Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos
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If you love literature and love tattoos, then chances are, you’re considering a first (or second or third) tattoo inspired by one of your favorite books. Perhaps you fans of the real (as opposed to the hyper-romanticized) Jane Austen might like to pay homage to her dry wit with a “Death . . . a melancholy and shocking extremity,” written across your shoulder blades. Maybe you’re also a devotee of classic paintings and/or Brideshead Revisited and want “Et In Arcadia Ego” inked on your lower back, with a sweet rendering of Death—or maybe a skull—himself sandwiched between the two. Whatever your literary bent, there’s ink to bring the words to life.
Of Utmost Importance
- Get it right. Be sure that you have the quotation correct when you go into the tattoo parlor, and during inking, take whatever precautions are necessary to ensure that your artist doesn’t miss a letter or punctuation mark, especially if the quotation is in a foreign language. If that means having a friend come in to watch—and surreptitiously supervise—then so be it. Anyone serious enough about a quotation to scrawl it into her flesh should demand precision. Even better than spying on your artist, however, is picking one that you trust, and who has a large bank of satisfied clients with literary tattoos.
- Think about the design elements, even when using only text. If it’s more than a few words, where are you inserting the line breaks? Are you indenting at all? What font will you use? Do you want to emphasize any words or lines? If so, then by their relative sizes or by bolding or italicizing them?
If you want illustrations in lieu of text, and the original text is illustration-free (unlike with, say, Alice in Wonderland), you’ll could pick and choose from boilerplate tattoos, find something online, or even better, work with your tattoo artist to design something unique and specific to your vision. It might take some back and forth, but collaboration can lead to something even better than what you’d imagined in the beginning.
How to Decide
Picking an author to quote from, much less a quotation small enough to fit on your body, can be a real challenge. There’s nothing wrong with turning to the Internet for guidance on popular quotations for your favorite author, or kicking it old skool and looking at a physical Book of Quotations, but a more rewarding path might be sitting down with your favorite book(s) and rereading it (or them) with an eye for quotations. Put Post-It notes next to those that catch your eye, and when you’re done, winnow them down until you’re left with the perfect quotation.
For inspiration, you might check out contrariwise.org, a fantastic blog about literary tattoos.