How I Designed and Built My Sleeve Tattoo, Piece by Piece
My Tattoo Sleeve
Whenever I'm stopped by people curious about my tattoos, they always ask the same three questions...
1) Did it hurt?
Some areas were definitely more sensitive than others, but I actually liked the feeling. My foot tattoo sucked pretty hard though. Of course, it all comes down to your threshold for pain. I didn't like the way my foot felt, but that's not going to stop me from going back to tattoo the other one!
2) Who's your artist?
Bob Witten at Skin Deep Tattoo (Hilo, Hawaii). I love his work so much, I hand out business cards ;)
3) How many hours did it take?
That last question gets me. I'm really not sure how to answer it since my first arm tattoo was inked over ten years ago. It takes a while for me to count up the hours under the needle until I finally just admit that my sleeve was a piece-by-piece project which started years before it ended.
At first glance, the colorful swirls of ink seem to flow in unison. Yet a closer inspection will reveal the different symbols, each unique in meaning and memory. I'm living proof a tattoo sleeve can be created through patchwork.
My Sleeve Was Done In Pieces Instead of All at OnceClick thumbnail to view full-size
If you're interested in a sleeve like mine, here are some ideas:
My tattoos reveal things about my personality, beliefs, and childhood that I normally wouldn't bring up in a conversation. Some are personal reminders that keep me on a positive track when I'm need a little boost in morale, while others are simply there for the sake of art itself.
Every person has a clear definition of what they deem visually appealing. Symbols that are beautiful to some may repel others. Yet a tattoo should not be based on other people's perception of you. Don't go running off to the tattoo parlor just because someone said a rabid version of Hello Kitty would look "totally epic" on you. Remember that a tattoo is a piece of living art that should speak your soul. Therefore, make sure choose symbols that you can connect to specific moments and memories in your own life...(no offense to those who can actually connect to rabid Hello Kitty, lol!)
This One's For You
Family had a great influence on the symbols found in my sleeve. My mother, born in the year of the dragon, was always my protector. Her guidance, grace, and wisdom fueled the idea behind my Gunner tattoo. My father (el mejor cocinero de las hamburguesas con chili verde) inspired the bright-eyed candy skull. My grandfather, a navy officer, is represented in the bluebird while the cherry blossoms floating all around remind me of my grandmother. If you're thinking of doing a tribute to your loved ones, I suggest symbols with subtle yet meaningful connections. The stories of love behind each of these symbols will convey much more than just words in ink.
A Tribute to Nature
Nature's elegance and allure is unsurpassed, yet paying homage to the beauty of nature through art is a common theme. Apart from being universal symbols of season and locale, tattoos designs inspired by flora and fauna often carry other symbolic meanings for the collector. The band of morning glory was my first arm tattoo not because I like the flower, but because I AM the flower. My middle name, Koali, means "morning glory" in Hawaiian. My mother showed me the delicate, violet blossoms scattered in vines along sands of Haupuna beach. I remember picking a flower once and watching it die in my hands, turning to a limp film that clung to my skin. As I looked around at the other blossoms smiling in the sunshine, I felt guilty. Many years later, ink brought my blossom back to life.
Connect the Dots
The strawberry plants scattered around my forearm, while having symbolic meaning, also serve to frame the tattoos that were inked separately. Cherry blossoms also help connect the pieces together. I even have them framing the Pokémon on my foot. As for the spaces that couldn't house pictures, Bob used bright hues of blue and yellow to add a cloud-type pattern to the mix. Finding allegorical designs, patterns, and colors that are simple and easily duplicated can help create continuity in your sleeve.
Always remember that a tattoo is a decision you will live with forever. It's vital to be confident in the longevity of a piece's appeal before going under the needle. Tattoo removal is expensive and painful. Refer to the chart below see if you're really ready for ink. In addition, be sure to research the artist, his/her previous work, and the tattoo shop's credentials before the gun starts to BBBbbzzzzzz!!!