I'll be honest with you. Last year at this time, I had no idea who Ina Saltz was, nor had I ever seen her book Body Type, a volume dedicated to typographic tattoos.
Then, I met Elizabeth, a typographer who has all twenty-six letters of the English alphabet tattooed on her body in random spots. The day I met her, she was planning on meeting Ms. Saltz to discuss her work. Her lettered ink also reacquainted me with the talents of Stephanie Tamez, a tattoo artist, who is regarded by many, including Ms. Saltz, as one of the best at inking words, although that's certainly not her only strength as a tattooist.
Meeting someone so passionate about typography and ink prompted me to go out and get a copy of Body Type and I loved it. As you'd imagine, I was thrilled to see its sequel in stores recently. And when I was alerted by the Needles and Sins blog to Ms. Saltz's upcoming appearance at a Manhattan bookstore, I jumped at the opportunity to go.
After a slight detour to the wrong Barnes & Noble (fortunately only 13 blocks away), I found my way to the store's event area and found a seat. I chatted briefly with a student of Ms. Saltz, who wears two Arabic script tattoos on the inside of both wrists. However, I noticed that, as the room filled, the audience appeared (key word appeared) slightly less inked than I would have imagined. I later learned that there were many of the author's colleagues from City College in attendance and that there were also quite a few tattoos tucked away under clothing.
Ms. Saltz was introduced and gave a brief twenty-minute presentation. She discussed the book and showed slides of many of the tattoos, and some others, that have appeared in the two books.
A Q & A session followed, revealing that many in the audience were not all well-versed in the art of tattoo. There were questions about permanence, the whys of tattooing (including one asking why Ms. Saltz had no tattoos - the answer: she doesn't like needles) and one gentleman's inquiry about how to find a good tattoo artist. Body Type certainly has a broad appeal, drawing in typographers, graphic designers and other "type geeks".
Ms. Saltz talk went over many of the "types" of type tattoos - the literary (like the Walt Whitman excerpt, above), ambigrams, and ink that focused on fonts, just to name a few. She emphasized that possessors of type tattoos tended to all have some level of college education, holding degrees, or even advanced degrees. The implication, and a fair one I think, is that such tattoos are more intellectual in nature than, say, a half-sleeve of flowers or grinning skulls.
But as passionate as she is about fonts and designs, the audience could certainly tell that the stories behind the tattoos were a bonus that infused them with a much greater emotional weight.
Take this example:
Ms. Saltz related the tale of an Australian woman who came to New York in 2006 to meet her at a book signing at Cooper Union. The individual was battling cancer and had tattooed song lyrics on her forearm in a beautiful script. Ms. Saltz's voice strained with emotion as she recalled how the woman had warmly thanked her for writing the first Body Type book, which gave her strength as she struggled with the disease. The accompanying text from the book delves deeper:
“This is from the Lou Reed song, ‘I Believe in Love.’ I love music and I love red. Three months after I got this tattoo I was diagnosed with breast cancer and two months later I found out I have secondary cancer in my bones, which is incurable. I have up to eight years left, so everything in my life has been put into sharper focus. I live life now; that’s my job. Now, looking back, my tattoos seem almost like a premonition, ‘music, music, music, it’ll satisfy your soul . . . ’ is a permanent marker of what is important to me and a reminder to follow my heart’s desires.”
Such passion, not just for the tattoos, but for the motives that drive people to decorate their skin, appeal to me as someone who appreciates a tattoo much more knowing what has inspired it.
After the presentation, the audience lined up and my friend Janet joined me. Janet is an early subject of Tattoosday, and even has a type-ish tattoo (see her post here). A tattooed woman named Izzy in front of us overheard me talking to Janet about Tattoosday and we quickly struck up a discussion.
Izzy is working on a fascinating project in which she is hoping to catalog tattoos with the Library of Congress. Fascinating and certainly quite ambitious! We spoke at great length, both before and after meeting Ms. Saltz, discussing tattoos and our respective endeavors.
When it was my turn to meet Ms. Saltz and have her sign my copy of Body Type 2, I introduced myself and told her about Tattoosday.
She was happy to hear I had heard about her through Elizabeth and how difficult it would be to include all of her typographical tattoo, all twenty-six parts of it, in a book form.
It was wonderful meeting the author whose books originated a lot like Tattoosday's first inspiration. She saw the word "happy" in Helvetica typeface on a crosstown bus; I was haunted by a woman's gorgeous Keith Haring chest piece at the 2007 Siren Festival on Coney Island.
I recalled one of my favorite tattoos from the new collection:
Toward the end of her talk, Ina Saltz thanked many of her subjects who were in attendance that evening. One gentleman, smartly attired in a sport coat waved from the back of the room. Ina's face lit up and she identified him as the bearer of the tattoo seen earlier in her slide show, the owner of a Ann Sexton poem, excerpted on his biceps. "See," Ms. Saltz proclaimed, "looking at him, you wouldn't know he had a tattoo, would you?"
The crowd murmured its assent. I sighed, wishing he had been wearing a t-shirt so we could all see the poem again.
If you aren't familiar with The Body Type books, you are missing out on something special. They're lovely volumes dedicated to the wordy tattoos that I love so much.
And as a bonus, clicking here will show you a few dozen Tattoosday with the label "words".