Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tattoo redux: Re-assessing the "skindecisions" of our 20s.

By summer's end, I'll have a new and more meaningful piece of art on my belly.

Posted By on Thu, May 22, 2014 at 10:16 AM

We get tattoos to mark a milestone or reflect our inner selves, to wear as a reminder of a joy or heartache we never want to forget.

click to enlarge A before and after of a tattoo re-imagined, by Jennifer Lynn.
  • A before and after of a tattoo re-imagined, by Jennifer Lynn.
Some get inked after careful consideration, others on a whim. But as the years slip by, these badges of honor no longer reflect who we are. Tattoo cover-up shows like Bad Ink and Tattoo Nightmares reveal the most drastic cases of poor ink decision-making. 

For me, it was my second tattoo — the fairy on my belly that was a celebration of turning 21. The artist I'd meant to see that fateful evening was Tom Kiernan, who happened to be on vacation (and is still active and much-sought-after to this day — see info about him below). But it was my birthday, a wad of cash was burning a hole in my pocket, and the need for instant gratification was strong enough that I ended up sitting down with the only guy in the shop at the time. The just-finished tattoo was lovely, too, even though my fairy looked more like an angel.

Problem was, she lost her color pretty quickly, despite my attention and care, and when I got re-inked a few years later at another shop for a nominal price, that artist either wasn't as precise with his outlines or he used a thicker needle, and the new ink didn't stay bright for very long.

Today, my fairy's delicate green wings are faint, and the yellow fill-work barely discernible; her lilac dress falls in dull shaded folds, and all the line-work is blurred, making her hands more like fists and the serene expression on her face barely recognizable.

click to enlarge Tribal tattoo, pre-cover-up
  • Tribal tattoo, pre-cover-up
I don't want it removed. But I've changed in the more than dozen years since I got the tattoo, and I've been wanting something different that reflects the person I am now — a koi, to represent perseverance, strength of purpose, and aspiration, while also speaking to the love I have for a certain band that changed my life. 

After getting some recommendations from a CL staffer who's had a few cover-ups of her own, I sat down with Jennifer Lynn of Ybor City Tattoo Company, a bright open place right on Seventh Avenue.

The Jacksonville native has been tattooing since 1995. Ironically, it was a terrible tattoo that got her into it. "I had a friend who became a tattoo artist," she explains. "His co-worker got a really bad tattoo from another artist. And I was like, 'Jesus, I could do better on my first tattoo than that.' And my friend was like, 'Well, why don't you talk to my boss about it?' I couldn't think of anything else for 24 hours straight." At the time, she was 24, making good money as a makeup artist, but searching for something more meaningful. "This kind of just happened at the same time. I feel like tattooing found me." She spent her first five years working in Jacksonville before relocating to Tampa, where she's been ever since.

Her specialties include traditional and sailor-style tattoos — "because that's my background, I started in a shop that was really close to a naval base" — as well as folk art-inspired pieces, especially Day of the Dead art, although her portfolio touches on everything from tropical flowers to splashing koi to intricate hamsas. She does a lot of cover-ups. "I like them, I feel like they're a challenge. It's just — you have to have a customer who's willing to almost let you have the ball and run with it to get the best piece."

click to enlarge Tribal tattoo, with crow & rose cover-up, by Jennifer Lynn
  • Tribal tattoo, with crow & rose cover-up, by Jennifer Lynn
Tribal tattoos and anything solid black prove the most difficult to cover, while smaller tattoos and script (exes' names being the most common) are rather easy. Lynn guides her clients through the process during the initial consultation, pointing out what works and what doesn't based on a number of factors, including the placement of the original tattoo, its shape and size (a cover-up needs to be double the size of the original piece, if not bigger), the direction it faces, the body parts she has to work around. She stresses that having an open mind is important. "Maybe your design doesn't work, and that's kind of a bummer, because it's hard to find something you really want and you're so married to this idea ... so you have to be able to compromise when it comes to a cover-up."

Once she traces out the area and figures out the cover-up's size, she takes pictures, creates a drawing based on trying to hide the piece — which she likens to putting together a puzzle — and then, ideally, you see it, like it and make an appointment for your first sitting.

My koi will stretch from the top of my panty line up to the bottom of my rib cage, with an added piece in a lighter color on my pelvic bone to balance the piece while also drawing the eye away from the spot of the original tat. It'll require multiple sittings due to its position (a few painful spots), size (not small) and price (Lynn charges $150 an hour, the standard going rate anywhere from $100-$250 depending on the artist), but I've started saving up and perhaps by summer's end, I'll have a new and more meaningful piece of art on my belly. 

Ybor City Tattoo Company is located at 1730 E. Seventh Ave., Ybor City; hours are Mon.-Thurs., noon-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat., noon-midnight, and Sun., noon-8 p.m. 

Angelika Graca, Foolish Pride Tattoo, 648 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-824-5612,

Bob Hey, Commitment Tattoos, 2930 9th St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-498-8790,

Chelsea Rhea, Amulet Tattoos, 917 1st Ave. N., St. Petersburg, 727-329-8969,

David Bruehl, Redletter 1, 217 S. Cedar Ave., Tampa, 813-241-2435,

Evil Don, Evil Don Tattoos, 2063 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-896-4670,

Jason Minaro, Moniques Clearwater Tattoo & Body Piercing, 1861 Gulf-To-Bay Blvd., Clearwater, 727-462-8346,

JD, Psychotic Ink, 432 Poinsettia Ave., Clearwater, 727-298-0968,

Tom Kiernan, Tom Kiernan's Black Fin, 1327 E. Seventh Ave., Ybor City, 813-831-1106, 

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