Drawn to the Ink

Anna Blake Patrick

As OES Aardvarks in the City of Portland, we are part of one of the most artistic (and, of course, “weird”) cities in the country—and the fifth most tattooed. Now, when self-expression and a sense of identity are a more intrinsic part of our community than ever, tattoos have become the symbol of individuality and voice.

As someone with a deep appreciation for artistic expression, I wanted to know: What do our Varks have to say about tattoos? Below is a Q&A with some Senior Oesians.

1. What do tattoos represent for you? 

Kendall K. ’21: For me, tattoos represent self-expression 100%. I think that in our world, where currently society is super restrictive, being able to be yourself in whatever way, shape, or form that is, and to exist outside of that, is so important. Our bodies are so temporary—so why would I not want to decorate them with art and the things that are important and mean something to me?

Nevi B. ‘21: I think tattoos are really amazing for self-confidence. I think bodies are more beautiful when there’s artwork on them. For me, that is part of my self-expression and how I feel. I think tattoos should be meaningful, should have a reason to be there, a reason to be on your body permanently—because it really is a permanent thing. 

2. What was the reason you got a tattoo/ why are you thinking of getting one?

Kendall: The reason I got a tattoo is that I’ve always wanted one, even since I was little. I want a lot of it to be my own artwork. I’m super interested in being a tattoo artist, having an apprenticeship, and getting my license. The thought of giving someone else something that they’re going to take with them for the rest of their life is a huge responsibility but also something that I love.

Nevi: I’ve been getting stick and pokes for three years now, and for me, it’s a way to express feelings and remind people and myself visibly of something or to hold that close to my heart. Sometimes when you have feelings and likes and dislikes, it’s hard to hold that close enough to your heart and mind and have that be on your mind all the time, so having tattoos is a good constant reminder of the things that are important to you. I will be getting tattoos when I turn eighteen. It’s a form of expression and a way to show yourself and others what’s important to you.

3. If I am under 18 and want a temporary tattoo, which tattooing method is safest, longest-lasting, and most reliable?

Nevi: I think that Inkbox is a really cool method, especially if you are 18 and planning on getting a tattoo. You can design your own in Inkbox and have it for two weeks. If you get sick of it, then obviously you’re not going to get the tattoo, and if you love it, then go for it. I also think stick and pokes are awesome if you’re doing them in the right environment and using the right materials—sanitized needles, isopropyl alcohol to cleanse the space, etc. But they are permanent, and if you give them to other people then you are taking on a huge amount of accountability—some parents might get mad, infections can happen, and it’s important to bear in mind religious views and your family’s rules. 

Kendall: The safest bet if you want to do a non-permanent tattoo is to choose the online-ordered two-week-lasting options, such as Inbkox, or drawing on yourself with a non-toxic marker. Henna is great, but it’s important to be aware of the culture behind it and not appropriating that, and understanding the background of the art form.

4. What should I expect on ink day?

Kendall: Plan it out and know what you want. It can be expensive, so make sure you have the funds for it. Making sure that you feel like you’re going to a place where you have a connection to the artist or feel comfortable is key because this is going to be on your body permanently.

It’s going to take a while, so make sure you don’t have anything else planned for the day. I did a walk-in, and it was great. (I went to Pink Panther Tattoo.) It didn’t hurt me at all. I honestly almost fell asleep (I have a really high pain tolerance). However, I do know that for some people it does hurt. It varies with each person. If you have a connection with the person who’s doing it, that can make the experience a lot more comfortable. Once you get the tattoo, you have to take care of it. You can’t swim or put it in the sun, so be mindful of that if you’re planning to get one in the summer. 

5. What advice would you give to other students who are planning on getting a permanent tattoo once they turn 18?

Nevi: I haven’t gotten a permanent tattoo yet, but the way that I like to think of it is imagining myself as an old person, surrounded by the people that I care about, and observing what my body looks like. If I want there still to be body art on me, then that is a meaningful thing that shows me it has a purpose on my body and that it is a good idea. But if you have the mentality of right now I want it, it’s super exciting, I love this design… but in forty years I’m going to hate it, then don’t get it. I think tattoos are a really great way to express yourself and to bring meaning to your body and your values and your experiences. Done in the right way, with a conscious mind, and an able body, they can be really incredible. 

6. How do you feel now that you have tattoo(s)?

Kendall: For me, it felt really amazing to get one because I’d been waiting for so long. Having them on me and knowing that they’re a part of me, and seeing that… I just love it. I think everything’s art. We’re art. And I love the idea that I can do things to my skin and through that, be self-expressive and artistic. Our bodies are just a vessel and a way we can exist in this world, and we can make them more our own

A lot of people say, “Don’t get a tattoo because you won’t get a job, people won’t take you seriously, and it’ll hinder you in a lot of ways,” and there’s definitely some careers and professions where it’s looked down upon, and there are rules and regulations against it. However, I know that those are changing. More and more people are getting tattoos; it’s more normalized; a lot more people have them in professional jobs; and that outlook is outdated, really toxic, and very much racist and based on this colonizer way of viewing the world. The history behind tattoos, the practice of tattooing, the different cultures it connects with, and the way that it’s been used is so fascinating. Learning the “behind it” is so important.

I think people who look down on tattoos are stuck in the very narrow-minded, colonizer way of thinking instead of viewing it as self-expression. I still struggle to express myself and feel like I can identify with myself. It can be hard to own that sense of identity in a world that is very much against everything I am. Having tattoos is a way for me to express myself and to break from a society that’s forced me into a box. Tattoos are incredible and I wish there was not so much stigma around getting them.