Not much of a stranger
Hi all! It has been a very busy season for me, with all kinds of projects and things going on. I still find time for the occasional tattoo story, and although I owe you (and myself) a few stranger stories, this one is no less special.
I’ve often said that even those we consider our friends are sometimes just as close as any other stranger on the street. I’ll be bold and say that that happens a lot in Vancouver: where you may know a lot of people, and talk to a lot of people, but rarely in a true, honest, and open way. That’s why asking a friend or acquaintance about something personal (like a tattoo), is not as common as you may think —and that’s why I truly appreciate when the sharing happens.
Anyways, this is a story that came to me from a non-stranger. She recently got this piece (her first tattoo!) and I couldn’t resist but to ask. She was awesome and shared the story. In her own words:
“The tattoo on my wrist/ forearm is the Praying Hands with Rosary and Cross.
The last few years of my life have been quite the struggle. Battling depression and anxiety was one of the hardest things to go through. It’s like living in a dark tunnel. But despite feeling this way, even in my most darkest of times I always found that “light” that glimmer of hope to get through another day.
Sometimes you have to believe that there is more to the world than what we can see and feel. I believe there is more to this life, what that is I don’t know.
This tattoo reminds me of the hard times and that I can get through anything. It’s also to help protect me, to be my light in the most darkest of times.
The original story behind the praying hands also holds a lot of meaning to me as well.
Thank you for letting me share my story!”
Nope, thank you for sharing. Inspiring, and something that hits home.
Thank you! And thank you all for reading. Until the next time.
Strangers #376 & #376.1 + a non stranger || weeklyish posts
Location: a house around Commercial and 6th
At times, the way you come across stranger stories is the simplest way: you show up at a friend’s house, their roommates are in the living room, you meet them, and voilá! Past the awkward pitch of the project, mixed with a bit of luck and half a can of beer, stories start to flow. I’m glad they wanted to share, because these pieces are special in their uniqueness.
[Photo 1] The Mars Volta is my favourite band. This is inspired on one of their concert posters. Basically all of the art that they do is amazing, but this one stuck out for me. I wanted to get something huge and elaborate on my arm, so this was almost a 6-hour sitting. The art was modified a little from the original artwork, where they are supposed to be little old men. We changed that a bit and made it so they look more androgynous, but it is the original colour…
To be honest, the blend of colours was crazy (in a good way). Her wife was sitting around too, so I asked if she wanted to share as well. After a few seconds of silence I got a yes.
[photo 2] I love robots, and I collect them. This tattoo was a birthday present from her. His name is Rusty —it used to be Crusty, because it was very raised and scabby at first. I love him. There used to be a clock there, but I changed it and put a heart instead. It is based of a 50s vintage robot, and it was my first colour tattoo.
To my surprise, they had the little robot around on a shelf. It looked just like the tattoo. It was very very cute. Then since we were already talking about tattoos, I asked my friend what the deal was behind hers. For some reason I had never asked her about it before.
[photo 3] As a kid I used to get homesick all the time, and my best friend used to show this to me all the time when we were in Germany. He’s really into stars, and I was not really into them, but he’d always say “There’s the Big Dipper! There’s the Big Dipper!” Then I started noticing it everywhere, and kept showing it to my friends. I would see it here and whenever I’d travel somewhere; and it made me realize that if I could see it from home in Germany, and I could see it from here too, then home is not that far away. I’ll get it retouched very soon.
Wasn’t that amazing?! I’m so glad I got to collect these stories. I thanked them all, and now they are here. Awesome stuff.
Thank you all :)
Stranger #375 | weeklyish posts
Location: JJ Bean Yaletown
Coffee as usual, unusual neighbourhoods and quite a daunting day. I can’t quite remember what I was doing (this story was collected a few days ago), but life brought me to the shop for a cup. As I was waiting, I spotted this very unique piece. I immediately thought back to the days when the project was daily. There were almost no customers around the bar, so hoping not to step over some boundaries I told him a bit about the project and asked if he’d like to share the story behind a tattoo. To my luck, he picked the one that caught my interest —I still keep that rule of letting the stranger pick a tattoo to share. And I paraphrase:
I’m a big fan of music. I’m personally not very musical, but I think that I enjoy music so much more because I’m not inclined to be musical. Anyways, I found this band called Showbread when I was in grade ten or so, and I started listening to them. They had awesome music. The album that I first listened to was a bit punky, rock, alternative, with a bit of industrial… a bit of everything. Why they are significant is because they are a Christian band and I am a Christian, and I thought Christian music was so lame for the longest time until I found these guys. They write songs about the zombie apocalypse and cool stuff like that, and they are also very strong, lyrically. Just the whole writing behind their songs is very thought out; they are very political too, so they’ve been my favourite band forever…
I then asked why it was crossed out.
…oh, this is the band symbol. It kind of has to do with one of the albums and their opposition to the corporativism in the music industry. ‘Raw’ is just a way they describe their music. Every album they’ve released has been almost in a different genre. They’ve also released a double album with a story that you read along with the album, like timed to the songs, and now they are on a label where they are giving music away for free, kind of to show people their music and what they are all about. They are just about to release an album that they are going to fundraise for themselves and shoot a whole music video for it… I don’t know, it’s just a cool band that has had a lot of influence in my life. So, that’s that.
I really appreciated him sharing this story. It’s awesome when someone or something (like an individual or a band) inspires you and/or influences your life. I don’t know, it gives me a little bit of hope for some reason —to see inspiring people, and most of all, to see people inspired. He had a very warm vibe. It was a great encounter. I then thanked him and went on my way —kind of repeating the story in my head and scribbling some notes on it. So here you go.
Location: A friend’s house in Kits
Oh man, it took me a long time (a couple of weeks) to get my ass in front of this tumblr and write about this tattoo, but before I keep going collecting stories, I have to start posting again. So here we go. This is how this one happened:
A house warming party. Y’know, I’m at that age (the inglorious 23) when couples start to move in together into a real house —as opposed to a room in a basement. To be honest, I don’t even think it is an age thing, but this has happened quite a bit lately. I’ve only lived my young-adulthood in Vancouver, so I don’t know if this only a local thing (with high rents and lots of people from elsewhere adding to the equation). Anyhoo, I was warming a house for two of my dearest friends in their new lil nest, when the project came up and I managed to collect a story from a stranger. Gatherings like this one are always good to find cool strangers. We stepped aside from the crowd (well, the 9 other people) and he proceeded to tell me the deal behind this piece:
“I love nature. I love animals. I love birds. This is my feather, my skin. The three little birds are my sibings. They are flying away, floating away because they know that I am responsible for myself. So it’s about the four of us, me and my siblings.”
It was a pretty neat story and really neat tiny tiny birds. We talked some more about our tattoos and what not. Then we reintegrated ourselves back into the gathering as if nothing had happened.
Stranger #373 • Special Edition from a(bro)ad •
Location: Edinburg, TX
I know nowadays with the internet and all that, anything foreign is not as wowtastic as it used to be. In fact, odds are you might not live in the same city as me (Vancouver, Canada), but this past week I woke up to a very awesome surprise: my brother, who lives and studies in a relatively small city in south Texas, decided to give the project a shot. That is, talk to a stranger and try to collect a tattoo story. I didn’t know he was going to do this until I got the email with a picture and its story. He wrote: “I hope you like the story and I hope you don’t feel like I’ve disrespected the project. I just did it in support of it and well… I also did it just because.”
In his own words:
After a whole night of not sleeping, cleaning my apartment, and making my first omelet, I decided to go to the gym to take advantage of the extra hours of the new/old day I had been living in the past hours. The gym was lonely just with a few guys and girls working out. I joined them. Almost at the end of my routine, I saw this big dude lifting some heavy weights. I noticed he had a tattoo on his shoulder. I wasn’t able to identify what it was because I didn’t have my glasses, but I could notice the colours in it. I thought, this kind of tattoo may be one whose background story my sister would like to know about. So this crazy idea came to my mind: lets go ask him in the name of “a stranger a day.” The idea exited me; I wanted to give my sister a gift related to her project. So I approached this guy, hopping he won’t hit me because of my clumsy English. I explained my sister’s project to him (I felt like I was showing off my sister and then I felt guilty). To my surprise, he was really understanding and started telling me his story. I had to pause him because I forgot to record him. After I got the iPod in recording mode, he started over and explained to me:
“The bottom flag is Mexico, that’s where my dad is from. The middle flag is Colombia, that’s where my mom’s from, and I’m from America. I also have Texas and Illinois ‘cos I was born in Illinois, raised in Texas, and I have 7 total siblings, that’s why I have the big two stars (?). Illinois is kind hard to see but I need to touched up again.”
He also told me that it was his design and that it took him 7 years to come up with it. After that, I thanked this guy for his time and for not stepping on me, and then I just left the gym.
Daw! That was awesome! It was so heart-warming to get this story on the mail, coming from my own brother, and seeing with how much respect and kindness he approached the project, the stranger, the story and all of that. :) So cool!
There is another story from last week coming soon.
Thanks brothah! And thanks, stranger from afar! :]
Stranger #372 [weeklyish posts]
Location: Rubble Gallery (Victoria Dr/Powell)
The story goes a little like this: I was at a gathering at the Rubble Gallery when I realized I wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for this project. Somebody asked me how I got to know a gentleman named Mike, who happens to co-run a party called SPIT. The question immediately triggered a flashback: I had met him through the Stranger Project. I still remember. This happened very early in the project when he was at the Elysian and I was looking for strangers. Although he didn’t have any tattoos, he did a good (and pretty accurate) assessment and gave me a few passes for his party. Little did I know I would end up doing some work with them. So there I was, at the staff party explaining this story when, of course, I got introduced to someone with a very neat piece:
This is a Romanian gypsy wagon. My last name is Bedry, and nobody knows what nationality Bedry is. I am uncertain about where it comes from, and everyone on my Dad’s side of the family (where I inherited my name from) is dead, so I can’t ask anyone. But I do know that his parents were Italian and Romanian, and that there was some Romanian in his family line from long way back. I figured I would start there, so I got a Romanian symbol that I liked, and as I try to discover where my last name actually comes from I want to add more tattoos…
That was super neat. It could end up making for a big, nice-looking narrative piece.
I then took the shot and asked him if I could publish it on the blog, and here we are. :) The party continued and we were merry.
Stranger #371 [weeklyish posts]
Location: Prado on the Drive
He was behind the counter. We have been aware of each other’s existence for months, but never knew each other’s names or went past the small coffee request and how-are- yous. I don’t remember, but while I was telling him about this project, he told me I had mentioned it before, or that he had known something about it from somewhere.
Nods on the street when you encounter the barista of your hide-out outside his/her usual surroundings are a frequent happening in my life, and now, in the aftermath of the project I decided to use this as an opportunity to bridge the gap from ‘I kind of know you’ to ‘hi :)’ and have a glimpse of the individual behind the profession.
So he told me about this tattoo that’s somewhat recent:
“The the letters stand for ‘Perfect Diet of Pizza’, and I have been wanting something like that for quite a while. I was playing in Squamish with my band maybe about two months ago, and after we were done, we went to a party and someone brought a tattoo gun. I had this comic book and I traded it for a tattoo. I decided on this because it was already on my mind and I got it done.”
That was that. A tattoo for a comic book, after playing with your band, about something you’ve had wandering your mind for a while. Oh life. I thanked him for sharing, we introduced ourselves and then I went on my way.
Stranger #370 - weeklyish posts
Location: Lucy’s Eastside Diner on Main
Hello dear readers :) This is the first post of 2012. The story was found last year, just a day or two before I went to Mexico to visit family. I made it my purpose to stay away from the computer and social networks as much as possible while enjoying family time, hence the lateness of the post. It sure felt good, but I also couldn’t wait to share this story with you. After enjoying a white russian and a delish meal, I gave the leap of faith and asked him for a story. It required a leap of faith because I hadn’t done this in a while and because I’ve noticed, the most visible the tattoos of a collector, odds are said person is asked a lot about them —making the experience a bit uncomfortable.
Hoping not to come across as a tipsy, disrespectful being, I went up to him and explained the project. I’m happy I did, because what followed was a great insight into his life:
“This is my most recent tattoo. The writing says ‘Straight Edge’, I don’t know if you know what that means? No drinking, no drugs, no smoking and no promiscuous sex. It is a lifestyle I choose to live. I have the X’s all over my body, ‘Drug Free’ on my lower knuckles, an X of my throat… this was done just last Thursday.
I believe it is an awesome way to live. I’m heavily involved in hardcore music, which is where it came from. Most of my tattoos are sort of whatever, but I get a lot of Straight Edge tattoos, because it is something I chose to live by for the rest of my life.”
So there you go. I’m glad and always feel honoured when people share. We talked a bit more about tattoos and what not, and then as usual, I thanked him and went on my way.
All the best for this new year. Take care you all, enjoy your life, respect others and have a blast!
Thanks a bunch stranger!
Location: The Charlatan, on the Drive
You rarely ever think of pubs as places to get soup —they don’t even put it on the menu, but you’d be surprised. Some nights I come to this place to have soup for dinner and read (I know right? No wonder I find little things like this). The place has proven to be good for this, and little by little I came to meet a somewhat regular crowd. They are there when I arrive and are still there when I leave. Tattoos have come to conversation many times, and more than one person has shared a story or two or their views on them.
This one story came in one of those nights. I was having soup and reading an article on black holes (the space ones). I had decided to sit not on the bar, but in a candle-lit table on the corner. Halfway through my dinner this gentleman showed up. He was one of those regulars, and we had exchanged a couple of words before. He usually sits at the bar and draws. We got talking about tattoos one time, and this time he came to me because he had a new story. The convo went sort of like this:
I have a bunch of stories, but this is the most recent one. You know I do tattoos, so not long ago I was with a girl. Well, it was sort of a date… not the first one, probably the second one, and she wanted to get a tattoo…—he pulled his cellphone out and showed me a picture of the finished piece, eight or seven stickmen similar to what you see above.
She wanted to get all of this little stickmen, some girls and some boys, to represent her brothers and sisters. I told her I could do that, but to put her at ease and also to prove to myself that I could still do it (I hadn’t done one in a bit), I did this one on my leg first.
I hadn’t seen the tattoo until then. He quickly put it back down. I asked if I could take a shot of it and post it here. He said I could and here you have it. Quite the story. It took me a bit to write (a couple of days), but I also wanted to see how much I remembered after the fact. I did take some notes, but tried not to transcribe it exactly. I liked the change on the approach. Anyways, that’s it. See you on the next post.
Stranger #368 [weekly posts]
More from the weekly posts. Going for days without talking to strangers makes you lose momentum, but it’s always very rewarding when you suck the nerves up and do it again, once more. It’s like a good flashback —a flashback that’s real. This time I was done having a coffee and organizing some thoughts when I approached her. She was doing some drawings at a table nearby. Some of her ink was showing, and she had a calm vibe, so I went up to her and explained this weekly phase of the project. It turned out she was a tattoo artist, and shared this one piece for the blog:
“You should get the girl, but make sure you get the tree too (in the photo). This represents taking a risk. I’m a risk taker. She is standing right on the edge, and she is about to jump off and take a risk, a leap of faith.
That represents when I changed my life around. I had a very comfortable job as a teacher, making a good amount of money, etc. I realized it was no longer my passion anymore, and I needed to change my life. I decided to quit my job and take the risk of becoming a tattoo artist. So this is when I got her. She represents me sort of taking a leap of faith and trusting that everything was going to fall into place. I was lucky to find a mentor who apprenticed me for a few years, and it has just been growing. This month, December, has been the busiest month of my whole career…”
It was a really heart-warming story for me —which comes at a time of great leaps of faith and the pursue of newly realized interests. Funny enough, the day went by and towards the end, I crossed paths with another tattooer. This time he approached me and a very interesting conversation (and tattoo story) unfolded. But that will be another post.