The tattoo industry has become a billion dollar enterprise. A form of artistic expression that was once considered grotesque is now highly regarded as beauty and a form of healing for many. People have found a way to tell their stories through ink on flesh. And tattoo artists have become a sort of therapist and a witness for those who need to bare their souls about life's truths and turmoils. Sadly.... once and awhile the story is less than happy.Redditor u/Emmafayee wanted those who ink others to share about some of the times they've been taken aback by what clients wanted to do with their bodies and why, by asking.... Tattoo artist of reddit, what's the most beautiful/saddest Request you've ever gotten or one that has stood out??
The Next Chapter Mark
Its always rewarding being able to commemorate the end of trauma in someones life. To have someone trust you to help them close important chapters in their life is just so incredibly humbling.
The one client that really stands out to me is my cousin.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer a while back. She ended up beating it, but it was a hard journey for her.
Every year she celebrates the date she was officially declared cancer free. At the end of my apprenticeship, she flew out from Cali to Florida to have me do her one and only tattoo for her- the ribbon with her new birthdate.
My whole family doesn't really care for tattoos, so the support and trust from her solidified my dedication to this industry.
I tattooed a pig and rooster on a young couple's feet (he got the rooster, she got the pig). Traditionally, sailors would get these designs tattooed as a superstitious way to keep from drowning.
A few months later, he contacted me to let me know that a while after they got the tattoos, they broke up. She then took her own life.
He came back to me to get the pig tattooed on his other foot to match. It was a heavy day, for sure.
The Blue Dragonfly
My oldest ever client. She was 76, and had just received a bad diagnosis, so had come in with her son to cross off "get a tattoo" from her bucket list. She wanted a blue dragonfly on her collarbone, but couldn't stand upright and steady for long, so, with the help of her son, I had to lay her down on the bed to apply the stencil. Wherever possible you should always apply a stencil with a client standing naturally, so that the design isn't distorted when gravity shifts their body. She laughed hysterically when she stood up to check the stencil placement and it shifted from her shoulder and disappeared into her cleavage.
We had a great time during the tattoo, the three of us laughed and joked; she had a great sense of humor and was really positive despite her grim diagnosis.
Two and a half years later, she returned to the tattoo shop, now 78. Far less energetic this time, she asked me to add her sons name beneath the blue dragonfly. He had suddenly fallen sick and passed away before her.
I was an apprentice and I sold custom drawings at the same time. I once had a woman who wanted a rainbow heart that looked like shattered glass. She then explained me that it was in memory of her daughter, who died from a car crash. The day of her death, she came out to her mom as a lesbian, her mom didn't react well and the daughter went for a drive to vent a little. That drive is the one who killed her. I could tell through the mails how devastated her mom was, and how guilty she felt. It really broke my heart.
Story in the Letters
My brother passed a little over 10 years ago and one of his best friends is a tattoo artist. He used to be in the military and would write letters to us so we were able to get one of his favorite sayings in his own handwriting from piecing it all together. I also had him mix his ashes in with the ink. My brothers buddy broke down immediately when I opened the urn I have for him, needless to say he had to take a little break before he started.
Not me, but my artist: a guy came in his shop and asks for a St. George killing the dragon tat, my artist did the job and that was it. Like a month after a girl came in the shop and she asked too for the same design, and my artist said something like "oh good I have done the same picture like a month ago, so I'm still fresh and can do a really good job", and as soon as he finish the sentence, the girl started crying really really bad. The guy was her brother that committed suicide one week before, and she wanted the tat for legacy. He did the job pro bono.
Not a tattoo artist, just heavily tattooed, one of my artist friends told me a story about a guy who came in that'd lost his first born at 6 years old to childhood lymphoma. The guy wanted to have a full body suit done of all the kids drawings, the drawings were terrible but he never wanted to forget them.
I managed a tattoo shop and we were about to close when a group of 6 well dressed people came in. I asked if they came from a wedding. Complete opposite, they were coming from a funeral.
All 8 of them got a paper plane tattoo. Most people this was their first tattoo. They kept getting call and 8 more people came totaling almost 16 people getting tatted plus guests hanging out.
I had to ask artists to work over time and stay back but they all wanted to help this family and group of friends go through this tough time.
For privacy I won't mention how the person they were paying tribute passed but the reason they got paper planes is because she looked exactly like M.I.A apparently and paper planes was their inside joke with her.
We let them take over the music for the shop and blast that song as loud as possible and to see sad broken people smiling and dancing and celebrating this persons life touched me.
"I love you"
I've been diagnosed with Leukemia since last year. I can't get a tattoo quite yet, but when I can I want to get a voice wave of my mom saying "I love you" tattooed where the central line used to be in my arm.
Edit: thank you all for the kind words! I'm currently in remission and if I find out if I'm still in remission next week!
My tattoo artist got asked to tattoo a kid (11years old) that has maybe 3 months left to live to tattoo the superman logo on his chest. He had to refuse because he is no medical tattooist. But he told them to paint his chest everytime he comes here for free. He is such a cool guy. He was invited to his funeral and tattooed some fake skin (don't know what he meant with that) and they put this in his casket.
Awesome but very sad.
My husband has a tattoo for his pervious fiancé who died of cancer at only 39 yrs old. It's a woman going up a staircase and a clock at the time she died. I always thought it was a really sad, but touching memorial.
And kudos to you for seeing it for what it is.... <3
My tattoo artist once tattooed a sunflower on a man who lost his daughter from suicide. Apparently she was in a mentally abusive relationship. The ex drove her mad spiraling into depression and eventually she committed suicide. The last note, she wrote about being sorry as she would definitely disappoint her dad.
They were close. During the relationship however, the father was working abroad.
The sunflower on his side symbolizes the daughter will always be with him as he was one of the primary source for her happiness. You know how sunflowers always grow facing the sun? Yeah, that. A heartbreaking tale of a man wishing he could have done more, like maybe put his feet down and break the abusive cycle she was in.
Don't know what happen to the ex. I hope that scumbag has permanent Hemorrhoid.
The Last Talk
My best friend died a few years ago in a car accident. The very last conversation we ever had was a phone conversation of him telling me about his new tattoo. Obviously, he never got to show it to me, but his mom sent me a picture of it a few months later.
With her permission, I went and got the same tattoo a year and a half after his death.
The kicker is, I lived a couple hours away from the artist who did my friend's tattoo, so I went to her. It was so healing to get to talk to someone who had seen him, and now I have a great tattoo with a great story.
A woman came straight from her father's funeral with his final will and testament and had me put his signature on her arm. She could hardly make out the words and we both cried the entire time. It was such a deep experience I couldn't charge her.
Simple but beautiful story.
Elderly man came in to the tattoo shop for his first tattoo. He wanted his wife's name. While drawing it up for him - he explained his wife of 45 years had just passed away a month ago. He told me she never wanted him to have a tattoo but he was in the service and always wanted one - of her name - but he never got it because she wouldn't let him.
He says "I don't mean to be ornery or disrespect her wishes, I just need a piece of her with me until we're together again."
EDIT: Wow - was tattooing and didn't expect this simple comment to blow up. Thank you, kind redditors - y'all have made my heart happy today. Special thanks for the award!
I'm answering for my brother. He's a talented tattoo artist with his own shop in Colorado.
When my first child was born (at 23 weeks super preemie), he was 13. He drew a gorgeous name tag for her incubator in the NICU based on her name: Emily Rose.
She passed away from pneumonia when she was 3 years old. Years later my brother gave me a tattoo of a reimagining of that name sign. All free hand and it is gorgeous.
His art welcomed his niece into the world and his art celebrated her life when she left it.
Thank You Wolfgang
Not a tattoo artist - I have two floral and wildlife themed sleeves that cover 10 years of self harm scars. Many artists refused to tattoo over my scars and then I met Wolfgang - the nicest, coolest artist around. He does beautiful work and I now get compliments on my arms instead of stares or awkward questions. I never wore short sleeves in front of anyone before I got my first piece done. His work has given me a confidence that I wouldn't have had otherwise. Tattoos are cool, and Wolfgang is brilliant.
one of my favorite co-workers had medical problems as a young child & ended up adopting a cat sharing the same problems (I don't remember the name, sorry, but it was heart related). The cat grew up with her & died about 2 years ago, so she got a cat chasing a bell (their favorite toy) with a heart to the side saying "you can't stop me". It made me very sad, & it was a very pretty tattoo.
Making the Connection
A young woman came in wanting a belly button tattoo. When I asked what she wanted in her belly button she said, "I don't have a belly button, I want you to tattoo one on me." She was born with malfunctioning organs and as a newborn the doctors had cut her open from sternum to tailbone in order to remove said organs and then stitched her back up leaving two small holes in her side for waste. She was perfectly sealed up apart from those two holes.
After I had tattooed a dainty little grey and pink navel she got up to have a look, tears welled in her eyes and then she did a little dance as she squeaked, "I've never felt closer to my mother!"
The shop got a little dustier that day. That was just about the best feeling I've ever had after completing a tattoo.
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One of my closest friends was killed by a drunk driver in a head on collision (she was only 23) and when I expressed to my artist a couple months after the accident that I wanted to get a piece done for her, he immediately began to help me brainstorm ideas. I am so grateful to have this guy in my life, he is incredibly talented but so humble. Which is why I'm writing this comment, someone's gotta represent for him.
This was the result:
My friend & I first met at a summer camp, boy did she love that place. For two summers I was unable to attend due to college sports and so she wrote me letters to keep me updated on the camp events. (For context, I have been attending this camp since 2004 when I was in 4th grade, and the same people tend to go every summer, so in a sense it is like a second family/home to me).
My amazing tattoo artist used one of these old notes & took letters and words out to form lines from my friend's favorite camp song in her exact handwriting (like seriously it is indistinguishable from her writing on paper), which I now have tattooed under my heart on my ribs.
The lines are:
For I only have a moment, and a whole world yet to see.....
I have a tattoo of a question mark behind my ear. My friend Buh had the same tattoo when I met her and I used to think it was so cool!
I was 16 at the time when she committed suicide, it was the first death I had experienced, hers was the first funeral I ever went to. The effect it had on me is something that I still remember 7 years later.
Last year I got the same tattoo in the same place in memory of her, my most sentimental tattoo and also one of my favorites.
Rest in peace Buh, you had more of an effect on this world than you could ever know.
Ohh man. I figure this will get buried but here we go....
They weren't my clients but one day a couple comes in to get a handprint tattoo. They show us the handprint and the artist is like, dang that looks pretty muddled, is it possible to get another version? Nope. Not possible. It's their baby's handprint, and it was taken post-mortem. It's the only physical reminder they have of their child who only lived a few hours.
Working by a children's hospital was rough.
Ex gf is a tattoo artist. She came home WAY late from work one night...
2 British dudes, drunk off there butts, came into the shop a few minutes before the shop was going to close. They wanted to get tattoo'd right then, right there. My ex, she wasn't really having it, until they explained the situation. They were in the states, doing a cross country road trip that they had been planning for years. There was another buddy that was going to be with them, but he passed away a few months beforehand.
So they wanted to get a poorly done tattoo of his face (because all of the dead buddies tattoos were REALLY bad) on each of there "arse cheeks". So when they went to all these places that they had planned to see, they could show him.
Well, the ex popped open some whiskey, threw on some metal, and started getting to it. The dudes were apparently utterly hilarious and had everyone in tears from laughter the entire time. One of the tattoos she's most proud of, but the fact that it's so poorly done on purpose, she can't really have it in her book.
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Client, not an artist. I am totally blind and I am a big fan of Sailor Moon; more specifically Sailor Jupiter, the Senshi of courage and strength. I got a tattoo of Jupiter on my arm with the word COURAGE under it, but what made it special is that the artist was able to make it raised up on purpose, so I can clearly feel the design of Jupiter and the word she represents. When I am feeling low, I can trace the word COURAGE on my arm and feel Jupiter's confidence resonate with me. I think it has helped save my life at least once.
EDIT: Including a pic of the tattoo, taken when I was at International Sailor Moon Day in 2017. https://i.imgur.com/VgiH8cB.jpg
the meaning of loss....
Not an artist. got my first tattoo, a simple heart on my wrist. Missed a couple dozen calls from my mom during the session - my dad had a heart attack and passed away. That tattoo took on a whole new meaning.
Ugh, my heart breaks for you reading this. I can't imagine that pain. I'm sorry for your loss, and I hope your life goes better. And you or anyone who needs some kindness from a stranger, feel free to reach out to me.
My partner Pro Bono's tattooed nipples on women's reconstructed breasts.
She is a cosmetic tattooist and post operative breast cancer patients are referred to her.
They often cry when they see themselves after the procedure, they say they it is feeling whole again after so much trauma.
I once tattooed a Luna Moth on a cancer survivor. As he walked towards the mirror and saw the finished product, he started crying knowing that his nightmares were finally over and that the moth was a representation of himself fully free from cancer. It was hard to not cry watching this.
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My father in law had ashes from his dog put into the ink of his memorial tattoo. The artist is a member of the family so they were able to accommodate his request.
The + Sign
I tattooed a plus sign on a couple. The air was heavy but it wasn't my place to ask why. Once we put the stencils on, they opened up.
They had just miscarried. She told me they were excited to bring life into this world, together. And their favorite moment of joy was when she took the pregnancy test and they waited together... for their overwhelmingly positive response: for the plus sign.
When my little brother died I asked my tattoo artist for a memorial tattoo for him - a calico cat (me) and an angelic corgi (him, corgis were his favorite thing in the entire world) playing around an anchor (he was in the navy for years). It was personal to me and he did a lovely job. We both cried when he finished and I was checking it out in the mirror, and he gave me a really big hug.
Edit: For people asking for a picture... honestly I've put on some weight since I got the tat (grief + quarantine + bad hip) and it's gone blurry, plus it's hard for me to get a good close up due to the fact that the tat is on my bad leg and it's difficult to bend over. So here's a pic but it's not a very good one. I promise it looks better in real life. I also included a bonus cat head.
Not a tattoo artist but my father in law was tragically taken from us. He was run over by a speeding motorcycle. Our family was torn apart, the crap responsible was wealthy, well connected and didn't even get a ticket/suspended license/asked to take a defensive course. Never acknowledged/apologized. My father in law was an amazing and somewhat known artist. While going through his studio we found a sketch of the Angel Gabriel, our son's name. My wife now has that exact sketch fit scale on her back. It is a beautiful homage and allows us to keep his memory with us. My mother in law is spending the weekend with us they raised their families and this was supposed to be their time together. Screw people who walk through the world that way.
Please slow down everyone and enjoy the times you have with your loved ones.
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My best friend is a tattoo artist and a client walked in. He asked for a tattoo of his daughter's scar in the same area so his daughter won't be self conscious about it.
Through out the appointment, he talked about his daughter and how proud he was of her.
I made my tattoo artist cry. Twice. I'd been in for a couple with them after my regular guy retired. I went in and asked for patch from 102 dalmatians with his paws up in the words 'you can beat this'. He asked why so I told him I'd spoken to an oncologist. I had leukemia. I'd bruise really easy so to cheer up my daughter I'd put my hair in pigtails and say i felt like being a Dalmatian today. I told him I'd be back when I went into remission to get the 'you can beat this' crossed out and 'see!' put underneath. I booked it last week and set him off for the second time!
Apprentice here so didn't have much time to gather stories yet, but the client we had that had the most insane stories and basically ended up talking until we closed, was this 80yr old lady who came to us to have her tramp stamp retouched. Her husband gave it to her a week after they met, being drunk off their butts. Then she just continued to tell us all kinds of dumb fool they did while being drunk or on all possible drugs, ending up with 3 other spirals and butterflies added to the stamp, she doesn't remember how she got. But since she's so old, it started fading and now u can barely see it, so she wanted it retouched as to "keep the memory of those years alive and colorful as they were."
Oh and the really sweet one of this guy who came to us after he got out of prison, (before I was an apprentice) started talking about how he had no idea how to get the woman he loves back, while getting a tattoo of the bar sign from the bar where they met. He came by the shop with the woman (now his wife) and their kid, a year and a half after the tattoo, so that the woman could get the same tattoo from the same artist who tattooed him, because he apparently gave him the balls to go get her back.
Thank you Mr. B....
Back in 1999 I was taking courses at the local community college in a small city (50k people) and I chose to get the 2-yr degree in Communications/Media Arts and the head of the department was a really cool guy who taught a few of the classes and he had a tattoo going all around his wrist of flames that went up his arm maybe six inches and one day a student in my class asked him about it and it turns out he had a teenage son who died in a car crash and that was the tattoo his son was planning on getting so he went ahead and got it on his wrist to honor his son. No one expected that answer at all so it got really quiet in the classroom.
He's retired now but we still keep in touch as he was the reason I got my first job as a news cameraman because he told the news director at a local TV station that I got an internship at that I was a good student and had a good eye so the news director offered me a part-time gig shooting on the weekends and I ended up being a cameraman for 14 years between that station and one other one in another state. I always think of him and that tattoo as it endeared him to me and the other students as someone we could always go to when we needed help/advice beyond the classroom and he always treated us like we were his adopted kids. Thank you Mr. B....
A local tattoo artist had a severe burn victim as a client. The client's leg was scarred and disfigured from the burns.
The artist did a whole mural on this guy's leg and it was beautiful. Couldn't even tell that the guy's leg was ever burned. Restored all esteem and confidence in the client and made the artist happy.
My sister is an artist she had a client she really liked did some good portraiture work on, the client was out at dinner one night when she suddenly got a headache, and died on the spot from a brain aneurysm leaving behind her young son. My sister did a charity event to raise money for her family and tattooed dozens of red balloons in her memory. I'm still really proud of her for doing that
Edit: holy crap guys wow. Just wanted to say: if you're having the worst skull-splitting headache of your life, do not hesitate, call 911. It's slim, but you do have a chance if you know what to do.
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My SIL got a tattoo of an owl and had my brother's ashes mixed with ink for the owl's eyes. My brother had very vibrant and striking blue eyes, and the owl has the same shade of blue eyes.
Not an artist, but I have several tattoos. The one that means the most to me, is three X's on my ankle.
When I did my driving tests, I failed a few times due to failure anxiety. One day my father decided to write me a note, telling me he believed in me, that I shouldn't let it get to my head and that I should look at it as if it was a driving lesson, not a test. He'd be in a meeting afterwards, so I should text him my results. He closed the letter with three kisses (XXX).
Now I'm highly superstitious, so I put that note in my pocket and went on to my driving test. And I passed. From that moment on, every time something important was about to happen, I'd put that note in my pocket. Unfortunately it went through the washing machine and I lost the note, but I had a photo of it in my phone. I reckoned I was less likely to lose my ankle than a piece of paper, so I got the three X's tattooed in my ankle in honor of my dad.
He's still alive, but it's my most valuable tattoo.
I have a cardinal on my arm in memory of my stepdad. He had one leg, loved Christmas, and one of my fav gifts I've ever gotten from him was a dream catcher. My tattoo artist took all that and made a gorgeous one legged cardinal holding a dream catcher with some holly behind it.
John, if somehow the afterlife lets you see it, I got it because you made a mark on my life by choosing to help raise a little red headed demon. You didn't have to, but you did it anyways. Thank you for everything.
While he was working on his sleeve, I got bored and decided to get a tattoo that I'd always wanted. A lotus flower with the stem in the shape of the logo for the National Eating Disorder Association. I wasn't trying to put my business out there, so I tried to draw the shape, but I realized that wasn't working out.
So I showed the artist the logo, and obviously he saw what it was. We got to talking, and I told him my story. When it came time to pay, he didn't charge me anything. I tipped him $80, and he said he was proud to see someone successfully beat an eating disorder. It's still one of my favorite tattoos.
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My best friend passed away very suddenly on the 4th of July last year. She lost her 5 year battle with full systemic lupus, we knew she was sick but we never thought it would take her from us. We had been friends since we were 5 and she passed when she was 21, it completely shattered me.
I have my tattoo appointment this week to get a purple butterfly (universal symbol for lupus) and the words "love you, Mackie" traced from a letter she wrote me. It's going to be the most meaningful tattoo I have and I know she would have loved it.
A friend of mine (drifted apart) got a bouquet of roses tattooed across his back. One silver one for his mum, three black ones for his sisters, a red one for his partner and two green buds for his nephew and niece. His mum passed away a week after he got them complete but at least we will always have the memory of her look of shock when he showed them to her.
I wonder if he's added more....
The Moon & Beyond
Not a tattoo artist, but my husband passed away very suddenly. A friend of our's was a tattoo artist, and he was amazingly skilled. I asked him to tattoo "I love you to the moon and back a million times" in my husbands handwriting from a letter I had from my husband. I had every intention of paying him, naturally, but he didn't want payment. He did it for free. It is my favorite tattoo and it means the world to me. He is an amazing artist, and an even more awesome human being. I cherish it every day.
Edit: Oh my gosh guys, y'all are so sweet! Reddit has really been kind to me and helped me with the loss of my husband. I don't know if anybody remembers the infamous "Widow misses husband, wants to figure out how to obtain his Google data for voice recordings to hear his voice again" comment on an Ask Reddit post last year, but that was also from me, and they ended up doing an Endless Thread podcast episode that featured some of his voice recordings. You guys are amazing.. thank you for all the love!
One Leg Fool
Guy came in - he had one leg so I thought he was interesting, he wanted a tattoo on his hand and asked if it was ok to tattoo it since he had recently broken it (his hand), I said it was fine as long as it was healed up. I asked out of curiosity how he broke his hand and he said "I punched my dog". I got him to fill out the form with his name and address and asked casually where the dog was and he just said "gone now". Told him I was sorry that I couldn't do his tattoo and then turned his butt in to the cops. I should have just taken his other leg. Moron.
I just met you.....
Tattoo artist here. i just wanna chime in and say this : tattoos are a powerful tool for healing, for sure. but we aren't therapists. i get to know a lot of my clients over the years and we tell each other about our traumas and become good friends over time. but holy crap, do not use your tattooist as a therapist, especially on the first appointment, or through a long oversharing email.
I care about my clients but I am not prepared emotionally for them to blast me with their trauma right out of the gate. graphic details of death, loss, abuse, assault, buddy, I just met you. I have no training to be able to handle this internally, nor to help you in the way that a professional can. often times therapy costs about as much as a tattoo, and while it's less cool, it might be more helpful in the long run.
Not a tattoo artist but got a very meaningful tattoo this past February! I lost my 13 yrs old dog on January 4 and it broke my heart, he was with me more than half of my life and put a smile on my face every single day for 13 years. He was the most precious bundle of joy. I always let him sleep on my bed and he used to curl up and rest his head close to my ankle, so simple but it made me feel so warm inside. I got this right in the spot he used to rest at. One of my favorite pictures with him. Not a day goes by that I don't remember my little ball of fur, I love and miss you so much Spike!
My mom got a tattoo of the main lyrics of the song she sang to our rescue dog who died of a preventable disease from the Dominican.
He was the most loving, thankful and well behaved dog anyone will ever have known, and he died at the age of 6 after only having him for 2 years because the vets said they could save us hassle for the disease treatment if we start it when it becomes active. By then it was too late. His last days were so sad, it broke my mom for a long time.
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Not an artist, but this is a very personal story.
In 2015 I got Destiny: The Taken King and met five people to do a raid, four of whom I still play with today. The fifth was named Daniel. He played Titan class, and was the best sniper I've ever seen. But he was also a really, really nice kid. He always encouraged everybody and hyped us up. But in 2017 he died to cancer. And I'd never get to tell him how much I appreciated him.
He played the Solar subclass, which if you don't play, means you get a small flaming hammer, much like Thor's, to throw at people and cause havoc. Well, our other Titan Kyle also played the subclass. So, as a memorial to Daniel and his favorite class, he got a tattoo of the flaming hammer on his arm. Something simple and sweet, with a huge meaning.
The most memorable tattoo that I've seen is one of my brother's. For background: my brother used to be my cousin but he had adopted him because his mom, dad, and little brother were all murdered. He had wanted a tattoo for most of his life and had sketched out a few designs. They went to the tattoo place and had the person there do a few touch ups to the desired design then came home with a cross with angel wings that had his little brother's name, date of birth, and death date. It is a very beautiful tattoo and is my favorite out of all of his.
I was in a car accident and lost my brother.... got a portrait of him done on my arm.. it's a pretty tragic story, that I told to the artist. When he was done he gave me a minute alone (in a tiny studio surrounded by others getting work done), I spent a few minutes balling my eyes out. I kinda felt bad for everyone around, having to see that. He cut me a deal (which I didn't ask for or want). I have lots of tats, this one is obviously my favorite.. it's an amazing piece and very well done.
If you or someone you know is struggling, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).To find help outside the United States, the International Association for Suicide Prevention has resources available at https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/
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