This is the story of the evolution of my back tattoo. From blank skin to completed work, I am documenting each session with text and images. Along the way I am adding relevant quotes and links. Thanks for reading.

"The Japanese consider it the most spirited of fish, so full of energy and power that it can fight its way up swift-running streams and cascades. Because of its strength and determination to overcome all obstacles, it stands for courage and the ability to attain high goals. The carp is an appropriate symbol to encourage the overcoming of life's difficulties leading to consequent success."

Courtesy Long Island KoiBefore I chose Chris O'Donnell at New York Adorned to do my back work, I put together a written outline of what I wanted. It's hard to get across sometimes, but this guy had the vocabulary I was looking for. Here's what I wrote:

"Neo-Traditional Japanese style. Bold outlines, deep colors. Very "readable." Large orange Koi. No pattern, just shades. Arching left. Whiskers. Serene look on face.
Entire back and descending only onto left buttock. There should be very few “hard stops” between untattoo’d and tattoo’d skin. Effective use of negative space to “ease” the tattoo in.

Traditional style blue water. Bamboo with some green leaves at upper left back. Maple leaves.
Not too heavy on the isobars and spirals, but definitely some. There is a cover-up component of a tattoo on upper right shoulder blade. Entire piece needs to tie into pre-existing work on shoulders / upper sleeves."

Session #1Pre-First Session. April 16 2003. 10:45AM.
I'm about two hours away from starting my back piece. I'm both nervous and anxious. Nervous about the pain (I'm human.) Nervous about the way I'll need to dress till it's healed. What a pain. And I'm anxious because I have no patience. I want it on and done. I hope that we can at least get 100% of the outline done today.

Post-First Session. April 16 2003. 6:00PM.
Yeah! Right on! So, just got back from the first tattoo session. It. Looks. GREAT. HUUUUUGE! This tattoo is fugging huuuuuuge. Well, my back is pretty damn broad so it just goes to reason.

We got the Koi outline 100% done with a bit of the water that overlaps at the fins and tail. I highly suggest Chris O'Donnell at NY Adorned if you are looking for Asian influenced work. He's fast, concise and a nice guy.

I go back on April 25th to do the outline of the background elements. Fire, bamboo, maple leaves, water, wind, some symbolic touches... All in all, I couldn't be happier.

From: Lara ({usenet}
"Put the endorphins down, and back AWAY from the keyboard."

First Session. 4/16/03  First Session. 4/16/03

Session #2Pre-Second Session. April 25 2003. 10:00AM.
When you do large scale work, all the days leading up to each session are annoyances. You just want the day to arrive, to get the work done and get the hell out of there and have a beer. I like the end result, not the process. Well, I like the planning and the layout and process things like that, but sitting still for three hours is not enjoyable. Sitting still for three hours getting drilled is even less enjoyable.

I take delivery on a custom-made Taiko drum today, too. It's a small one, more suited to practice than performance, although it can be played in a group setting. The people over at World Sphere Taiko were kind enough to make it for me.

Eight hours till tattoo time, 12 till that beer. And then about 336 hours till the next session.

Post-Second Session. April 26 2003. 11:00AM.
Color work, while less "pointedly" annoying than outline work has a worse post-tattoo feeling. Sleeping was rough. If you were to add up all the ink used in the outline, it'd probably be two thimbles worth, but when you start looking at the amount used in the color work, you get closer to ten or more. All that coverage equals one raw back.

We got a good amount of color work done. About 1/3 of the Koi has been colored in. Chris picked some nice oranges, yellows and a touch of red. All blended to give the image some great depth and motion. It's interesting how the color changes over the course of a few days. When you first see the color, your skin is red. The color is also much darker due to the blood that mixes into the excess ink. As the swelling goes away and you wash off the ink that didn't "take," the colors become much more vibrant and alive.

It's looking better than I could have hoped.

Second Session. 4/25/03.  Second Session. 4/25/03.

"The great Koi fish is a symbol of majesty that awes the raksas, nagas & demons into submission & the basket where they will be contained."

Session #3Pre-Third Session. May 9 2003. 10:00AM.
Finally friday. Thank God. The waiting is definitely the hardest part. And then, of course, I worry if Chris needs to cancel for whatever reason. That would suck. My body is still a bit sore from last weekends gardening extravaganza in my Mom's back yard. Weeding, painting, planting, pruning, digging...

Post-Third Session. May 9 2003. 11:45PM.
Some days, sitting under the machine are harder than others. This session was a little more aggravating than the last. I think that's because the area that we were working on was still a little sore from the last session. All that said, Chris has a great hand and a better eye. The work is really impressing me. The little details like the way he mixes the colors and how he ends the color right before the he hits the outline leaving an 1/8th of an inch of bare skin. Very cool.

I had dropped off printouts of my back for Chris to sketch the background on. When I got to the shop, we started discussing where the other elements will be placed. We're moving the bamboo to the right upper back to use as the cover up on the preexisting work. We discussed making sure the maple leaves don't look like pot leaves. He also jazzed me up with how he plans on doing the "wind" swirls and other little (big) touches. I think we're pretty much agreed that there won't be an element of fire on this. Makes sense as it is an aquatic theme, but he does these really cool pieces I've been calling "Tibetan Fireballs" and I hope we can suss out a way to drop them in there somehow. It's interesting how I have given him complete control on this. If he thinks something isn't quite right, that's that. I don't push like I would normally. While I like 95% of the work I wear and respect the artists who did the work, Chris is undoubtedly the most accomplished artist I've ever worked with.

This "piece" will be an awesome combination of bright oranges, blues and greens. Obviously a good deal of blacks and reds, too. And I still can't get over how huge this tattoo is. My entire back and tying into my sleeves. Once I finish my back, I'm going to complete the chest work. And then I'm done until I turn fifty and at that point I plan on seeing Trevor Marshall to do my legs. :-)

Back work is strange in the sense that you have no idea what is happening until it's done. I sat for about two hours straight today before we took a break for me to see. So you lay there and deal with the boredom and the annoying noise and little bit of pain and then when you take a look at what's been completed, your face lights up. "Hell yeah!"

We got the dorsal fins and the "flipper fins" done today. This will probably take six more sessions to complete. My hope of being finished by July 4th will not come to pass. But that's fine, because this is going to be pretty rocking when it's done.

From: Carol ( wrote:
"I showed my husband. He said, "that looks f**king real."

Third Session. 5/9/03  Third Session. 5/9/03

Healing A Tattoo
You would think by now, after being tattoo'd for over 20 years, I'd be great at healing new work. But I'm not. I suck at it.

Case in point: I was in Florida at a good friend's shop in
Pompano Beach, Bruce Bart's Irezumi Ink. Bruce was kind enough to lay
on an ankle band with the mantra "Om Mani Padme Hum" done in Sanskrit.
Looked great.
But since I was on vacation, I was
swimming all day, every day.
The ink practically fell out of the tattoo by
the time I got home. Not cool. I need to get that fixed.

I was determined to not screw up this back piece, so I started asking
for advice from people I know and searching the web.
There is a lotta crap info out there, by the way.

The best way seems to be: wash off the lymph, plasma and any blood for the first 48 hours using mild soap and cool water. Pat dry and apply a thin layer of antibacterial ointment. After the 48 hours, switch to a
light coat of Lubriderm© whenever the tattoo feels tight
or excessively dry.
And very important- keep the tattoo absolutely dry.
Even in the shower.

Session #4Pre-Fourth Session. May 22 2003. 9:45AM.
Lord, I am dying to finish this work. The irony is that one of the meanings behind the Koi as a symbol is patience and persistance. Another thing annoying me is that Chris is unavailable until 7/11. What's that, like 6 weeks away? Well, he's going to get his back done, so I can relate. But still...

Post-Fourth Session. May 23 2003. 10:00PM.
Not much to add to this running account after tonight's session. We finished the Koi except for the head and face and a bit at the fins. It's a damn big fish! As usual, it looks amazing. Some of the work on my side hurt like hell and some I didn't even feel. Weird.

Anyway, I have to wait over a month 'till the next session. That sucks. I'm told that the rest of this piece will move along at a greater speed than everything up to this point due to the more "open" nature of the background elements. I'm really ready to start seeing the other colors. The bright greens of the bamboo and the blues of the water. Cool.

  Fourth Session. 5/23/03.

"Carp" is similar sounding to the word "business" in Chinese. It is also homophonic with "profit" or "advantage" whilst "fish" is homophonic to "surplus" or "wealth". Paintings featuring Koi Carp are therefore considered symbolic of good fortune in business or academic life. The Carp is also considered a symbol of endurance and perseverance, and is said to be able to progress along the mighty rapids of the Yellow River leaving all other fish behind. Comparisons are drawn with businessmen seeking advantage over their competitors. Carp, according to ancient belief could transform themselves into dragons when they reached 100 years old."

Session #3Pre-Fifth Session. July 11 2003. 8:45AM.
All I can
say is, about time. It's been five or six weeks since the last session and I am beyond itching to get cracking on this again.

Pre-Fifth Session. July 11 2003. 12:00PM.
Ah ha! The koi itself is now complete. Yes. Very, very cool. The head was the last bit left and now it's done. It's a pretty good feeling. 15 hours thus far and 15 or more to go. We added much more water and finally hit it with some different shades of blue and white. We'll darken the water up a little at a later date.

Let me tell you, after the first hour or so of shading the head, the water outline was excruciating and it only lasted 10 minutes. After the outline, going back to shading felt damn good. Not to dwell too much on the pain because the end result is more than well worth it. I am very, very happy with this project.

The koi on it's own is pretty damn well done but I get jazzed when I consider that we still have to add the background elements. The background will add to the story, scale and impact. One solid piece across my entire back.

From: Sunlight (
Hmm, thinking about it there was a koi pond at my college with big fat mature koi in it.
Those fish managed to look vacant, accusing and dangerous all at the same time.
Evil bastards."

Fifth Session. 7/11/03  Fifth Session. 7/11/03

One day, Chris asked me "how long have you been thinking about a Koi backpiece?" I responded "forever." Looking back, that was a mis-statement. While I have been thinking about a backpiece for many years, I never once nailed down what I wanted. I never even really thought about it. I just knew I needed something there.

One day, seriously, I just woke up and knew the Koi was what I wanted. I guess it ties into the fact that I've immersed myself in Asian arts over the past 5 years. I spent some time at Zen Mountain Monastery doing a Buddhist retreat and that opened my eyes to all sorts of artistic endeavors. Ikebana, Budo, Taiko, Ukiyo-e, Japanese gardening and even Nawa Shibari. Well, the Shibari influence came from other quarters, but still.

I've spent most of my adult life studying and appreciating Nordic culture and find many parallels between the two. Love of wood, love of the out-of-doors, the fishing industry...

So there.

Click For LargerEveryone's a damned comedian, huh?
Thanks Ron!

Session #4Pre-Sixth Session. July 25 2003. 4:00PM.
Just back from the beach. God I love it. My skin is salt water tight, I'm tanned and feeling great. Looking forward to a nice cool shower and some sandalwood soap. Tea tree shampoo and I'm set. We'll see what we add to the tattoo tonight. Getting there. I can't wait to just be able to say "thank you" when someone compliments the piece instead of "wait 'till it's done."

Post-Sixth Session. July 25 2003. 10:15PM.
A quick two hour session tonight. Nothing new really, just fleshing out the water all around the koi. Did some cool touches with the water at the base of my spine. Added a lot of depth.That felt like it went on forever. We talked a little bit about where we'll place the maple leaves and the wind swirls. I'm looking forward to seeing the greens of the bamboo.

I don't think I've mentioned this before, but everything except the koi itself has been done freehand. There is a misconception about the word "freehand" in the tattoo world. Some people think it means the artist uses the machine and just wings it. That's not true. The artist uses a marker to draw the piece first and then inks it in. Tonight, as Chris was drawing the water on my back, it struck me how important it is that the artist can draw. Sounds obvious, I know. But I mean really draw.

Watching the piece unfold is fascinating. It's a truly organic process. I think you really, really need to trust your artist because there is no final picture and no definite placements. You need to be comfortable with not only their ability to tattoo but their ability to conceive of the entire piece and make it happen.
To bring it to life.

  Sixth Session. 7/25/03

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"There is another word to describe "love" which is "koi". The kanji character for "kokoro (heart)" is included as part of both kanji characters. Both "ai" and "koi" are probably translated as "love" in English. However, they have slightly different nuance :
"Koi" is a love for the opposite sex, or a longing feeling for a specific person. It can be described as "romantic love" or "passionate love". While "ai" has the same meaning as "koi," it also has a definition of a general feeling of love. "Koi" can be selfish, but "ai" is a real love. Here are some lines that explain them well: Koi is always wanting. Ai is always giving."

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Progress image. From sessions 2 and 6.

Session #7Pre-Seventh Session. September 19 2003. 11:00AM.
I've been thinking
work on my ribcage. A pair of blue Foo Dogs with red flames. One on the left side and one on the right side. And it kills me to say this, but I probably won't get them because I hear the pain is incredible. Well, it's partially that and partially the fact that my chest is one of the few parts of my body that I actually like. Then again, my ribcage isn't really my chest so I guess I'm just a b*tch!

I "fought" getting Asian-styled work when started my sleeves and now, while I can't say I regret anything, if I could do it all over, I just might. Ahhhh, if I only knew then what I know now.

Post-Seventh Session. September 19 2003. 8:02PM.
Ahh. Finally a new color. Green, baby. This was a hella easy session to sit for. I started a new job this week and have spent so much time in my head. Thinking and working. This session was great in the sense that it forced me back into my body and as a consequence I feel very centered.

It's also the end of an era. 24 years ago I got the Pink Panther tattoo'd on my back and tonight we covered up 95% of that tattoo. I took massive amounts of ribbing for that tattoo but I loved it. The Pink Panther cartoon was and still is one of the coolest. Anyway, below are pictures from this afternoon's session.

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Koi tattoos on others:
Tattoo Infinity
> DaVinci Tattoo
> Supasonic Sage
> TattooAGoGo

Chris O'Donnell Morning after sheets

Session #8Pre-Eighth Session. October 14 2003. 8:00AM.
Are you as bored of this as I am? Jeez. I look back and yes, a lot has been done, but its a slow, slow process. Wonder what we'll add tonight.

Post-Eighth Session. October 14 2003. 11:05PM.
More bamboo and a bit of water. The bamboo patch is now done and it ties into the wind from the right sleeve very nicely. Underneath the bamboo, we're adding rocks. I knew something was going there, but wasn't sure what. I am interested in hearing what Chris plans on doing color-wise. Honestly, I hadn't considered rocks and I can't quite see it. We always sketch new work on with a marker, and I'm confident in Chris' ability to make it work. And the bamboo obviously needs a bed from which to sprout...

These pictures aren't doing the work justice. And the freshness makes it shine. Once it's done and healed I will definitely have a high quality photo taken.

Session Eight click for larger Session Eight

In horimono, what is the meaning of koi carp?
"... Their whiskers also represent wisdom, and fresh blood drawn from a koi is said to be a most potent tonic. Koi have the affections of Japanese people since they have been kept as pets for nearly 800 years. On the public festival known
as Children's Day, children fly tubular flags fashioned and painted like koi, in the hope that they too will grow up as strong and good as koi. The history of koi goes back further in China, where the legend of koi that migrate up the waterfalls of the Yellow River turn into dragons dates back to prehistory.
In Japanese this is known as toryumon."

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Session #7Pre-Ninth Session. October 24 2003. 10:30AM.
This tattoo is
exactly what I wanted stylistically
. Bold, solid, readable, graphic, powerful, large... I'm definitely happy with it. There are another three or four more sessions till it's complete. It's been a remarkable experience in many ways. Working large scale and over time, I've seen the seasons change. The first session, April 16th, was sunny and cool. I remember wearing a dark red linen shirt and jeans. I'd taken the day off from work at Meredith Interactive and got to the studio a little early. I found a stoop, sat down and got a little sun. I remember going the the beach in the early part of the summer and hating that the work was incomplete. I remember the rainy days for the rest of the summer and the good friends that stopped by to say hello and watch me wince.

And here I now sit, knowing that the work will still be happening as winter falls. And that one day soon it will be finished. 36 hours or so total. Resulting in one amazing piece of art. Living art. Art that bother empowers and humbles. Art that will die with me and in that way alone, a most intimate piece of art. Art that I can't readily see yet is with me at all times. Inseparable. And if I am mindful of the lessons the Koi teaches, an enlightening form of art.

Post-Ninth Session. October 24 2003. 11:11PM.
The first 15 minutes and the last 15 minutes are the hardest. The fat on my love handles kills. Damn. But after that 15 minutes, things loosen up and you settle into a groove. The music tonight absolutely sucked ass and an ultrasonic cleaner ran for 30 minutes longer than it had to. But alas...

It's getting there. We covered some serious ground tonight. The rocks look cool and will only look cooler when they're healed. Chris uses a type of ink that fades to a nice grey from the initial solid black. Sumi-e like. Then he'll go in and add the texture in a real black. We also added a fair amount of water to the piece and need to texturize and detail all that. Actually, all the water will get a bit deeper. No pun intended.

The image on the left is a fast sketch he did to show me how we'll tie into the work on my left shoulder. The maple leaves will be intertwined with the "wind." As I look closely at the work, all the little details that are missing are becoming apparent. But that's cool. I know we'll hit it all in due time.

Next session isn't until December. Maybe I'll finish up my chest work during November. My birthday month.

Session Nine Session Nine

On Friday October 17th, these pages were featured on one of my favorite sites, I received a number of great emails from around the world. My favorite came from a bozo named Dickie.
He said: "i enjoyed your koi tattoo pic, this might
have been easier: check it out."
Thanks Dickie, but no.

Also featured on the Techno\culture blog
and a number of Japanese and random blogs.

Artist Barbara Psimas

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Progress image. From sessions 2, 6 and 9.

Session #8I feel like we're in the home stretch now. In reality, we're not. There's much new work to be laid down and a lot of details to flesh out. I have three more sessions booked.

We're thinking about where to place the final elements like the maple leaves and how far down and over the work should go. I want my left butt cheek covered. I'd also like to work in a Mitsu Tomoe.

I've been asking myself "why" get such extensive work. Especially work that I will never directly see. I know the answers in my gut. The symbology means much to me, the pure artistic expression of such high quality work can't be denied, the drive to "customize" my body has always been strong, there is a definite narcissistic and sexual undercurrent. Can something you can't see be defined as "narcissistic?"

Post-Tenth Session. November 21 2003. 9:50PM.
Suffer the outline. Hate to start off with a whinge about the pain, but damn. This outline hurt. But as usual, I'm excited about the end result. There is a lot of "controversy" in the tattoo world about pain. Is pain part of getting tattoo'd? Is pain an unneeded and distracting component? I believe the pain in an important part of getting a tattoo. If it didn't hurt, if it didn't take courage and commitment what would it be? Like painting a car. The fact that you have to work through something to get to the end result adds value. No diss to those who use anesthetics but I don't dig that idea.

Right now, it's a little difficult to see anything except the black work, but if you look closely you can see the maple leave's outline. You can also see the final bits of water. I love this style of water. I'm really looking forward to coloring in the leaves. The movement of the entire piece is impressive. Totally dynamic.

We discussed what is going to go on my left butt cheek and at the base of my neck. All in all... getting there.

Session Ten Session Ten Session Ten

"... my teacher took me to a carp pond and we
sat there all day looking at the carp.
After we came home my teacher said, "Do you know why I was
watching carp all day?"
"No," I answered.
"It is because I want to study the living carp. I don't
like cartoons; I'm a professional artist and
I want to tattoo the true spirit of the carp"
At that time I hadn't seen the work of other tattoo artists.
In May my teacher took me to the festival at Sanja Temple where
I saw many tattooed men wearing loin cloths. Then I understood
what he had said about the living spirit of the carp as opposed
to tattoo designs which are cartoons. I remember two carp
tattoos: one by Hori Bun, which looked like a cartoon, and one
by Hori Uno, which had some of the true form of the carp
but was still partly a cartoon. It was supposed to be a
carp climbing up a waterfall but it looked dead, and a dead
carp can't climb a waterfall. The face of the carp climbing a waterfall must be strong, like the face of a samurai, but
the face of the carp by Hori Uno was not strong. The expression
on the face is very important in a tattoo. For example, in the traditional tattoo of the samurai fighting the
giant snake, the samurai doesn't know whether or not he can
kill the snake. His face must express this feeling."

Session #11Pre-Eleventh Session. December 5 2003. 10:30AM.
It's snowing today. They predict a few inches. And The Last Samurai just opened. It looks amazing. I really don't like movies, but I am excited to see this one.

A friend of mine, Wes, just launched a site. He's journaling the evolution of his Japanese-themed tattoo. Check it out at I Awake In The Forest. Another friend of mine, Derek, just started a full-body dragon tattoo and is posting thoughts and images at Evolution of the Dragon. And a traditional tebori tattoo shop has been opened in NYC. It's called 55 Tattoo and it's run by the Horitoshi family.

Post-Eleventh Session. December 5 2003. 11:55PM.
All color tonight. No outlines. We colored in most of the water on my left side and two of the three maple leaves. We're going to add one or two more leaves on my lower right and water and wind on my left butt cheek. I'm blown away by this work. We've got three of four more sessions to go. I count at least three layers of depth and the water is turbulent. Dig it.

Oh, and The Last Samurai was pretty damn good. Except for one or two predictable scenes I was totally impressed. Someone called it Dances With Samurai, and that's pretty accurate. And funny. I practiced Iaido for a year (need to get back to the dojo) and the scenes with the bokken were right on. The sword fighting was super exciting and the soundtrack was great. I need to pick that up next week.

And we got more than "a few inches." It's been snowing heavily for more than 24 hours and accumulation may hit 1.5 feet. The Blizzard of 2003 they're calling it.
I love New York.

Session Eleven  Session Eleven

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"Japan's Tattoo Arts: Horiyoshi's World"
"Tattoos of the Floating World"

"The Japanese Tattoo"

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Session #8Pre-Twelfth Session. December 17 2003. 7:00AM.
Ever watch the www series Ninjai? No? Me neither. 'Till the other day. Sara turned me onto it. Bloody little cartoon! I posted some of the trailers here and you can watch the entire series here.

I definitely have moments where I wish I'd have done my arm work differently, but when I look at it from a few steps away it all flows with my back pretty nicely. This is due to the fact that I've always chosen my iconography based on mythology and symbols that are extremely important to me. Fact is, I already have a great deal of water, sky, foliage and blackwork on my arms so the overall effect is consistant. I definitely need to add some finishing touches to my arms like completing some sky and clouds and coloring in the acorns and oak leaves. I just printed out some pictures of my chest work and drew in the perimeter I want to work within. I don't think Chris will want to deal with completing unfinished work, but there are a few other artists I have in mind. I can see my upper body work complete by the summer. BFT.

And you know what? I feel like this little mini-site is a valuable contribution to the world of tattoo. That feels good. And for those of you reading this that don't really know me, I've also contributed a bit to the world of body piercing, branding and cutting.

Post-Twelfth Session. December 17 2003. 11:50PM.
Pretty much done with the perimeter shape. Two or three touches to the actual shape left to make. Then shading and coloring what's left. Water, swirls and three of the five maple leaves. And holy crap, tattoo on the ass doesn't just hurt, it's kind of not-describable. It's not like the pain on the rest of your body. All those types of pain are identifiable. Sharp, annoying, dull, whatever. But the pain on the cheek isn't even a pain, per se. It's this crazy sensation. I'm at a loss for words about what it feels like and we still have a lot of work there. It descends further than the picture shows. Please excuse the black modesty bar, I've suddenly become shy.

After the tattoo session I went to say goodbye to Alex. A great friend who is moving back to Germany. I saw a bunch of old friends from my days as Senior Producer at Atmosphere Interactive. After the party I jumped on the F train at the 2nd Avenue subway station and made my way home.

Session Twelve  Session Twelve

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Session #13Pre-Thirteenth Session. January 8 2004. 7:15AM.
Thirteen is my lucky number. So says Mike Ness. And I'm inclined to believe him. These have been the first days that I've looked at my back and said "whoa, almost done." Chris once said "What are you going to do when we're done?" I said "Wait ten years and then start my legs. I hope Trevor Marshall is still laying it down."

Hell, I may not even wait those ten years. I just dropped Trevor an email asking about doing a complete design that can be laid down in a way that each group of sessions are complete unto themselves. We'll see. People ask me why not continue the current theme onto my legs. I feel that a pictorial approach only works on the upper body. I feel that legs should be more graphic. It has something to do with the legs grounding you to the earth. So the work should be more representative of that. Solid yet open. And Trevor is the guy to do it. And no, I'm not going for a full bodysuit. Just need to finish my chest and legs.

Post-Thirteenth Session. January 8 2004. 11:30PM
I need to take some better photos, because these just don't do the work justice. Tonight was a relatively short session as my body really couldn't take too much. I got my ass back to the dojo and have spent the last two weeks training hard. I think I've mentioned it elsewhere on this mini-site... I study Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido with New York Budokai. We also study Tenshinsho Jigen Ryu and Jodo. I've been away from training for a little while and finally got back. The first class of a New Year is centered on endurance training and I am still feeling the effects. Add onto that the regular training sessions this past tuesday and wednesday and, well, I'm wiped. I called quits sooner than I'm proud of. We got another maple leaf complete as well as the blackwork at my upper back/neck.

We have two more sessions booked, but it will probably take three. As you can see from the pictures there are a few tweeks that need to be made to say nothing of the whole lower section. We also need to add quite a bit on the right hand side to match the left. I'm excited to finish this project and move onto my next. I rarely do anything long-term and am always looking for the next thing.

People say "you should be proud of that tattoo" and I laugh. I'm not proud of it. If anything, I'm proud of the fact I've maintained my commitment to see it through and proud of the fact that I chose the right artist.

Session 13

Anatometal makes some of the best steel and titanium body jewelry available. They've made a number of cool pieces for me and I carried their stock at the Modern American BodyArts studio. Founder Barry Blanchard suggests you have the following in your Japanese Garden: purples and yellows, iris, perfect lillies and a frog, Of course, you need to stock the pond with koi of all varieties, especially large orange ones, and friendly ones.
And be sure to keep the predators at bay.
47 Second Ave., New York, NY, 10003; (212) 473-0007

"To anyone who thinks tattooing and piercing was a fad: Fewer supermodels may be getting stuck, but business is still good. This shop is colorful and super-cool, with fast and very friendly piercing. They feature steel, wood, glass and gem curve jewelry, as well as a wide variety from Thailand, Borneo, India and Vietnam. Incredibly talented tattooists (plus visiting artists from around the world) do work you'll be proud to have forever." Paper Mag©

Session #14Pre-Fourteenth Session. January 20 2004. 7:20AM.
I understand that the koi is an old and venerable symbol worn by thousands of people from all walks of life. But I have to say this: directly lifting my or anyone else's tattoo design is pretty lame. I'm happy that people see this site as a resource, that's one of the reasons I put it up. Where else can you find so much information about koi symbology and what it takes to lay on a tattoo of this size? So I think it's great that people are here to learn, watch and ask questions...

"The reason I am writing to you is because I am looking for ideas for a full Koi related back piece myself...I have been following your experiences of the fantastic Koi back piece you are currently having done and would like to say that I think it's stunning...I would dearly like to base my work around your design...I hope you don't think I'm taking the juice or anything by contacting you about your design and work done but I really did fall for your design the first time I saw it...I hope you are not offended by some of the questions I have asked and I assure you that no offence is intended because I know how much of a personal thing it is that your doing and to think somebody is copying you could cause some people to take offence."

This guy did the right thing. He and I wrote a bit, I asked him to please have his artist take the idea and work it into his own, one-of-a-kind piece. He said:

"Thanks for such a prompt reply and I totally respect your view about the back piece. I will endeavour to carry on searching and find suitable artwork which I am completely satisfied with."

On the other hand, some people may have copied this design a little to closely for my tastes. Just sayin'. Again, I know the symbol is universal and the background elements traditional, but please, give it your own spin like I gave it mine. Read about ©opyrighting tattoos here. And about stealing tattoos, here.

Post-Fourteenth Session. January 20 2004. 11:00PM.
A good solid two hours tonight. The maple leaves are all done and a good part of the water, too. We need to add some depth to the water with another few passes of a darker blue.

Holy crap the last 20 minutes sucked. And I'm still convinced that music plays a huge part in the experience. I think I've heard maybe a handful of good tunes since I've been having this done. As anyone who ever visited my old shop Modern American Bodyarts knows, music sets the tone for a session.

Finished up, paid the man, took the F to the R and enjoyed some of Brooklyn's best pizza. I know, I know... those love handles won't disappear if I continue to eat like that. But it's freezing out, I've been working and training my ass off and that's that.

Session Fourteen 

Man Saves Fish With Kiss of Life
"A quick-thinking former ambulance driver from Belgium recently
saved the life of his pet koi fish by giving it
mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
He suspected that the koi had had heart attack. He took the fish out of the water and gave it a heart massage, and after about fifteen minutes the fish started to move. Mr. Van Aert replaced the fish in the water, but it then stopped moving again. At that point Van Aert removed the fish from the water and administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, also known as the kiss of life, as well as continuing the heart massages. His actions saved the koi's life.
" - Sherry Morse

click for larger

Progress image. From sessions 2, 6, 9 & 14.

> Paul Binnie Tebori Ukiyo-e Prints
> Oxford Thesis on Tattooing in Japan
> Asian tattoos on BME

> rec.ponds

Session #15Pre-Fifteenth Session. January 30 2004. 7:45AM.
My friend Jon Loose once said I was a "Viking gone Buddhist."
True on the face of it and it got me thinking. It made me think more deeply about the connections between my heritage (Norse/Sicilian) and the cultures I enjoy studying these days (Asian.)
I've spent a lot of time in Norway, Sweden and Denmark over the years and I look forward to visiting Japan in the near future.

It's rewarding to compare things like the Sagas & Sutras / Valhalla & Seppuku / Barbarians & Bushi / Shinto & Asatru / Thor & Fudo / Berserkers & Kamikazi / Mead & Sake / Thatch & Staves / Oslo & Edo / Runes & Kanji / Broad sword & Katana.

Post-Fifteenth Session. January 30 2004. 11:00PM.
First 15 minutes were a bitch. Couldn't get comfortable on the table. Couldn't get comfortable for the entire two hours. Funny, Chris said this was his "most gratifying session." He clarified by saying the coverage and seeing it come together really hit home this session in particular. I think he's gratified that soon enough, he won't be seeing me every other damn week. Bastard.

I took some pictures of the shop on the way out the door and here is a picture of the view I've had for the duration.

Again, these pictures don't do it right. The work is swollen, dried blood, glare from the ointment and the left over marker all combine to make it, well, crappy looking. But as the black fades to that wonderful sumi-e like deep grays and the blues blend into each other...

Session Fifteen  Session Fifteen

Aftermath Koi menuki on Tozando Iaito under leather tsuka-ito

Session #16Pre-Sixteenth Session. March 5 2004. 7:30AM.
I heal black so much better than red. Odd. And fast. Seems like the blackwork heals in five days where the reds take ten or more.

We're really almost done. Wild. We saved the worst for last. As I mentioned in the session #12 entry, tattoo on the butt hurts beyond what can be called "pain." I'll quote myself:

"And holy crap, tattoo on the ass doesn't just hurt, it's kind of not-describable. It's not like the pain on the rest of your body. All  those types of pain are identifiable. Sharp, annoying, dull, whatever. But the pain on the cheek isn't even a pain, per se. It's this crazy sensation. I'm at a loss for words about 
what it feels like" 

So, I'm obviously not looking forward to it. But tonight is really the last session. This last bit wraps it up. I do have one more session booked, though. I was able to book a final session on April 16th just for detailing and touch ups. That's one year to the day that we started. Pretty cool in my book. We'll use that day to fill in a few spots and do some final touch-ups. I think it's pretty cool that when some one asks "how long?" I can reply "one year to the day." Of course the project manager in me will want to add "that's duration, not effort."

Post-Sixteenth Session. March 5 2004. 11:50PM.
That was a quick one. About one hour. And wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. And as usual, the pictures don't do it justice. I will definitely do a proper shoot after the last session heals up. But, essentially we are done. I can only see two or three little empty spots. Some water on the left side and a bit on a fin.

It's anti-climactic in a way. I have no great "deep thoughts" to share as we near completion. I do have a good feeling of seeing something through to the end. Of having a vision of what I wanted and steadfastly, little by little working towards it. I'll be happy when its complete. Like something is off of my mind and I can move onto the other tattoo work I need to complete. I've started discussions with Stephanie Tamez about finishing up my chest work.

There was also a cool little surprise waiting for me at the shop. A picture of Chris tattooing my back made it into the Tattoo issue of Juxtapoz magazine.

I've been getting some super cool emails about this site and how helpful it is for people looking to understand Japanese tattoo in general and Koi symbology in particular. Want to drop me a note? Click here.

 Session Sixteen Session Sixteen Session Sixteen

Session Sixteen Session Sixteen

Session #17Pre-Seventeeth Session. April 16 2004. 9:10AM.
Looks like that's about that. Just a few little things to finish up tonight. A bit of water, a bit of orange, a bit of black work tying the sleeves into the back work. On a work related note, I started a new job since my last session. I took a position as the Chief Technologist at a cool marketing agency. Experience engineering to be "exact."

Post-Seventeeth Session. April 16 2004. 10:45PM.
Done. I can't believe I started this a year ago. To the day. I'm not going to post the final images until I get something really sharp done. A few photographers have volunteered and I'll have something up within a few weeks.

Thanks to everyone who has read along and sent me email.
Good luck to you.

Treo 600 Image Treo 600 Image Treo 600 Image

Tools Used

Liner Machine: Seth Ciferri Handcrafted
Shader Machine:
Seth Ciferri Handcrafted
Power Supply:
Lucky's Tattoo Supply
Needle Groupings:
7 mag, 9 mag, 5 under & 8 under

Total Hours
Total Cost
Don't ask
Total Misc
Used 32 ounces of Lubriderm©, ruined three fitted sheets & one duvet, blew off one funeral, spent 18 hours working on this site, changed jobs twice, called in sick once, co-hosted 15 hours of satellite radio, pissed off countless usenet posters, 156 pictures on a Sony Cybershot P72, 3 on a Handspring Treo 600...
Thanks To
My always supportive family, Lori Levin, Michelle Tarentelli & all the artists at NYA, Bruce Bart, Matty Jankowski, rec.arts.bodyart,
shouts to BME, Nefarious Freedom et al. And of course to Chris O'Donnell, who took my general idea and turned it into a powerful & dynamic piece of living art.

back to body

photos: Chrysty Nyberg, KA, Medea, Kari Anne, Chris O'Donnell, Yon, Melissa Medina, Rachel Larratt