The art and meaning of tattoos

Danika Phinney says her tattoos make her feel closer to loved ones who have died. (Lauren Hoyt/AQ)

When asked how many tattoos she had, Melissa Roy took time to count. She concentrated, whispering the numbers until she reached six.

“Whether I have them on my skin or I have them in my heart, I’ll always have the memories that came with my tattoos,” the fourth-year psychology and gerontology student said.

Her first tattoo was a David fish with three stars representing her mom, her dad and herself.

Her second tattoo is a purple butterfly on her chest that says “Goodnight and God bless” in memory of her grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s. Her grandmother spoke those words everyday and purple is the colour for Alzheimer’s awareness.

Danika Phinney got a tattoo of a butterfly in memory of her friend who died in a car accident in 2017. (Lauren Hoyt/AQ)

On her left wrist she has a tattoo in memory of her grandfather. It says “Love Papa xoxo” in her grandfather’s writing. On her right wrist she has an infinity symbol with an anchor and the words “I refuse to sink” that she got when she got out of an abusive relationship. On her foot she has the lyrics “Keep holding on” in memory of her friend who used to sing the song to her along with his birth and death date. On her right thigh she has a dream catcher with roses and the names and birth dates of twins she miscarried.

“I would see them in my dreams and in my grief journey, I discovered that I was petrified of losing the dreams of them. So I thought that if I had a dream catcher to represent their dreams or the way they come in my dreams that they’ll always be with me,” said Roy.

Melissa Roy got a dream catcher tattoo in memory of twins she miscarried. She got the tattoo because she feared she would lose her dreams of them. (Lauren Hoyt/AQ)

Roy has heard negative comments about her tattoos being permanent, but she likes knowing she always has them with her.

“I think it’s a matter of being confident in the art that you have regardless of your age or what other people believe.”

Tattoos are meant to celebrate art that people want to carry with them at all times, but they can also have a deeper meaning. Tattoos can memorialize the loss of a loved one for many people, including Danika Phinney, a fourth-year student at STU.

Phinney has a butterfly tattoo on her left forearm and a Roman numeral tattoo below it on her wrist.

The Roman numeral tattoo is in memory of two of her friends who died in a car crash in November 2015.

The numbers are XIVI for Nov. 6.

Phinney later found out Nov. 6 was the anniversary of the murder a family friend in 1995. It’s also the anniversary of the day the body of her mother’s childhood friend was found after she was reported missing in 2010.

The butterfly tattoo is in memory of another friend who died after a car crash in July 2017.

“I feel like a tattoo symbolizes the way you can remember someone,” said Phinney.

Melissa Roy got a tattoo of an anchor in an infinity symbol on her wrist when she left an abusive relationship. She got her grandfather’s writing in memory of him on her other wrist. (Lauren Hoyt/AQ)

Phinney said her friend’s funeral had a lot of butterfly aspects and poem on the back of the funeral program said, “With brave wings she flies.” That’s where she got the idea for the butterfly tattoo.

“I saw the picture and I was like, ‘This would be really cool to get something for her in relation to something that’s flying,'” said Phinney.

Phinney said having tattoos in memory of her loved ones makes her feel closer to them.

“They’ll always be with me anyway, but I find sometimes if I’m missing them I just kind of touch my tattoo and you kind of feel them there,” said Phinney.

Not all tattoos represent a memory or deep emotional connection. Some people get tattoos because they like the colours, the art or the words.

Sam Jesso’s first tattoo was of a quote she felt she needed on her body.

The tattoo on her left ribs reads, “With pain comes strength.” It was a quote she read every day when she was younger that got her through hard times.

Sam Jesso got a tattoo of a pineapple to honour her grandparent’s nickname for her, “Little Pineaple”. (Lauren Hoyt/AQ)

The fourth-year student also has a tattoo of a pineapple on her right ankle because her grandparents always called her Little Pineapple.

“My grandfather is Big Pineapple, my nan is Medium and I’m Little Pineapple,” said Jesso.

Her family is usually against tattoos, but when her grandparents saw the pineapple, they loved it.

On her right ribs she has a tattoo of flowers. She searched thousands of Pinterest photos for flower tattoos that she liked. After she got it she found out they were Gladiolus flowers, which represent August, her parents’ birth month.

Jesso doesn’t like colour in her tattoos, but she got a blue tulip tattoo because blue is her other grandmother’s favourite colour.

Above the tulip tattoo she has the quote “Smash the patriarchy,” in her mother’s handwriting. Her mother usually hates tattoos, but she liked this one.

Sam Jesso considers herself a “super big feminist” so she got a tattoo of the phrase, “Smash the Patriarchy” in her mother’s handwriting. (Lauren Hoyt/AQ)

“I didn’t tell her I was getting it, I was like, ‘This is for a school assignment,’ because she hates tattoos,” said Jesso, who calls herself a “super big feminist”.

All of Jesso’s tattoos have a special meaning to her, but style plays an important role in what she gets.

“I think its 75 per cent meaning 25 per cent design,” said Jesso.

As soon as Linnea Georgsdottír was old enough to get tattooed, she was in the shop, despite her moms wishes.

“Basically, I turned 18 and I was like, ‘I can vote now and I can also get a tattoo, so sorry mom,'” said Georgsdottír.

Her first tattoo was of a sun and a moon on her left shoulder. She got it based on a book her mother read her when she was young about the sun and the moon loving each other.

On her right shoulder she has a tattoo of a rose she got after graduating high school. She was inspired by the rose in her favourite movie, Beauty and the Beast.

Linnea Georgsdottír got a tattoo of a rose to honour her favourite movie, Beauty and the Beast. (Lauren Hoyt/AQ)


On her ribs she has a tattoo of the quote, “Do not mock a pain you haven’t endured,” in Arabic.

“I found it on Tumblr, it’s supposed to say that. It could say, ‘chicken noodle soup,’ I don’t know, I like chicken noodle soup,” said Georgsdottír.

Georgsdottír once came across a picture of a mermaid with love handles. She liked that the mermaid had a body type she could relate to, so she got a tattoo of it.

In honour of her Icelandic heritage, Georgsdottír got a tattoo of Iceland on her butt.

“So then I ended up in the window of a shop in downtown Reykjavik and it was open with my butt in a window while tourists are walking by watching me get my butt tattooed,” said Georgsdottír .

Georgsdottír said she wanted some of her tattoos because she liked the look of them, but they still all have meaning.

“I think tattoos are an expression of yourself and it’s almost a map of the places you’ve been in your life and they express different things.” Georgsdottír said.

“I’ve always thought they were so beautiful no matter what they are.”