Behind The Ink: Tattoos Help You Share Something Personal

“Tattoos are an extremely social experience. I think people get tattoos so they can show them off. It gives you an opportunity to share something personal about yourself with other people.”

David Schonthal is no stranger to human-centered insights. As a Director at IDEO, a leading design consulting firm, he’s worked with some of the greatest minds in design who seek to understand human behavior and motivations. So I asked him, “Why are you getting a tattoo?”

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After spending years in San Diego, David developed a strong attachment to the West Coast. It holds a special place in his heart and after moving back to Chicago with his family, he wanted a way to remember his time in San Diego.

The Torrey Pine is a rare and endangered pine species that only grows in the Torrey Pines National State Reserve in coastal northern San Diego. David picked out a specific image of a Torrey Pine that he loved because of the intricacy of the branches and how the trees themselves are formed so uniquely as a result the harsh environment of their coastal home.

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When we launched Slate in the fall of 2018, David was our first advisor and advocate. Not only did he help us build our business, but he went on to become one of our first customers. So it was really important that we find him the best artist for the job, and one that could bring the idea of his perfect tattoo to life.

It’s often hard for a customer to articulate exactly what they want - art has so many visual nuances and tattoo design lingo isn’t well known to those outside the industry. We started by showing David a wide range of tree tattoo designs - American Traditional, Illustrative, Fine Line Blackwork, Minimalist. After a few consultations, we helped David narrow in on the exact aesthetic he wanted - detailed, fine line, and realistic but not necessarily Realism style.

Enter Jared Metzner, who we like to call the “Fine Line King”, although he admits that he loves doing tattoos across a wide range of styles. If you look at his portfolio, it is mostly detailed, fine line, black tattoos. “You start out a generalist. Then you begin to develop your own unique look and people just start coming to you for that exact type of tattoo”, says Jared. Well, he was the perfect fit for David’s tree tattoo.

Jared is one of the nicest tattoo artists we’ve ever met. It’s clear that he really cares about his customers, and that he’s motivated by the opportunity to connect with them and create what they want while exercising some creative control in the process. To make David even more comfortable, Jared shared his sketch of the Torrey Pine tattoo the day before to make sure that it was exactly right.

This tattoo reaffirmed that self-expression is a team sport. Helping a customer think through, define, and articulate their vision is so key to the creative process - it empowers them to meet the tattoo artist halfway and provide direction. On the flip side, finding the right artist who specializes in the aesthetic you want and values the customer is essential.

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“I got this tattoo on my forearm so I can see it all the time and enjoy it - my other tattoo is often concealed.  Its also a nice way to express myself,” David Said. “Some people I know commented that a forearm tattoo was a bit ‘off brand’ for me - which in some ways is exactly why I like it!”  

Alex Eng