As promised, here’s the second instalment of my tattoo series, a feature requested by you! This month I’m talking about the tattoos I most often get asked about, the ones that make up my half sleeve.
I just want to take this chance to thank you all for being so lovely about the first part of this series as I know (from experience) that when people dislike tattoos it’s usually with a passion, so I wrote about mine a little tentatively at first. But you’ve all been incredibly warm about my tattoo stories, so I really hope you find this part just as interesting too.
Before I started this half sleeve, which took about 2 years from beginning to end, I took a moment to consider that if I went ahead I was about to cross the threshold I talked about in part 1. This tattoo would be the one that would make me into a ‘tattooed person’. It felt less of a big deal to me because, at the time, I was surrounded by a lot of heavily tattooed people so there was never a question about it being out of the ordinary. As a person who loves tattoos, being around others who love tattoos just as much and planning your next one is such a buzz.
The main element is Dorian Gray’s portrait. As Wilde’s only novel, it was the most accessible to me as a young reader and I can’t begin to guess how many times I read that book over and over. I guess that’s not too surprising, there is so much to flatter a young mind in Picture..: the importance of youth above all else, the duty to experience life fully and of course the idea you can do what you like and get away with it. Throughout my tumultuous 20’s, that writing stuck with me; I would often joke about the state of my own portrait in the attic as I weathered increasingly large storms, mostly ones of my own making.
When choosing from Wilde’s short stories for the rest of my arm, two immediately came to mind as being my very favourite: The Nightingale and The Rose, and The Happy Prince. The Nightingale and The Rose haunted me when I first read it, just the thought of that lovely little creature sacrificing herself for that spoiled little shit upset me so much. What it left me with was the lesson to not offer help to people who didn’t deserve it (and certainly not entitled little shits) but now I think a little differently about it…
When I think about that story now, what happens after the nightingale ultimately dies is almost irrelevant, that’s the wry sting in the tail that so much of Wilde’s storytelling has. But what story means to me now is that there is so much beauty to be found in a pure heart and a selfless act. I knew immediately that I wanted to commemorate the gorgeous little idiot nightingale in my tattoo.
Image c/o @vickymorgantattoo (Instagram)
The Happy Prince, now I think about it, is a variation on the same theme but with added ‘importance of charity’ vibes. A huge motif in that story is giving until you have nothing left to give, and the message is received more readily by me now than when I was a child. The sapphire eyes and ruby mouth from the Happy Prince himself, plus the little swallow that helps him in his endeavours have been worked into my tattoo within the frame of the Dorian Gray portrait: a case of the selfless in with the selfish I suppose.
Image c/o Source Vintage
Overall I chose to focus on Wilde’s writing because, simply put, I love it. When I was growing up, Wilde’s short stories filled me with wicked glee, as a teen I got caught up in the plays and tragic character of Wilde himself, and now as an adult I have such fondness for his writing and a lovely nostalgia for those short stories. I won’t for one moment pretend that the man isn’t without his failings, Wilde really is one of the ultimate problematic faves, but his work has been very important to me over the years and I love very fiercely the tattoos that were inspired by those stories.