Ash Tattoos – A Family Takes a Memorial Tattoo Journey

Ash Tattoos – A Special Kind of Memorial Tattoo

Let’s start the New Year off with a charming story about first tattoos, family bonds, future Christmas traditions? , and ash tattoos for a beloved departed family member. My dear friend Katie is an unbelievably sweet person – the kind of niceness that highlights my inner evil and makes me feel like a cheap Disney villain every time I am around her.  Seriously.  I’m pretty sure she has small birds flying around her head and small woodland creatures trailing her through the grocery store.

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This is Katie. If I knew how to use photoshop I would add in birds and woodland creatures perching on her shoulders.

Katie is a big fan of my ongoing tattoos and is always excited to hear about what I have going on.  It is great to have a friend that will freak out when you text them and you say you just booked an appointment with Teresa Sharpe.  A tattoo friend who gets you is important and Katie is that person.  So I was beyond thrilled when Katie casually dropped that she was finally getting her first tattoo!

Here are her thoughtful answer to my eager questions plus some great pictures.  Thank you Katie!  Welcome to Club Tattoo – your dad would be so proud!

Tattoo Tourist:   I understand you had some of your dad’s ashes worked into the ink of your tattoo. Was it a challenge to find an artist willing to ash tattoos?  Did other family members also have memorial ash tattoos done?

Katie : Ashes! I’d heard of people having ashes put in the ink and I carry my dad’s ashes around everywhere already, so it seemed like a natural progression in my situation. Honestly, I hadn’t approached any other artist about the ashes, so I’m definitely not knowledgeable about if the majority of artists are willing to do it or not. I just really lucked out with Alicia and she was open to it. She had done it before but it definitely sounded like it would depend on the client and the shop. Not to mention that, of course, we needed to sign a waiver before the work started.
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Ash tattoo in progress

It made me feel comfortable that she felt protected from any repercussions she didn’t know me to know that I wouldn’t stir up some kind of trouble if there was an issue. So I appreciated that they had everyone sign it. Bryan decided he wanted some of our dad’s ashes in his ink also. Not long after Alicia started working on me, Uncle Brian came in and mentioned that Bryan told him we were getting Daddy’s ashes in the ink. He shyly asked (very unusual for Uncle Brian seeing that he’s a New Yorker) if he could do the same. He and my dad were basically brothers for most of their lives and I couldn’t be happier that he asked if he could use some ashes too! It absolutely made my day.
TT:  I know this was your first tattoo.  How was the experience of getting tattooed for you?  Was it what you expected?  Did anything take you by surprise?

Katie: I guess the physical experience was what I thought it would be, but mentally it was much more meditative than I expected. When I was young, I would go with my dad when he got tattooed. My parents were good friends with a couple of shop owners so we spent a lot of time there during and after business hours. For a while, I even considered tattooing as a career until the carpel tunnel scared me away. I can sit back and appreciate all the great artists out there that do it.
I think what surprised me the most by the whole experience was the lidocaine spray! Who comes up with these things?! It was amazing! When I got back in the chair, I couldn’t feel anything but pressure; no needles, no stinging, nothing. I told Alicia to feel free to grind away at that point. But close to the end of the sitting, she suggested we add more leaves in the background and at that point, I was reminded what that fresh skin felt like without the lidocaine. Ouch. I don’t remember seeing anything like a numbing agent at a shop when I was younger.
Without it, it seems like you kind of need to mentally detach your limb,  hand it over to the artist and watch outside of yourself. At least at that meditative point you can enjoying watching an artist at work without spending hours focused on the pain. I wasn’t sure how well I’d sit for Alicia but by the end of four and a half hours, I think she might have forgotten that it was my first tattoo because I was on the quiet side. Haha The sitting gives a nice time frame to really appreciate why you’ve chosen the image…I imagine it’s a bit like therapy really.
TT:   You drew your own image (which is lovely by the way) – did you have a hard time finding an artist that was willing to take a self drawn tattoo project?  Did your artist make any changes?

Katie: Thanks! I originally drew an image or a basic outline really since I was a bit lazy in finishing the dot and line work before emailing it to the shop. It was a forward-facing cat skull with sage, lavender, eucalyptus, rye, clover and a garden rose. I have a little obsession with skulls and their gorgeous lines and curves, plus a thing for cats. My dad was also a cat person. About five years after he died, a little black kitten adopted us and over the years his personality constantly reminded me of my dad.  Five years after he adopted us, Finnian was taken by a mountain lion. So a cat skull seemed the perfect combination memorial.
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Katies finished tattoo – design by Katie and Alicia – tattoo by Alicia VanCuren

I sent it to Alicia and she seemed excited about it so it was a go! Along the way, she asked about turning the skull to do a 3/4 profile view, which sounded great! It came out beautiful and I knew her eye was right in changing what I had originally sent her. Honestly, I didn’t specify to Alicia that I had designed the image myself so I think she kind of felt bad that she changed it once she found out. But realistically, if she had been hesitant to mention changing it just because I drew it, it wouldn’t have come out as nice as it did. It was a fun collaboration even though she was an unknowing participant! Haha
TT:   This was a family affair.  How many family members got tattooed at the same time?  All in the same shop? How did this family outing come together – just for fun or something long in the works?

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The Group

Katie: For the short answer, yes, we all got tattooed in the same shop Blood, Sweat & Tears Tattoo Studio in Charlotte, NC. As far as everything falling into place… my younger brother, Bryan, and I have been trying for several years now to figure out a time and place that we could get our first tattoos together. It’s been hard because we live on opposite coasts but I felt like it would be a tribute to our dad if we could go together. Our dad had always planned to take me to get my first tattoo but he died suddenly and we missed our chance.
I’ve put off getting a tattoo for a long time because I felt like he was supposed to be there with me for that experience. It’s been 12 years since he passed and I finally decided to take the plunge with Bryan while I was on the east coast for Christmas. About a week after Bryan and I decided to schedule an appointment, I got a call from my Uncle Brian, my dad’s best friend. He would be joining us in SC for Christmas. He randomly asked if I knew of a reputable shop near my mom’s place where he could get a tattoo for Christmas while he was visiting. Bryan and I had not previously mentioned to Uncle Brian that we planned on doing the same. It was like this beautiful little lightbulb the three of us would go get our first tattoos together in honour of my dad!
A day later, Brian called back and said that his girlfriend, Laurie, would like to join in on the holiday tattoo party. About a week after that, I got a message from my step brother, Jason, who heard through the grapevine that “there are tattoos on the menu for Christmas.” As I was telling my mom this story, she reminded me how perfect the situation was, seeing that my dad would have certainly said “the more, the merrier!” The day of the appointment, we loaded into a van for the two-hour drive to Charlotte; myself, Uncle Brian, Laurie, Jason, Bryan and Kylie (Bryan’s girlfriend who was just along for the ride).
Once we were in the shop, it probably didn’t take more than five minutes for Uncle Brian to convince Kylie to get a tattoo as well! Easily persuaded, that one! Her mom would not be happy but at least she had the excuse that “Uncle Brian made me do it!” In the end, there were six of us that walked out with newly inked epidermis. I guess, in terms of the whole group, it ended up being something that was both long in the works and just for fun.  (OK I am going to Katie’s place for Christmas next year – family and friends tattoo party? Best. Holiday. Ever.)
TT:  What was the best and worst part of your family’s epic tattoo day? Any surprises on who was the best and least-best sitter?

Katie: I was honestly surprised that my brother was as good in the chair as he seemed to be. Haha I think we were all afraid he was going to break down just a little. Sorry Bryan, way to stay strong though! I’m not really sure who the best sitter was, we were all kind of spread out in different rooms… although Uncle Brian claims he “fell asleep” at one point… uh huh. Moving on…
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Katie and her much-maligned brother Bryan

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“What do you mean my sister said I would flail!”

I think the hardest part of the day, for me, was just letting go of the control on the tattoo. I’m pretty comfortable with my drawings and doing my own line work in images but putting complete trust in a stranger’s line work was a little scary! I definitely had to give myself a pep talk and remind myself how beautiful Alicia’s portfolio is. A couple of deep breaths later and I was ready to suck it up, buttercup! I’d have to say that the best part of the day was finally following through with something I’ve been wanting to do for at least 12 years and honouring my dad with the perfect tribute in image, in ashes, in artists, in a van full of freshly inked hooligans. Perfection. (The most perfect post tattoo sentiment I have ever seen…)
TT:  Are you already planning your next tattoo or are you “one and done”?

Katie: I’m not planning my next tattoo yet but I certainly can’t commit to being “one and done” either! I’m just going to enjoy my little Finnian day by day and see where it leads!

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