Tuesday, August 09, 2005



The Hesitant Canvas

I have no tattoos. Much of this has to do with the fact my pasty skin isn't the most successful medium for a masterpiece. But that's not the only reason. It's hard for me to let someone else draw something on my body; that would be the equivalent of a Clown hiring a Magician for his kid's birthday party. Or a Hobo paying for a train ticket. Or a Hobo Clown doing either. But the majority of my hesitation is because I just can't think of a tattoo I wouldn't eventually regret having.

Meaning and Fashion

My senior year in high school, I remember there being a "Tattoo Craze". Everyone was getting branded like hip, young cows with expendable income. And as with previous fads that had gripped the student body throughout those 4 years (the "Quote Ace Ventura Craze", the "Sexual Intercourse Craze", and the "Get Arrested for DUI Craze"), I never got to participate. Which, in retrospect, worked out for the best. I think what became most important to the tattoo enthusiasts was having the tattoo, instead of what the actual tattoo represented. I imagine many of my classmates think back now and wonder "The pain I endured in getting this Taz tattoo on my genitals isn't really worth it anymore..." or "This Skull with a Snake coming out of the Mouth is unsettling to my choir group..."

I could surely get a tattoo of something I created, and avoid this trap. I know a number of people who have tattoos they created themselves. This ensures some sort of personal connection to the image — it's a part of you; it came out of your head. Yet, there's still the problem of eventually disliking the tattoo. I often go back into sketchbooks and feel the bitter pang of regret for some stylistic choices I made on paper. Now, I can't very well rip off a tattooed limb and burn it in the trash barrel under the traintracks. For one thing, I need at least two arms to fend off the Hobos.

The Originality Conundrum

Okay. Say I do find a tattoo I like. What happens when someone else has the exact same one? Hundreds of people probably pick the same image off the same wall in the same parlor. Or worse yet, say I put all this work into thinking of a tattoo that's original and cool, only to have it copied once someone sees it?

A dear friend of mine once asked me to draw a tattoo for him, an image he had seen somewhere and really liked. It was a pretty simple image, so he drew a rough example for me, which I tightened it up for him in Illustrator. Once it was done, he went off and got himself permanently inked. Not too soon after, he was in the record store, and he spotted his exact tattoo on an album — turns out it was the logo of a band (A bad band, unfortunately).

A Functional Solution

So now you have an idea of the pitfalls in acquiring a tattoo. But that doesn't mean I'd never consider getting one. While I may inevitably regret the style of the tattoo, or no longer prize its originality, if the tattoo is functional, at least it'll still be useful. So what constitutes a functional tattoo? Well, here's a couple of ideas I brainstormed:

This is tops on the list. I'd get tickmarks on the inside of my forearm, each a quarter inch apart, and label each inch increment. Just like a real ruler. There are two problems with this, though. First, I'm bound to shrink when I get older, and the ruler marks will sag and become innaccurate. Second, what if America decides to go metric? I'm screwed!
I like this idea — I could just have my name and date of birth tattooed on my body. That way, I'll always remember them. Of course, I don't have such a tattoo now... and I've never really forgotten them before. So I suppose this is only really useful to the coroner.
This could be an addendum to the PROPER ID idea. Basically, I could get things like my bloodtype, or allergies listed on my body. Organs I'm willing to donate (or have donated), bones I've broken, maybe my inoculation history. I tell you what, my doctor certainly didn't put any effort into getting my history from previous doctors, so having that stuff right there might keep him from doing unnecessary tests, surgeries, or bionic additions.
It sounds funny, but this one might help me the most. I always get my lefts and rights mixed up, especially when I'm driving. If I got "left" and "right" tattooed on the back of my hands, I could give impeccable directions from now on.
Why the hell not? I've already made a pair of Hobo jokes — it's obviously on my brain. Maybe my subconscious is trying to prepare me for the logical step down from illustrator on the employment pyramid. Besides, these things could be useful for non-hobos; I just carved "Danger! Brutal Man" into my mailpost, and I haven't had a hobo at the door in close to a half-hour.

So there's a couple of ideas to start with. As always, if you have an idea you think is pretty good, feel free to share it. I'm sure there's other good, functional tattoos out there. And I tell you what, if one of the ones I've listed above catches your fancy, take it for yourself — I don't mind. I may feel less original, but I'll still be able to measure things, have my corpse identified, or find a good place for free vittles.

Comments on this Article

There are currently 55 comments.

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I agree, I wouldn't get a tattoo unless I'd drawn it myself first...


What do you think you'd draw?


...and no, you'll NEVER go metric! :D


if I knew what I'd draw, I'd already have a tattoo :P


Hah hah! Good point :D


That story about the friend is horrifying. Please tell us what band it was.


:) Let me see if I can get permission from the victim, first...


Also, did you see that McIntyre guy who was doing undercover journalism on football hooliganism, so he got the Chelsea crest tattooed on his arm in order to seem legit? That's dedication.

John Nick

Oh Kevin, it's okay. It was the logo for the band STARSHIP and I got it inked across my chest.

What I haven't told you, Kevin, is that last year I went on a drinking binge and woke up in same parlor with a tattoo across my abdomen of the "Knee Deep in the Hoopla" record cover.

I can't blame the hobos. I have to own this foolishness myself.


THAT's why you shouldn't carry your record collection with you when you're drinking...


OH MY GOD! Your friend's story made me tear up. And, John- the thought of Starship made it even better.
Can't stop laughing.
Hobo symbols!!!!!!

John Whittet

What grudge are you holding against those members of the sans-domicile persuasion?


I've long considered the ruler tattoo. I'm tired of trying to explain why I know that the bottom of my palm to the tip of my middle finger is exactly 7½ inches. Tick marks, especially in ink other than black, can be US (or stupid) on the left, metric (or awesome) on the right. This is something I can do for you next time you and me and Ace Merrill are hanging out in the junkyard.


Flip body over and write "Do not ressucitate". That's my choice. The idea comes from a surgeon somewhere in the US.


geez, those hobos are geniuses! they have their own language and everything! perhaps someday i can aspire to be a hobo. i've got a lot of studying to do.


John - No grudge at all! I admire their freedom more than ever now that I have a mortgage!

Ian - You actually HAVE a functional tattoo already, do you not?

Sophie - That's a good idea... Or, you could go the opposite way, and have detailed CPR instructions written on your chest...


That's right, I do! It's the kind of thing that people tend to gawk and amaze at. It's a wedding ring that cannot be broken, stolen or misplaced. It's a simple symbol of commitment that cost me $50 and will last months into the grave.


Kevin, I think you desperatlely need a tattoo of the tip table because you can never remember the shortcut!


All this talk of tattoos and nobody's mentioned the cool "underwater knee" effect in the illustration.

The Jones

Yeah, my first thought was "Wow, look at that, he got the forearm in there... and the knee. Good job Kevin, Impress me some more." By the way, sending a photo of my, no longer bare, office wall. Thanks!

Jason Santa Maria

You tattoo a running list of all you've learned about how to please women...


wow, i surprised that no one has brought up the movie Memento. (i guess it makes sense if no one has seen it) but that dude had the most functional tatoos ever!!


you should tattoo eyeglasses on your face. that way you can look intelligent even when you're wearing contacts, taking a shower, sleeping, etc.


Yeah, but if you had to put on an actual pair of glasses... you'd just look silly.


Or... you'd look DOUBLY smart!

Hugh G.

What about tattooing various scars and lacerations on your chest and back? When people ask about them, you can tell them you were mauled by a bear while trying to save someone's family (from the bear), and ended up beating it to death with your sketch book.

Plus it would make you look so butch. The ladies like that. Oh yeah . . .

Mr. David

A little late on the draw here, but a friend of a friend actually has inch marks on his right forefinger.

I believe he's a framer for a living. He was, incidentally concidering getting the metric on his left hand, but as of this date, no reports that he has.


Nice drawing Kev, but with all that talk about tattoos nobody seems to notice the sweetness of that drawing. Really slick, although I think the bottom part of the leg is a little bit too long.

Sweet stuff nonetheless, what did he do to sleep with the fishes?

(Watercolour and ink again btw?)

Nicolas (from belgium)

haha i enjoyed reading that

there's a guy in my town and he had the word 'elbow' tattooed on his knee. And he says that every morning, when he wakes up, he laughes at it.


A list of Illustrator shortcuts would be useful, or (and this may push the limits of color tatooery) a nice web-safe color table.

Personally, I've thought about a lifesized Dorian-Gray–esque image of my own face. Someplace prominent, like, on my belly. As I become corpulent and withered with age, the image of my face would gradually morph into a grotesque caricature.


Stan - That'd be a short list "Agree with whatever they say" I should get a LONG list, like "Best Band Names Ever".

Sprout - Yeah - Memento is a pretty good example. And I should start writing down the important stuff now, while I remember it... "You have a site called bearskinrug. You write hard-hitting articles about tattoos and golden retrievers."

Hugh G. - No one would believe I'd beat up a bear with a sketchbook - especially if they've seen me try and fight before... I do think it would be cool to have scars, though.

Murten - Yep, watercolor and ink...

Feaverish - How about this: You get the Dorian-Gray-esque image tattooed on the back of your head and body... That way, as you get older, you still look like the handsome strapping youth when you turn around...


two words: magic marker.


Feaverish - Tattoo your Dorian Gray homage directly on your face; that way you'll never age!

Kevin - The Cheat at Scrabble page you've just added to your Links column presents a few tattoo possibilities. And those Mojo posters are good candidates for tattoo-age, as well. Nothing like some permanent Mojovation to kick start each and every day of your life.


Ducky - naw, it has to be permanent... otherwise it might rub off on my leotard.

Todd - Yeah - maybe the "GO" Mojo. That way when I work out with my clothes off, it'll inspire all the other people at the gym...


If you want a good tatoo...try " forbidden to post"


Uh oh - what does that mean?


just came up with a good, Swedish, nerd tattoo...a Ctrl-key on top of an Alt-key...just because "Alt under Ctrl" sounds like the Swedish equivalent of "everything under control"...



I could have the ":" key under the "end" key, tattooed on my butt cheeks... it would read "End Colon"


Anyone even thinking about getting words tattoed on their bodies is NUTS! I'd be giving my tattoist type-rendering exercises and an intensive Typography Appreciation course. I've heard skin-kerning is the worst kind of pain.


I've been considering tatoos for a long time. I've decided that the best thing to do (if i ever get one) is to design something fairly simple (for me a simple henna/flower design) on a graphic designer, print it out, and get it tatooed on the lower area of my back.

Chances are I'll consider the future and come to rue my silly childish ideas for a tatoo.

Who wants to get surgery to remove ink anyways?


Matt - Yeah - I thought of that before too... Good type-tattooists probably make up a small percentage of the tattooist population...

Lauren - How much do you think it costs to get a tattoo removed? Much more than the actual tattoo cost, I suppose...


Nothing on this website seemed to appeal to me.

Cost Estimates
" * One square inch starts at $125- $200 for the first treatment"

Bear in mind you need several treatments for the entire tatoo to be removed.


My question is out of everyone that's posted how many of them have a tattoo?

I have a tattoo and wanted one since I was 12 (... I’m an odd ball) here was the thing, I’ve draw some tattoo's for friends (and even a friends mother) BUT I could never decide on for myself.

What i ended up doing was going to the store (in my home town, a nice clean little store) and picked 2 tattoos and merged them...

So i now have a ying-yang with a sun flames around it in-between my shoulder blades (a cool stone texture)

@kevin - my friend did that Left/Right
on his wrists in white


Richard - Wow! Is he glad he got the left and right? Is it helping out?


How about tattooing in some muscle shading? You can look buff without the toils of getting buff!


Yeah - THAT's not a bad idea - I'd just have to make sure I'm always lit correctly when I'm naked...


@ Kevin - so far, he hasn't told me the wrong way yet... sometimes I think I should do it too... I still raise my hands and make that 'L' to tell me that's the left one... BUT I’m getting a lot better at it now!


i don't know who any of you folks are, but i'm quite amused with your commentary.


funny funny funny

stoner 420

I think your all good cridics smoke another one


At last, a tattoo site for the intelligista. Richard, I hate to burst your bubble, but my hubby has had that tat for 15 years. I REALLY like the painting.. a very useful tattoo. I do have one, like it well enough, and often have to quell the urge to get another. Hubby doesn't want to be married to a tattooed freak. And the kids (all four of them) have spasms every time I mention it to their friends. It's great for behavior modification in public places where they are liable to act up. Every mom should have an embarassing tattoo in an unmentionable place.


Oh, sorry, NOT a tattoo site. an ILLUSTRATOR site. I hope I didn't offend. I was caught up in the conversation.


I just have to say that i was doing a search for a certain tattoo and came across this site.... it has been very entertaining, and i suppose somewhat informational also. I have three tattoos and want a few more so i am trying to find a good starfish design and something to add to my pretty boring first tat. Thanks for the humour! :)


I was once thinking of getting my Social Insurance Number (I'm Canadian) bar-coded onto my calf. Then that TV show came out with the beautiful girl that had a bar-code tatooed onto her neck, and that put the kibosh on that idea. I'd have been really annoyed if I'd gone ahead and had the barcode put on, then tuned into that show a week later.


Close call - although having a similar tattoo as the woman could have been your "in". I know my butterfly tattoo has landed me PLENTY of dates...

With entymologists.

To discuss butterflies.

And once with a doctor to discuss laser removal.

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