Lizzie & Clara shop for Tattoos
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Lizzie & Clara shop for Tattoos

Today's Guest Blog was
 written by Betsy A. Riley. Betsy lives in Maryland, where she works for the federal government. In April of 2011, she ventured into self-publishing using CreateSpace’s Print On Demand (POD) option (Woo-hoo! Yeah, team!!). Since then, her imprint (Blue Dragon Press) has published 6 books. Betsy’s poems and short stories have also appeared in several magazines and anthologies by other publishers. Her Author site can be found at and her imprint site is
Who knew there were so many different tattoo subcultures?
We planned to go to The Old School Tattoo Show to cheer Clara's son Big Poppy in the tattoo contest (he has a full back tattoo). He did warn Clara..."Now Momma, you're going to see some really different people--just stay cool."
The first surprise was the smoke--I guess we should have figured that folks who let strangers stick needles in them aren't overly concerned about the health hazards of smoking. There was no No Smoking area--a thin blue haze hung everywhere in the Knoxville Hilton ballrooms.
Next was the attire--in order to show off their "ink", attendees cut holes in their clothing wherever they have tattoos...with mixed results. The worst examples were the men competing with thigh and buttocks tattoos--the standard seemed to be to wear sweat shorts and roll them under (leaving them looking like baggy diapers!). Have they never heard of speedos? (not that most of them should be showing any of their bodies anyway. The most creative was a lady who had a black and white garland of orchids twining diagonally across her back and down one thigh--she wore a catsuit, cutout to display the whole tattoo. She won the overall contest--I think for her "commitment" to the lifestyle. And for most of the attendees, it is a lifestyle. I heard one of the scaggy old guys comment that he'd been going to the tattoo parlor "every Wednesday evening for the last ten years".
As soon as we entered the show proper, we encountered the true nature of tattoos--PAIN. It's all about pain (and blood). The tattoos seem to serve as a record of how much pain the person has tolerated. When two tattooees meet, they examine each other's tattoos and ask one question: "how much?" The answer is given in time--hours or days for individual images; weeks, months, or years for larger pieces. While appreciation is expressed for the artwork, true respect comes for the pain. I heard one man bragging, "that waterfall on my back hurt so bad it took four men to hold me down!" Some of the people being tattooed at the show were getting massages to help them keep relaxed (as the artist blots up the blood). Even so they had to take breaks every so often for relief. Thank goodness those getting body piercings were behind privacy curtains! The first look at the blood was enough to make Clara decide NOT to get a music note on her big toe.
The types of tatoos/tatooees were way more diverse than I had expected. There were bikers (like Big Poppy), Gen-Xers getting tribal or celtic tattoos, fat chicks getting nature images (flowers and leopards), scaggy old guys with pierced nipples and historic photographs, rednecks with NASCAR images or racist slogans, the "old school" geezers with traditional knive-pierced hearts, Ex-military types, satanist/heavy metal punks, and the biggest surprise--Christian tattoos. The Christian tattooees were mostly young clean-cut men with elaborate full back tattoos. Thrones among clouds with glories and scenes of Jesus in various stages of torment are common. One young man had his dead parents depicted as angels. The organizers seemed sensitive to the differences between the subgroups. They put the nature tattooers across the aisle from the Christian artists. The satanic and heavy metal booths were in a side hall. The racist vendors were in a separate room way at the back.
The most beautiful tattoo I saw was a jungle scene with a clouded leopard with no outlines! It even had white used in the leopard's fur, something I didn't realize could be done. The runners up in my view were the colored celtic designs, sometimes done in jewelry-like configurations. The most disturbing to me were the ladies who had photos of their living children tattooed on their thighs--seems a bit co-dependent to me ("Look Susie, see how much Mommy loves you").
Best part of the show: really cool tee-shirts.

2 Comments to Lizzie & Clara shop for Tattoos:

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Claire Drapkin on Tuesday, April 10, 2012 12:57 PM
Fascinating information. I did not know PAIN was a 'hip' thing to be into for tattoo fiends (pardon slip there). The blood information was gory and interesting. Now I can look had friends who have a tattoo and wonder (or ask) how much pain/how much blood. Ms.Riley thanks for a informative, fun read. claire
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Emla Cream on Sunday, January 13, 2013 11:44 PM
I was very scared of getting a Tattoo because of the pain. It is very painful while getting one and I was advised to put Emla cream before getting one. It numbs your skin and you will feel less pain.
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