Some people get tattoos because they think a certain design or image looks good, some tattoos are about collecting art from an admired artist, and some tattoos are chosen because they have meaning or intent. Most of my tattoos fall into the latter camp but I’ll admit that the first two tattoos I got, many years ago, were purely because I thought it was cool and ‘different’ (which, to be fair, it was at the time). More recently though I’ve considered my choices a lot more.
I hadn’t planned on getting a half-sleeve done when I went in to Lucky Cat. I was there on the recommendation of a friend who already had some of Kev’s work on her arm, I’d checked out the website and loved what I saw so I made an appointment for a consultation.
On my left arm, near the shoulder was my second ever tattoo. It was of a two headed dragon/serpent curved in a circle. It had no meaning other than I thought it was cool and the person I had a major crush on was getting one that day as well so I was trying to impress her (I was 18 and yes, it was a stupid reason).
It was old and faded so when I asked about covering it up, Kevin said it shouldn’t be a problem but when I told him I wanted a Daruma he pointed out that it wouldn’t work. The shaping and colouring wasn’t right… he thought on it a bit and suggested I could place the Daruma lower down my arm on the bicep and have a traditional Japanese flower above it.
Kiku-no-hana (Chrysanthemum) *
Probably the only piece of my half-sleeve that was originally chosen purely for decoration, I loved the style that Kevin used to draw it and trusted his judgement that it would be in-keeping with the Japanese theme. Thankfully he knows his stuff as this flower is a used as a symbol for the Emperor of Japan.
I can’t recall where I first saw a Daruma, probably wandering through Chinatown in London, but the bright colour caught my eye as did the various expressions and variations I saw.
Traditionally these dolls are given to people as a good luck charm. Once received the owner decides on a goal and colours in one eye, colouring in the second when they have achieved the goal.
I’m very goal oriented and I love Japanese culture so this seemed like a perfect fit for me. My Daruma only has one eye coloured to allow me to continue to strive for new goals.
My original intention for the tattoo was just the Daruma but with it being quite a large piece, plus the flower above it, Kev asked if I was going for a half-sleeve and if so what else might I want? The first decision was what to put on my inner bicep, another large area to fill but an easy one as I already had half a mind to getting a separate tattoo featuring another piece of Japanese culture so why not just include it in now?
I decided on a giant koi for my inner arm and with the main components decided I left Kevin draw things up.
The koi symbolises a lot of how I try and live my life, best summed up by Dory from Finding Nemo, ‘just keep swimming’. I’m old enough to know that life will always throw you a few curveballs, and all you need to do is keep going, doesn’t matter if you aren’t making any headway, as long as you are trying to go forward. Koi tattoos symbolise the battle upstream the fish undertakes as it heads to its mating grounds.
I was starting to get excited about how it was all coming together and the minute I saw the first sketches I excitedly booked in for my first session.
Completing the design
As I hadn’t planned a half-sleeve, there were some gaps so after the first session we started to discuss what else to put on my arm. There were some obvious candidates.
These cute little guys are told to bring good luck and have been a part of Japanese culture since the turn of the century. There are some great folktales about where they originated (check the Wikipedia link) but no-one is really sure.
In a nice bit of circumstance, the tattoo parlour that Kevin owns is called Lucky Cat so I was more than happy when he used his logo as part of my sleeve (hmmm maybe I should charge him advertising fees?)
Buddhist symbology states that the lotus represents rebirth; that can be a change of ideas or the adoption of new beliefs. In my ongoing quest to learn and adapt my behaviours to be a better person in this world, it was perfect to include in the design. Kirsty has one on her forearm for similar reasons, and as we’ve both learned a lot from each other it seemed fitting to get on too.
Kokeshi doll *
Whilst they don’t have the same symbology associated with them, Kokeshi dolls are an integral part of Japanese culture. My Mum has a small collection of Kokeshi style dolls, so there is an element of tribute to her in there as well. Plus, they look so cute!
We started the first 4 hour session and completed the cover up of my old tattoo and the outline of the Daruma. The next session outlined the lotus and koi, the session after that coloured in the Daruma and started on the koi, and so on. In total it took a little shy of 24 hours to complete the half-sleeve, and whilst I won’t say I loved every minute of it (inner-arm section was pretty close to my pain threshold, next time I’ll look to some of the pain-numbing gels I think) it was wonderfully to watch it evolve. Very much a collaboration, deciding what to put where, what colours each element should be and so on.
I am absolutely thrilled with the results and, several months later with everything nicely healed, I continue to get compliments and questions about it. I was so happy with the service I got I’ve since gotten another tattoo by a different artist at Lucky Cat… more on that later!
Also published on Medium.