Friday, 4 September 2009

A Trip to the Cow Palace

Lesson I: TAT-TOO: Tattoo comes from the Tahitian word tatau. Tattooing involves injecting colored ink beneath the epidermis with tiny punctures through the skin’s surface.The word “tattoo” was first introduced into Europe in the 1770s by Captain James Cook in his journal that described the Tahitian natives:
Both sexes paint their bodies, Tattow as it is called in their language, this is done by inlaying the colour of black under their skins in such a manner as to be indelible. -Cook, July 1769.

Where is this Going?: Last Friday, I went to the famous Cow Palace to check out the Tattoo Expo. Although I’m still considered a “virgin” in the Tattoo World, I find tattoos fascinating and I wanted to learn more about this fashionable form of art. I thought that the best way to experience and learn about this type of body decoration was to go to the Expo and to see first hand how one goes about getting a tattoo as well as how the tattooists work with this medium. I originally wanted to dive right into discussing my experience at the Expo, but after talking to people about my experience, I realized that a lot of people don't know how historical and cultural the art of tattooing has been worldwide. I decided that I would try to inform people of its long history and then I'll share the pictures and a few things I learned from the Expo. I will only focus on the highlights and attempt to make it as brief as possible, but you can skip the history and go to the Tattoo Expo section if you like.

Cliff Notes Version of the History: Before tattooing even began, body painting was considered the earliest form of body art. Popular pigments of the Paleolithic time were: red (commonly representing blood, vitality, mortality, and fertility); white (often associated with rituals, mourning, purification, and the supernatural); and black (typically representing impurity and evil). Depictions of such body paintings can be found on cave paintings illustrating hunters, men, women, and shamans. Different body painting patterns, geometrical shapes, and colors often represented ceremonies, rituals, tribes, gender, and shamanic experiences. With time, tattooing became the new fad.

Sahara rock painting, Tassili N'Ajjer, Algeria. Dots and lines represent
tattooing and body paint used in ceremonies, as identification,
and for shamanic experiences.

The Tattoo Expo: I didn’t realize before coming to the Expo that there seems to be two types of tattoo groups:

1. the “I only get sentimental and meaningful tattoos” group
2. the “I just get souvenirs and whatever” group

I respect both groups because I see the beauty, passion, and appreciation that each group has about their tattoos and about creating those tattoos for others. Each tattoo is unique and it tells you a little about the person based on their interests, beliefs, and artistic appreciations.

For More Information: If you would like to see more pictures or to learn more about the history of the tattoo, cultural influences, the controversies, and some of the things I learned from the Tattoo Expo, visit my blog:
Happy reading,

Leslie Ann


  1. this is amazing i was actually considering being a tattoo artist. It'd be something I think I'd be good at.

  2. I think the meaning of tattoing has changed completely. Everybody wants to brand themselves something meaningful and it does tell us a lot about them as people and also their aesthetical taste. I'm not sure how I'd feel about getting a tattoo though. It seems like a demarcation of stalled growth in certain areas of your life, but it could also be a reminder of something universal in your life.

  3. In regards to the first comment, I do briefly discuss the apprentice life in my personal blog. If you’re willing to be an apprentice for four years, then go for it! I think you would be good at it too because you have an edgy style –but you’re also versatile and can do the typical representational drawings too.

    As for your second comment, I would agree with you on that. Just like everything else with time, the style, the art, and the meaning of tattooing and tattoos have evolved. In the Western culture, we definitely have moved away from using tattoos for the purpose of identifying ourselves within a specific tribe and as an individual within that tribe.

    However, when you think about it, we are almost unconsciously repeating it. A tattoo can signify your culture, location, affiliations, personality, beliefs, and interests simply based on the artistic style, type of tattoo, and even the tattoo artist. In addition, as you have stated, each tattoo becomes a marker of some point in that person’s life –even the “just for the heck of it” tattoos that were not intended to be “meaningful.” I guess it just shows that we really haven’t changed from our early ancestors. I bet Darwin didn't see that coming!