Progression of a Design – Mary’s Sleeve

I have very few units of measure for time in my life. Most things fall into the categories “today”, “yesterday”, “the other day” or “back in the day”. This story begins back in the day.

I have done a number of back piece tattoos over the years. Most all of the people that I have done backpieces on have gotten to be friends. All of them have made an impression on my life. We spend a whole lot of time together over the period that the piece is being worked on. For better or worse, we get to know one another.

Rich had a backpiece done way back in the day. I am a little unclear if it was before or after we moved into the bigger shop on West Ridge Road – but I am guessing that it was somewhere along in the area of 1995 (maybe 94). It had to have been one of the first ones that I had done. Rich and I had agreed on a price structure based on full day sessions instead of the hourly. It worked for both of us. This is something that I still do often – flat price for the whole day. That way people can plan and know what they need for on each visit. Rich was bound and determined to get every possible cent that he could for these sessions. The man was prepared. He came with cooler in hand. Filled with everything that a tattooist could need to keep her happy. He always brought a variety of sandwiches or subs (after having interrogated me for me favorites) little snackie type things and beverages of choice (I think back then I was drinking MelloYello). We talked, we tattooed, we snacked and we became friends.

After his backpiece was finished I did some other work on Rich and then somewhere along the  line he moved to Virginia. I continued to tattoo him when I was working nearby and I had stayed with him in his home when I was attending the Richmond convention.

We kept in touch a little bit through email and what-not, but after a while had drifted apart and had not talked in a couple of years. It wasn’t something I even thought anything of. There are just some people that you can not talk to for a year or two and when you bump into one another it picks up right where it left off. When I did think of Rich I just figured that I would hear from him again.

It wasn’t Rich who reached out and got ahold of me however – it was his widow. I was stunned.

Mary wanted to get a tattoo from me. A tattoo for Richard. Most of her right arm.

A tattoo of great importance to her – in her own words “we were soulmates, and so much in love with each other…like a fairy tale come true for both of us..we meant everything to each other…and that i will love him until the day i go be with him..and we are reunited again…”

She had some sketches and ideas on what she wanted it to look like. A portion of it was going to be a tattoo of some roses that I had designed for Richard many years prior and that he had never had done.

We talked and Mary mailed me the design that her daughter had drawn up for her.

The design arrived at a point when I was feeling very overwhelmed in my work and had taken on far too many projects all at once. I just didn’t think that it was going to work well trying to do this large a piece, from this reference drawing and from this great of a distance. I wound up sending the design back to her with some notes on it as to changes that would need to be made in order to make a sleeve out of it. I just didn’t feel up to undertaking the project and Mary had indicated that she had a local artist who could probably do it for her.

Some time passed and Mary got back in touch with me. She had thought about it and decided that she would like me to make the necessary modifications and do the tattoo for her. By that time I had cleared some of the heavier projects from my work load and agreed to take it on.

Mary sent me photos of her arm and all the measurements that I would need in order to map out the design for her arm. (In addition to returning the original sketch and my modification overlay.)

It turned out that there was also a small cover-up involved which for once wasn’t much of an issue. (Usually cover-ups involve complete re-working of the design to adapt around the existing tattoo).

I talked to Mary about the modifications that I would like to make to the piece and why. I finished up drawings of the bulk of the image:

The Wolves that Mary had selected for reference were too small and pixelated to work from, so better source material was required.

So when Mary arrived she saw the layout for the first time (except for the wolves)

and the line work which I would use to apply the stencil:

The first session went really well. Mary was able to sit for a very long time. We were able to complete most of the outline and start the color on the shoulder. I wanted to be sure to get some of the coverup area started so that I could see how well the covering color was going to hold.

Mary also selected another pair of wolves that we would be able to see well enough to work from and they were added on the back of the forearm on a subsequent sit.

and the next session:

And the final sit:

Not technically a full sleeve as we left room for future additions.

This was a very emotional piece for me to do and it was wonderful meeting and getting to know Mary since I had not known her when I was tattooing Richard regularly.

Mary and I are both very pleased with the finished piece and I am sure that Richard is as well.

Rest in Peace friend.

~ by justteejay on November 12, 2010.

2 Responses to “Progression of a Design – Mary’s Sleeve”

  1. thank you teejay…i love everything you wrote about richard and myself.
    I am sure my honey is very pleased in what we accomplished, and am sure his is looking down upon us and glad we met and got to know each other.
    thank you from the bottom of my heart and soul, for everything you have done for me..and my husband, forever..richard.

  2. i also am very glad i kept the roses picture, that you did for us..we were going to put it on each of our chests, but never did…

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