AI: Ink

As I recover from last night’s tattoo session, another chip in the very long process of finishing this back piece we’ve been working on, I thought I’d ask you all about the topic. It seems that tattoos have become fairly ubiquitous; no longer the sole property of the outre.
In my case, at age 18, I went into a tattoo shop on a whim, not really knowing what I was going to get, and wound up with a little eye of Horus on my left shoulder. Given my lifelong fascination with Egyptian archaeology and culture, it just made sense. And now, almost twelve years later, I’m still covering my body in Egyptian art.

Do you have any tattoos? What factors have influenced this choice? What do you have/would you get and why?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

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  1. Tattoos: never had ’em; never will. If. I had to get one, I’d get the temporary kind. Just don’t want anything that permanent on my not-so-permanent body.

  2. I have two.

    The first is image labeled “Goths” found on this page. Mine is a little more colorful, though. I loved Richard Scarry’s books as a kid, and I thought it screamingly funny.

    I actually waited two years to get it, though, to make sure I wouldn’t tire of it. Seven years living with it, and I still think it’s hilarious.

    The other is “Frisby” written in Devanāgarī (फ्रिस्बी). [It looks right in Preview mode, so I’m sorry if readers just see a bunch of random glyphs.]

    I’m torn on whether to get any more. Nothing has really grabbed me.

  3. I don’t have any tattoos – a) I’m only seventeen and b) I have a stupidly low pain tolerance. I’ve never been able to come up with something I’d want marked permanently on my body forever and ever amen, besides a fictional tattoo from a Tamora Pierce book that was magical and involved living growing moving 2-d vines under the skin. But, yknow, impossible, so no tats for me.

  4. I’ve got the Klingon Empire symbol on my shoulder, a 3″ ankh on my inner calf and 3 runes from the Elder Furthark on my wrist. The runes represent challenges & obstacles, strength & protection and the individual & humankind.

    I think next up will be the key to Hell that Lucifer gives Morpheus in “Season of Mists”.

    After that, who knows?

  5. I don’t have any, and there’s only one that I plan to get done.

    My dad was in the Navy during the Vietnam War and, while on active duty, he got two tattoos: an eagle holding a banner on his right bicep and a shark on his left forearm. We always called the latter “Bubbles the Shark,” because the artist had placed bubbles around it and, as far as I know, sharks don’t blow bubbles under water the way mammals do.

    Dad passed away suddenly in December of 2003, when I was 18 and in my first semester of college. I’ve vowed since then that I would have my own Bubbles the Shark. The want hasn’t decreased at all over 5.5 years, so I’m positive now that it’ll happen.

  6. I don’t have a tattoo yet, but I WANT WANT WANT one – a Celtic knot in the shape of a heart on my left shoulder blade (fairly sag-proof, I hope). I don’t have it yet because it’s a very intricate design and I’m afraid of mishaps – an old boyfriend had a Celtic tattoo that got messed up by a subpar artist, and I’m terrified of that happening. Maybe someday…

  7. I have one (so far). Just above my left Bicep I have a star inside a crescent moon. The star is from the cover of my father’s old copy of The Silmarillion. He died when I was 13 and he always encouraged my brother and I to read. He read to us from The Hobbit every night before bed when we were little.
    When I was about 15 I found all his old Tolkien books and when I saw the star embossed on the cover of The Silmarillion, I knew I had to incorporate into a tribute to him.

    P.S. My wife is COVERED in tattoos. So beautiful.

  8. I have one, done by a friend in his garage when I was 17 . It is a yin-yang inside a triangle. (Triangle is the strongest shape and yin-yang is balance and the whole freaking mess was sooooooo deep at the time.)

    Tattoos weren’t as popular in 1987. People who saw it immediately thought I was either a biker or a neo-nazi (wtf?). Having the damn splotch hidden on my hip was the only good thing about it.

    So new rule. No tattoos until I’ve considered the design for 6 months. So far, no more tattoos.

    The only one that I am tempted to get is Blake’s Tyger with the inscription “Did he who made the lamb make thee?” reproduced in Blake’s own script. But it just seems a little too 18th century romantic madman, fan-girl.

  9. I was 27 when I got my one and only tattoo (so far). I had some more flying saucers added going up onto my shoulder / back when I had the lines retouched a few years after this photo was taken.

    Look closely, he’s having a coffee!
    I tell folks it’s a self-portrait.

    crappy photo taken years ago with webcam. Don’t have a current, better one to show off the awesomeness.

  10. The whole permament thing makes me nervous, so I do not have a tattoo.

    I kind of want: “I wanna live ’til I die, no more, no less.” If anyone guesses who said that, you get an e-cookie!

    But I probably never will get a tattoo. I don’t think I’d ever be able to spend the money on it, honestly.

  11. I have two- left shoulder is from an album cover that I had done in Israel when in port:

    It covers the other- a homemade cross I did myself when I was 14 and dating the preacher’s daughter, Shiloh (named after the song, not the battlefield)…

    I am also a bit of a Herpetologist wannabe, and would love to have one of my baby on the other arm- one day:

  12. @CelticGoddess1326:
    If you do decide to get a tattoo, take a long hard look at the artists previous work. They should have a photo book with examples you can see.
    The second part is to discuss what you want to have done with the artist. If they don’t seem enthused by the idea, go somewhere else and find someone who is.

  13. I have a couple from a long time ago, fairly boring blackwork stuff though. I will get more when the whim whims and money is ripe, but I think if I was to get another at gunpoint today it’d probably be a scrap that reads, “milk, eggs, bread, bacon, maybe something nice for dinner, toothpaste and we’re almost out of bog roll”
    All the cool ideas have been done.

  14. I currently have a Gryffon, a D20 and an NES controller. eventually it will be 2 sleeves, one a tribute to D&D, the other to video games

  15. I have two. One on the left side of my lower back is a reiki symbol from when I believed in that. That was a great night. My best friend, my Mom and I went into downtown Atlanta at around midnight and had these tats done. I’ll keep it for the memory.
    My other one is on my right shoulder blade. It’s a customized combined kanji meaning Great Gift. The edges are tattered and torn. It reminds me that after what I’ve been through losing my breasts to a botched boob job and lift (, I am still here. I still have a life to do something with. It reminds me that even though situations beat the hell out of me, I’m still standing.

  16. I do not have any tattoos, but nor do I wear any jewelry. My watch is a $7 Walmart thing that I do not care if I break. My car and my truck are a few years old and were of no note when new. The one thing I have purchased that I take pride in is my Dog. A really cool Belgian Tervuren whose siblings have won Westminster the last few years.

    When my students complain about my old Ford I tell them that “I dont care about the truck, only the cool dog sitting next to me”

    Ohh, and I have a wonderfully talented artist wife who I am proud of.

  17. Hi all,

    Long-time lurker; I finally decided to get off the sidelines and start commenting.

    I have two tattoos, which I chose to reflect my personality and something I care passionately about. Thus, my tattoos are incredibly nerdy, and depict my two great loves in life: Caffeine and Ethanol (alcohol).

    I have the chemical symbol for caffeine on my left shoulder blade and ethanol on my right shoulder blade.

  18. On the inside of my right bicep I have the Bad Religion crossbuster. This caused no small amount of interrogation from some of my family and others. :) Not only does it represent me as an out atheist, but Bad Religion is one of my favorite bands of all time and were also instrumental (beginning in my Jr. High days) in my deconversion from belief and my progression into skepticism.

    I can’t wait to get more.

  19. I got my first tattoo adround 8 months ago. I love the book and movie of Memoirs of a Geisha. I ended up getting a fan with cherry blossoms on it.

    The quote that I associate with my tattoo is:
    “Remember, Chiyo, geisha are not courtesans. And we are not wives. We sell our skills, not our bodies. We create another secret world, a place only of beauty. The very word “geisha” means artist and to be a geisha is to be judged as a moving work of art. ”

    I would like to get a French Revolution era fan on the opposite side, since I love studying the history of that time period OR be a total nerd and figure out something that can represent my love of Gone With the Wind (DON’T LAUGH!) ;)

  20. Previously I was of the opinion that all tattoos were hideous. While I’m still not overly fond of them, I am warming to the idea.

    I want to know why the hell they haven’t invented permanent-but-easily-removable tattoo ink yet! Come on boffins!

  21. I have a silhouette of a dragon on my shoulder. Got it mostly on a whim, I had wanted a tattoo for a while and had a chance to get one.

    I’d like more and have artwork of an octopus I really want ready for when I have the money again. Right now I’m trying to save to get an apartment and furnish it so no tattoos for the near future.

  22. @Gibbles T. Chimp: That is one totally rad tat. At the risk of sounding too forward, I’d throw my panties at you in a heartbeat.

    I’ve toyed with the idea of a tattoo for myself, but I fear that I am far too fickle for such things, as well as poor. I’m considering gifting myself to one when I graduate college, but I really think I would hate it within two years. I think I shall stick to my temporary tattoos of dinosaurs, pirates, and pokemon for now.

  23. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I took a copy of the cover of Supertramp’s “Crime of the Century” album and altered it (I just thought it was a cool tat I saw in a tat mag) and had that put on my left shoulder when I was 26 (17 yrs ago).
    This past July I got a tattoo of blood on my right shoulder that said “Penn & Teller Rule! N.P.D.” (No Permanent Damage). It is of course healed and gone now.

  24. I am prone to mistakes and regrets, tatoos warp and change overtime, I am worried that anywhere from an hour to a decade later I would regret my tatoo and want to get rid of it then I would have to go and get it lasered off. So no, no tatoos.

  25. I’ve always wanted to get a dragon tattoo on my left forearm. The design I have in mind is fairly complex. However, due to diabetes, I tend to scar pretty easily. Even a comparatively simple scratch can result in a permanent scar. My sister’s cat nailed me on the back of my thumb 17 years ago and it’s still plainly visible. No tats for me. (sniffle)

  26. I have two tattoos, one on my lower back, which is a small sun with a half-crescent moon inside it (I was 16 when I got it, I wasn’t so super creative, ok?) and just this last december, I got a huge one on my lower arm, a green carnation (props to Oscar Wilde, my favourite author) and a branch of cherry blossoms (props to my Grandmother, who passed away two years ago).

    Picture:[email protected]/3124881041/

  27. I have two dolphins , in an arc, on my left upper back, integrated with the initials of my two sons.

    Since I was a child I have loved dolphins because of their supposed intelligence and beauty.

    I was inspired by a friend to get this done. I was inspired by my children to have it represent them and the magic that they have brought to my life.

  28. @Rebecca.

    That Sylvia tattoo seems like a good idea now, but in 40 years, if you’re having Hemorrhoid surgery, do you really want your surgeon to start laughing?

  29. I have none. It’s mainly got to do with my spending what little money I have on Macs and other gizmos.
    I’m planning on getting one, though, of my own design but also with an egyptian motif: A dung beetle pushing a ball of dung/the sun.

  30. I don’t have any since there’s no way to know if I’ll hate it in a year, a decade or when I need to have someone bathe me.

    I can think of lots of things that would make for cool tattoos, but nothing that stands out as the one (or a dozen) thing(s) that deserve to be permanently on my skin.

    So I’ll wait for iron on temporary tattoos, or just wear neat t-shirts.

  31. I do not yet have a tattoo, because I’m lazy and it takes awhile to get around to doing the things I plan. (I live just about within sight of a good one in the Boston area, so there’s not much excuse really.)

    What I plan to get is Carl Sagan’s quote: We are star stuff which has taken its destiny into its own hands.

    I had thought about a picture or symbol of some kind, and couldn’t think of any that really had a strong meaning for me. Or strong enough that I’d want it to be on my body forever and ever. Then after a good friend of mine suggested text instead of imagery, that quote popped immediately to mind and hasn’t left since. While I can imagine changing my mind and disliking a picture when I’m 70 that I had inked in my 20s, I really don’t think my spiritual outlook is ever likely to change so fundamentally that I would regret this one.

  32. I have one tattoo that I designed myself. It’s a Star Wars Imperial logo surrounded by Celtic knotwork in the shape of the Star Wars Rebel Alliance logo. It’s obscure enough that most people don’t know what it is. The original plan was that it would be phase 1 of about 3 phases, but I’ve since changed my mind and won’t be getting any additional ink.

  33. I have 3 tats. First was a rainbow-colored “Om” symbol on my right ankle. 2nd, a “Molly Roger” (Skull & crossbones with a pink bow) on my left ankle that I got on “Talk Like A Pirate Day” 2006.

    My 3rd, which I just got about a month ago, is a stars & stripes-themed winged heart with a red “A” above it (custom, not in any of the currently branded fonts or designs). Here it is, freshly done:

    Having sort of set a tone now, I’m going with my right side being reserved for art and symbols related to religion and myth; the left for cultural icons; and my back to display my American pride.

    My roommate/brother-in-law is an inkslinger, so I’m definitely getting more! Larger pieces for my legs are planned, continuing the themes: Hanuman, the Hindu monkey-god on the right, and on the left a pirate pinpup based on an illustration of Ann Bonny I found years ago in a magazine that looks exactly like ME!

    My “rules” are no bands, no brands and nothing that came “off the wall” (tattoo flash) unless it’s part of something else or is customized somehow (like Molly’s pink bow).

  34. I’m not really an impulsive person, I’m too worried about regretting a tattoo, so as of now, I have none. I pretty sure I want one, I just don’t know what. Although me and rebecca could always get matching Silva Brown tattoos Lol j/k

  35. I have a little saturn on my left upper-chest (over heart) area…based on the one on the cover of “Saucerful of Secrets” (Pink Floyd). A little more subtle than the DSOTM/Newton fan prism..(which a friend recently got for laffs on her hip). It was my 18th birthday, a few friends got it for me.

    At some point when I was in my early 20’s, I was kinda subconsciously peer-pressured to get it removed. I went to one session with a ruby laser or whatever it’s called. It hurt SO FREAKING BAD. It was really fast, then the tat crusted over in a puffy white. The pain lasted far longer than I would have expected. Never went back..

    So now my tat looks like it was done by a friend in a garage when I was 14 rather than by a pro at 18.

    I was seriously considering getting the Leon Bakst image of Nijinsky from Afternoon of a Faun


    on my right inner forearm, to show my love of Debussy, Art Nouveau, Nijinsky, T. Rex (they have that song “Nijinsky Hind”, which is surely about that particular costume), and my Ukranian pride. Pretty all-purpose. Still thinking about it.

  36. I always knew I wanted to get a tat and took years tryingto decide what I wanted. I finally got one when I went away away to grad school, a little continuous line drawing of a fox. When I showed my parents months later my dad thought it was a joke and tried to rub it off.

    I got my second one (lady slipper orchids on a vine that curves from the front of my shoulder to half way down my shoulder blade) last year, for my 30th birthday.

  37. I got my first tattoo in 1973, long before they became as common as they are now; it’s just a simple flower. [The tattooist Spider Webb later went on to fame & fortune.] I also have a rose-and-butterfly. The one that means the most is a rose on my shoulder, being held in a phoenix’ talon – my Significant Scientist has a phoenix clutching a rose on his chest. We’ve been pair-bonded for long enough that a permanent symbol seemed appropriate.


    First was an Invisible Pink Unicorn (UV ink, so it really is partly ‘invisible’) done last November as I wanted an atheist symbol that was both attractive and funny. Next was a milk snake, mostly because I think they’re adorable and wish we saw more of them around. The ladybug was a red ink allergy test to make sure my skin wasn’t going to freak out and wreck the milk snake when she added color. And then, the Jack Skellington is just because I love the movie and the whole end-of-the-year secular holiday stuff. :)

  39. I do not currently have a tattoo, but I want one. Took me years to decide *what* to get, and I finally drew a rabbit last year that I want to get done. Now I have to decide *where* to put it – I don’t know how many years that will take me :D

  40. I don’t have any tattoos, although I’ve got one in mind; I want a rebus tattooed on my shoulder. I figure a titmouse in a cage is good for “Pettit”.

    Unfortunately, the second I get a tattoo, my parents stop helping me pay for college.

  41. No tatts– mainly because of the late effects of my old religion. Jews are forbidden to permanently mark their bodies.

    Yeah, it’s irrational. but then, I really don’t have a good canvas for tattoos anyway. So it’s just as well.

  42. I have 3:
    The first one I got as a memorial in honor of my step-mom Susan who died of cancer. It is a black-eyed susan- one of the petals is a teardrop with knitting needles scissoring through the stem (she was an ace knitter).
    Second one is a little star on my shoulder…
    Third is a black, leaping toad on my wrist: the ‘under-toad’ from World According to Garp.
    Now I probably need to get a skeptical one…hmmmmmmmm.

  43. To many other things on the financial priority list like new tires for the car and truck, a new stove, sea kayaks, new carpet in the family room, books (perhaps a Kindle), a new stereo… . Putting ink under my skin seems far less interesting or useful than most things I can think of, and I love art but if I get tired of a painting or print I want to be able to put it away or in another room.

  44. I got a tattoo while I was interviewing for grad school at Stanford. I did it because the town of Stanford is sofa king boring–and kids do bad things (like getting tattoos) when they’re bored.

    Its the Chinese character for “dragon.” I know, it’s so trendy to get Chinese character tattoos – but at least I’m Chinese, I actually know what it says (because I designed it), and I was born in the year of the dragon (on Chinese New Year, no less).

    My parents kinda flipped out when they first found out – but it was during a week-long stay in the ICU after a really bad car-bike accident, so they couldn’t exactly get upset at me. I made it through okay– so now they think it’s my good luck charm :)

  45. I have a samurai sword kinda, but not quite, over my heart and the kanji symbols for heavy and noble.
    Pretentious? You betcha!
    After about a decade, I still love it and it’s still meaningful to me.
    And yeah, I did verify the symbols with a friend of mine from Japan. Of course, it was a friend with a great sense of humor…so there’s always the lurking possibility it says today’s special or something obscene. Actually, kinda hope it does…

  46. I have a Star of David with a cross in the middle and “Isaiah 53” in script underneath surrounded by grape vines on my right ankle. At the time, I intended it to be a “witnessing tattoo” – a tattoo that makes people ask you questions, giving you an opportunity to witness to them. I now consider it evidence that I was, in fact, at one point a Fundy. *grins*

    I have sooooo much work planned for the future I’m not going to bother detailing it all here. The next three will be:

    – My children’s names on the inside of my wrists in Quenya (just translated them today).

    – Modifying the Star of David on my right ankle so that it’s shrouded in wispy darkness and integrating the following quotes:

    “We wait for light, but behold darkness…”

    “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” and

    – On my left ankle, Carl Sagan’s quote “For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” and “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”. Haven’t quite decided on the graphic yet – most likely some combination of the Scarlet Letter and the Brights logo.

  47. I have four. My last name (Fox) in kanji (kitsune) on my left wrist (so it can be hidden by a watch). Music notes from “Fly Me to the Moon” on my right shoulder (my favorite song as a child, and still a favorite – Nat King Cole’s version, particularly).

    In September of 2007 my mother died suddenly from cancer, and always wanted her ashes spread under an azalea bush. Purple was her favorite color, so I got purple azaleas tattooed on my left arm that December in memory of her.

    Just before I went to have the azaleas done, there was a post on here ( about holiday gift ideas. While looking at the molecule jewelry here ( I realized that acetylcholine would be the perfect tattoo to represent my nerdiness and my profession – teaching.

    Thanks for inspiring that last tattoo, Rebecca!

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