The Rabbit Hole³
“It comes from Alice in Wonderland where she fell down the Rabbit Hole into some bizarre shit (trippy stuff from the 70s). Therefore, it is commonly used as an expression or euphuism for a portal to bizzarro world/significantly strange happenings/extremely surreal situations, etc.”
– Urban Dictionary
Did you know that in some Eastern cultures they think about Death for 5 minutes each day to remind themselves how precious Life is?
The French, who are known to be a part of a sexually liberated culture (obviously an overgeneralization but for argument’s sake) call orgasms La Petite Mort which means, translated, “The Little Death.”
It’s funny how two cultures from different ends of the spectrum relate in this sense that if it weren’t for sex, none of us would be alive. And for each Life the only certain destination we all share, yet have to ironically go through alone is Death.
Death, by the way, is also considered a symbol for transformation, rebirth, renewal, and rejuvenation… this makes so much sense to me.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller, architect
When lockdown started, I was still determined to keep practicing my tattooing. Since I’m unable to tattoo others, I just went ahead and did it on myself. I learned my lesson from the geometric leaf though. I take care with clients but when I’m doing it on myself I tend to be more lenient in terms of pushing it so I ended overworking my skin on the top part (the yellow bits) of the leaf. Whereas with clients, I’m very, “Okay, I’ve run the needle several times on this section already. That’s enough.” But on myself, I get all, “I think it may be time to stop but I’m not in that much pain and it looks okay. I can do more.” 🤔
Anyway, during the process of designing, I kept adding and removing a bunch of stuff once I got a gist of the concept. It was my art on my calf that is to be tattooed by myself. The only restriction I had was regarding the parts of my body that I can/can’t reach.
It was absolute creative freedom and my head was exploding.
I showed a couple of my sounding board friends about 30 variations of the design (not an exaggeration).
One of them laughed and remarked about how it’s always going to be difficult to know when to stop. In being actively engaged with the process, I was reminded that Freedom is a responsibility just as Love & Life are forms of Art and everything has a price.
If you don’t know how to begin: you’re in trouble.
If you’re having problems stopping: you’re on the right path but in order for it to work, you have to know when to stop.
Everything in Life, even the fun-and-games bits, takes work. This is, for me, work and fun. When we’re doing our shit, over time, it becomes effortless because it becomes an extension of who are. It doesn’t just function within our cognition, it gets embedded in our subconscious. When we’re at the latter stage, that’s when it just becomes like typing or walking. Baby steps, if you are at liberty to proceed this way, IMO is best. In a world of short attention span where people, such as myself, who work in tech ourselves are having trouble disconnecting, patience is an inner resource that requires nurturance within ourselves.
Letting our inner child play is also a responsibility. It never ends, indeed. #BeingAnAdult
On that note: on with the fun.
The Left Calf
I wanted something that goes with my geometric leaf.
My favourite flower is Birds of Paradise which I tried to incorporate. I twisted things around by distorting the flower, changing the colours and the placements but despite my efforts it just wasn’t working.
Having said that, while I was hashing out different ideas on what type of plant (was fucking around with it too and just doing random leaves with different colours), I kept seeing (in my imagination) silhouettes of a woman. So I looked up silhouettes of women and somewhere along the way, I remembered this photo of Angelina Jolie taken by David LaChapelle that I love.
Yes, I used it as reference.
I deferred to my cousin who started getting into plants. Via one of our video chats, she showed me a plant that looked super cool, “It’s called ‘stromanthe’ something. It’s Brazilian.” I looked it up.
It was perfect.
Once I had the image of female done, I was looking for plants of flowers that were kinda 2D’ish in its colour style that mixes well with the female bit, composition-wise.
I was stencil testing early afternoon, “I just wanna see how it’s gonna be placed then maybe I can mark stuff.” It took several tries before I finally got the right placement and then… “Wow. That was a super annoying. When I actually tattoo I’m gonna have to do this again…”
“Fuck it. I’m doing it now.”
I finished the outline, black fill shading, and black shading in the evening and took an hour-long break. For both calves, I was essentially taking a 15-30 minute break every 45 minutes or so. This is not common but:
1. Getting tattooed takes a lot out of you due to the pain.
2. Tattooing takes a lot out of you because you essentially have to keep that focus throughout the entire process and you’re either always crouching while you’re at it or you’re in some other weird position.
3. Tattooing myself meant an extra weird position to accommodate me trying to focus on the work as well as giving myself a proper positioning/view of the body part. When it’s on someone else: totally feasible. When it’s on yourself: it’s a real challenge.
4. I’m at liberty to take all the time in the world as this is essentially a pet project that also serves as training/practice.
5. Tattooing yourself is all of #1, #2 & #3 so, yes, I shamelessly took my time because #4.
While I was at it, I was essentially doing variations of the half-pigeon yoga pose to properly accommodate the activity. Yoga is great but not for hours on end. I woke up with all sorts of pain in my abdomen, hips, and butt the next day. Damn.
When I finally got to the colours, I realized that the pink I had wasn’t working nor did I have the correct shade of brown. I did this at home, not the studio which has all the other colours available.
When I was done, I didn’t even have the energy to take photos. I dreaded the fact that I still had to wash it and apply second skin. I was exhausted. But the next day, once I got up, I ordered the ink right away.
Weeks later when it was healed, I finally finished it.
The Right Calf
I already have an anklet tattoo on my right calf. It’s a pattern I got from the internet and customized. I added the Arabic word, “Maktub.” I wanted it close to my feet so “wherever I may roam” type thing (if you click the link for Maktub, you’ll get it. A sentence or two is simply not enough for readers to capture its essence).
When it came to brainstorming, my head was exploding on this one as well. I knew I wanted something to match my ankle tattoo along with the random geometric shape I tattooed that is connected to it but complete freedom = 🤯
You have to get through the initial shock before making your way to coherency.
I took the page of patterns and fucked around. I love experimenting. It brings out so much life and joy out of me so I do it.
It was partially inspired by an earlier work.
I initially wanted just a skull. Then blotches of ink started popping in my imagination then I remembered another earlier work.
It has two characters from my favourite graphic novel, “The Sandman” by Neil Gaiman (it’s been about 15-20 years since I was really into graphic novels but this is, by far, the one that struck me most.
The man standing is Dream/Morpheus/Sandman. He’s the third of 7 siblings while the woman is the second.
She is Death. She tells us that we all get what anyone gets: we get a lifetime…just as the amount of time it took me to finalize everything felt like a lifetime as well.
She’s onto something and when I was a teenager, she was one of my role models. It’s a done deal; she’s going on my calf.
I already know this piece isn’t tattooable. You don’t want parts that should have definitions (lines, shapes, colours, shades of colours etc) to be too close together in a small or medium-sized tattoo. Like, okay, this is tattooable if it were to be a huge back piece maybe. Hmm… this would make a sick back piece but some parts still need to be simplified.
Anyway, I took Death and the skull and modified it a bit. I composed it with the pattern and a red stroke, trash polka style.
I wanted to finish the entire tattoo in one sitting but after 8 hours (break every 30ish minutes plus a 1 hour lol) of self-inflicted pain along with a funny position: I was done. After my hour-long break, I could only take 30 more minutes, “Fuck this. I’m done. Fuck this.” I didn’t even have the energy to finish the shading on the skull at that point.
I was burnt out.
I may also have gotten a little too ambitious with parts I can/can’t reach. A good chunk of it is way too low on the front of my shin and parts are too far on the back of my calf. I really had to crouch to reach those areas. I can reach my toes and all, yes, but for tattooing, you have to maneuver a vibrating machine with a need to focus on a close look.
Let’s just say that I woke up the next day with pain in parts of my body that I don’t even know the names for. It wasn’t just crouching anymore it was Yoga Xtreme while tattoing. It was already cold out but I opened the windows because working through these literally made me sweat. Damn.
I was also twitching on myself. It mostly happened when I was on the middle front of my shin. It’s not something we can control but we can alleviate it by singing, swearing, yelling, chanting, or something. I encourage all my clients to cuss when they’re twitching or when I’m doing parts that are especially painful. I took my own advice and cussed my way through.
It works. Trust.
After about a week, I was ready to go again but the tattoo wasn’t because it wasn’t healed yet. So I had to wait another two weeks (it’s different for everyone: some people take 2 weeks, some people take 4. My skin heals in time by 3).
When it was time, I retouched some parts on the black fill shading, finished the skull shading, put the stencil on for the red parts, and filled it. I normally would’ve just put the stencil for all the outlines but the red parts on this one aren’t outlined with black. It wasn’t like a component that was far out from the rest of the composition but is very meshed with the design so I had to do it separately.
I had a lot of fun doing the red blotch. I had a stencil and a reference drawing but when I got into it, I realized that I can just fuck around and go lighter on some areas, give some areas shading, added some dots and splatters where it wasn’t originally intended to have it… I mean blotches, splatters, and spatters are inconsistent and you get random bits of it inadvertently in some areas so I decided to be deliberately unintentional.
After another total of 8 hours; the first 4 being a breeze, the next 2 being “tired but I can still go”, the next hour being “I’m close to being done” and the last hour being “Oh my God I don’t think I can take any more pain (on my position and the needles – after the last break, I started off with a 7-needle for about 10 minutes to ease me in the pain onto the 11-needle again for filling some more of the red bits)” I finally finished it.
I love tattooing and I love tattooing myself. It’s so much fun and doing this makes me feel so alive but just as Life has its strugs, these aren’t endeavours to be taken lightly at all.
Having said that, I’m still obsessed.
I went to see my acupuncturist, at one point, after a long day at the studio. I’ve been seeing her for years now so we know each other fairly well. Once I stepped in the door she said, “You look tired… but happy. Good for you!” She laughed.
Then I proceeded on to her table to have needlework on my body… after a long day of having people on my table to get needlework done on their bodies, I suppose you can say it was my turn.
You know how it is in the hole. There’s Life, Death, and everything else that’s in between.
And regardless of how far, deep, or wide it goes: We all end up in the same place.
“I’m not merciful or blessed. I’m just me. I’ve got a job to do and I do it….When the first living thing existed, I was there. Waiting. When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished. I’ll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.”
– Death, The Sandman