29 April 2013

Holy Mary - Getting Tattooed at the Nepal Tattoo Convention

That is not a skirt, it is a modesty shawl to prevent the creepers from photo-ing my bare legs.

When I heard that the Third Annual Nepal Tattoo Convention was scheduled to be held in Kathmandu this month, I was excited to attend - but I did not expect to get tattooed.

There are plenty of good tattooists in Thamel (including the famous Mohan) but a lot of their work is just not to my taste.
Tattoos are very affordable in Nepal compared to the West, with artists such as Mohan charging a little over 20 USD per hour. I incorrectly assumed that the conference would attract mostly these local artists, with a few international guests attracted to Nepali art and specializing in Tibetan or tribal designs.

This kind of bummed me out, because there is one tattoo that I have been hankering to get for over a year - a Matryoshka, or Ukrainian stacking doll. Sometimes when you have been working on huge pieces (like my left arm) bit by bit for years, it is nice to go into the studio and get a tattoo, start to finish, and leave. A babushka doll seemed like the perfect one-sitting tattoo for a few reasons: 

1.  Despite my many tattoos, I did not have a single "old school" design. This was important to me because not only do I think they look badass, I wanted to pay homage to the origins of tattoo - the sailors, sideshow tattooed ladies, carnies and jailhouse madmen who inked simple yet highly stylized women, skulls, ships and sparrows onto their skin.

My granny and a Ukrainian Easter bread. Right after the photo was taken she said, "It looks like a big prick!" 

My beloved grandmother who passed away 4 years ago was Ukrainian, and I identify strongly with the traditions and customs of the Canadian prairie Ukes. My grandma, who helped to raise me, meant a lot to me and I think about her  every day. I helped my mother (barely - my mum was the rockstar and should get ALL of the credit) nurse my Grandma through her final days of leukemia and it was both an honour and one of the most painful experiences of my life. It fundamentally changed me as a person. 

I did not expect to get this tattoo in Nepal.

As I walked into the opulent ballroom at the Hotel Yak and Yeti, I saw booths set up with artists from around the US, Europe, Japan and India as well as the local Nepali contingent, but none of the designs moved me. I thought about getting a Dharma wheel, but I decided that that tattoo could be done in Thamel without a crowd of gawkers. I was content to stroll the convention floor and call it an afternoon.

Y'all know I love branding and fonts. This is the way to attract me to your tattoo shop.

But then, as it so often does, some particularly attractive branding caught my eye - Steel Workshop from Switzerland. I glanced at the tattooist, Johann Morel, and saw that I liked his tattoos (not always important, but a good indicator of style) and so I picked up his portfolio book. It was laden with inventive, clean old school designs. My interest was piqued - and then I saw it: a page of old school matryoshka dolls done in the exact style I had envisioned in my head. My pulse quickened. I gasped. I booked an appointment.
                                                       Stencils Johann created for clients during the convention.

After a Pizza Hut pitstop, my lovely friend Kalina and I arrived at the convention on Sunday and I viewed the stencil. I loved it. Johann got started right away, making minor adjustments to the font and discussing the colours he had in mind.

Hard at work. 

Johann was a fantastic tattooist. He was calm, steady and despite creating thick, old school lines he wasn't at all heavy handed. I had never been tattooed at a convention, and it was a little strange to have people (ok, real talk: MEN) wandering by, snapping photos. By Nepali standards, I was practically nekkid - wearing a pair of short shorts - and I was a tattooed woman getting more tattoos - escandalo!

Kalina was my vicious guarddog - she allowed men with press passes, tattooists and dudes with tattoos themselves to take pictures, but the conservatively dressed Nepali men with cel phone cameras insistently angling to try to take pictures of my bare legs? SHOO! 

Some pretty ink bottles; a smiley Johann; a grimacing  Jess nearing the end of the session.

The entire tattoo took two hours, and remarkably, it wasn't very painful (it is today, though - holy hell). By the end of the session I was sore and flinching a little bit, but I just kept smiling and breathing deeply. My tattooist in Vancouver, the phenomenal Jeremy Riley, says he is going to get a sign for his shop, Tattoo Union, that reads, "Be a Man, Sit Like a Girl" in reference to the fact that women tend to be less wimpy while they get tattooed. I wouldn't want to make him a liar. ;)

The finished product! (Check out dem gams. A lot of men sure did. *shudder*)

I hadn't planned on including my Grandma's name in the design, but at the time it just felt right. Oddly enough, even though she was in her 80s, she loved my tattoos and liked to show them off to strangers and admire their pretty colours. She was truly a unique rebel and a batty old broad and I miss her very, very much.

I also know that my mum misses her dearly, and so I suppose that part of my decision to get this tattoo was to honour her relationship with her mother (and plus, "Lorraine" is a lot of letters). I recently read this article and I realize that I do not tell my mum often enough how much she means to me and that I love her. I hope that every single time my mum sees my Matryoshka tattoo she is reminded of these words.


Johann Morel is a great tattooist and if you get a chance to get work done by him at his shop, Steel Workshop, or at an international convention, I highly recommend you grab the chance. As for me, for the next few days I will be hobbling around, admiring my pretty little Matryoshka - and thinking about two very special broads.
Mad love for my bitchez.


Amanda said...

Mad love for y'all. Great tat, great peeps...and post.

SwedeV said...

OMGGGGG that feast looks amazing. I can't believe how cheap it was. Also amazing.

Your tattoo is beautiful! Just beautiful! I love the symbolism behind. What a lovely tribute to a lovely woman! My husband is also Ukrainian (from Saskatchewan, of course!) and loves traditional Ukranian tattoos.. Perhaps I shall think about getting a beautiful doll of my own one day :)