brightly feathered bird.
There is also a wonderful chemistry between myself and Maddog. He has been playing and we have been discussing various forms of music while the work is being done. In the past session on Friday, it was a recoding of popular Jamaican calypso music recorded by anthropological musicologists in the 1930's. All the roots of what we think of as calypso music now was there in the 1930's. Today, Maddog played "Le beouf sur the toit" (The bull on the roof), and other music by Darius Milhaud, written in the early 1920's. It is clear that Milhaud influenced where the course of modern music has gone, as I hear his influence in other modern composers, including Leonard Bernstein. When I got home, I had an e mail from Maddog saying this morning's session "had a special flow to it", and I agree. While much of the work on my torso will be done on bone (since I am a lean person), and work on bone is especially sensitive, the time went quickly and the pain/sensation seemed like something to just let be.
As I look at today's pictures, I can't also help but notice I look to be in spectacular shape for someone who will be 60 in a few months. Life is strange.
June 5, 2005 - The work today was outlining the vines, leaves and grapes on the right side of my chest and torso. I spent 2 1/4 hours with Maddog, about an hour of design and an hour and a half of needle work. Today's work complimented the work done this past Tuesday. This coming Tuesday, we will finish the work outlining the torso by continuing the vines from where they now leave off on each side of my torso. The vines will move down toward my groin, making an uncompleted v just above my groin. An inch worm made an appearance today on the back side of my left shoulder.
In one of the next few session, a blue bird is likely to find himself making an appearance on the front of my right leg. There was a space there that was left open when working on my legs, because we weren't sure what belonged there. Now it is apparent that space belongs to a bluebird (of happiness).
While all the work has been having a profound effect on me, that process has picked up momentum this week due to the work on the chest. And I still have not had time to see the impact of today's work on my psyche. It is only a couple of hours after the work is done that I am writing this, and today's work is still bandaged up. I see the work on my chest when I look in the mirror in the morning. I see it at different times during the day. It cannot be ignored. It is now a part of how I present myself to others. I look different. And the color is not yet added. The work has a beauty of itself just in black outline. Cruder but still powerful.
I also decided that when this is finished, I want some pictures of myself and the work taken in a vineyard. It just seems appropriate.
June 7, 2005 - I spent 2 hour with Maddog today, half in design and half in application. Today's work was on extending the vines downward on both sides of my torso. A bird landed on a branch on my right leg. All the work done today was outlining. The next session will be the first of two major coloring session. At that point, after some touch up work, the work will be done, for now. The work today was primarily on bone (ribs, hip), and other sensitive tissue area. As originally planned, the vines on my torso weren't going to be directly connected to the vines on my legs. The plan was to leave an open space for aesthetic reasons, understanding that the mind of the viewer would connect the vines. But as we created the design today, it was clear the upper body vines should interweave with each the vines on the legs. The pictures show the outlining work today, along with the bird. Another butterfly made an appearance on the left side of my torso. This butterfly will be of the species Robertus Maddogus, a species that only exists in the mind of the tattoo artist.
June 12, 2005 - Today was a day of color and pain. Two hours of needle work, most of it on bone (hip, ribs, collar, sternum). I am continuing to take a stoic approach. The work is progressing. The vines on my back and on the right side of my torso were colored in a slightly different brown, for these are different vines than the others. The leaves were colored in green, of course.
June 21, 2005 - The project is getting ever closer to completion. Today, another three hours of needle work. A lot of the critters were filled in. The lady bug is now red. The blue bird got some red feathers. The butterfly and the inch worm are now further colored. Most of the work done today was on the vines and leaves on the left side of my torso. The last major component still needed to be filled in are the grapes. That will happen in the next session. Then, a session of touching up, a month of so rest to let heal, and then perhaps another session to further touch up or finish any work that is needed.
It has been interesting to note people's reactions to the tattoos and the questions they ask. The most common comments are either some version of "Wow, that looks great" or "That's unique. I've never seen any tattoo like that." The most common questions I get from people is when they ask "How did you choose a design?" (Most of these people who say indicate they might get a tattoo if they could figure out what they want) and the ever present question from many people "How much did it hurt?"
Dionysus - Upon seeing the grape vines, a lot of people ask/assume I am into wine. I respond that I do occasionally like a glass of an especially fine red wine, but I don't drink much wine (I have never cared much for alcohol). Surprised at hearing this response, they ask what is this about, and I tell them, "Think Dionysus" and let them make their own conclusions.
There are several myths as to Dionysus's origin. Dionysus, and his Roman equivalent Bacchus, is usually depicted as a scantily clad youthful god, crowned with grape vines, grape leaves and grapes. He is the patron god of vine, and is also the god of fertility, vegetation, and the patron god of the Greek theater. He is the god of ecstatic physical love and spiritual intoxication (and both go together). He takes people from the drudgery of their lives into the ecstatic realms, liberating them from the confines of their minds and bodies. He is a sex positive god. So, when people ask me to help them understand why I chose grape vines, I say "Think Dionysus"
June 23, 2005 - Today, after a bit over two hours of needle work, all major work was completed. Essentially the project is finished. The grapes on my torso, the blue bird, the dragon fly and the second butterfly all got their final doses of color. Now is a time for rest and healing. The work today was once again quite painful, as most of the coloring took place directly on bones, primarily on my chest. I did make another appointment with Maddog for July 11, 2005 After a time of healing, we will go over the design in detail and see where any touch ups will be needed. But essentially the project is finished. It is a time for me to contemplate what has happened. When I get a better sense of how this is for me, I will add to this journal, but the journal is essentially complete at this point.
The adding of the final blue color to the dragon fly changed the nature of that critter completely. This had been planned, but until now, the dominant color was the pink. While the pink is still dominant in one way, the blue and the white in the tips make for a visual image that is closer to the iridescent effect that was originally intended. The adding of the blue, yellow and white to the blue bird (species bluebirdus maddogus) has given the bird it's character.
In the picture below of the orange butterfly (species robertus maddogus), one can see in the leaf what the green coloring looks like with two days of healing. The green will scab more, and then flake off, and take about a month to fully heal if this follows the course of healing of the green on my legs.
I will also add some additional pictures of the work once the healing is complete. Does anyone know of a winery that will allow me to pose for some pictures in their vineyard?
July 11, 2005 - I had a touch up session with Maddog. He worked for about an hour on the vines on my legs and some leaves on my right legs. The work on the torso did not need any touch up work. He darkened the vines and added more green to some of the leaves. This was a mixture of green and black ink to give those leaves more contrast. Several seemed a bit on the wimpy side. So now the work is actually done.
I have also been continuing with a long standing photo project that I started in about 1990 of taking photos of some of the people in the SOMA community in San Francisco. These are often the more colorful, eccentric, and interesting people. There is a difference though in the chemistry between photographer and subject. I am finding that when I approach my subjects and ask if I can take their picture, their reaction to me with all the body art is more relaxed than before I had the body art. The conversation tends to be more mutual. I am looking forward to this year's Dore Alley Fair and the Folsom Street Fair where I can show off my new body art, and take hundreds of photos of other interesting looking people.
I do not know what else I might go eventually, but I am fairly certain there will be more ink work. Areas where I have been thinking is my back, which would be one big piece, and my shoulders/arms. No ideas at present make sense but I'll know when that happens. And I believe it will happen if I think about it enough. For now, I am just enjoying what I've had done and now yet thinking about what I might want.
August 28, 2005 - It has been two months since I had the work done. A lot of people have seen the body art. A lot of people have asked to take pictures at public gatherings like the Dore Alley Fair and the Sturgis Bike Week. All the feedback that I get range from favorable to ecstatic. I am feeling much better and more integrated. I've thought about the possibility of more body art but have no idea as to what might go with what I have. I am open to suggestions. Please let me know if you have any. I will know what is right for me and your suggestion might lead me to think about other possibilities. There are large areas of my back and shoulders/arms that will be filled in someday.
Mid July, 2006 – It has been over a year since the grape vine tattoos were completed. All the feedback I have had has been positive. I imagine those who do not care for the tattoos have kept their view to themselves. I am feeling quite comfortable with the work. My self identity is now that of a tattooed person. It was a long time coming and it feels very good. In early July, I got a septum piercing, and had two large gold rings put into my ears. These gold rings were bought the first time I my nipples pierced, in 1978.
But I also knew from the time that the grape vines were completed that the work is not finished. For a long time I did not know what else I wanted to add. I had an idea from the beginning that I wanted some sort of portrait on my back, but was never sure specifically what I wanted. I also knew that whatever I had done, I wanted it to be sexual, provocative, and personally meaningful to me. I wanted something which I felt represented who I was.
On a trip to New York City, Bob and I had dinner with his cousin and his cousin’s wife. She mentioned their son has a tattoo of the hand of God tattoo taken from Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Suddenly an idea came to me. Two male figures. One more Dominant, the other looking submissive. It seemed right. I liked the feeing that was conveyed in the Creation of Adam. What I saw when I looked at the original was something that embodied creation; love, sex, spirituality and connection. I decided I wanted a tattoo on my back that would be an homage to Michelangelo’s work, but different in significant ways. When I got back to San Francisco, I gave Maddog a call and said I wanted to start the design process for the new tattoo.
July 26, 2006 – I met with Maddog to discuss my initial concepts of the design. We discussed the emotions I wanted the figures to convey. That was difficult to convey in words. Much of it was about the multi leveled nature of the connection between the two figures. I wanted the figures to be both equal, yet one clearly more Dominant, with each in an I/Thou relationship (thank you Martin Buber) with the other. Creation, love, sex and spirituality also needed to be conveyed. He said he would think about it. A week later I got an email from him saying this one was difficult and he wanted more time to think about it. He also said he was going to have a rush of customers who wanted work done before the Folsom Street Fair and that would be taking up a lot of his concentration. I told him I wanted him to go slow in thinking about this. He said he would mull it over would get back to me.
October 24, 2006 –I met with Maddog and he showed me his initial concepts. He had two drawings. One was easy for me to reject; totally not what I wanted. The other, however, came much closer to my conception. I gave him extensive feedback.
November 2, 2006 – Another meeting with Maddog. More refinement of images. We talked about position of the head, body, and that I wanted the men to be making eye contact. He said he would do further work on the concept.
November 14, 2006 – Another meeting with Maddog. Finalizing the design. I spend some time modeling for one of the figures.
November 30, 2006 - The work begins. About 2 ½ hours of needle work, doing the outlining and the shading of the two men. I am excited. The first contact with the needle brings back the memory of what that is like. It is less painful than I expected. Because a lot of the work is on bone, I expected it to hurt more. It doesn't hurt bad. Perhaps that is me getting into it. I got into a zone where I was at peace with the needle. The endorphins were helping me to be in an altered state of consciousness.
We’ll lets this heal for the next two weeks and then do coloring. The picture at the left is of today’s work.
December 7, 2006 - I moved up the appointment by a week. I excited to have it done. I want to see it as it will be. The coloring in of the figures begins today. Another 1 1/2 hour with Maddog. He began working on the top figure and will work on the bottom figure next week. Then we will let it heal and he will go back and do some work in the same areas putting in different colors to give it the look he wants to achieve. In these areas, I trust his judgement completely
He used ink from Intenze Ink, a company he has not dealt with before but was excited to use. They have many colors that no one else has right now. Maddog commented until about 1960, the tattoo artist had a very restricted palate of color, but now many, many more are available.
The work is going quite easy. The back and spine are suppose to be an extremely sensitive parts of the body for tattoo work but I have not found that to be a big issue. In fact, it feels more like an annoying buzz, as opposed to pain. Perhaps I am just getting use to it.
It is difficult on one level. I cannot watch any of this as it is happening. But I am quite happy when I finally get to see it.
December 14, 2006 - Another hour of needle work, this time concentrating on the bottom figure. Maddog got to see how the ink (on the top figure) from Intenze ink looked after a week and was impressed. He indicated that many times he would put down an amount of colored ink from other companies, yet when it healed the color seemed to disappear and he had to go back and put more ink in. This time he said he was impressed that the color looked as good as it did, and he would not have to add more ink to the figure. He was pleased with that, as was I. I would rather he had to do less coloring work as opposed to more.
The work today was fairly intense. Most of it was in sensitive areas. Some was on the spine and some was on the hip bone. Those places are more sensitive than other areas. I dealt with this stoically. Every time it got particularly painful, I simply told myself that whatever I had just experienced was something I needed to experience to get what I want, and I also kept telling myself that that part of the work was now done. "This too shall pass" was the attitude I took while it was going on. Next week he will do more coloring and highlighting. He said he wants to work on the head of the top figure, particularly the mouth, as well as adding other colors to particular parts of both figures. Most of the work so far has been in black and shades of brown. He wants to use some purple in the penises plus other colors on the figures.
I also had one of those special moments this past week when it just came to me what the next part of the tattoo work will be. Back in the entry for March 13, 2005, I mentioned a menorah (candelabra) that I had Maddog design. That design was put aside with my not knowing what I might, if anything, want to do with it. But I kept thinking about the design and wondered if I should put it somewhere on my body. I like the connection to spirituality and to my Jewish heritage. I thought about putting it on my left shoulder, but that did not seem right.
Then, a few nights ago, it came to me. I had made a cut out of the design at one time to see how it would be on my body. I put the cut out on my stomach and liked it from the moment I saw it. The base would start in my groin, and rise from there with the branches coming off the main stem at various points. Since I have 6 pack abs, the branches of the menorah could accent the lines of musculature and look quite good.
But perhaps more important is what it would represent to me. The menorah, with the lit candles on the top would to me represent the "fire in my belly". I have always been a passionate person about many things. I do not do most things lightly. I either get into it intensely, or not at all. The fire in my belly seems to represent this well. So after the two figures are complete, I'll start in on the menorah and probably have that work done in January.
I made another appointment for a week from now to continue the coloring process of the figures.
December 21, 2004- Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year. I spent a little under an hour today getting the figures colored in. He could not do a lot of work on the figures as the places where he worked previously were not yet healed. But he did manage to do some coloring. Among other places, on the faces of the two figures, the right arm of the top figure, the penises of both, and various other places. He made the mouth and lips of the top figure fuller, as well as adding some shading.
We further discussed designs for the menorah, and he did an outline of the part of my body where the menorah will go. From that he will do some sketches, which he will email to me. After the new year, he will begin to work on the menorah on my stomach, and the following week do some more coloring work on the figures, since they will be fully healed by then. All is proceeding well.
January 4, 2007 - Yesterday was the Lenaia of Dionysus, the festival day for the Greek God who was part of the inspiration for my grape vine tattoo. It seems appropriate to acknowledge that here.
Anyone who has made the effort to read through this entire blog understands that my tattoos came about through a long process of thought and started in one place and wound up in quite another place. That story continues.
No work was done on the back today. One more coloring session next week will complete the work on my back. Today's work was on my stomach, beginning work on the menorah. The menorah has a Biblical inspiration and one only needs to click on the word menorah anywhere in this blog to understand the origins of the menorah. I wanted the menorah because it is Biblical, but also because it represents light and fire, two primal elements. A couple of years ago I had Maddog do a sketch of a menorah and had planned on having that put on my leg. As told earlier in this blog, that morphed into the grape design. Now I have come the full circle.
I had been thinking of a menorah based on Maddog's original concept, using a cuneiform wedge as the basis of building it. But as we talked, the idea changed. Instead of a menorah based on the cuneiform wedge, we decided to go with a more modern and interpretative design, based on the grape vine patterns already on my body. And that was what was done today.
The two pictures show today's work. The first one is the menorah in magic marker drawn directly on my body. A lot of thought went into the placement. It starts just about my penis. This is both aesthetically pleasing and also meaningful. This menorah is a highly sexual menorah. It is the fire in my groin. the fire down below, that rises from there. It represents what burns inside of me. The second picture shows the work done today' outlining, shading and the coloring in of the flames on top of the vines. Next week the shading of the "vines" of the menorah will happen (along with the final coloring of the back tattoo). It is likely that when that is done, some additional grape vines will be added to my back to frame the picture of the two men better.
It took Maddog about an hour to draw the design and two hours to do today's work. The work today was in some especially sensitive areas. All the work that is just above my groin and on the outer edges of the vines are exquisitely sensitive areas. In other words, it hurt a lot. The rest hurt, but only moderately so. It was not a pleasant day from that perspective. I had to use my best powers of relaxation to get through today without too much discomfort. Every time I felt uncomfortable, I would breath and let go of whatever pain I was experiencing, and to the limited extend that I could, eroticize it. I kept reminding myself that there was no way through this but to experience it, and that every second that hurt was one second closer to this work being complete. The two thoughts were enough to help me to relax and "enjoy" the experience. I also kept reminding myself that everything that I have in my life that I value came about in part because I was patient.
The body is getting filled up. There is room for several more additions, particularly on my arms. That is a part of the body where many people seem to get their first and often only tattoo. For me, it will be the final area, if it ever happens. At this point, I have no idea what I might want there. I am out of ideas for now. But time will tell the final story.
January 11, 2007 - Today the coloring of the menorah was completed. We also decided to not do any more coloring in on the back piece, so both pieces are finished. The only planned work that will happen now is for some more vines, with grapes and leaves, on my back to frame the two men. These vines will probably come over my shoulders and around my back from the sides It will not be a lot of work. . Since I will be traveling quite a bit in the next two months, this final piece of the work in this series will be done in March and April of this year.
Today was quite an experience. Maddog worked for 1 1/2 hours on my stomach. The kind of shading he does goes a lot faster than one might expect. He used brown for the vines, and he used yellow to reflect the light of the menorah on the branches. The yellow made quite a difference. I watched as he first put on the brown and it look flat. Then he went back and put in the yellow and it took on glow. The yellow gave it a whole other look, much more vibrant. The yellow is most easily seen just below the flames on the upper parts of the vines. Maddog has a gentle hand and a great bedside manner, and that helps. The experience of the work today was intense.
One one level, it hurt a lot. The needle work was again happening in particularly sensitive areas. But it was different from last week in a significant regard. Emotionally, I surrendered more to the process and just let it happen. I kept telling myself that this tattoo work will never happen again; every second that he works on me is now a moment in history. I wanted to be as present with the experience as I could be, and I was present for most of it. While it did not hurt any less, my interpretation of it was quite different.
At the times when the pain was most intense, I found myself grinning from ear to ear, in a state of giddy ecstacy. It was "enjoyable", though I would not want to go through that again. I enjoyed it because it was part of my life, and part of the experience of getting me to where I wanted to go, i.e., having a big tattoo of a menorah on my stomach. I was grinning because I was getting what I wanted. I kept thinking how fortunate I was to be able to have this experience.
Right now, as I write this, I am feeling considerable soreness in the area of my groin. I did take a couple of ibuprofen tablets to ease some of the pain and inflamation. I know that by tomorrow most of the soreness will have passed and I will continue to heal.
So, that is it for now. I'll keep you all informed.
February 2, 2007
It's been three weeks since the last entry and I've uploaded some new pics of the work that are at the beginning of this page.
I've had universally good feedback on the work. Those that don't like it have not told me.
I had an additional thought about the two sessions where the work was in the sensitive groin area. The first week, I endured the pain. The second week I experienced the pain. The pain was the same but the first week I was trying to avoid the experience and the second week I was present for the experience.
I've been thinking about future work and have some things in mind. These ideas are still in the formative stages.
And lastly on the subject of body modification. I had a Prince Albert (PA) piercing done last week. For those of you who do not know, a Prince Albert piercing is a ring through the end of one's penis. I am keeping it clean and protecting it in order to let it heal. I'm not going to post a picture of the piercing on this web site but for anyone who wants to see it and how it goes along with all the other work, send me an email with a request and I'll send you a picture.
March 2, 2007 - Today was the time to finish the present round of work. I had grape vines extended on my back to integrate the two guys into the whole of the tattoo work. I am happy with how it came out.
The work today took about 2 hours of needle time, and another hour to do the design. The work on the upper vine was easy to deal with. While all tattoo work is painful, the work on the upper vine was not in a particularly sensitive area, and I deal with that fairly well.
The work on the lower vine did hit a number of sensitive areas, including right on ribs and in the soft tissue just below the ribs. I learned the lessons well from the menorah work. I experienced the pain instead of enduring it. All went well.
This completes the present round of work. I have an idea for my left arm, a lion. I've just came back from a month in Jerusalem. The lion is the symbol of the city and there are images and sculptures of lions abound. I am thinking of a classical lion, as might be seen in the artwork that adorned ancient Jewish temples. But I am going to think about all that for awhile. For now, it's time to enjoy the work.
Feedback is appreciated, questions will be answered. Let me hear from you..
Last updated March 21, 2007