A Tattoo

(Part 4/Style/Areas of illustration/A tattoo)

Exercise – A Tattoo

Early Christians deemed tattoos to be heathen and even pertaining to witches.  They were therefore banned way back in history.

Research tells me that in more recent times, the stereotype of ‘shady characters’ who were the only people with tattoos has diminished and they are widely acceptable. The general social stigma associated with tattoos has almost been reversed in some sectors of the population where a tattoo is  expected. On a personal level, I do not like tattoos on anyone, visible or otherwise. I would not accept a commission to design a tattoo but for the sake of this exercise will proceed. I have spent a great deal of time on the earlier two sections of this particular project so do not propose to spend as much time doing this part.

Tattoos can be very painful to have drawn. They can be even more painful to have removed. They are least painful if applied to areas of the body where  there is fat under the skin. It is decidedly contraindicated to have ‘name’  tattoos and this does include ‘mother’. I would, therefore, be advising the  client that Mum is not the best thing to have written on your person for life.

Tattoos were not originally from our culture although body painting was probably a feature at one point in history. Captain Cook on his voyages of discovery noted the south pacific islanders were tattooed and could be responsible for bringing back the idea. It is said that he brought the word ‘tattoo’ to our culture.

The Client and his brief

I know him well, he wants a tattoo for Mum and matching birthday card. He is in his mid-twenties and very fit with no other tattoos currently. His mother,  who I also know well, has always been fond of Dragon flies and used to take him to watch them on a nearby pond. As he grew up he used to call her The Old Dragon as a form of endearment. She has some dragonfly earrings and a brooch. The obvious subject for this tattoo would be a Dragonfly (or two).

I have some photos of Damsel flies which are very similar that a took in France a few years ago.

On the Internet there are dozens of references to dragonflies and their spiritual meanings and their cultural significance. They are  many and varied but all seem to be positive so as a symbol I would be able to recommend that image.

There are multitudes of dragonfly quotations, and homilies, every culture seems to have thoughts about them from urban Japanese to the most remote American Indians.

Inevitably I then came across myriads of dragonfly tattoos, never having thought of it before.

Here is a random page of Dragonfly tattoos from the Internet. None of these, as far as I have noted, contain the word Mum. However as the word is  palindromic it should be easy to incorporate to a design..

Above is a free sketch from the Internet . I quite like this drawing of a dragonfly. It is the simplicity which appeals to me

This is my own dragonfly brooch which might be inspirational.. Most real dragonflies have lacy wings but there are many renditions with all kinds of patterns in. Tattoos were notorious for containing secret messages so I think it will be a good plan to echo that old tradition and include but hide the word Mum so that my friend knows it is there and so does his mum but it is not too obvious to others.

I have drawn two dragonflies which I can photocopy to try out different  patterns. I think I prefer the shape on the left even though it is less accurate,  as I like the shape.


I experimented with this both in my  sketch book and on the computer and, in fact, half-and-half as well.

These drawings on the left show my idea of writing but hiding the name mum in the veins of the dragonfly.

The first drawing below is getting closer to how I want it to look but I dont think the word is well enough disguised here.


I found this font on my drawing program. It is called Monoton and is made up of a variety of open-ended lines.



Here I have superimposed the word on top of the dragonfly drawing then I have warped it to the shape of the base drawing.


Above left is the drawing with the intermediate lines removed but the word is  still decipherable. Above right I have added black to the body and a stylised  head. This is the finished image if the client just wants a simple line drawing in  monocolour.


As he has not yet decided exactly what he wants I am offering him a much more elaborate stylised version (in tattooing terms) which is coloured and has a drop shadow to make the dragonfly appear above the skin.

The discrete message remains.

It resembles my brooch.

I finished the Exercise with a design for the Mothers’ Day card to match the tattoo. I included a small cloud of replicated dragonflies then added a large one the right way up so the word can be perceived.

Finally I added the text using the same font as the MUM so that there is a heavy clue to what she needs to look for on the dragon fly. I have kept to the same colours to add a touch of elegance to it.

The overall idea being it is a secret message between the boy and the Mum although it can really be read by anyone who is interested enough to look at it and has the visual literacy to decode it.