Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Tattooed Poets Project: Jill Alexander Essbaum's Poetic Feet (and Jessica Piazza's Too!)

UPDATED! See below....

I've decided to launch this special National Poetry Month Tattoosday feature with the wonderful tattooed feet of Jill Alexander Essbaum, author of several collections of poetry, the most recent being Harlot.

Although this month I will be featuring tattoos on poets, not every tattoo is poetic, in the literal sense. Jill's inked feet are.

Jill met me in the Starbucks at 7 Penn Plaza on a cold day in February, prior to a reading at the KGB Bar later that evening.

She was one of the first poets who signed on to this project, and she allowed me the honor of taking a clearer picture of her tattoos, even though they appeared here, on the Best American Poetry blog, back in May 2008.

Although the concept may be alien to many, students and purveyors of the art of poetry know that a line of poetry can be broken down into metered verse that is identifiable based on the stress and intonation of the syllables.

People may have heard that most of Shakespeare's work is composed, for example, in iambic pentameter. What that means is that each line is comprised of five parts, or "feet," and each foot is made up of an iamb, or two syllables, the first of which is unstressed, followed by the stressed sound.

The name "Marie" is an iamb, for example, as the stress falls on the second syllable. "Mary," on the other hand, has the stress on the first syllable, and is identified as a "trochee".

There are other types of poetic fragments, such as dactylls and anapests, but the iambic and trochaic feet are the most common.

So what does this have to do with Jill's feet? When poets study and scan a line of verse, they mark it up, identifying the stress marks with the accents (or longums), and the unstressed syllables with a symbol known as a brevis.

Jill's feet are literally with the symbols denoting them as trochee (left) and iamb (right). Pure brilliance, in my opinion.

Jill and her friend Jessica came up with this idea last year and gave it significant thought.

As most poets (with notable exceptions, of course) are also teachers, they thought it would be a great visual aid when educating students on scansion.

Jill spent a weekend sketching and drawing the marks, not as easy a task as one would imagine. How to make the marks look like poetic symbols, and not stray ink marks, or even worse, scars, was a part of the process.

She and Jessica mulled the placement on the body: should they go on their wrists? Jill, a professed punster, then had the revelation: iambs and trochees are poetic feet, the tattoos should go on their own feet.

Trochee went on the right side, because it is a progressive, forward-moving beat. Iamb went on the left, as it is a heartbeat.

She and Jessica both got inked in June 2008, shortly before the West Chester Poetry Conference. What better setting to show off fresh poetry tattoos?

Each tattoo took only 15 minutes, and Jessica placed her ink on the sides of her feet, as opposed to the tops like Jill.

I want to thank Jill Alexander Essbaum for helping launch this special feature here on Tattoosday. I invite you to head over here to BillyBlog and check out one of Jill's poems, along with links to more of her work.

WAIT! There's more.....

Here's a photo of the feet of Jill's friend Jessica Piazza:

As noted before, it's the same tattoo, just oriented differently on the feet. Jessica added:
I figured, since it was my idea in the first place, I should be up on this if I can. Too bad we couldn't find a way to get tattoos that symbolize rhyme. I'm more of the meter dork than Jill, which is why I wanted these in the first place. (In all fairness, doing it on our feet was her stroke of genius!)
And, as Jill noted in the comment section, the tattooist is Chris Torres.

Head on back over to BillyBlog here to see one of Jessica's poems.

The Tattooed Poet's Project: An Introduction

April is National Poetry Month!

In addition to the "regular" Tattoosday features, every day in April will feature a different poet's tattoo(s).

Poets across America have contributed photos of their tattoos for us to enjoy, with each post linking back to BillyBlog, where one of their poems will be posted on the corresponding day.

Not all the poems are tattoo-related, but many are. Please come back every day in April to see the wide range of poetic tattoos!

Tattoorism: Christina's Fleur-de-lys

For those of you visiting Tattoosday for the first time, I refer to posts based on reader submissions as Tattoorism. That is, tattoos from out of town visiting us here in the blogosphere.

There was a pleasant surprise in my in box this morning:

Skeptics may say, "What's the big deal? It's just a fleur-de-lis!" But we here at Tattoosday don't think that way. Tattoos aren't just designs inked into the flesh, they generally carry significance that transcend the skin and touch the soul.

And I'm always interested when someone I've never met takes the time and energy to send me a photo and elaborate on their tattoo. Christina's tattoo, above, is a case in point.

I'll let Christina explain her one and only tattoo:

"Tom Berg at SoCal Tattoo in San Pedro, CA did my ink. He designed the elaborate tattoo for the main character in the tv show "Prison Break," [see below] among others.

My husband works for the show and knows Tom, so he was able to get an appointment in two weeks instead of the one-year waiting list that he normally has. So we had that going for us, which is good.

People ask me all the time if the 4-inch fleur de lys between my shoulders means that I really really love the [New Orleans] Saints, or the Boy Scouts... Nope. The fleur has been popping up in my life for years. I wore a ring with a fleur on it, identical to a ring that my best friend in high school wore, which we got on my first road trip. That relationship was instrumental in breaking me out of my shell in school. I wore the fleur on a necklace through college. Then, I spent a year living in Florence, Italy. The symbol of the city is the Florentine "gigli," or lily, the Italian version of the fleur de lys.

One of my housemates said something that stuck with me. "Florence doesn't change you, it only makes you more like you are."

For me, my tattoo is a symbol of my journey toward becoming who I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to do, living how I am supposed to live. I got it two months after I married the love of my life, my best friend since I was 12."
The Fleur-de-lis (also spelled fleur-de-lys) has appeared on Tattoosday previously here. I'd like to thank Christina for her continued readership and contribution to the blog!

I cannot guarantee that I'll publish every tattoo e-mailed my way, so I don't openly solicit contributions. However, every once in a while, it's a nice change of pace, both for us here at Tattoosday and, I believe, the readers. Thanks again, Christina!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Jorge's Attabeira Tattoo Pays Tribute to His Puerto Rican Heritage

Last May, I spent a few minutes on the N train talking to a woman named Patricia who had a cool tattoo on the back of her neck (see the post here). She disembarked before I was able to get all the facts on the piece, but I still posted the blurry photo.

No, I didn't run into her again. But I did meet Jorge, who had a similar piece on his inner left forearm based on the fertility goddess Atabey, or Attabeira, the goddess of fertility in the TaĆ­no culture of Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean:

The piece runs the length of his inner arm, and took 2 sittings and 6 hours to complete.

He had this tattooed by Byron Velasquez, then at Rising Dragon Tattoos in 2001. Byron now tattoos out of Abstract Black NYC. Jorge chose this image as an icon to represent his Puerto Rican heritage. This is one of his three tattoos.

Check out other work from Rising Dragon previously appearing on Tattoosday here.

Thanks to Jorge for sharing his tattoo with us here on Tattoosday!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Xrin Arms Explains His Tattoos

I ran into Anthony after work while passing through the Amtrak section of Penn Station.

He was in town to perform in Brooklyn and was waiting for his ride. He performs under the name "Xrin Arms," which he pronounced as "Your-in-arms". He's a techno punk musician currently on tour. Here's the flier for the gig he was playing that night:

He had an unusual series of tattoos which he allowed me to photograph, after he explained them to me.

The tattoos cover a significant part of his upper right arm, as well as one side of his forearm.

First and foremost, as a writer, he had his pen inked on his arm.

He always uses a Pilot Precise V5, he said,

and he produced one to show me, holding it up to the piece to show me that it was tattooed to scale.

The next element of his inked arm is a legion of sperm directed at his elbow. Some of the sperm are traveling from the pen, representing the knowledge that flows from the written word.

At the center of the elbow is a moth in a circle. He said that it represents a "moth in a beehive". When I questioned that image, he acknowledged that that was how he feels a lot of the time.

If you picture a moth in a beehive, you envision many things: solitude and violence. Of beauty and alienation. The sperm heading toward this image reinforce that the creative experience is a birthing process fraught with danger.

Lastly, on the back of the bicep, is an owl with its wings outstretched.

The owl represents to him that he is noctural, and stays up all night.

He has 2 other tattoos but we stuck with these because they played off one another.

They were tattooed by Chris Bragg when he was working out of Hammer's Tattoo & Body Piercing in Canton, Ohio.

Please check out Xrin Arms myspace page here. There's also a cool interview with Anthony over on the blog Digital Liver here.

Thanks again to for sharing his work with us here on Tattoosday.

As an added extra, here's a video of Xrin Arms song "Feather Mask":

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Two Tattooed Tourists on a Tuesday

Sometimes the hand of Fate guides the Tattoosday blogger as he journeys through the streets of New York. At lunch, a change in traffic signals prompted me to veer East, sending me into a bank vestibule that I rarely, if ever, frequent.

I could have ventured into a dozen branches or drug stores to do my business but this is where I ended up on a day that started frigid, but was still in the blustery high 30's at noon.

I finished my ATM transaction and exited, not even glancing at the two people to my left, jacketed and weighed down with large backpacks.

I hit the sidewalk, peering into a side window bordering the vestibule. I did a quick about-face and headed back into the bank. Despite the coats, hats, and long pants, I could tell the two men I had been next to had significant ink.

And, once back inside, I was delighted to find them both willing to talk tattoos.

Both men were visiting tourists from England. The first one I spoke to was Jethro "Jeff" Wood, a tattoo artist who works out of The SkynYard in Southend-on-Sea (in Essex County, 40 miles East of central London). I spoke to Jeff first, while his friend Sam worked the ATM machine.

Jeff estimates that his body is 30% covered in ink. He offered up this neck piece:

I apologize for the angle, but one can see that it's a pretty nice grim reaper tattoo. You also get a view of the small skull and crossbones behind Jeff's left ear.

He had been hanging out with another tattooer and "got drunk and tatted my neck". The artist was Dan Sims at Life Family Tattoo in Sevenoaks, Kent, in England.

Not to be outdone, Jeff's friend Sam had an amazing pirate-themed neck piece, with a "Do or Die" banner, courtesy of Jeff:

The two visitors seemed to enjoy showing their tattoos and were soon rolling up pant legs to show me what Jeff's apprentice, Charlie, had tattooed on the back of Sam's left leg:

That is the mask of The Ultimate Warrior.

Sam also showed me some work on his right leg, also credited to Charlie, featuring a mythical creature, "The Rare Horned Dolfin," stuffed and mounted by a taxidermist:

Granted, it's a funny tattoo, but I believe there was an element I was missing (perhaps a key facet of an inside joke). Sam and Jeff laughed heartily while showing me the piece, along with another gag tattoo on Sam's right calf, a D.L.T. sandwich:

In a DLT sandwich, the bacon is replaced by, you guessed it, tiny smiling dolphins!

I also get a kick out of the "I love frogs" scribbled above the D.L.T. Note the S is reversed. Sam indicated that Charlie had done some of these, but he had also inked a few himself, on an experimental basis.

Both men also have knuckle tattoos, and pictures of their knuckle are posted here at KnuckleTattoos.com.

Thanks again to Sam and Jeff for sharing their tattoos with us here on Tattoosday!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Only God Can Judge Him

A nice surprise last night when, out of the blue, a previous Tattoosday subject, John, sent me his latest tattoo.

I met John initially at the 3rd Avenue Festival in Bay Ridge, back in the earlier days of the blog, where he displayed a leg piece in progress here.

He later had the piece finished and we featured it, in all its glory, here. In addition, he sent me photos of his other three tattoos here.

But here is something new from John, who I haven't seen in a while. He explained this new tattoo via e-mail:

[It] says "Solo Dio Puo Giudicarmi" ... which means [in Italian] "Only God Can Judge Me"... I got the tattoo for religious reasons and for another one ... nowadays people give a shit too much about what other people think and try to conform to be like everyone else just to blend in. [The tattoo] is a reminder to me and to all that read it, regardless of belief: just be who you are. Because, in the end, it does not matter what anyone else think of you, but you.
Thanks again to John for sending this my way! We always appreciate return visits from previous Tattoosday subjects!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tattoorism: Joltin' Joe Swings for the Fences

A couple weeks back, I posted a really cool Marilyn Monroe tattoo with a New York Yankees spin.

To give Joe DiMaggio his proper due, we have this leg piece above, sent to us by Craig, who explains:

"[Had] this tattoo done last February. I am a big Yankee fan .... [I] like watching all the old timers on TV anytime I can. Wanted something different.....something that stood for what baseball was, back in the day. Had it done by a local shop, Hard Core Ink in Catasauqua, PA. Jon was the artist. The guy does not know how good he really is! I have the next one lined up .... going to have [Mickey] Mantle kneeling in the on deck circle at The Stadium put on my right leg."

Craig's piece is a great replica of this famous photo:

As baseball season approaches, we here at Tattoosday thank Craig for sending us his awesome tattoo of "The Yankee Clipper," and look forward to seeing what Jon at Hard Core Ink can do with Mickey Mantle.

Thanks Craig!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Megan's Numeric Neck tattoo

On a day when my wife was tattooed with a lucky "13," it seemed fortuitous when our waitress at dinner unveiled her numeric tattoo:

Born on April 7, Megan had these hash marks inked onto the back left side of her neck.

Because of the numbers 4 and 7 being significant in her life (aside from their analagousness to the seventh of April), she chose a rather unorthodox forty-seven lines, inked up like a scorecard.

This was tattooed at New York Adorned.

Thanks to Megan for baring her neck in the line of duty and sharing with us here on Tattoosday!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tehila's Amazing Tattoos Rest Deep in Her Faith

After my wife got her "13" tattoo (story here), we had some time to kill before our dinner reservations at 7:00 pm. So, we headed to Chelsea, then walked down 23rd Street to the Housing Works Thrift Shop.

It was there, while browsing, that I met Tehila, who was visiting from Washington, D.C. It was this tattoo that jumped out at me:

Quite an elaborate neck tattoo, which was in part designed by her mother, from her birth announcement. The quote, "Do justly, walk humbly, love mercy," is from the book of Micah (Chapter 6, Verse 8) in the Old Testament.

The complete passage from the King James Version is

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Tehila, however, had another tattoo to show me. She took off her jacket and rolled up her right sleeve.

On her inner forearm was this amazing hamsa tattoo:

Unfortunately, the photo doesn't do the piece justice, as the prayers, in Hebrew, circle the arm completely. One of the prayers is from the Amidah. I generally shy away from taking pictures of pieces that wrap around the arms, for fear of not being able to capture the full spirit of the tattoo. But in this case, the work was so lovely, I couldn't resist.

Tattoos with Hebrew writing have appeared previously on Tattoosday here. I have featured a hamsa tattoo previously here.

The pieces are credited to Imaani K. Brown and Chris Menhah at Pinz-N-Needlez in D.C. Chris inked the Hamsah and Imaani is responsible for the neck piece and the Hebrew text the wraps around the forearm.

Wondrous thanks to Tehila for sharing these beautiful tattoos here on Tattoosday!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

An Interlude

The previous post featured our recent adventures at Dare Devil Tattoo on Friday the 13th.

I wrote specifically about my wife Melanie getting her lucky 13 tattoo on her birthday. People who know me and know Tattoosday were excited not just for her, but for me as well. They knew I'd be surrounded by tattoos, and that I would therefore be busy talking to people about Tattoosday, and collecting stories and photos that would last me through summer.

Not quite.

Certainly the cold weather helped (or hindered, depending on your perspective), but the concept behind Tattoosday has always been about the random spotting of tattoos on the streets of New York. The expression "shooting fish in a barrel" comes to mind. There is no "sport," if you will, in going to a tattoo shop, or convention, and collecting blogfodder.

I could certainly do it, but the randomness and surprise element that one finds on the street are what really help propel the blog along.

So, by the end of our Dare Devil adventure, I had material for the post on Melanie's tattoo, nothing more. I did pass my card to the two young ladies behind us with whom we had a mutual friend, but I did not request their participation, although I could have. I did not identify myself to shop employees as an ink- blogger, although I could have.

Not to mention, it was Melanie's birthday, not mine. I was there for her, not me. No lucky 13 tattoo for me, although I would have loved one.

I was rewarded later in the day by two other tattoo encounters, which I did document, and which will appear in the days to come. I am hoping to receive emails from the participants to fill in the blanks that time and necessity left incomplete.

So, stay tuned.

Thanks for visiting.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday the 13th: A Tattoosday Adventure

Today has finally arrived. A much-anticipated Friday the 13th. My wife, Melanie's, birthday. She was born on a Friday the 13th, so whenever it falls in March (the last one was in 1998, the next one is in 2015), it's always an event.

This Friday the 13th, I've taken the day off and plan on spending a large chunk of it with Melanie, waiting in line for what has become a New York City tradition: a lucky 13 tattoo courtesy of the good folks at Dare Devil Tattoo. Located on Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side, Dare Devil delivers $13 tattoos every Friday the 13th. They draw up some flash beforehand, and the clients get to choose from a selection of 13-themed, or Dare Devil-specific tattoos. As you'd imagine, they see a ton of customers, so we plan on arriving early to secure a spot.

10:30 AM - We hit the Manhattan Bridge, much later than we had hoped. We'd planned on a 10AM arrival. We're now anticipating a lengthy line.

10:45 AM - We've arrived. Maybe two dozen people ahead of us. The two young women who line up behind us point to a wall twenty feet away and said last month (a rare back-to-back Friday the 13th phenomenon), they lined up there and waited four hours. Best estimate at this point is to be done by 3 PM.

11:05 AM - A guy with a dog announces to the crowd, "We have a minor issue!" The group of two dozen people tenses up. They need us to line up North-South on Ludlow, as opposed to South-North. Apparently the neighboring store owner doesn't like her entrance blocked. Not a big deal. We all move, collectively exhaling. We do note that it is considerably colder out from under the scaffolding to the north. We are 21st and 22nd in line. There are 5 people behind us.

12:30 PM - They finally let in the first 10 people. The temperature has been struggling to get above freezing, and this has affected a little bit of the crowd's morale. However, we are given a reprieve. NYPD has received complaints about the 50+ people on the sidewalk, so a very nice Dare Devil employee named Rebecca takes our cell# and will call us, in about an hour to an hour and a half, by their estimate.

1:15 PM - We are sitting in a warm cafe on Avenue B. Caffeinating and restrooming. Heading back shortly.

2:00 PM - We are waiting across the street from the shop. Still no call....

2:15 PM - Peering in the window, we get our first look at the flash chosen for today's event.

And then, we enter the shop and things move quickly. Melanie fills out the requisite paperwork, we fork over a $20 bill ($13 for the tattoo, $7 for tip) and Rebecca asks Melanie which design she wants:

Understandably, she chooses a small "13". She would have gone for the Yankees logo, but there was no "13" in it. And wasn't that the point? Not to mention #13 is the jersey number of a much-maligned Yankee named Alex Rodriguez. She would have picked the cherry blossom flash, but the absence of the lucky digits was a deal-killer.

She didn't want any of the devils, and the various phallus and other crude designs are inappropriate.

We chatted with the young ladies from earlier in the day and discovered we had a mutual acquaintance, who they knew from school (Pratt).

And then Melanie was up. There was a brief debate about where the tattoo would go, in the middle of the back, or on the wrist. It is small enough that it can pass unnoticed on the wrist, or be covered by a bracelet or watch, should it be appropriate to do so. The wrist it is.

Jason June, the artist, jokes with us, as he tattoos the digits in under a minute. This certainly evens out the average tattoo time for the day, and makes it a quick pay-off for a long wait. The final product is a cute little "13" on the inside of her left wrist:

We walk back up to the front of the store, Rebecca asking Melanie how it went. Smiles all around. We put on our coats. Melanie asks me what time it is. I look at my BlackBerry and say "3:13".

I kid you not.

The stars have aligned and the sun is shining brightly outside. A perfect coda to a New York City tattoo adventure.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tattoorism: Sean Stops by To Unveil More Amazing Work

A month ago, I posted a bit of tattoorism; Sean from New Jersey sent me photos of his left leg, an intricate Japanese-style piece, complete with koi, dragons, a lotus, and a pagoda.

Sean has been kind enough to update us here on Tattoosday with two more pieces, the first being this cool gypsy head that is tattooed on the inside of his upper left arm:

As he was in the last post, Sean is not only generous with the pictures of his tattoos, but he also has provided a thoughtful explanation of his work:
"I got the gypsy woman about two weeks after graduating from college. I really enjoy the traditional, old school style of tattoos and feel it’s important that this style does not disappear... from tattoo culture. Further, I always viewed these women as adventurers, constantly looking for a new journey. Especially, the woman who are looking off to the sides, almost as if into the distance, as opposed to those who look straight forward. I always envision them looking off to a new land, a new adventure, etc. This tattoo signifies my “journey” through life, especially significant due to just graduating college. It is a reminder to never stagnate and to constantly be striving for better things. I plan on getting a banner added underneath with the word "hope," for obvious reasons."

Sean also sent images from his right leg sleeve, to match the work on the left:

Again, in his own words:

"I had my right leg sleeve done for most aesthetic reasons. I explained [previously here]...that I love Asian style artwork, and to keep symmetry with my left leg this was done in just that style. Originally, I believed I had chosen the geisha image solely for its beauty.

However, about a week after my tattoo I realized that my family has a framed picture of a geisha hanging outside of my room that I have honestly never paid much attention to, until seeing it that day. So now, every time I see the tattoo it reminds me of my home and family (particularly, my mother for some reason). Your subconscious has a funny way of revealing itself.

Moving on, the phoenix has always been a very powerful image to me.

I love the idea of rebuilding yourself from the ashes of past selves. This was significant to me as I received that tattoo during my final years at college (the first two years I spent commuting to a community college, the last two years I spent living on campus away from home for the first time in my life). I feel that those two years living away from home was a period of immense change, where, metaphorically, past versions of myself “burned up,” with new versions arising from those ashes.

Finally, the bonsai tree kind of goes hand-in-hand with the phoenix imagery.

It was always interesting to me that in order for a bonsai to grow correctly, a have a long life, it needed to have branches/new growths pruned and trimmed, in essence losing a piece of itself. I feel this ideology also applies to human life. In order, for someone to fully mature, I feel one needs to be prepared to lose parts of oneself (whether they be thought processes, habits, etc.) in order to grow into a better-equipped and well-rounded person. The bonsai reminds me to strive for this."

I once again thank Sean for not only sharing his tattoos with us here, but for putting the effort into writing a thoughtful, detailed account of the meaning of the art gracing his skin. As with previous pieces featured, the tattoos in this post were done by Mike Schweigert at Electric Tattoo in Bradley Beach, New Jersey. Truly a talented artist that was able to so distinctly transform Sean's body into a living canvas. We here at Tattoosday offer our sincerest thanks and appreciation!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Kait, On Her Own Two Feet

While passing through Borders at 2 Penn Plaza, I spotted Kait's feet, both tattooed on their outside edges. She graciously allowed me to take pictures of both pieces.

On her left foot is a green bow, inspired in part by the fact that she is known where she grew up for always having a bow on her, whether it be in her clothing or in her hair. It's her trademark, of sorts, and the tattoo insures that she'll never be "bow-less".

Her right foot bears the following inscription:

"Think Happy Thoughts" is a tribute to her friend Max, a graffiti artist, who passed away a year or two back. The script is in her own hand, in emulation of a free-form style that reminds her of graffiti.

Kait has five tattoos in all, including two surnames inscribed on the insides of her wrists. One is the last name of her adopted family, and the other is the surname of her birth mother.

All of her work was done at Big Joe & Sons Tattooing & Piercing in White Plains, New York.

Thanks to Kait for sharing her tattoos here on Tattoosday!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Tattoosday Book Review: High Voltage

As a viewer of the cable show Miami Ink, I watched with great interest when Chris Garver brought his friend Kat Von D. into the shop as a guest tattooer in the show's early days. Kat's portrait work is phenomenal, and she is an extremely charismatic person.

The problem with reality shows like Miami Ink, its spin-off L.A. Ink, and the A&E Series Inked, is that the producers feel, and perhaps rightfully so, that a show filled with tattoos is bad for ratings. When I was getting my second tattoo, in 2005, I asked my tattoo artist, Peter Cavorsi, what he thought of these shows. He shrugged and said "too much drama" and told me he didn't watch them. He struck at the core of the tattoo shows' problems: the purists in the tattoo community generally are frustrated by the fact that the personal relationships often overshadow the occasional tattoo. Fans of the shows will tell you: drama drives ratings.

Kat Von D.'s popular success is not due solely to her skills as a tattoo artist. I am not saying she isn't talented. She's immensely talented. But I admire her just as much, if not more, for her ability to parlay a dramatic turn of events (her conflict with Miami Ink's chief protagonist, Ami James) into what is appearing to be an empire. Kat Von D. may be a great tattoo artist, but she's also a hell of a business woman, as evidenced by her shop's success in L.A., her show's ratings, and her successful side projects, like the Tattoo/Music festival "Musink," her cosmetics line at
Sephora, and, most recently, her book High Voltage Tattoo. In other words, Kat’s not just an artist. She’s a brand.

People generally either love Kat Von D. or hate her. She has a devoted fan base and a huge following. She is indisputably the most popular tattoo artist in America. But with success of such magnitude comes detractors. The tattoo community has always been a very close-knit, insular, society. Tattoos have never been so popular, and there is significant resentment among "old school" tattoo aficionados, that trendiness breeds sell-outs, and a dilution of the purity of tattooing as an art form.

Personally, I understand this sentiment, but at the same time, I admittedly am part of the handful of people who are riding the wave of tattoo popularity. Tattoosday was in-part inspired by the Miami Ink phenomenon. My knowledge of tattooing was limited when I got my first two tattoos. I am much more knowledgeable now than when Tattoosday was "born" a year and a
half ago, but I hardly think of myself as an expert, nor do I pretend to be. I am just writing about what interests me and ultimately, in its purest form, that is what Kat Von D. has done with her book High Voltage Tattoo.

This, ultimately, is a first for Tattoosday. It is a bona fide review. Have I sold out the original concept behind Tattoosday? Hardly. I am just writing because that's what I do, like a tattooer tattoos because that's what they do.

So let's take a look at the book, which any L.A. Ink viewer knew was coming, as the story behind the book was one of the many episodic plot lines in the show.

First and foremost, let me first say this is a beautiful book. The production value reflects the care that went into its engineering. The first printing has a thick padded cover (the second printing reverted to basic hardcover with dust jacket) which enhances the feel of the book. The pages are thick and bright with colorful graphics and photographs. For the simple fact that the book has on display so many beautiful tattoo images, it is worth the list price, purely for its aesthetic value.

Drilling down into the contents, High Voltage Tattoo offers a great introduction to not only Kat Von D., but to the art of tattooing in general, perfect for the average person looking to know more about tattoos.

The 175-page project is built around the High Voltage motif which has inspired Kat Von D.'s shop in West Los Angeles.

The five sections of the book are named after AC/DC songs: "Highway to Hell," "Let There Be Rock," "Back in Black," "If You Want Blood, You've Got It," and "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap". Each chapter takes on another aspect of Kat's journey, from her biography, to the genesis of High Voltage Tattoo, to a portfolio of portraits, to a section profiling some of Kat's work, and ending with a brief selection of artists who have inspired her.

This is certainly geared to the Kat Von D. fan, but there is something for everyone. Most compelling is her biographical chapter that gallops through her career, astonishing considering she is celebrating her 27th birthday today (March 8, 2009). We only get the highlights, which is understandable because what is often underplayed and lost on television, is that the life of a tattoo artist may seem glamorous and exciting, but there is an insane amount of hard work and tedium involved. At the same time, the most interesting biographical tidbits seem glossed over. I was very curious to get more of her take on the whole conflict with Ami James. To her credit, she doesn't take any real shots at Ami, and doesn't exploit the drama, despite the public's appetite for such controversies.

Aside from her biography, I really enjoyed the small section on tattoo machines. It certainly gives the reader a better understanding of the basic mechanics and the variations in design. It's not just a tool that gets plugged in and runs. Kat's rudimentary introduction paints a broader base on machine knowledge than one normally sees.

Another fascinating part is the several pages devoted to her own physical canvas. She catalogues her tattoos and answers the burning questions about her ink and their provenance.

I especially like her "yearbook" leg, the left limb on which her friends and family have tattooed their marks. It shows a lack of pretentiousness that is appealing to me, at least; that she is not all about the perfect piece in the perfect spot. It drives home the point that many tattoo snobs
don't get: the meaning behind the tattoo more often than not outshines the quality. And that's completely okay.

Other elements of the book that are useful are Kat's "dos and don'ts", although a lot of it is common sense. But given the lack of sense some people display, these pointers will certainly spare some artists the grief caused by otherwise clueless clients.

I was a little bit put off by some small features of the book, like her lists of things she’s inspired by and the catalog of items she collects. Whether this was just filler, or something the author thought the fans wanted to see, I would have preferred more artwork. In the grand scheme of
things, how important is it that Kat’s inspired by “The F Word” and that she collects leg warmers?

Another section is devoted to what terminology to use and not use. I knew that the expression "tats" is generally not favored (unless it is) and I was corrected early on in this blog's history not to refer to a tattoo machine as a "gun". But I was chagrined to see the expression "ink," referring to tattoos, as much of a no-no as "tats". There aren't a lot of synonyms for tattoos a writer can use, and I was annoyed to have another one frowned upon. Especially since the three most popular shows about the craft all have "ink" in their title. But I'll get over it.

This is a Kat Von D. Production through and through. You can tell she put her heart and soul into this book, and it's certainly a testament to her perseverance and success.

The worst criticism I have is that she certainly makes herself out to be a craftsman devoted to the art, but she doesn't really dwell on her own faults. She acknowledges that she is still learning, but it's hard to find faults in the rosy facade that she paints of herself. She cautions that one
should never get tattooed while under the influence. Sage advice, but she seems to revel in the fact that a lot of her early work (both given and received) was delivered while in "party mode". But if you can get beyond those small contradictions, then the book is a treat for the eyes and the

I have tried to paint as an objective review of High Voltage Tattoo as I can. The bigger the personality, the more controversial the figure. If you strip away the small aspects and focus on the larger facts: that Kat Von D. is an immense talent, that she is a savvy businesswoman, and, most importantly, has a devout love for her art, then you should derive immense pleasure from this testament to a career that is flourishing in an industry at the height of its popularity.

Not to mention the fact that she is rock and roll, through and through.