Tattoo Ideas: Words & Shelley Jackson's SKIN Project

Updated on July 21, 2011

Written by: Jaclyn Popola

Although certainly not a new concept, the use of typography (lettering) in tattoo designs has exploded in popularity over the past decade or so. Shelley Jackson's "Skin" Project, Ineradicable Stain, is a movement that has been in progress since 2003. Jackson, a previously published author, decided for her next book to put out a call for volunteers who would tattoo the manuscript on their skin, one word per participant. The novel will not be published anywhere in book form, but will be known only to the volunteers who will each receive one copy upon completion. The term completion, however, is up for interpretation. When Jackson first launched her website and proposed the idea, she stated that if not enough volunteers came forward to complete the first (and only) edition, then the incomplete version would be considered definitive. The words are assigned to volunteers at random, depending on the order in which potential participants sign a release form. The assigned word may be any size but must be tattooed in black ink in a classic book font. The word may be placed anywhere on the human body as long as the volunteer did not receive a word which names a body part. In this case, he or she can tattoo the word anywhere EXCEPT on that body part. (For example, the word "hand" can not be tattooed directly on one's hand.)

She also explains on her website that the participants are not carriers of the text, but are the words themselves, the embodiment of a concept. Any procedure that would later seek to cover up or remove the ink would be considered to alter the work and change the meaning, but only the actual death of words would remove them from the text. Jackson went so far as to say she would make an attempt to attend the funerals of her words. Sounds self-righteous? Perhaps it is, and maybe it seems as though Jackson is removing the autocracy and agency from her participants -- but that hasn't stopped 2,095 volunteers from coming forward.

Here are some examples from Shelley Jackson's SKIN project, along with a few others who are using the art of writing to convey a message best expressed in words rather than images.





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        iiiliivvv 5 years ago

        i wrote in latin words in my left arm- we have limits cuz we are afraid...

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        Katia 7 years ago

        These tattoos are pretty amazing except for the one by the armpit

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        michelle 8 years ago

        I love the lettering in da tatt

        (And in Time this too shall pass) :]

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        Shannon 8 years ago

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        Shannon 8 years ago

        I got this tattoo a few weeks ago. It means "love is everywhere," or more literally, "there is no place where love does not exist." My friend whose first language is Chinese wrote it for me... ignore the comment that it's grammatically incorrect.

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        sammy 8 years ago

        I really like 'silence is a dangerous sound' I'm considering it now for my next tattoo but, my first tattoo will always be my favorite, it says 'hold onto your dreams'

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        Skin care 8 years ago

        cool tatos.

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        Savy 9 years ago


        but i agree.

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        Anon 9 years ago

        Where did these photo's come from.... one of these is a good friend of mine ("Dark will turn to light, in time I'll be alright")

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        starrkissed 9 years ago from Arizona

        love these!