Skin deep
When it comes to making a lasting expression of love, choose your words wisely

Chris Callister, an artist at Your Flesh Tattooing, applies ink to a client on Tuesday. Although some artists say they see an increase in business around Valentine’s Day, they try to discourage people from getting someone else’s name tattooed as a sign of love. Rather, they suggest getting a symbol of the object of one’s affections, or better yet, giving the person a gift certificate so they can
get their own tattoo./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

They say that true love lasts forever. They also say that love hurts. So it only makes sense that tattoos – which involve both the staying power of permanent ink and the sting of a sharp needle – have become an accepted method of expressing one’s true affection.

And while the cliche of a bicep festooned with the telltale name encircled by heart and arrow may be etched in the human conscience as deep as a tattoo itself, local tattoo artists say not only is it a bad idea but it may end up costing more in the long run.

“I used to tell people I was going to charge them twice as much to cover it up,” said local freelance tattoo artist Bryan Saren of inscribing names. “Most of the time people regret getting other peoples’ names.”

Matt Rousseau, an artist with Your Flesh, said that Valentine’s Day often brings an increase in tattoo activity with it. “We do get a surge for sure,” he said.

However, like Saren, Rousseau said he tries to steer people clear of anything that may come back to haunt them – or him.

“We definitely try to talk people out of names,” he said, adding that the situation is something that all of the studio’s artists have faced over the years. “We cover up names regularly.”

And while the threat of charging double to do so may seem humorous, he said it actually ends up being the case.

“It’s definitely going to be double to cover it up because it’s going to have to be twice the size,” he said.

In fact, some tattoo artists take the issue of names so seriously that they’ll even refuse service to someone who gives them a bad vibe.

“When we do do names, we make sure it’s a serious relationship,” said one artist at Old School Tattoos, who wished to remain anonymous. “There have been times when we send people away because it just doesn’t seem right.”

At least one local is thankful for such advice. Heather Salupo, of Durango, said she once entertained thoughts of getting tattooed with the name of her boyfriend, now her fiancE9.

“I thought about getting his name right on my sternum,” she said. “But everybody was like, ‘Don’t get anybody’s name tattooed. It’s the dumbest thing you can do. And you know what? They’re right. It is the dumbest thing you could do.”

And while the use of names is generally discouraged, this is not to say there aren’t ways to express one’s love in ink and flesh. Instead of focusing on names, Saren said he asks people to think of something that reminds them of their loved ones, such as a hobby or special interest. He said this helps open the creative gates, giving people something more meaningful and artistic.

Paul Rogers, of Durango, right, shows off the wedding band he had tattooed on his finger last year. Rogers, who has been married for 27 years, said he never wears jewelry of any kind, including rings. The tattoo, inset, includes a snake eating its tail, a sign of eternity, as well as three ovals symbolizing the birthstones of himself, his wife and his daughter./Photos by Todd Newcomer.

“There’s only so much you can do with a name,” he said. “I like to get in their head for what they’re looking for.”

The artist at Old School said he takes a similar approach, oftentimes recommending a symbol over a name. Another more novel approach to expressing lasting love is ink wedding rings, he said.

“We’ve been seeing an increase in people wanting to get wedding bands tattooed,” he said.

Paul Rogers, of Durango, got his wedding band tattooed on his finger last year after years of being married but never wearing a ring.

“It started off being a joke because I don’t wear anything – no rings, no watches,” he said.

However, after some ribbing from his wife of 27 years, he decided it was time to show his commitment, albeit in an unconventional way.

“I told her, ‘I’ll just get a tattoo on my finger,’” he said. Although there were skeptics, including his wife, because Rogers is “not necessarily a tattoo person,” he stayed true to his word. Now Rogers’ ring finger is adorned with a snake eating its tail, a symbol of eternity. In the middle of the ring are three ovals of varying colors representing the birthstones of himself, his wife, Jill, and their daughter.

“I told Jill if we ever separate or divorce, ‘I’ll give you the finger,’” he joked.

Despite the rise in non-name oriented love tattoos, the artist at Old School said there still is the occasional couple that is set on using each other’s names. However, the old standby now has a new, more personal twist: using signatures rather than plain letters. “We’ll either make a stencil of the signature or have the significant other sign right on, and we’ll trace over it,” he said. “It’s a new thing that we’re seeing more of.”

Nevertheless, the artists agreed that as far as a Valentine goes, perhaps it’s better to give than to receive.

Rousseau, of Your Flesh, said gift certificates are popular this time of year and offer a way to give someone exactly what they want. “It just seems like a good time to buy someone a tattoo,” he said. “That way we can encourage people to choose something for themselves.”

Salupo said one of her most memorable Valentine’s presents was a drawing of a dragonfly, which was later made into a tattoo spanning her upper back. What made it so special she said, was that, like her five other tattoos, she did it for her own fulfillment. And while she still toys with the idea of someday having matching his and her tattoos with her husband, she said she’ll only do it if it’s for the right reason – something she recommends to anyone looking to make a lasting impression.

“Make it be something for yourself first; secondly for someone else.”









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