Reader Request: My Ink

To see my updated leg tattoo, check out this post!

I had a reader request some backstory on my various tattoos in a comment. Now, if you’re interested in my views on stylish tattoos, check out this older post. But if you’re interested in how I chose my tattoos, why I got them, and what they mean to me, read on!

By the time I was a senior in high school, I knew I’d eventually have at least one tattoo. But I thought about it for a damn long time, and it wasn’t until I was 23 that I took the plunge.

SYMBOL: This simple blue crescent was my first. I got it in San Francisco about two weeks before I moved back to the Midwest. The symbol itself is from The Mists of Avalon, a book that influenced me philosophically, spiritually, and as a writer. The priestesses of Avalon had sideways-set blue crescents tattooed on their foreheads. I have mine on my right shoulder, the shoulder of my dominant hand.

MOTIVATION: I got this tattoo as a seal on a really horrible time in my life. I was miserable in San Francisco, and embroiled in a miserable relationship. This symbol and the act of getting it tattooed on my back both served as reminders of my strength and independence.

STUDIO: Sacred Rose Tattoo

TIME AND COST: This tattoo took about 20 minutes and cost me a whopping $50.

I moved to Minneapolis in 2000, and after about six months, felt ready to get another tattoo. Another symbol that is deeply, personally, and spiritually significant to me.

SYMBOL: This is a North American badger, my totem animal. I identify with badgers as earth-based animals (I am a double Capricorn with Taurus rising, and very, very strong in all things earthy), loyal and protective creatures, and physical manifestations of the phrase “small but mighty.” Badgers are all about self-preservation, defense of what is theirs, and standing up for themselves when confronted. Badgers are surprisingly fast and agile, defying their chunky, awkward bodies. I love ’em.

MOTIVATION: I got this piece because I felt like I had finally become self-sufficient, self-aware, and adult. I wanted to commemorate that subtle rite of passage, and felt that an image of my own totem was the perfect way to do so.

STUDIO: Some random joint a block from my old apartment that was closed within the year

TIME AND COST: This tattoo took about 4 hours and cost me $350. Placement is on my lower back, on the left to balance out the moon on the upper right:

Another couple of years passed, and I knew I wanted my third. At this point, I had met but not married Husband Mike.

SYMBOL: I drew this symbol in pastel within weeks of moving to Minneapolis, sitting in my little studio apartment in Uptown, dreaming about my future. It hung on my wall for years, and a few months after I started dating HM, I made an appointment to get it inked onto my right calf. Unfortunately, the person who did the work really effed it up, and the green crescent looked like an unripe banana and the whole thing was disproportionate and dorky-looking.

MOTIVATION: I left it in unripe-banana state for years, unsure how to fix it. And although I had always felt that the symbol itself represented new growth, the process of getting it fixed cemented its entire meaning.

I talked with Doug Hardy at the Ink Lab in Uptown, and just told him I wanted it “fixed.” We talked about adding some more scrolly vines, and he said he’d make sketches. I came in for my appointment and he’d left his sketches at home … so he just drew freehand all over my leg and went to town. And it was PERFECT. Collaboration and trust, the value of revision, allowing myself to rely on others for input and help … these are the things this piece symbolizes to me now. All part of growth, but a little more complex and rich.

STUDIO: Don’t remember the initial studio … it was at Lake and Lyndale in Uptown. Touch-up and renovation by Doug Hardy at the Ink Lab

TIME AND COST: The first round was two sittings of about an hour and a half each, but only cost $125. Second round was one sitting of about two hours and cost $200. (To see my updated leg tattoo, check out this post!)

Up to this point, all of my tattoos were acquired to commemorate events, changes, things that had ended. Over the past year, I decided I wanted some pieces that would serve as gates to new avenues, symbols of what’s to come instead of what had already passed.

SYMBOL: This is a compass star. Earth is my element, and north is my direction, so a compass resonated with me. I created this design using stock art and Photoshop, and collaborated with the artist on the final touches.

MOTIVATION: I felt that I was entering a phase of life in which I needed guidance. What better for guidance than a compass? What better place for a compass than on your foot, which moves you from place to place?

STUDIO: Jon Sweet at Uptown Tattoo. I cannot recommend Jon enough. He is kind, smart, funny, talented, and equally passionate about tattooing and fishing. That man loves to fish.

TIME AND COST: This piece took about 40 minutes and cost $65.

And because I have a weird thing about odd numbers and balance, I knew I needed a fifth.

My legal name is Sarah, which roughly translates to “princess” in Hebrew. (I am half Jewish.) For years and years, I HATED that, feeling like my very name was linked with tutus and Disney and all things pink and foofy and over-the-top girly. But within the past 7 or 8 years, I have found myself wanting to embrace my inner princess – allow my inner woman, strong and decisive, to emerge and flourish. And the crown became the symbol of this change. Hence my crown ring, and 15 billion crown necklaces, shirts, and paraphernalia. It is red because red is my favorite color, and has been since birth.

MOTIVATION: This piece is also a part of my “opening doors” idea, and since it is linked to my name I feel the tattoo is linked to my acceptance of my whole self.

STUDIO: Cecelia at Warlock Tattoo. Cecelia is pictured in the first photo up top, working her magic on my neck.

TIME AND COST: This piece took about an hour and a half, and cost $125

And yes, my mom was utterly APPALLED when I got my first. And second. And third. I’m actually not sure she noticed the fourth and fifth. Maybe she’s just developed tattoo immunity …

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36 Responses to “Reader Request: My Ink”

  1. Gillian

    My entire family is going to kill me when I get my first tattoo. My brother is a financial adviser, my other brother is going to become a History professor, my father is a History professor, and my mother is a book keeper. One of my brother's exact words were: "I'll rip the damn thing off your body."

  2. adressandabike

    I know I want a tattoo. I know I want it on my left shoulder blade and right lower back. I'm pretty sure what I want- a wolf and a moon.

    I personally identify with the wolf due to its intelligent nature and loyalty despite its reputation of being the lone wolf.

  3. Meli22

    thank you for sharing that with us! I liked reading through the hows and whys of your tattoos! 😀 I have none, but I also am only 22. I love the ideas you had behind them and I always did wonder about the tattoos since I have seen them in your pictures before (well, not the 2 on the back! just the foot, ankle, and back-of-the-neck ones)

  4. K.Line

    This is great. I always want to know the backstory with tattoos. I don't have any (they're just not my thing – too much commitment!) but I love seeing them on others. The badger one is my fave – just lovely and beautifully placed.

  5. myedit

    Thanks for sharing your tattoo stories. I especially love the badger one, there was a story recently in our local newspaper about how they are endangered, so I hope they have a come-back.

  6. Denise

    I really enjoyed this post, Sal. And I, too, was profoundly influenced by The Mists of Avalon. For me, it was the first time I'd ever realized that there had been a time in the world when Christianity was just the new religion on the block, you know? I don't have any tattoos, but I am pierced on my lower left labia. I did that for a couple of reasons. First, I'd survived an attack on my life that left me with scars that I had no part in choosing for myself, and I felt strongly that I wanted to mark myself, rather than just be marked. And secondly, I wanted to affirm that a woman's sexuality, my sexuality, was something beautiful enough to be adorned. That was a lot of years ago, but I'm still happy I did it.

  7. LPC

    I am so curious. How do you know you want a tattoo? What is the impulse? How does it feel to want a tattoo?

  8. Michelle

    I love your tattoos! I'm more of a getting tattoos as art (w/meaning) than tattoos as a rite of passage kind of gal – but I love the stories behind all of these.

    Looking at your other posts, I'm kind of surprised you haven't got more rude comments, honestly. One of the things that drove me off a style blog you liked & recommended was that about two days after I put it on my RSS reader, they posted something about how tattoos were tacky & trashy and all of the comments were going on in agreement. Just like, really? There aren't enough voices telling women what to do with their bodies without other women joining in too? I can get if tattoos aren't someone's thing, but a lot of the people who go off about them simply don't know what they're talking about & it infuriates me.

    Sorry – I didn't mean to rant, it's just been something I was thinking about lately. I actually wrote a post called Tattoo Etiquette on it a few weeks ago, ha.

    Anywaaays, like I said, love your tatts and the stories behind them. Thanks for sharing, Sal. 🙂

  9. Michelle

    Just wanted to clarify – my last comment was not meant to be a judgey "you said the blog was good & then they were rude!" sort of thing, I was just surprised by it because the rest of the content did appear to be really good, so the tattoo post was just…baffling? to me.

  10. Sarah Yvonne

    Thank you for this post. I am someone with one tattoo (gotten after I graduated high school) but with plans to get more. However, I am constantly vacillating between important tattoos and maintaining the "purity" (for lack of a better word) of my natural body. It's awesome to hear from someone with beautiful tattoos and no regrets.

    I can't thank you enough!


    I find interesting to read the meaning & symbolism to each of them, Sal… I'm so glad you left the miserable relationship you had & turn a new leaf somehow…inspiring! xo*

  12. Laura.

    i love being a badger (they SHOULD make a comeback)! and i like hearing about all your tattoos. it's so interesting to hear the stories behind how and why people get tattoos.

  13. metscan

    Wow, I didn´t know you have so many tattoos. I could not imagine myself having one, but then again, I´m much older than you are ( just a hasty explanation ). We have different values. I like that you have a story for every tattoo. My favorite is the first one, the light blue. Does it hold its color?

  14. Make Do Style

    I've sort of harked after having a tatoo but never felt completely compelled.

    Your back stories are delightful but I did gasp at the 5th one it shocked me. It seems so dramatic on the neck or was that the thought of the pain.

    I do fancy the compass – I like the idea of that one a lot!

  15. Nadine

    Haha, The Mists of Avalon – I was seriously considering getting a moon tattoo after reading that! I love your badger tat, as well. Thanks for sharing these stories – they're lovely.

  16. The Barely Tattoo'd Artist

    I love anything that has to do with ink, especially since I have three tattoos myself…

    I think each one you have chosen suits you pefectly…and in the event if you should get more, I'd love to see…

    Wish my birthday was closer, for I have planned to start a half sleeve by then with my identity animal, a koi…I'm a Pisces by nature, but I since I'm a cusp baby, I share some traits of the Aquarius…

  17. Bianca

    Oh! My sister in law just left a copy of Mists of Avalon here telling me its one of the best books she has ever read. I will have to dig into it!

    Love the tats. They are all well done, classy and pretty!!

  18. daddylikeyblog

    I found this fascinating! Especially because I'm currently in the process of thinking about getting a tattoo. I'm thinking about it A LOT!

  19. Erin

    Thanks for sharing, Sal. I view tattoos as birthmarks you're not born with, but instead have the great privilege of choosing. (Ask me privately sometime about tattoos. :D)

    I like your badger! The abstraction of the animal is really well done. I love badgers, too (being a Wisconsin girl). I like that they're full of fight. I was camping a few years ago, and a badger swam across a river to our camp and walked through it! And I missed it! Gah!!!

  20. Rosie Unknown

    Thanks so much for sharing all this! I have always been fascinated by tattoos, and hope to have one of my own someday.

  21. roryborealis

    I loved reading about your ink. Your tattoos are fab, especially the badger, crown, and moon-and-vines on your leg.

    I have a compass star as well. Mine is on my right elbow, and let me tell you, I never realized just how much I lean on and prop things open with that elbow until The Dreaded Post-Ink Swelling. Oh wow, the swelling. It was three days before it stopped looking like a grapefruit and I could straighten that arm all the way without discomfort. I also have the phases of the moon tattooed beneath my collarbone–that was my latest acquisition, done by Suzy Todd at Madame Lazonga's in Seattle during my August vacation out there.

    I'm about 2/3 of the way finished with my sleeve; I'm hoping that by next summer it will at long last be done. (It's a full sleeve, shoulder to wrist; I have a number of pieces by various artists on my arm that I am working on tying together into a cohesive whole with the help of the marvelous Cynthia Rudzis. She's so amazing that I'm willing to travel from New York City to DC for my appointments.)

    • Oddball

      Must be a really beautiful sleeve- my husband has both arms covered as well as many others but when he had his whole head done, essentially creating what makes a great alternative to stressing on the receding hairline, he looked more gorgeous than before!

  22. Melissa

    Thanks so much for this post! I have three, and I love every one of them. Mine all mean something special to me, and I'm sure I'll get more as the years pass. I have always thought they are beautiful.

  23. Jaka Merriman

    I've always wondered about your tattoos – thanks for sharing! I got my first ink just a little over a year ago. Nothing fancy, mostly line drawing and it's small., but it's very personal. I think that's absolutely vital when marking yourself for life and I'm chuffed to see that all of your tattoos have very personal meanings, as well. <3

  24. The Cherry Blog

    oh wow great tattoos! im getting my second one this month!! x

  25. Queen Michelle

    I'm already planning my fourth tattoo! This one is probably the one that means the least to me in so much as it won't have symbolic meaning other than I love the shape – a lightning bolt.
    I love where you have the badger positioned, that's a great spot. I'd like to get a sizeable one somewhere and that's a great place. My lightning bolt will be on my right arm, at my inside bicep above my latin text. I can't wait!

  26. Erin

    I loved this post! I've known I've wanted a tattoo for a long time, but the image hasn't come to me yet. I'm sure it will, in time.

  27. Clair

    I'm a fairly new reader of your blog and, wow, this is fascinating. Truly. It's so interesting to hear other people's motivations for choosing their ink. It took me three years to work up the courage (and an illustration) to have my tattoo done. Not sure if I'll ever have another because, as with some of yours it signifed the end of an era – I'm not sure I want to revisit that! 🙂

  28. enc

    Sal, that photo of your back is the most beautiful thing I've seen in a long, long time.

  29. Sonja

    Wow! You've got a serious collection of tats! Love 'em! I have "e=mc2" on my tummy. I took my sister to a tattoo parlor on her birthday one year – great sisterly activity. She got an eye of Horus on the back of her neck.

  30. Kari

    I love that each tattoo is completely symbolic and meaningful of each period of your life. It sounds like you were particularly wise to commemorate events or changes in your life *after* you had already settled into them. I think some people tend to be impulsive about getting tattoos in locations or with symbols that they later regret, and thinking them through the way that you did seems smart.

    Have you ever had any difficulty with needing to cover up the visible tattoos, particularly those on your leg/foot? (I guess you can always wear pants rather than skirts, but I'm just curious.) It's nice that you have such full hair that you can cover up the tattoo on your neck if need be, or pin your hair up and expose it if you feel like it!

  31. kpriss

    Lovely Sarah! Lovely post (what else is new?) and great perspective over your inkness self!

    I'm not as indulgent as you are and even though I have two tattoos (hm.. it seems that everything I did wrong in my life, I did twice.. but that's another story altogether), I so deeply want to remove both of them! There's no particular meaning attached to my ink moments, pretty much none other than aesthetic and I think I love my body just the way it was made, no ink, no makeup, no nothing. Just me.

  32. Sheila

    Sal, thanks for pointing me back to this post! I remember reading it and thinking I had commented (I don't have a lot of time in the mornings when I read your blog).

    I love all of your tattoos – my salamander is similar to your badger as sort of a totem animal. I'm a Libra and the whole S sinuous thing really appeals to me hugely.

    And I agree, that shot of your back is a thing of beauty. Wow. You should frame that.

  33. KP

    I’ve been reading your blog for awhile, but I came across this doing research for an Arthurian lit. class. We just finished reading Mists of Avalon, and I love that first tattoo. 🙂

    I always enjoy reading your blog!

  34. Oddball

    Beautiful tattoos; the badger’s tribal style looks very striking, as well as that beautiful colorful leg piece. I have four myself, including my wedding band which my mother claims “isn’t a real one”. My ex-boyfriend kept insisting that the sun and the tribal sky symbol on my spine were the cause of all my back problems and would likely give me uterine cancer- not a tattoo lover. People who hate them seem to notice them more than we do sometimes, but who calls a person trashy based on appearances that has any class?