photos by Autumn Meyer, Olive Wassen and courtesy of Candi Luke, respectively
Forming a bond with your tattoo artist can be therapeutic
When Candi Luke’s husband passed away, she realized she wanted something more than just memories to memorialize him.
“When you lose someone, I think you’re so afraid of losing every bit of them,” Luke says. “The tattoo kind of eases some of that anxiety. It’s something that you have forever, that no one can take from you.”
Tattoos run more than skin deep. Whether a tattoo symbolizes a deep personal meaning, or is just kickass, it conveys your identity to the outside world. They’re also an art form. The artists who craft these masterpieces have a lot of stake in the piece, but so does the person getting tattooed, who becomes the artist’s canvas.
When getting a tattoo, you must place an incredibly high level of trust in the artist. These artists—often strangers to their clients—take ink and needle to skin every day. They realize how heavy the weight of a tattoo can be on a customer.
“I feel privileged that I’ve been chosen to mark somebody for the rest of their life,” says tattoo artist Audrey Meyer.
The level of trust that goes into the artist-client relationship is necessary to the success of the finished product. “I aim for a relationship where the client feels comfortable enough to ask me if they’re worried about something,” Meyer says.
The line of communication can lead to a bond as permanent as the ink on their skin, and this bond is what many tattoo artists find most rewarding.
“I feel privileged that I’ve been chosen to mark somebody for the rest of their life”
For Dan Koenig, the owner of Yankee Doodle Dandy Tattoo in Des Moines, there is a feeling of excitement when it comes to planning a tattoo with a client. The creative process is the basis of the artist-client bond. When Koenig talks about his work with clients on tattoos, there is a driving passion motivating every word.
“Tattooing is a really personal thing,” he says. “It takes a lot of motivation and perseverance.”
The impact of tattoos often goes beyond the fun and creative experience. “Tattoos are really changing in the way that they can be so personal,” Meyer says. “I love finding that in each person and then helping them to make that vision real.”
Tattoos have become a transformational experience for people; whether someone is starting a new chapter in their life or using the tattoo to reconcile some painful memory.
“Unfortunately with tattooing, there is a lot of death involved,” Koenig says.
Tattoo artists experience the ways memorial tattoos can help people through the process of grieving a loved one. Helping ease the emotional strain while staying sensitive to the emotional pain their clients carry can be difficult. But tattoo artists seem to do all they can to help relieve some of the burden.
“There’s a kind of binding that happens between the emotional and physical pain,” says Meyer.
As a canvas, Luke says that the physical pain of 1,000 needle pricks is nothing compared to the loss of her husband. “I think that’s why it’s not so physically painful, because you’re already enduring so much other pain,” she says. “You hang on to every tiny thing because you’re so afraid of losing them forever … The tattoo kind of eases some of that anxiety of losing them. Now it’s on you forever.”
Tattoos are a form of expression. They’re a form of therapeutic relief after a traumatic life experience. They’re something that bonds and brings people together over something extremely personal.
“Tattoos are amazing, and they’re awesome,” Meyer says, “and they can do so much for how you think about yourself and how you interact with others.”
To have a perfect stranger invest such time and effort into you, your vision of yourself and your struggles, is often overlooked, considering the permanent mark that the relationship leads to.