The Context of Pain


Radio Lab

I have an addiction to podcasts.  Hey, what better than public radio without commercials (or even worse, depressing news) *and* on my own timeline.  It’s all that and a bag of chips.  So the other day I caught a rebroadcast of Radio Lab entitled, “Placebo”.  Great episode, check it out.  One theory their guest Dr. Daniel Carr suggests is that pain is dependent upon context, which got me to thinking.  I’m constantly asked “Do tattoos hurt?”  And my response is always the same, “The experience is different for everyone”.  But why?

It’s about context.  Speaking for myself, I have an attitude problem when it comes to going to the doctor.  I’m not a happy patient.  Yet I have a high pain tolerance and a stoic nature.  Nine years ago I nearly lost two finger tips in a power tool accident and I was one hurtin’ unit over the next four hours in the ER.  Yet, I’ve enthusiastically endured multiple eight hour sessions of tattooing, and have participated in ritualistic piercing.


The pain we feel isn’t about the pain.  It’s about the story that comes with the pain.  Our stories are filtering the pain even before it’s felt, for better or worse.  Consider the context of “What am I losing with this pain?”  …As compared with, “What have I to gain from this pain?”


In the context of tattooing, when you believe (or know) that something good is coming of your pain, that this is your story being born on your skin… that this is your healing in order to move forward… then the story you have woven for yourself makes all the difference in your ability to process and sit with the level of discomfort you physically and psychologically feel.


“Scientists currently view our entire identity as something we construct from one second to the next. You are the unfolding of an ongoing narrative.  Not just a narrative in words, but touch… odor…  We use all of these inputs to generate the next frame from the last frame in our story.”
~ Dr. Daniel Carr

Henna Styled Ink

Mehndi (also known as “Henna”) has, for many in Western culture, become a fashionable way to test drive a tattoo. Mehndi itself is a body art tradition dating back to the 12th Century whereupon Henna paste is painted on the body as an aspect of festive celebration. Straight up, this is the short version of specific and sacred traditions found in multiple Eastern cultures. Sorry for such an abbreviated explanation, but hey – this is a blog entry after all… right?

Read more about Mehndi.

Anyway, the Henna paste is left to dry for several hours and then removed. The intricate and elaborate stained designs that remain last for weeks. As this form of body art has gained popularity in the west, I’ve received requests to replicate this Henna look in the medium of permanent tattoo. While certain aspects of Mehndi and Henna body art lend themselves nicely to tattooing, the translation from Henna to the medium of tattooing has its limitations. For example, intricate detailing applied temporarily to the surface of the skin can be rendered more finely than intricate permanent detailing within the skin due primarily to how skin changes over time. The piece highlighted here took some strategizing in terms of balancing size with detail as well as use of color, and hey – it turned out pretty sweet!

art with a point custom tattoo s

Do It Your Way

A New Spin on the Sacred HeartHey, it’s Valentines Day, but don’t despair!  Let’s face it, like other holidays commercialism has tainted that which at its core is meaningful.  And that can leave us with, well, a sour taste.

I for one prefer sweet and salty to sour, so why not put a new spin on Valentines Day and celebrate the love and gratitude in your life in your own way?  In this case this simple and symbolic heart represents a Mother’s unconditional love for her twin boys.  Nice, huh?

So just walk on by the pink and red zone at your local store, take the opportunity to run to the kitchen for a snack when the diamond commercials tell you that only a diamond is forever, and instead take a moment to give props to those important to you in your own way.



Today at the Studio

Today at the studio: Norse Mythology. More specifically, Heimdalls Horn.

Heimdall uses his horn to summon the Gods. Go Heimdall!

Heimdalls Horn

Evolution of a Tattoo

Sunflowers for his daughters

Evolution of a tattoo, from concept sketch to completed half sleeve.  Sunflowers were the central theme, one for each of his daughters with a glowing star for his wife.  But there were a few other considerations as well because he really wanted a half sleeve and wanted to avoid something “too” floral while having a piece flowed naturally with his arm.  I sketched the concept art (see left), using movement, flow and color to set off the sunflowers.  A few sessions later this sweet half sleeve was complete.

Footprints

FootprintsWhen I complete a tattoo and it walks out the door on the person wearing it, I am constantly aware that whether I ever see the artwork again remains to be seen.  Tattooing is an artistic medium unique from any other in that these images are living, breathing, moving pieces of that live life in every moment with us. With that in mind, it was great fun to revisit a tattoo I completed a year ago on a mother celebrating the first birthday of her first child.  At that time she brought with her the original of her newborn daughter’s footprints which we reproduced in their actual size and with realistic detail, as a permanent memento of the imprint becoming a mother has made on her life and a tribute to the journey they share.

It was great fun to revisit this tattoo a year later when she stopped in with her daughter to drop off this beautiful portrait taken on her daughters second birthday, to see that the tattoo is looking just as realistic and detailed as it did a year ago… and of course, to pass happy wishes on to the birthday girl.  (By the way, props to photographer Jessica Wilson at Kiddie Kandids in the Bloomington, MN Babies R Us for the great photo.)

Next week I’ll begin a three week series highlighting cover up work… you know… changing that old, tired, outdated (or just really unfortunate) tattoo into something that you are once again in love with.  Cool stuff.  Check it out.

A Shiver of Sharks

do not reproduce ©artwithapoint2009

I often describe tattoos serving as bookmarks in life. In this weeks blog I’m highlighting a beautiful example of celebrating a milestone and family. These shark tattoos mark a tenth wedding anniversary as well as honor the growth of this family from two to six over the last ten years… Happy Anniversary!

Celebrating the 4th

art with a point custom tattooYesterday I had the honor of celebrating the 4th of July by spending the day tattooing an Iraq Veteran who is celebrating his first 4th back in the U.S. in two years. I tattooed him two years ago prior to his shipping out, and was relieved to hear that he has returned home safely along with everyone in his unit. Thank you, Nathan for your service.