The Illustrated Man

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Tattoos on October 30th, 2008 by MadDog
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My interest in tattoos was stimulated, as is sadly the case with many soldiers, by copious quantities of alcoholic beverages. A fellow Huey pilot’s father owned a tattoo shop. We got tanked up one night and went over to his dad’s store front to have a look around. I’d never been inside a tattoo parlour before.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, my friend said he needed some practice and offered me a free tattoo. In my stupor it didn’t occur to me to ask him about his qualifications. At least it was painless. I walked out at about four in the morning with a poorly rendered black widow spider on my shoulder. It looked like something you’d get at Folsom Prison.

What does a tattoo look like up close?

I’m about to show you:

Up-close tattoo

There, that wasn’t so bad, was it? That’s a little corner of a maple leaf from my O Canada  tattoo.

My daughter-in-law, Tamara, has designed nearly all of my tattoos, despite the fact that she loathes tattoos. She is a talented artist. Her book illustrations are truly beautiful. She insisted that, if I were to get tattoos, they should be good art.

Here are the four designs that she offered to me for my Dancing Dolphins  tattoo that completely encircles my left upper arm:

 Dancing Dolphins A

Dancing Dolphins B
Dancing Dolphins C
 Dancing Dolphins D

And here is the original art for my Happy Zen Fish  on my left shoulder. It was my second tattoo – designed to cover up the black widow spider. Many first tattoos end up being covered over by something less obnoxious:

Happy Zen Fish

My request was simple. I said that I wanted something Yin-Yangy, an oriental sea motif with a fish in it, and it had make me feel happy every time I would see it in the mirror. Well, maybe not so simple. Her first offer was perfect. I couldn’t think of a thing that I wanted to change.

I’ll also show you the original art for my Turtle Totem  tattoo. It’s on my bum, which is becoming more elephantinely wrinkled year by year, so I’ll spare you the indignity of viewing the turtle where it lives:

Turtle Totem

You’ve already seen the Twin Triggerfish  on my back, so I won’t repeat them here.

But, the tattoo that I love the most is on my right upper arm. It’s based on this photo:

Eunice Messersmith

I took this shot as I was testing a new camera. Eunie had just turned twenty-one. We’d been married a few months. She was sitting on the couch sewing. I pointed the camera at her and said, “Hey, babe.”

From a technical standpoint, this frame is pretty awful. Yet, way down deep inside, it defines me as a photographer. It’s easily the most important photograph that I’ve ever taken, and I have little hope of ever topping it. Ah, serendipity.

I remember clearly the very sad day when I realized that I had lost the negative. I have but one original print left which I protect as the treasure it is to me.

Every photographer strives to create images that provoke an emotional response in the viewer. After all, what good is an image which, when you look at it, you feel nothing?

Here’s a photo by Lina, a friend who was with us up at Blueblood one Sunday. Lina wanted a photo showing Eunie and her doppelganger  on my arm:

Eunie and Me

Yes, my hat does have a story, and I will tell it to you soon, but I need to wrap this up so as not to keep you too long.

But, I have one last story about the tattoo of Eunie.

During CWA Quiz Nights, there are many prizes awarded for silly things – it’s a tradition. One night Brian Lusmore was presiding and he offered a prize to the first man to bring him a picture of his wife. As a few men were reaching for their wallets, I leapt from my seat and ran to the front, rolling up my sleeve as I went. I arrived first as the crowd erupted in giggles and guffaws.

I won the prize.

But, of course, I had won a much finer prize in 1964.

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O Canada – An Homage in Skin

Posted in Tattoos on May 11th, 2008 by MadDog
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After the frenzy of anxious activity and fretfulness of a month spent wrapping up affairs in the USA as tightly as we might, coming to Canada has mesmerized me into a blissful state of leisure and an aimless pursuit of pleasure, amusements, and relaxation.

On pondering this amazing transformation, it came to me as in a vision: I need to do something radical to celebrate this passage. Something like a big exclamation point at the end of a chapter! As frequently results when this brain-gut connection begins to emit tiny purple sparks from my fingertips and toes, my reaction was: GET A TAT!

My bemused but loving daughter-in-law, Tamara, was easily persuaded to provide her always excellent artistic talent to promote my lunacy. It is so very sweet – the way she humors me. Her tasteful designs have already permanently illuminated three locations on my leathery old frame.

As with all of my tattoos, this one tangles many meanings and levels of emotion into a concise dermatological statement. As I am fond of saying, “My body is my journal.”

Probably the most significant impetus is the recent onset of a spectacular manifestation of Canadaphilia.

Though I’ve always been distantly intrigued by the vast unknown to the north – mysterious coins in a handful of change, the engrossing radio adventures of the courageous and oh-so-ethical Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and his faithful, longsuffering sled dog – “On, King! On, you huskies!”, Canada has, nonetheless, been little visited my me.

I suppose, though I know better, I have always been influenced by the sad American view of Canada as, “Just like America, only with strange money and colder.”

Hmmm . . . raving again. Let’s get on with it.

I asked Tamara for, “Something that screams CANADA, but in a sweet, mellow contralto.” (Okay, that’s not what I said, but she got the idea anyway.) She presented me with three delightful maple leaf designs in a Japanese water colour style.

Here’s my tattoo artist (Steve from Wylde Tattoos in Hamilton) with the original artwork. Eunie’s remark on meeting Steve was, “That’s just the guy who should do it.”

Steve from Wylde Tattoos in Hamilton, Ontario

Here’s Steve picking out the colours (Note the Tim Hortons coffee cup):

Selecting the colours for my tattoo

Here’s the finished outline:

The finished outline


Applying the colours to the Maple Leaf tattoo

And here’s the finished piece the next day:

The finished Maple Leaf tattoo

I’m calling it O Canada

Thank you, Tamara, for your love and forbearance. And, thank you, Canada, for restoring me. Cold as I am on the outside, my heart is once again warm and serene.

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