The Initial Design
I had sketched out this design in late 2017 while exploring different elements that represented influences in my life. If you have ever been asked to create a piece of art that represents who you are, you’ll quickly realize how difficult it becomes to incorporate all of those facets of being into a single statement.
Much of my first design drew elements from growing up in Alaska (the northern lights, Forget-Me-Nots, the raven, beaver tail, and cedars) but also incorporated symbols from Utah (bees and hive, and the Scotch thistle) where my family has grown and called home for the past two decades.
There were several reasons that I wanted to work with will_xx at Blaque Salt Studio, an unmarked studio hidden behind the chairs of a barber shop in downtown Salt Lake City (you can see his most recent artwork posted at his Instagram account). He’s an amazing artist who I have gotten to know over the past year, and can only say that he and his family are strong positives for me and for my family. His artwork has exceptional detail that I love, and he is consistently thoughtful and meticulous with the pieces that he creates. Will’s initial response was to push back and consider narrow my subject matter focus so that a maximum of 3 elements were used. He would then look at how the artwork was to be applied to the natural lines of the body, and produce his version of the art.
One of my personal motifs has been the sun symbol, which represents new opportunity, or a chance to begin again. The idea has kept me going in some truly difficult times.
When my father moved our family to Petersburg, Alaska in 1977 – a fishing village on Mitkof island in the southeast panhandle of the state – I was introduced to the story of ‘How Raven Stole the Sun’ – a Tlingit and Haida tale that described how Raven brought light to the world. Raven’s feathers are singed black from carrying the Sun back into the world.
I brought back this cleaned up version of my raven design to give him a better idea of the elements that I wanted to include in the image. Keep in mind that this is my style of artwork; although I was using this to convey ideas, I was dependent on Will’s interpretation of my work.
I wanted his detail and realism with the added style elements drawn from Tlingit/Haida art. This is the revised version that Will presented back. The artwork was modified to present on my forearm more naturally, with the tattoo facing outward to present the head and sun going away from my body.
Will’s studio is hidden. From the storefront you walk through a salon to open a door at the back that reveals his workshop with black walls and a menagerie of lighted displays, collectibles, artwork and anatomical specimens. The work area is lit by vintage bulbs and LED light strings. A Pandora channel plays a long list of curated music that spans genres.
Will started by presenting a stencil of the revised work, explaining its placement and ensuring that I was okay with the design, its size and how he planned to work the art. My arm was shaved, the stencil was applied, then Will added some additional revisions before beginning work. Will used disposable cartridge-based needles to apply the ink.
My appointment started just after noon and completed around 6PM, approximately 5 1/2 hours of work with a couple of breaks.
The aftercare following the tattoo was pretty simple – wear a surgical bandage over the entire tattoo for 4 days. After four days the bandage is removed, and a regimen of cleaning and moisturizing begins.
During these first four days liquid will begin to ooze under the bandage that blurs the artwork; this is normal. Your skin treats the tattoo like a wound as it heals, and will produce plasma to fight off infection. The bandage not only protects the skin but allows your body to begin this healing process. It may feel like a sunburn (and mine did – especially if I was outside in our 90+ degree weather). Any itching could be treated with pressure applied over the site or with cool wraps, but not by scratching.
The bandage makes the artwork look like a hot mess after the first day – so I chose to cover up for a couple events that took place where I didn’t want to show my arm in its healing state. On the fourth day, I was able to remove the bandage and clean the tattoo for the first time. With the bandage gone I began applying Aquaphor to the tattoo – I could tell when I needed to apply more when the dry, hot, itchy feeling returned.
Cleaning the tattoo daily with a mild soap (Cetaphil), and applying lotion following that has helped significantly to reduce any discomfort associated with the healing process.
The Result (July, 2019)
It’s been 11 months (a little under one year) since I got my tattoo. The healing period went pretty much as Will described, hairs have re-grown and skin is remarkably normal. The colors and lines of the tattoo are still strong, and I’m quite happy with the work that Will provided. He is an exceptional artist, and does quality work.
I do plan to have additional artwork done, and will continue to incorporate elements from my original design along with new artwork as I build out the sleeve.