Spring has finally offered up some warmer days and with them the chance to shed a few layers of winter wear and show a little skin, and maybe-for the 45 million Americans with a tattoo-a little ink.
For thousands of years, tattoos have told stories about their wearers. Some are highly personal, meant for only the recipient to understand. Others still are proclamations for the world to see, such as the original tribal tattoos that delineated the tribe and social status of the wearers. And some are just plain fun and artistic.
For Belpre resident Branna Packard, 22, her tattoos are just that-fun and fascinating.
“Ever since I was little I always saw tattoos and was completely fascinated with them,” said Packard, who now has several tattoos of her own.
They range from bright pink hammer head sharks to a gray scale Frankenstein to a mix of both. On one arm, a zombie rises from a background of gray graves and a vibrant pink and orange sunset.
“My tattoos are what separate me from everyone else. They show who I am and what I’m about,” she said.
Many people get tattoos to mark a particular experience. Sistersville, W.Va, resident Jon Kelly, 30, looks at his right arm as a catalog of his regrets and a reminder not to repeat past mistakes.
“My right arm, there’s an entire story it tells. Each one has meaning-a lot of it extremely personal,” he said.
A series of skulls are reminders of people he has hurt and four red X’s signify some failed relationships that have hurt him.
“I got these tattoos so I wouldn’t forget. Every one of them teaches a different lesson,” he explained.
Now Kelly is planning out an opposing series of tattoos for his left arm, ones that signify life and hope. Already on that arm is a vibrant Celtic cross surrounded by a Celtic tree-symbolic of his heritage.
Kelly does have a few tips for those getting inked.
“Don’t get anybody’s name tattooed on you or a girl’s portrait either. It’s almost a sure-fire way to make sure the relationship doesn’t last,” he said.
Luckily Kelly does not have to count that classic tattoo “don’t” among his mistakes.
Marietta tattoo artist Jeff Kelley, who owns Kelley’s Ink on Second Street, said he will try to talk clients out of getting named tattoos, but will ultimately go along with it if the client insists.
Kelley also avoids some new other new untested trends. For example, he does not completely trust the safety of black light sensitive ink. Some UV ink is suspected of being carcinogenic, he said.
But for the most part, ink and tools in the trade are getting better and more people are getting comfortable in a tattoo chair, he said.
White tattoos, which use traditional ink, are among the current trends that Kelley has seen frequently.
“Girls are wanting to get white tattoos lately. They want a tattoo, but they don’t want everybody to see it,” he said.
In addition, pop culture have been inspiring a lot of tattoos lately. Shows like “The Walking Dead” have piqued people’s interest in zombies while shows like “Duck Dynasty” have created a surge in hunting-related tattoos, explained Kelley.
Newport resident Wed Bills, 21, was getting work done Monday on a tattoo inspired by his favorite character from “The Walking Dead”-a pair of tribal wings.
Tribal tattoos, which were hugely popular around two decades ago, also seem to be making a comeback, said Kelley.
The tribal tattoo on Marietta resident Joey Fox’s arm has a deep meaning to him. After Fox’s first tour in Iraq, he and three soldiers that had served on convoy security together got similar, but unique tribal tattoos to symbolize their brotherhood as soldiers.
“After we came back to the US unscathed, all of us decided to get tribal tattoos because it’s a warrior symbol. And that’s what the military is, modern warriors,” he said.
Similarly, Fox’s many other tattoos have deep, personal meanings. A beach scene on his forearm reminds him of his childhood in San Diego while a storm above the beach reminds him that paradise is a state of mind, not a place.
“It’s a storm everywhere you are,” he said.
For Fleming resident Taylor Parmiter, 23, the artistry of her tattoos is a large part of the appeal.
“I’ve always loved tattoos and art. They make me happy,” she said.
Some of Parmiter’s fun, quirky art pieces include a sugar skull version of Darth Vader’s helmet and a whimsical tree with a tire swing.
But Parmiter’s tattoos are more than pieces of artwork. They too have deep meaning. Her favorite, a fern branch with hummingbirds, symbolizes her two grandmothers, both of whom have passed.
“One of my grandmas had hummingbirds all over her house and the other, her name was Fern,” she explained.
Parkersburg resident Hanah Kuhn, 22, also has a familial reminder. An elephant tattoo and adjacent inscription are a personal reminder of her great-grandmother.
“When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives,” the tattoo reads.
Kuhn’s uncle, who is covered in tattoos, inspired her to start getting tattoos at a young age-she was 15 when she got her first. But looking back, Kuhn advises others to wait before getting started.
“Even though I started young, I encourage people to wait. Once I turned 18, I was already covering up tattoos that I could just be starting, ” she said.
That brings Kuhn to her second tip: “Don’t get anything written on you that you do not specifically know what it means.”
Kuhn’s Chinese lettering was done on a whim.
“Other than that, I have no regrets. I love all my tattoos,” she said.
Marietta resident Mitchel Cooper, 31, also uses his tattoos that show off the things he loves and believes in.
“They let you express something about yourself,” he said.
A tribal band around his arm means “the strong and the able” and serves as a reminder that he can accomplish anything, he explained.
“If you’re strong then you are able to do anything you want,” he said.
On the opposite arm, a Chevy emblem with flames rising out of it puts to rest any doubt about Cooper’s loyalties when it comes to cars.
“I’ve always had Chevys. Since I’m going to be a die hard Chevy fan the rest of my life, I figured I’d get the Chevy emblem,” he said.
While trends come and go, some tattoo “dos” never die, said Kelley. For example, always make sure a tattoo shop has its business license and has passed its most recent health inspection.
Look through the artist’s portfolio to make sure he or she can do the type of desired work and if possible, ask to see some of their tattoos in person.
“And avoid deals. Avoid people that say ‘Oh my cousin or brother has a gun.’ If they are calling it a gun, they probably aren’t professional. We call it a machine,” he said.