Behind The Ink: Designing Your Own Tattoo

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SLATE caught up with Emma Easterlin, a graduate student at Northwestern University. Hailing from San Rafael, California, she decided to ditch the west coast for a short 15 month stint to complete her masters in Integrated Marketing Communications.

SLATE: How many tattoos have you gotten?

EASTERLIN: I have two, one of them is on my side and it’s an elephant. It’s actually very in my armpit. I got it when I was 18. It was right before I went to USC for undergrad and all my friends were getting tattoos and they all had appointments in the same two days. And I was just like I kinda wanna get a tattoo?

I had this idea in my head for a couple of months that I wanted an elephant. I like elephants, my name starts with an E, and I’ve had these 3 stuffed elephants since I was a baby. It was also pretty trendy at the time to have an elephant tattoo!

So I picked a drawing from the internet and I literally just decided in 30 minutes. Like on the way over in the car, I decided I’m going to get this. Walked in and asked can you do this on me and the tattoo artist was like yeah!

It was $60 and took 10 minutes and afterwards I was just felt like oh wow, it’s on me forever.

SLATE: So have you ever regretted it then?

EASTERLIN: Only immediately after. And my mom had always been against it.

SLATE: How did she react?

EASTERLIN: I didn’t tell her for nine months! Since I was at school, it was fine. So whenever was home and in a bathing suit or something, I’d wear a bandeau. One day, I was changing in the car on the way to the gym and she just grabbed my side and went “What is that?!” I was just like “Uhhh, an elephant?”

SLATE: Okay. So tell me about the other one then.

EASTERLIN: My friend came to visit and she wanted to get a tattoo on her finger of the letter C for her sister and she asked if I wanted to go with her. That was in the morning. So throughout the day I thought, let me get another tattoo since I don’t really love the one I already have.

Not loving the first one was a combination of my mom being like I don’t like it and the decision being impulsive. But now I love that tattoo and everyone knows I have it. I like the shape and the design but I don’t like where it is because you know…it’s in my armpit. So when I lift my arm up, it moves and it looks really fat - I wish I’d planned that out better.

I thought, Why don’t I do something that I made so it’s a bit more personal. Also, the thing is when you’re talking to someone about a tattoo, they want to know what the meaning is. And if you don’t have a good answer, they think you’re an idiot! So I wanted to make one that would make people respect me a bit more and maybe validate the other one.

SLATE: Fair point. How did you come up with the design then?

EASTERLIN: I spent the day in class drawing, I knew I wanted something with my family. My dad’s name is Dan but his real name is John, my mom is Barbara and my brother is Ryder. So I just put their initials together and kinda went through the different ways I could put the letters together, uppercase, lowercase, and cursive. And then I did the D in between the J.

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That was the moment I was like oh hey this is actually pretty cool! So I combined them all together. I thought it looked like a cool character. I almost added a little circle so that it would be a little man running but I thought that would be too much, let’s keep it simple.

SLATE: And how did you decide where to put it?

EASTERLIN: I put it on my ankle so If I wear shoes it can cover it but also what I really like is that when I wear high heels you can see it through the high heel which I think it’s really cute.

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SLATE: How do you feel about this tattoo now compared to the last one?

EASTERLIN: So instead of feeling regret this time, I was really happy because I was proud of what I’d drawn. I told my mom the next day and she thought it was really cute and so she was much less judgemental this time!

SLATE: I’m guessing you’re really close to your family?

EASTERLIN: We’ve lived together my whole life! We do lots together actually. I mean I call my parents my best friends. I never really had a moment as a teenager, maybe only when I was 15, where I fought with them. I never had huge arguments with my parents.

I would get into screaming arguments with my brother and then we got older and realized that we have really similar personalities and senses of humor. There was nothing else that I wanted to get a tattoo of besides my family… other than an elephant I guess.

SLATE: What made the elephant so special?

EASTERLIN: I’ve had three stuffed elephants since I was a baby and I’ve kept them which I feel is an accomplishment.

SLATE: Do you have them with you?

EASTERLIN: Yeah I have one. I always bring one with me, the other two are at home. And then I had a dream three days before I got it and it made me more obsessed with the idea. And then I did it.

SLATE: So how did you go about picking the artists?

EASTERLIN: I’m from Marin county right above San Francisco. I’m actually from San Rafael and there’s literally one tattoo shop in the whole town and everyone goes there.

In LA, I was a little bit more confident because the tattoo shop was on Melrose Ave in Fairfax, which is a trendy area. So yeah I didn’t pick either of them, just showed up.

SLATE: And did you look into styles or anything like that?

EASTERLIN: Nope? I literally know nothing about tattoos.

SLATE: Sounds like you just dove into it?

EASTERLIN: Yup, I’m pretty impulsive.

SLATE: Have you got anymore planned?

EASTERLIN: Nope. I quite like symmetry in terms of my body. Even if it’s not exactly symmetrical, it’s consolidated and balanced. I think it would just bother me.

SLATE: So nothing you really want that badly?

EASTERLIN: Nah, maybe a fun one with my friends? But I kinda already did that!