And so like all journeys mine comes to an end with this memorial tattoo…but not really. This tattoo was the final piece of my mastectomy recovery and ultimately the starting point for my ever-growing love of tattoos (and relentless quest for more ink).
This little sparrow is for my sister who died from breast cancer at age 40 – 3 weeks after I had a preventative double mastectomy.
So after my reconstructed boobs were finished, including the tattoos that covered the scars, I was ready for a memorial tattoo to honor my sister. Memorial tattoos make up a large portion of the ink that is out there and like tattoos over scars, a memorial tattoo frequently grace the flesh of folks who never thought they would have ink.
A memorial tattoo take many forms and honor all types of loved ones. Some are grand ;
Some are modestly scaled (but with a big sentiment)
And some just take your breath away…
Every memorial tattoo story is as unique as the tattoo and the person wearing it.
I knew I wanted a bird with a skeleton key and the phrase “Je Suis Prest” and a thistle.
My sister and I were reading The Outlander series of books at the time of her death and if you are familiar with them then you TOTALLY get the thistle and the “Juis Suis Prest” – Go Jamie!!
I knew I wanted my sister’s name – that felt really important to have her name on me. I spent a lot of time looking up really famous tattoo artists and emailing them about my project. This was the first time I had ever tried to find an artist based on their portfolio and reputation (as opposed to geographic proximity).
I contacted the following artists about my bird tattoo (feel free to chuckle at my naiveté)
Kim Saigh at Memoir Tattoo
Hannah Aitchison at Curiosity Shop Tattoo
Teresa Sharpe at Unkindness Art
and Kelly Doty at Helheim Gallery
So yeah – I emailed these titans of the tattoo world and honestly thought I had a shot. In a tragic side-note Kelly Doty actually emailed me back, thanked me for my gushing praise of her and her work, and actually asked me where I was thinking of getting tattooed and what. I promptly replied that I would like to be tattooed in California near my home and then described my project in detail . It took me about an hour to realize she meant where as in “where on my body” not where as in “where in the country”. Fuck. I emailed her again trying to correct my mistake and get my cool back but sadly you can not recover that which you never had…
I think I levelled off at about 6 emails before I finally left Ms. Doty alone.
But I learned an important lesson; top artists are TOP ARTISTS. They are busy – really fucking busy and with good reason. They have waiting lists and will not just tattoo any random thing no matter how much you beg and flatter.
On to Plan B. I searched for best female tattoo artists in San Francisco because this tattoo just felt really important and necessary. If you have a memorial tattoo you know what I mean.
So I searched and found
and the lovely tattoo artist Brittany Gale.
Brittany and I exchanged a few emails and phone calls and she gave me this beautiful tattoo;
Brittany did make one important correction to my design; she researched the phrase: Je Suis Prest” which means “I am ready” in french and changed the phrasing to “je suis prete” – which is the feminine form (“prest’ is masculine) thanks for catching that Brittany!
And that is where my journey ends and begins. On the drive home from San Francisco that day, arm sore and head fuzzy with endorphins – ALL I could think of was my next tattoo. It took me 3 hours to get home and by the time I pulled into my driveway I had my next ink already planned out.
“Hope is the Thing With Feathers”
by Emily Dickinson