The Skin They’re In


Author: Jacob Surpin


Jeff Ross (senior): I got my tattoo in November of my sophomore year at Prix Tattoo and Piercing in Pasadena. I did a lot of research about where to get it—I looked at government ratings to check things like cleanliness and how skilled the artists were. In Iowa, where I’m from, the shops don’t have ratings, but in L.A. they have up-to-date information on tattoo studios. I went around and talked to a bunch of artists and looked at their styles, and tried to figure out if they were creative or just did stock-drawing tattoos.
The tattoo I have is based on a print of Hokusai, who was a Japanese block artist in the nineteenth century. The picture the tattoo is based on is called “The Great Wave.” Hokusai did a series of 100 views of a wave breaking with Mount Fuji in the background, and I was inspired by that wave. I looked at his drafts and I saw one with the wave breaking off into birds that were flying up to the mountain, and I decided to take out Fuji and put in a sunset. I had been obsessed with this drawing for about ten years or so, and in high school I drew it all over the place. I feel very connected to the ocean, very at home there. It’s probably because my family goes to Monterey in the summertime. They have amazing sunsets, and the ocean and the wildlife kind of merge together. 
I had a few family members pass away the year I got the tattoo, and I had been thinking that my whole family seems to feel at ease in that salt climate. We have very different views and lifestyles, but we always come back to Monterey and feel at ease. In the tattoo there is a bit of a parallel between the wind and the waves breaking into the birds as my family comes back to that place. I don’t understand my family completely, and I don’t necessarily understand nature completely, but I think it’s really interesting to use art to capture things that you have a grasp on and are beautiful but are unclear. I wanted to grasp that mystery in my thoughts through some graphic representation.
Shylana Roman (junior):
I got both of my tattoos at Broken Art Tattoo in Silver Lake, where a wonderfully interesting man named Rosie did them for me. I have a sun made of a smaller, repeated image (which in my head looks like feathers or wings) on my left shoulder. I got this tattoo to remind me of a dream I once had of a house with several rooms. Every room had a color or pattern theme, and in each room I entered, I would find objects or people whom I associated with that color. In the yellow room, which I associate with sunshine and summer, I found my best friend and small tokens of our friendship. The tattoo honestly just feels like part of my body; I don’t even remember that I have it sometimes.
My second tattoo is “Timshel,” and it was done in my handwriting. It’s from one of my favorite books, “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck. The book is written about this one word “timshel,” which means “thou mayest” in Hebrew. The theme of the novel is free will versus fate in the lives of two pairs of brothers, which is reflective of the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible. After Cain has killed his own brother, God tells him that he must accept his fate, that he needs to accept his fate. However, in the Hebrew version of the story, God says, “timshel,” or “thou mayest”, and it is the only version of that story in which God gives Cain a choice about his life. “Timshel” reminds me that life is about my own choices. I would say that it feels like part of my body. It’s on my right wrist so I can see it every day, and since it’s in my handwriting it looks even more natural to me.
Amanda Schlitter (junior):
I have two tattoos: a cherry blossom on my left inner forearm and Arabic script underneath my right arm (on my tricep). I got the cherry blossom done in Raleigh, NC last summer, and the script “mubarak,” which means “blessed,” done in Durham, NC over Thanksgiving. (They’re cheaper over there!)
The ‘why’ is a deeply personal question, but here it is: the cherry blossom is a reminder to myself that I am a beautiful person inside and out and precious like a flower. The “blessed” is to remind myself that no matter what struggles I have endured, I am blessed. It also represents my studies here at Oxy. I’m a history major with an emphasis in the Middle East. The meaning behind them may seem kind of odd, but I was a foster kid and so I had to learn to love myself as an adult. I’m not entirely sure why, but I think the Arabic script is more a part of me and the flower feels like more an addition at this time.
Hannah Schwartz (junior):
I have three tattoos, all of which have to do with math (since I love math, clearly). I was forced into getting my first tattoo because I lost a bet about the paucity of female truck drivers. It took a while to come up with the design, but once my friends and I came up with the right idea, it just stuck. This one is on my ankle and reads “Figure it out” in my friend’s handwriting.
The second two were done by choice; tattoos are rather addicting once you get your first one. These are both more math-inspired than my first one. My second (on my shoulder) is of the uniqueness quantifier, which is a logic symbol from discrete mathematics which denotes the existence of a unique element. 
My third tattoo was the first one I really spent a while artistically designing—actually, it started out as a doodle one morning in the back of my class. It is a picture of an intrinsically knotted jellyfish. This basically means that none of the “legs” of the jellyfish can be untangled; they are all knotted. Obviously, I have had some fun math lessons with my tattoo artists on both tattooing occasions. 
I would describe my tattoos as a nice surprise that I glance at every so often. I don’t always notice them, but when I do they are a nice reminder and a symbol of who I am.
Elise Augenstern (junior):
I have a tattoo on my arm that looks like 13 freckles in the shape of the constellation Orion. I got it the summer after my freshman year of college. Orion, the warrior, is my favorite constellation. This was the name of my cabin at the camp where I spent 11 summers. I also like it because it’s the constellation that’s most visible all over the world. Turns out that Orion has special significance in Indonesia, where I went abroad last semester, so the symbol means even more to me than it used to. By now, since I’ve had the tattoo for so long and it just looks like freckles, it definitely feels like it’s part of me. People usually don’t think it’s a tattoo.
Danielle Caban (senior): 
I got my tattoo at Vintage Tattoo on York in the middle of last semester. I was going through a lot of personal and familial problems, and I reread a letter my sister wrote to me my sophomore year at Oxy. At the end of the letter there is a very simple request: “Don’t give up, please.” It really hit close to home and I decided to get the message tattooed in her handwriting on the same day. My ink is very much a part of me and who I am. At first it was a little weird because it is on my right wrist so I am almost constantly looking it, but you get used to it. I think of it as a part of my sister that I get to carry everywhere I go, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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