Tattooed Ladies & Little Golden Books

Cindy Ray
Flashback to 16 years old, about to get my first tattoo. I was in the chair, underage, sweating bullets and nervous as all hell. I knew if my mom found out she'd crucify me. When I had expressed the slightest desire to get tattooed things like "How will you walk down the isle with tattoos all over your arms?!" and "Nice girls don't get tattooed!" were said, usually in a very loud and disapproving tone. The shop was wallpapered with 1970's and 80's flash art, cracked skulls, women with huge teased out hair, a plethora Tasmanian devils and garishly colored floral arrangements. But hanging on the far corner wall of the shop was something that seemed to stick out. Two or three pieces of yellowed paper covered with timeless looking images, ladies with flowers in their hair, ships and bold flowers. They were reproductions of some very old flash art from a tattooer named August "Cap" Coleman. I needed to find out more about the history of tattooers and tattooed people.

The tattoo machine hit my skin and a feeling of calm set in. Oh this was bad. Not only did it hurt like hell, but I knew I was going to be hooked.

Betty Broadbent
I started researching and found pictures of Sideshow attractions/performers, lady tattooers and tattooed ladies. Betty Broadbent, Lady Viola, Stella Grassman, and the fabulous Cindy Ray. There was something really empowering, romantic and intriguing about the photographs of these women. They looked confident, exotic, playful, strong and feminine. I felt some sort of connection to the photographs I was looking at. I was always told growing up that tattoos were for men and seeing these photographs proved all those statements to be false. That was it, I wanted to be a tattooed lady.

Over the past 13 years I've gotten my share of tattoo work done, but only in the past 6 or so years have I really made the commitment to myself to be more selective about the tattoo work I would get in the future. I knew I wanted sleeves, but it had to be the right artist. I saved money, did my research and recently found the right artist to work with. During those 6 years I feel like I've accomplished something that I thought I'd never be able to do-become a children's book illustrator. It still comes as a shock and I have to pinch myself once and while. I felt that my next tattoo piece had to be related to picture books in some way! 

Stella and Deafy Grassman 
My most favorite artists all time go back to the Little Golden books of my youth. Mary Blair, Alice and Martin Provensen, JP Miller and of course, Richard Scarry. I adore the work of these artists so much, without their influence and work I wouldn't have had the drive or desire to pursue illustrating picture books. The colorful images they produced had such warmth and upon viewing, seemed to transport you to another world they had created. Their work and style was/is extremely inventive and you could make up your own stories just by looking at the illustrations alone. One of my very first picture books was a Richard Scarry book, I also had a tiny Richard Scarry library tote that I cherished. I can remember frequenting the local library with my Mom, filling up my tiny tote bag (with Lowly Worm and Huckle Cat!) with picture books to bring home and get lost in. The choice for my tattoo was made, Richard Scarry it was! 

I had decided to get an actual Little Golden Book tattooed, including part of the illustration for Richard Scarry's Naughty Bunny (left). I love this book, and sadly, I don't think it would be published today for multiple reasons.  I felt it was perfect for the piece. I wanted something on me to be a constant reminder of why I wanted to pursue this field: to make a solid book and piece of art, to push myself and create something the viewer could get lost in. Recently I have made the decision to try to self publish a picture book on my own and these old books have been my inspiration. It may take me a lot of time to reach my goal, but I have a constant reminder on my arm to encourage me to do so.

Tattoo by Grez, Kings Ave Tattoo, NYC

1 comment:

Eleonora said...

Heavily tattoed girl and proud of it! I coundn't live without my tattoo anymore, they are a part of my body.