A canvas of skin

The art of tattooing has been around since the time of the ancient Greeks

Hasina Daya, ArtSci ‘14, got a tattoo in remembrance of her late father.
Hasina Daya, ArtSci ‘14, got a tattoo in remembrance of her late father.
Students can get their tattoos done at nearby Lovesick Tattoos.
Students can get their tattoos done at nearby Lovesick Tattoos.
Tattoo artists use a needle, grip and ink to apply a tattoo.
Tattoo artists use a needle, grip and ink to apply a tattoo.

With grip and needle in hand, the tattoo artist sets ink to skin.

Three hours later, an old tattoo is covered with new and vibrant colours. It might seem like a lengthy process, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. According to Cynthia Deveau, owner of Lovesick Tattoos, some tattoos may take up to 10 hours.

In most places, it’s likely you’ll see an array of tattoos pass as you walk down the street, ranging from YOLO to the more meaningful.

Throughout history, tattoo art has carried a multitude of purposes — ranging from the branding of criminals to serving as rites of passage.

To some, getting a tattoo is like buying a painting.

“It’s the permanency of it that I enjoy nowadays,” Deveau said. “What somebody can do with a tattoo machine is absolutely beautiful.”

Deveau got started with tattooing 18 years ago and with it, she’s found her home at a tattoo parlour on the corner of Division and Princess Streets.

“When I first started getting tattooed, it was one of those things where I thought I would only get tattooed when it meant something to me,” she said. “Now I just find an artist I really like and I’ll either get them to draw something or I’ll draw it myself.”

Deveau admitted that some can be put off by the permanency of body art.

Her first tattoo was a 16th birthday present from her father.

“He took me to this house on Princess St. that never carded anybody. It was my own design of a tribal piece around my naval,” she said.

Deveau remembers the experience as being like “a four-year-old drawing on my stomach,” adding that it was done by a old biker named Scully.

Even though she doesn’t like it now, she said she’s never covered it up because of the memories it brings back.

Having always been interested in art, Deveau said tattooing is a unique experience.

“It’s completely different than picking up a pencil,” she said. “You’re basically teaching yourself how to draw again purely for the fact that you do have something vibrating in your hand.”

When she was 17, Deveau got involved with the art of tattooing after hanging out at a tattoo parlour. She started teaching herself when she was 25.

“I became good friends with the artist and asked a lot of questions. She was really willing to help me and she knew what she was doing.” Forty-something tattoos later, Deveau has gotten the chance to travel all around Canada with her craft and meet other well-known tattoo artists.

“I’ve been doing this for a while and I got to give my friends and family tattoos as well,” Deveau said. “I even got to tattoo my mom. I did a little butterfly for her.”

After making the tattoo rounds in Toronto and Kingston, Deveau celebrated the one-year anniversary of Lovesick Tattoos in June.

“I said I would never open a shop in Kingston because there are seven other shops and it’s so saturated here, but there’s so many people getting tattooed that there’s more than enough work to go around,” she said.

After being in the business for so long, Deveau said she no longer gets nervous during a tattoo appointment. “If it’s a super detailed piece, things get kind of quiet in the room. A while ago, someone came to me with the Rembrandt windmill and I said ‘Okay, for the next three hours, please don’t talk to me,’ but now I can chat it up,” she said.

Looking at Deveau’s catalogue, there’s everything from Latin sayings and Irish leprechauns to intricate floral patterns and inked wedding rings.

“Some of my favourites to do are big cartoony girls,” she said. “I find that a lot of people are into that right now, both guys and girls, and the more colour I can pack into it, the better.” One thing Deveau still stays away from is tattooing someone’s hands or necks.

“Unless you’re heavily tattooed, I won’t do hands or necks because it can be a job stopper,” she said. “Things are evolving and people are a little more accepting of tattoos in the workplace now, but I don’t want to be the person that wrecks someone else’s life.”

Walking through campus, it’s clear that body art can be found everywhere. For Hasina Daya, her tattoo serves as an important reminder.

“My dad passed away when I was nine and he was blind in one eye, so I got the Eye of Horus tattooed on my back," Daya, ArtSci ’14, said. “It’s a sign of protection.”

She got the tattoo in the summer after first year. Located on her right shoulder blade, it’s about the size of a fist.

When she first got it, she was met with mixed reactions.

“Even my friends at mosque notice it,” she said. “People don’t expect it from me.”

Daya’s first tattoo of the Eye of Horus traces back historically to ancient Egypt, though tattoos originally began in Eurasia.

According to Mary-Ann Pouls Wegner, a professor of Egyptian archaeology at the University of Toronto, ancient Egyptian mummies hold the precursors to today’s tattoos.

“Some of the skin is well enough that you can still see the patterning,” she said.

Tattoos were associated with social identity in those times, Pouls Wegner said.

“They seemed to be associated with women who were in the priesthood of Hathor, who is the goddess of happiness, drunkenness and sexuality.” Tattoos have been social signifiers in other cultures as well.

“For the Romans, tattoos were more for the lower social orders,” she said. “In ancient Greece, they were protective tattoos for higher class people.”

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