Review my tattoo idea and recommend a Maryland artist!
July 6, 2011 8:39 AM   Subscribe

I've been thinking about getting a science-related tattoo for a long time, and I think I'm finally down to a concept that is really meaningful to me. I'm looking for refinements/comments on feasibility/inspired ideas from others on the concept, as well as recommendations for an artist in Maryland (especially the Rockville/Bethesda area).

Galileo is one of my science heroes, being the father of modern science. To me he embodied the concept of open-minded skepticism, wanting to physically test claims about nature ("Do heavier objects really fall faster?") and willing to drastically change his worldview based on observation. I've also got problems with organized religion, so he appeals to me for his contrariness and "scientific martyrdom". I'm a big astronomy buff and admire his skill in improving telescopes as well. So here's what I'm planning:

I want a depiction of his discovery of the moons of Jupiter, which is sort of what led to the entire Galileo Affair. I'm planning it on the inside left forearm, so that I can choose whether to display it or not (I'm a guy). Comments on the practicality of this location? I want a depiction of this telescope - the image is a replica of an authentic Galileo instrument. It will be sitting on a table next to a few stacked sheets of paper, with this sheet on top. Next to the papers is an inkwell and fountain pen. I don't expect to copy the entire sheet of paper, just some scribbles for the text and enlarged versions of the astronomical sketches at the bottom. Also, I'm not sure the table itself is necessary, so I may just draw the telescope and manuscript papers. If possible, I'd like to have some of his drawings of the moon sticking out from the bottom sheets of paper.

I want it to be relatively small, maybe about 3"x4" or so. I'm looking for a couple things:

1) This will be my first tattoo, so I don't know much about what's feasible. Will this design work?

2) Any comments on the location?

3) Any great ideas for changes or other ways to depict the same concept?

4) Comments on historical accuracy? Would he actually have used a fountain pen? Did he make these observations outside or through a window? I suspect he didn't actually use this particular telescope, but I'm willing to give a little artistic license since his actual field scope would have been plain and boring-looking, and I like the ornateness of this model.

5) Recommendations for an artist. I'd like the design to have detail and realism - accurate shading on the telescope and authentic-looking manuscript papers. I live in Maryland, near Rockville, but I'm willing to travel for an awesome recommendation. Extra double bonus points if they're a science geek or have done other similar designs.
posted by RobotNinja to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm by no means a tattoo expert, but that seems like a LOT of detail for a small space - keep in mind that tattoo ink bleeds over time, and the smaller you go the less detail you can get without running the risk that it will blur together.
posted by brilliantine at 8:46 AM on July 6, 2011

I'm by no means a tattoo expert, but that seems like a LOT of detail for a small space

Yeah I know I made it sound like a lot, but at the minimum it's just the telescope tube and a sheet of paper with the Jupiter drawings at the bottom. Is that doable?
posted by RobotNinja at 8:49 AM on July 6, 2011

Even at the minimum you're running into detail issues. The thinnest line a tattoo can consistently have is on the order of a millimeter. Believe me, I know. Photorealism is tough. A more cartoonish or stylized depiction might serve you better, especially at that size.

The placement also seems a little funny to me, but it may just be a personal thing. I love showing off my tattoo, especially at neuroscience conventions. Even if you're wearing a short-sleeved shirt, is it visible to a casual observer? Is that what you want/are trying to prevent?

(Also, it may not seem like it, but the inside of the arm is sensitive. I have a few lines traveling over to the inside of my elbow and they were the most painful. Your whole design will be on thin skin, at least relative to the outside of the bicep.)

Another possibility might be your back, like over a shoulde blade. Bigger canvas, still invisible to a casual observer. A bit harder to show off if someone asks, though. Maybe the upper (outside) bicep?
posted by supercres at 8:59 AM on July 6, 2011

speaking as someone with extensive tattoo work (fully sleeves, chest, stomach, legs) the best advice i can give is to first go out and visit you local tattoo shops (you should be able to find them with Google fairly easily) and then talk to and get to know the artists - these are the people that will be the most helpful - most of them really love to talk about the craft, offer suggestions and help you get your design to the place where you're happy with it - if you find a shop where the artists are not like this (helpful, enthusiastic) then move on from there and never go back. Do research, ask questions, ask for suggestions. look over their portfolios for inspiration - you may even see something that speaks to the design you have in mind, or find other inspirations amongst them. it's always best to be equipped with some source material - and it sounds like you have that covered. once you've picked an artist - you can then begin the process of designing the piece with them - and like i said - if they're good and enthusiastic - they'll want to help you get the most out of your experience. other advice? 1) don't "cheap out". A good tattoo ain't cheap, and a cheap tattoo ain't good. 2) be really sure it's the one you want - this is for life, right? 3) regarding the placement - inner arm is a great spot - but it's fairly painful, so be prepared for that - in general any "inside" spot hurts more than the corresponding "outside" spot - this is because those nerves are in protected areas and are more sensitive - the rule of thumb is "it hurts most, where it tickles most" - when you get it done make sure you've eaten a good meal before the appointment. have fun!
posted by h0p3y at 9:07 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Regarding the placement, I definitely don't want it invisible. The idea with the forearm was I typically wear button down shirts to work, but I also roll the sleeves back frequently, so I could choose whether I want to show it openly. Work is the only location where this would be relevant; if I'm in a situation where I'm wearing short sleeves then I wouldn't have a problem showing it off anyway. I suppose the outside of the arm would work just as well, but the inside seems flatter and less prone to sun damage?
posted by RobotNinja at 9:10 AM on July 6, 2011

Yeah from someone who has a lot of tattoos at about 3" x 4", let me just say that telescope plus table, plus paper, plus page scribbles, is not really going to work. And even if it sort of works when you first get it, within a year or so the ink will spread enough to make a lot of these details impossible to "read".

At that size you might get a pretty good image of the telescope all by itself.
posted by hermitosis at 9:10 AM on July 6, 2011

They're out in Fairfax, but several of my friends have been really happy with James Marlowe at Marlowe Ink.
posted by amarynth at 9:10 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

This seems waaaaaay to complicated. My first thought was, why not do a copy of Galileo's original drawing representing the phases of Venus? It's simple and (if you include the astronomical sign for Venus, and you should) identifiable.

If you love this then you can get a simple drawing of a refracting telescope somewhere on your body, pointing at Venus.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:11 AM on July 6, 2011

I dunno, Lurgi -- the astronomical symbol for venus has a lot of other meanings, totally unrelated to science, and it's also way more instantly recognizable than the Galileo drawing. The OP would end up broadcasting a very different message to people than he/she intends...
posted by hermitosis at 9:14 AM on July 6, 2011

I thought about the phases of venus drawings but they seemed kind of dull. At first I thought I would have just the sketches of jupiter and moons over a period of several days, going down the arm, since that's how he discovered that they were moons. The problem is that the drawings are basically just dots and circles, so I needed something to embellish it - thus the telescope. I'm open to other concepts though.
posted by RobotNinja at 9:18 AM on July 6, 2011

What if you had the telescope on the inside of your forearm, less the pages and table for the reasons others cited, and then put just a replica of the moon drawing elsewhere on your body? The telescope could point at, say, your right shoulder where the moon would be.
posted by carmicha at 9:18 AM on July 6, 2011

Yeah, agree that this is too much detail on too small a space. To be honest, I think you'd be happier if you just go with a half-sleeve or a piece that covers your entire forearm. You'll be able to work all the elements in that you want and still be able to cover it with sleeves.

Also, keep in mind that tattoos on your forearm will move around with your skin (to see what I mean, take a marker and draw a line from inner wrist to inner elbow. Then twist your arm around). It makes it a less-than-ideal place for tattoos of straight lines, unless you don't mind things getting all bendy.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:20 AM on July 6, 2011

I have something like this on my right leg, mid thigh, with black outlines as shown and purple between the lines. It's about 3" across. I got it at a very reputable shop when I was 18 and it looked awesome and crisp then. It rarely sees the sun but after 18 years it's a big blurry mess. Your design and location is likely to fare worse.
posted by desjardins at 9:27 AM on July 6, 2011

sun damage

RobotNinja - you'll really only need to worry about sun damage while it's healing - after that only worry about it as much as you worry about the rest of your skin.
posted by h0p3y at 9:30 AM on July 6, 2011

You need to sit down with a tattoo artist and hash this all out. Said artist will be able to do a concept sketch for you from your various components. She or he will also be able to recommend where/how to place the image on your body, as well as to tailor the design to your desired placement. All of these things are part of the design process that an experienced and licensed tattoo artist is used to doing with each person they tattoo.

If you don't feel confidence in your artist at any step in this process, you should find a new artist.

I agree with others that your idea as explained in the original question wants to be a sleeve of some kind? But then again, if what you want is one cohesive design that would go in one spot on your inside forearm, an artist could help you pare down into what it is you actually want to put there. So think of the overall sort of tattoo you want to get first rather than forcing your brainstormed pile of IDEAS onto your body.
posted by Sara C. at 9:53 AM on July 6, 2011

. . . wanting to physically test claims about nature ("Do heavier objects really fall faster?") and willing to drastically change his worldview based on observation.

Actually, I believe that was a thought experiment. A good thought experiment, but I think the story about dropping things from the leaning tower of Pisa is a myth.
posted by Marty Marx at 10:19 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Marty Marx is right. Not to derail too much, but you asked about historical accuracy. Galileo did perform some experiments, but he didn't much like to; he preferred thought experiments because they were more elegant, and less prone to confounding factors, than physical experiments. He probably did not test falling objects (he was able to conceptually show that it was impossible for heavier objects to fall faster). He also was inescapably committed to circular planetary orbits, and would not accept elliptical ones in the face of mathematical evidence (it just wasn't *elegant* enough!) -- but of course he changed his conceptions due to evidence in other regards. When you're trying to investigate old ideas with new methods, you're bound to run into some blind spots.

But, lest I sound like some spoilsport historical accuracy fetishist, he did test pendulums and inclined planes, and of course, he really did look at the phases of Venus and the moons of Jupiter.

I hope that your tattoo works out well and that you're able to find something that will unite the heroic archetype of Galileo with the moons of Jupiter. I think this is a beautiful idea and is exactly the sort of tattoo that I would like to get, if only I could commit to something (maybe the map to Earth from the Voyager plate? I just don't know!)
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 10:38 AM on July 6, 2011

I am not a tattooist, but I have worked alongside them for years. Everyone is right--what you are describing is too much detail in too small of a space. I can also tell you that among the top reasons I have heard people give for regretting a tattoo are
1. Choosing an artist based on price or availability instead of reputation and quality (they get a poor rendering of what they requested)
2. Being overly cautious and getting one done very small. People often say, years after their first, that they are still really fond of the design itself but now that they are used to having a tattoo (instead of scared) it looks a little dinky to them. They wish they'd had the courage to go bigger as the artist had recommended.
I can't remember ever hearing someone say they regretted spending more than they planned or going bigger than they planned on a well-executed tattoo by a reputable artist.

And a lot of tattoos that ought to have been more thought out are ones trying to cram too many elements into them such that an observer needs to get close and have it explained to them. There are a lot of small tattoos that do look stay looking good over the years, but they are very simple. As a rough guide, a tattoo should be instantly recognizable for what it is (a sun, flower, frog, abstract design or whatever) from across a dinner table. Years from now, you will want something that says "Science--fuck yeah!" across the table and not "come closer--see? it's a telescope! Really!"

Tattooing is just another medium, like oils or watercolors or pencils, with it's own strengths and limitations. Good composition on paper does not directly translate to good composition on the body. I would suggest after you've found a few good artists you take as many image-elements as you can that you like within the theme and let them guide you to bringing them together within the pros and cons of the medium. Taking along photos of tattoos you like the style of (eg bright colors with fine lines vs bold colors with thick lines vs mostly B&W with splashes of color or whatever catches your eye as a well-done tattoo) is also helpful.

And when they say "I can do it this size and make it simpler, or I can do it exactly like this but it'll have to be bigger" then choose the second option.
posted by K.P. at 11:18 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

FWIW, for my second tattoo I plan to go with something much smaller and from a more affordable/less in demand artist. That said, it's going to be my SECOND piece. My first was huge and done by one of the more sought-after artists at probably the most famous shop in NYC.

That said, in this situation, where you have a lot of big ideas and relatively little design expertise of your own, I agree with the consensus - go bigger on the art and better on the artist.
posted by Sara C. at 12:00 PM on July 6, 2011

Looks like the obvious thing to do is talk to an artist about the possibilities. Any more recommendations for which artist?
posted by RobotNinja at 12:37 PM on July 6, 2011

I have a tattoo on my inner forearm and have spoken to some very frank and experienced tattoo artists about what will last and what won't: my advice is to not do too much detail in such a small space, it will look like a blob in 20 years, either simplify or make it much bigger. As for the placement, I love mine. It is weird having something that I can look at any time and is totally visible but people who have known me forever still take a while to notice it, mine is about 5" x 3". Good luck, check around for tattoo artists and don't settle until you find someone experienced who can tell you straight up what will work.
posted by boobjob at 5:49 PM on July 6, 2011

Any more recommendations for which artist?

If you can't find solid recommendations online, the best thing is to talk to strangers with good tattoos. If their body language says they're approachable enough to ask for directions, they're approachable enough to say "Hey, that's a great tattoo. Where do I go to get one like THAT?" It's not much different than saying "Wow, who does your hair?" Even people who did not get theirs done locally will often know where to go in your area. Ask enough people and the same names will bubble to the top. Try to get the names of the artists and not just the shops as even good artists will move occasionally and reputable shops will occasionally make a bad hiring decision (or have a trainee punching above their weight).
posted by K.P. at 5:58 PM on July 6, 2011

Look at online portfolios. LOTS of online portfolios. This is no hardship if, like me, you like to look at tattoos (indeed, I just went through all 26-ish pages I found in the link I followed from Supercres's comment). But that was how I picked the artist for my third tattoo, my first Big Fancy Expensive one. And I would still say I did pretty well. Google shops in your area. Go to their websites. Live on their websites for countless ages looking at *everything*. If you have a good idea of the style you're going for, you should be able to narrow the field substantially that way. This of course goes alongside asking for recommendations.

Based on my own experience, the inner arm is indeed likely to be kind of a bitch. My left shoulder and right ankle tattoos didn't hurt at all, and I was reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez during the outer-arm part of my third. But when we got to the inner arm, I was shaking with adrenaline and pain and I wanted nothing in the world more than to just get the fuck OUT of there. Well, almost nothing in the world. I did in fact want the tattoo more, so obviously I didn't run off. But even if you're usually pretty blase about the alleged discomfort of tattooing (I asked the guy who did my first one "Is this going to start hurting at any point?" about halfway through it, and the answer turned out to be no), some of that more sensitive skin can get OH MY yes very sensitive.

Good luck, and enjoy!
posted by Because at 8:30 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

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