Does it hurt? Is it safe? Don’t they give you anesthesia first? You can’t donate blood anymore, right? These are some of the questions I’ve been asked over and over about my tattoos. Now, let me take you on a historical tour of my body art…
Tattoo #1: Butterfly, tribal, on my nape, Black Strawberry (Glorietta 2), Aug. 2005
I was accompanied by my college bud Ayi; she was gonna get her second tat while I got my first, which I decided was to be a butterfly. The idea of metamorphosis fascinated me; somehow it is something I can relate to as a young person. I browsed a booklet and settled on a design. Wanted it on my neck but the artist recommended it to be on my nape instead because the neck’s sensitive, it might sting. I wouldn’t have minded the pain, but anyway there it went, a tilted butterfly (again, the artist suggested the orientation) done in 30 mins. Didn’t hurt one bit. Cost: P1,000.
I never even thought of asking permission from Ma. I always wanted one anyway. When my mom saw it, she was half-asking, half-accusing, “you got a tattoo?” Then I reminded her she got one first: her eyebrows. End of discussion.
Tattoo #2: Flowers, tribal, on the scar on my right arm, Black Strawberry, Aug. 2006
Tattoos are addictive; you can’t just get one and leave it be. Even if you don’t actually get another, you’ll be thinking about what design is gonna be next or wonder what milestone in your life is gonna prompt you to get inked once more.
The hum of the needle called to me the following year, when I decided it’s time to turn my skin graft scar into something rockin’. In 1993, I was put under the surgical knife to remove my possibly cancerous black and hairy birthmark. I never deemed it as ugly — I even combed it sometimes — it actually gave me a wonderful reason to say I have bear blood on me. But I consented to having it removed because I thought my skin would be normal afterwards. “Just like Michael Jackson,” I told myself naively. But it was horrible! If you look at my arm it’s dented. Worse, my left outer butt cheek has a map-like scar from where they got the skin from. Worst, 8 hours past the time I was supposed to be conscious, I woke up vomitting yellow goo. Makati Med at that time had a reputation of putting patients to sleep — eternal sleep — from too much anesthesia. But I survived.
Back to my tat. Flowers because of my name: Florida = flora (Latin for ‘flower’). The artist did a little freehand because the design I chose was not enough to cover the whole scar. A passerby said, “Oh, is that henna?” There must have been zero ounce of pain registering on my face that he thought it wasn’t the real thing. When he inched closer and saw the machine, he winced and moved on to the next stall. The sesh lasted for 1.5 hours; cost: P1,500. ‘Twas bloody after because he tattoed on the stitches too so the whole thing was swollen. I could feel the weight of my blood when I was browsing at Powerbooks.
Somebody asked me, “won’t you regret that when you find out you don’t like it anymore?” I replied, “it’s not likely to happen. I love tattoos because I consider them as art. Art is not something you regret.”
Tattoo #3: My favorite, phoenix, colored, on my left midriff, Tatay Nero Nievo (Cubao Arcade), Sept. 2007
Rising from the ashes has been a recurring theme in my life. I’m a depressive person — this is something not everyone knows but I’m telling you now. Getting tattoos is one of my ways of dealing with pain. Tatay Nero said, “tattoos are not about physical pain, but about conquering what lies within.” One of the founders of PhilTAG or Philippine Tattoo Artists Guild, he is my favorite not only because of his unique style of tattooing (‘pointillism’) but also because he’s a philosopher like me. He calls female clients ‘dalaga’ (don’t know exactly how this is translated — ‘mademoiselle’?) and most of his clientelle are UP Fine Arts students/grads. My tat sesh lasted 4 hours and cost P4,000. It was expensive but for the art Tatay does, it should be higher.
I am so proud of my ‘bird,’ I show her to anyone who is interested in my tattoos — the cashier at McDo, a friend’s friend I just met, bosses (one of them ran back to his office for effect because I raised my shirt) LOL.
Tattoo #4: The wedding ring, Ricky Sta. Ana, Skinworx Timog, June 2008
Okay, so I was married. Not legally but within the tattoo community it was recognized. I want this long story short so here we go. I delved into documentary filmmaking in early 2008. I took Nick Deocampo’s workshop and met Naw, Farlet and Tito, who became my good friends and eventually partners in amateur moviemaking (we did wedding SDEs and a couple of dokyus). As my final paper, I drafted a docu-movie which featured me getting the tattoo of my life and entering a competition in Dutdutan, the annual tattoo expo. Months later we decided to do the film so I did my research and contacted the organizer of Dutdutan. Who happened to like me and proposed a “tattoo wedding” between us, as part of the film. I have not met him in person and being the reckless one back in the days, I agreed. The union was only for the docu — I thought it was that simple. But you know adults and how they tend to complicate things. At least we were able to push through with the docu. Cut to scene…
Tattoos #5 and #6: Python and centipede, traditional, Whang-Od (Kalinga), June 2008
Along with four others, I trekked four mountainsides to get to Whang-Od. Only recently has she trained a granddaughter to continue the craft of ‘batok’ (tattooing). Back then she was the only one left who did traditional tattooing in the region. She has been featured in Jessica Soho (GMA 7) and Tattoo Hunter (Discovery Channel). Read Lars Krutak’s article on Whang-Od.
Getting tattoed by her, after 2 1/2 hours of no-breakfast hike up the mountains is one of the most memorable experiences in my life. She had bad colds then but she was still able to expertly tattoo me. She had me choose among the tats on her arms which ones I want on me. I picked the python. She used a huge ‘apog’ (lime) thorn attached to a stick, dipped it on ashes scraped from the bottom of a pan mixed with water, and used another stick to tap the thorn into my skin. Man it hurt! Unlike machines which make you feel numb after several strokes, this method employs rhythmic taps that you feel every single time, right up to the bone. I felt lightheaded so while the guys were filming the whole thing, I was eating bread. I also got a centipede on the other side of my upper back. She only charged me P500 for the two tats but I was so happy I gave her another P500. She said if I come back, I get one free.
Tattoo #7: Dragonfly, red, on my left inner arm, Ricky Sta. Ana, Skinworx Pasay, July 2008
Since I can’t join the tattoo competition because of the docu project (conflict of interests), I settled for a big red dragonfly on my arm, done by Ricky for free. He was interviewed for the docu, also Tatay Nero and a couple of others in the tattoo community. Why dragonfly? I’ve always been a fan of Nature. When I was a kid playing with dragonflies, my friend had the idea of making them fight. One dragonfly took the head of the other. I was shocked. I felt I’ve done something so terrible. When she left, I buried the dead one. As an adult, whenever I see dragonflies — and they’re very rare now given the condition our planet is in — I still marvel at them with a child’s eyes.
Tattoo #8: The Beatles (text), on my right lower back, 55 Tinta, Nov. 2012
I wanted a portrait of the Fab Four but I didn’t have enough cash then so having their name on me was the next best thing. I fell in love with The Beatles in 2011. I was so tired of listening to songs on my iPod Shuffle that ranged from alt-rock to pop over and over during my daily travel to work, I knew I needed to find something more. Then I remember Ayi had only Beatles songs on her iPod. I said, there must be magic in there for her to just play their songs. So I loaded their albums on my Shuffle and never had to look for other songs or groups hence. Maybe I’ll get that portrait inked on me after all…