Talk Description to Me

Episode 60 - Tattoos

July 17, 2021 Christine Malec and JJ Hunt Season 2 Episode 60
Talk Description to Me
Episode 60 - Tattoos
Chapters
4:21
Old school tattoos
12:12
Newer tattoos
15:53
Aging tattoos
18:07
Inuit tattoos
22:59
Prison tattoos
Talk Description to Me
Episode 60 - Tattoos
Jul 17, 2021 Season 2 Episode 60
Christine Malec and JJ Hunt

Tattoos are everywhere. In Canada, the US, and the UK, 1 in 3 young adults have at least one, and lots of folks have many more. But how do they look? And how do they age? What does a prison tattoo look like? Or Inuit skin stitching? And is it true that JJ has the Talk Description to Me logo tattooed on his back? To find out, join us for another description-rich episode!

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Tattoos are everywhere. In Canada, the US, and the UK, 1 in 3 young adults have at least one, and lots of folks have many more. But how do they look? And how do they age? What does a prison tattoo look like? Or Inuit skin stitching? And is it true that JJ has the Talk Description to Me logo tattooed on his back? To find out, join us for another description-rich episode!

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)

JJ Hunt:

Talk description to Me with Christine Malec and JJ Hunt.

Christine Malec:

Hi, I'm Christine Malec.

JJ Hunt:

And I'm JJ Hunt. This is talk description to Me where the visuals of current events and the world around us get hashed out and description rich conversations.

Christine Malec:

As we so often do, I'm going to begin this episode by saying we're going to talk about something I have absolutely no idea about. And that is tattooing. So I know tattoos are popular. I know many people have them, I'm sometimes surprised at the people who have them. But it's a range totally out of my personal experience and my aesthetics and out of my knowledge range. So I get descriptions, occasionally, someone will say, Oh, I have a tattoo of a la la la, I think, Oh, that's nice. But I don't really have a sense of how they work or what they mean, or any of the styles involved. So I assume that if I'm a clued out about that, there may be some others in our audience who are also find them a bit mysterious. So, JJ, can we start with the basics? As usual, I have no shame. So I'm just gonna say I don't have the first clue of how it's done. I understand. It's painful. And there's needles involved. But can you can you fill in the gaps a bit there? Connect the dots? You see what I did there?

JJ Hunt:

There are... Ha ha ha, Yes. So there is a little bit of pain involved. There are things like needles involved. So yeah, let's get into the basic. So a tattoo, sometimes it's called a tattoo gun, or a tattoo pen has a little needle at the end of it. And what this needle does is Dart in and out, in and out in and out, and it injects a little tiny bit of ink into the skin. So it's under several layers, I think it's in the dermis, not the epidermis, but in the dermis, so it's in the second or third major layer of skin. And, and you inject the ink a little bit at a time. And there are different just like a painter will have different kind of brush stroke techniques. And there are different kind of techniques that a tattoo artists can use to achieve different effects with the ink being deposited under the skin. And that's the simplest version, right. And there are there are kinds of tattoos that are done by indigenous groups that have been done for hundreds, thousands of years, that is really just taking ink and poking it into the skin, we can talk a bit about that. And then there's more, you know, the sophisticated kind of tattoo pen or gun that you'll find in a tattoo shop a tattoo parlor, which looks a little bit bigger, there's a you know, a little place where you can insert the ink bottle or whatnot. So that the it's drawing directly down into the needle that goes into your arm, or your into your skin wherever. And and that's essentially what a tattoo is. It's it's the injection of ink under several layers of skin. That's that's a tattoo.

Christine Malec:

Now, we're going to talk about specific styles and evolution. But how subtle can attach to be I guess I'm trying to get a sense of how nuanced a tattoo is. Is it just a line drawing like coloration detail? Does it look like a crappy photograph from the 1920s? Or is it like a really nice painting? How aesthetically sophisticated can they be?

JJ Hunt:

So very good question. And the answer is now anything can be put on a body any kind of image that you can conceive of any level of detail, any kind of artistry can be put on a body. Because the the technology has improved, the artistry has improved. And it's it's incredibly varied what goes on bodies now, but the old school tattoos which is kind of what a lot of us still think of when we think of tattoos, this kind of vintage feel the old school tattoos from like the 20s 30s and 40s. That's a little bit different. So maybe we should start there. Talk about what the old school tattoos look like, and then kind of make our way up into modern times when things get so super varied and really much more artful. So the original kind of old school tattoo aesthetic. I happen to really love this aesthetic. I really dig it is is really popular. popular now in a way that there's there's a real resurgence in the old school aesthetic. So you know, we've talked in the past about classical architecture and neoclassical architecture or Baroque and Baroque revival. It's kind of the same with vintage tattoos. There's kind of like Neo vintage tattoos that you can find the look is so popular in not only in tattoos, but also now you'll find tattoo lettering and the tattoo aesthetic and signage, in people's clothing and in their own hairstyles that kind of referenced tattoos, like the hair hairstyles that would be on pinup girl tattoos, it's a really interesting and it's kind of changing how the original tattoos are remembered. It's so strong and popular now. So when I did my image searches for vintage tattoos and old school tattoos, there were at least as many images of new tattoos and old styles as vintage images themselves. So we're talking about old school American tattoos, that's the kind of, you know, the genre that we're talking about. They tended to be distinct pieces. So you might eventually get your body covered in them, but they tended to be distinct pieces unto themselves. And they tended to be rendered in black outlines, with a little bit of shading, so kind of a cartoony style. If you think about cartoons of the 20s 30s and 40s. Like maybe like Betty Boop, or Popeye, they're very similar to that it heavier outlines, colors in simple colors with without not a lot of color gradation, but a little bit of shading in there. And these will be kind of rounded shapes. So very smooth, lots of curves. The only straight lines and sharp angles would be on things like knife blades, or swords or things like that. But for the most part, things had kind of softer, rounder corners, but with with very distinct and clear delineated outlines, and the subjects were heavily weighted in those early days toward like, seafaring men write lots of ships and anchors and naked women pinup girls American flags, and then you get the skulls and the knives and things like that often accompanied by banners. So a banner where you would put someone's name or you would put a place or maybe a military unit or a ship's name, something like that. Not a ton of three dimensionality. In this in these old school tattoos, the you know, the kind of three dimensionality you would find is like if a banner would fold back on itself, there would be a ripple and a flag that kind of three dimensionality. But you it was less common to have like a ship that has a lot of depth to it. That wasn't so much the thing. And the text on these tattoos ranged from really simple all caps. That's kind of like the the writing you see in comic books like in the comic book bubbles, really simple comic book writing to more elaborate fonts that had syrups. At the end strokes, we've talked about syrups, before the little lines at the ends of the strokes, and even some syrups that go right through the middle of the letter, there's a very distinctive tattoo font. It's kind of like a carnival font or a circus style. That's an outline of block letters, often with different kinds of serif. So maybe it's a little wavy serif on the end lines or wavy serif through the middle of the letter, and then the bottom half of the block letter gets inked in, and the top half is outlined only again, very distinct, very common. It's extremely popular in signage and posters today. And in terms of color. Now we think of those colors as having like a slightly muted quality. Because they're old and the ink has faded over time. They were often rendered in blacks, dark blues, reds and forest screens, but the ink quality back then wasn't fantastic. So the blacks turned to a navy blue, sometimes that dark turquoise color. And so now that's kind of like a tattoo blue like that. That color of blue is what a lot of us think of when we think of tattoos is that color, which is actually black faded over time. And it's kind of hard to know how vibrant those colors were at the time that they were done. Because not only have the tattoos faded, but photos from that time, if they were color, they faded too. So it's kind of hard to know how how vibrant Those were the ink tended in that era to bleed under the skin a little bit by which I mean you would lose some of the definition. The lines back then would get a little bit hazy, especially over time. And if there was any intricate detailing like so you have a ship's mass tattoo. You know when you've got lots of fine lines for the for the rigging and whatnot. Eventually that intricate detailing would get kind of washed out. And it would all become a blur because they're just that was the quality of the ink and the quality of the pen that was used in terms of placement on the body. For old school tattoos, they tended to be upper body tended to be places that could be covered. So chest, biceps, shoulders, maybe down onto the forearm. But you know, they weren't super, super common. If you're walking around the city in the 70s, or 80s, you are going to see people in short sleeves with, you know, some faded tattoos, maybe dark blue tattoos on their forearms, maybe a person walking down the street would have one or two visible tattoos. And maybe if you had like a grandparent or an uncle who was in the army, or the Navy or something, they would unbutton their shirt and show you the big tattoo on their chest or their shoulder. And I fully recognize that there are a number of stereotypes that I'm promoting in that description. But you know, really up until the 80s, tattoos were still pretty much counterculture. And that's how a lot of us would have encountered tattoos, through the 40s 50s 60s 70s and into the 80s.

Christine Malec:

I was reading a novel and one of the characters had a tattoo on his forearm of a woman, and it said that he could flex his muscles and make her do a little undulation. So is this a thing? Like, can you get the tattoo placed such that your body movements make them seem to move?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, yeah, there's like a, what is it the hula dancer or something like that on the bicep. And if you if you kind of flex your bicep or you pump your pec, you can get the dancer to, you know, swing their hips or something. That's a bit of a cartoon like, again, Popeye would do exactly that. In the cartoon. Yeah. Yeah, you can get him to move. You can get a tattoo to shift from side to side a little bit or bounce. But you would have to have some pretty impressive muscle control to actually get a tattoo to do anything specific any kind of specific dance move would be would be beyond those people's muscle control.

Christine Malec:

Okay. So what happens to tattoos as you get into the 80s 90s towards today?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, so somewhere around the 90s I think, and I mean, I'm no historian here, but somewhere around there tattoos start to enter more of the mainstream you get like armband tattoos became really popular. So a ring of like barbed wire or thorny vine around the bicep, or maybe something around the forearm like thick bands of solid black ink or Celtic knots, a lot of Celtic knots around the forum. They work really well because Celtic knots are high contrast braids, in black ink. So that that works really well. Celtic designs were also really popular at the small of the back, especially for women. And so that's how they started to enter the mainstream. And then as you get into the 2000s, they absolutely explode in these days. Everyone has tattoos, they aren't remotely hidden. They are everywhere walking down a city street today. A huge percentage of people, especially young people have tattoos. And they are not only you're not hiding them, you are showing them off, they are fully on display. So tattoos on arms on legs on hands on next, and they are on display in any kind of situation. And not just the vintage style tattoos right there. Those still exist. Like I said, they are very, very popular vintage style tattoos, especially in the like hipster world super popular. But there's all kinds, right, there's realism, tattoo, portraiture, watercolor style, minimalism, lots of different kind of Asian style tattoos. So it actually makes it from a description point of view, it's much more difficult to generalize, I can't just describe the aesthetic of current tattooing, because there's so many it's super, super broad, lots and lots and lots of different kinds of tattoos, what I can say is that the change in quality is readily apparent. So and I really do mean both in terms of the artistry and the ink. So there is more attention paid, perhaps to ensuring that the tattoos work with the body. So instead of just saying I want that tattoo, put it on my chest, it's like, oh, I like this particular design on this part of my body because it works with the curve of my body or what have you. And there are a lot more original designs a lot more like artist driven work. So instead of only having the options from a tattoo shop flash sheet. These are like samplers that hang on the wall or in the window of a tattoo shop. That would be examples. You could go into a tattoo shop and you could say I want that ship or I want that skull with the sword sticking through the eye. Now you can get any kind of work done because you can find an artist that specializes in the kind of work you want. So you can find a tattoo artist that specializes in portraits or someone who specializes in monochrome work, or there are tattoo artists that specialize in full color dragons kind of anything. And for a lot of people, the internet is now their sample board, right? Although there are artists that don't like copying other artists work, you can go online, you can see what other people have done, you can follow different tattoo artists on Instagram, to some very cool tattoo artists that like presenting their work on Instagram. And you can you know, you can pull and get ideas from that and take that to your your tattoo artist and say, What do you think about this idea? I like this technique, I like this, whatever. And you can build a much more personal tattoo. And that's what you see when you walk down the street. Those kinds of tattoos everywhere on everyone.

Christine Malec:

I don't know if this is indelicate, but I've heard when I was growing up, oh, you shouldn't get a tattoo because when your skin ages, it's going to look terrible. So do you see examples of tattoos that have not aged well on people?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah you have to be a little careful about where you get certain kinds of tattoos, like a lot of people get tattoos on fingers now. And those are tough because the the skin's not very deep. So the ink's not going down very far, they tend to fade quickly because your hands are always exposed to the sun. And so they will fade if you don't keep them up. If you don't keep getting them retouched and keeping keep them sunscreen and whatnot, they will fade very quickly. There are also problem areas around hips and bellies. That direction spread over time, as we gain and lose weight or have kids or whatever those parts of the body can, they will often get stretch marks on them. And that can a tattoo can spread and so the ink will, the ink will fade and bleed a little bit as the body spreads. And you know, parts of your body get wrinkly to or covered in hair. And that can affect how a tattoo looks as well. But that doesn't have to be the case. Right? There are lots and lots of examples of people who have maintained their tattoos, who use sunscreen to keep them covered. And yes, over time, the ink will bleed. And yes, the some of the definitions some of the really fine intricate work will be be last time, but you can keep up. Especially the old school tattoos because they're these kind of they look like, you know, they've got that the stronger outlines. So those are easier to touch up. They've got stronger single colors on the inside. So those are a little easier to touch up. What I'm really curious about are the super intricate works. I don't know how because those haven't been around for very long. It's like it hasn't like this watercolor technique, they really do look like watercolor paintings done on the body. I wonder how those are going to look in 30 or 40 years because we don't really have any examples of that.

Christine Malec:

Tattooing is not new in any sense. Indigenous cultures have been doing tattooing for a very long time based on the archaeological evidence. And so it's a hugely broad category. But coincidentally, JJ you and I happens to have read the same piece recently on an archaeological discovery of Inuit tattooing that goes back a long time and how some people in our culture are reviving that. Can we talk about about the visuals of indigenous tattoos?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, there's a real movement in some Inuit communities to revitalize this art, because it was lost for a generation. So there were a couple of different kinds of tattooing, that are that are there's a resurgence of hand poking, tattooing and skin stitching, which is you know, both traditional kinds of tattooing, both done by in us women for in you at women, this is very specifically about women. And so the hand poking is done with a very fine needle dipped in ink that's poked into the skin, right this is exactly as we described it earlier. The needle itself is wound on to a stick, maybe it would have at some point been wound on to a piece of bone with it with some string or sinew and then dipped in ink and put onto the skin. I've also seen it done where there is actual ink, like a line of ink put onto the surface of the skin, and then the needle pokes through it and into the skin. That's a one way to get the ink deposited into the skin. And with skin sewing. There's a very short thread that gets soaked in ink and then pulled through the skin using basically what looks like a sewing needle. And these tattoos are done on women's arms. I've seen them done on thighs, different parts of the body, but they're most recognizable on the face. This is a very simple geometric patterns. So straight lines, maybe zigzagging lines with dots, or lines and dots and repeating patterns is often the case. And with skin stitching, sometimes a gap is left between the stitches so that visually it very much looks like a running stitch pattern stitch in stitch out stitch in stitch out. Or the artists can just start the next stitch right at the end of the last stitch. And what it looks like is a straight line. Generally, these tattoos are in blue ink. I've seen them in dark blue ink, but also more recent tattoos and very a lighter, brighter blue ink. The classic is this V shape on the forehead. So a V shaped coming up from the sides of the forehead down to with the point between the eyes, and maybe they can be two or three v shapes. Maybe they're slightly curved as they come in, maybe they're absolutely straight. I've also lots of vertical lines on the chin, those are exclusively for women. So these are vertical lines that lead from the lower lip down to down around to the bottom of the chin. Very spare designs very elegant, but also very strong. These are only a handful of lines. But they are they are done in such a way. very clean, very simple. They look elegant, they look strong. They're quite beautiful. Have you specific examples in I think some of these might come from the the article that you and I read Chris, one woman had three concentric V's on her forehead. And there's a very thin line that came down from the point of the largest v down to the bridge of her nose. And she had mentioned that she got her tattoos to mirror the ones that her grandmother had. So for her this was a way to reconnect with an earlier generation because her mother's generation had been denied the right to carry on these family and cultural traditions. So she went back and got the exact same tattoos that her grandmother had. To carry that forward. I found a lovely video online featuring a 74 year old woman who had just gotten her tattoos as an older adult, because they had been banned when she was a younger woman. She had a double v on her forehead, she said that was to represent her parents who were the center of her life. And she had four lines on her chin. Those were to represent her sisters and nieces. And I also saw a tattoo artist who had a stitch line that started high on her cheekbones and arched under her nose. So this is the kind of very simple only a handful of lines dotted. Maybe sometimes you'll get like a poke Mark like just a very simple dot like that. That maybe they'll be in a pattern along with a stitch line. Very simple, very clean. Those are the kind of Inuit tattoos that are [part of] a resurgence to reconnect folks in the Far North.

Christine Malec:

Okay, here's where I really, really don't know what this is about. There's a phrase prison tattoos and so can we say a little bit about what that means?

JJ Hunt:

Yes. So prison tattoos are done in prison. So generally without the use of proper tattooing pen or tattooing gun, they are done. They're kind of makeshift, it's DIY. So like you can actually take if you take a pen like a just a blue ink, like a Bic pen or whatever, and you remove the the inside ink stick, and then you take the plastic outside and you and you carve it, you whittle it into a fine point. And then you squeeze the ink out, you can do basically this very, very old, you know, borrowing from the indigenous, dipping the pen and the ink and poking it right into the skin. And in prison, that's what people do. And those kinds of tattoos that are done really make shift, they tend to be more faded, the lines are really fuzzy, they're not straight, and they're kind of wonky, they're almost always blue in color. That's what's You know, that's what's available. And what's really interesting about prison tattoos is the symbolism. They're symbols in all kinds of tattoos, but in the prison tattoos there, they can be very specific. So one tattoo that you will see very often is five dots on the back of the hand, between the base of the thumb and the base of the index finger. So in that little area there five dots in like like on a like on a die a dice. So there will be four dots in a square pattern with one in the middle. That one in the middle is being imprisoned y the four dots around it. T at's to indicate that you ve served prison time. You ight find three dots at the corner of someone's eye or omewhere on the back of the h nd. Those three dots origin lly represented Mi Vi a Loca or my crazy life. And t at shows that you're in a gang, or lived in a gang. You lived i gang life at some point, not a specific gang, just you were par of gang life. The other tattoo s the teardrop tattoo. So again, coming down from the corner o your eye, maybe one, two or three teardrops here, t e meanings can be a little bit d fferent in different places. Sometimes that just symbolizes a prison sentence I got, I serve prison time. Sometimes i means that you've committed murder. If you have three te rdrops, maybe in some places, t at means I've committed three m rders. If it's an outline of a t ardrop, perhaps that migh mean that you are seeking reven e, some harm was done to you o someone you care about. And y u won't fill that in until you have you have sought your reven e.

Christine Malec:

So I have to ask JJ, what have you got

JJ Hunt:

Heh heh. I have one li tle tattoo, but like they sa as soon as you get one you ant more and more and more. I ust haven't had time to get m re! I've got one little tattoo. t's an old school tattoo o my chest, and it's a banner hat kind of folds back on it elf. And in kind of old scho l tattoo lettering it say Lois, my wife, Lois. You know, love the old school look. I lo e my lady. And, you know, when w en you marry a woman named Lois it's like that's got to be tattooed on me somewhere!

Christine Malec:

Ha!

JJ Hunt:

Lois! That's a fantastic name for a tattoo.

Christine Malec:

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Old school tattoos
Newer tattoos
Aging tattoos
Inuit tattoos
Prison tattoos