Last weekend I had the fortune to attend the Salt Lake City International Tattoo Convention. I’ve been jazzed about this event since before I even moved to Utah. A couple of months prior, before even purchasing my ticket, I feverishly searched through the visiting artists to look for a new tattoo artist. (Still love you, Laura Bonfanti at Cousin Paul’s Tattoo, but I’m 1300 miles away!)
I found an artist overflowing with rave reviews about his work and his shop. I looked through his work on Instagram, which showcased his wide range of skills and ability to create beautiful plant and animal tattoos, which is what I was looking for. I contacted him with my reference images and ideas, and his assistant booked me an appointment with him at the convention.
To settle my nerves (and extinguish my imaginative nightmares about tattoos gone horribly wrong), I wrote this sort of “statement” about the tattoo:
The pronghorn antelope represents the strength, resiliency, and wildness of the west. It has been my lifelong dream to live in the west and work to enhance and protect its astounding habitats. When I arrived for my field season in Oregon last summer, watching the pronghorns run across the landscape was the first wildlife encounter that let me know, “Wow, I’m really here. And this place is more wild than anywhere I’ve lived before”. The pronghorns are a story of extraordinary evolution over time and the need to be self-sufficient and strong to survive in this landscape. Their resemblance to African antelopes, although they aren’t actually related, added to their allure and made me think of ancient times when human and wildlife populations dispersed with the continents. They are a reminder about recognizing, celebrating, and protecting diversity.
While driving to our field sites, I would watch the antelopes burst into a run as our trucks approached. Sometimes we were parallel for a way down the road. Watching their fluffy rumps and powerful legs project them through the sagebrush made me feel completely inferior riding in our giant F250’s. They are the only species left in their family, Antilocapridae, which has fossil records dating back 20 million years. They evolved to be one of the fastest land mammals in the world and have survived through millions of years, yet their existence and all wildlife populations are now threatened by our society.
The long, exhausting days in the field last summer opened my eyes to the diversity of life in sagebrush country. While no one can resist the grandeur of brilliant red Indian paintbrushes and deep blue lupines, and coming across them were certainly highlights of some of my days, another plant that really stood out to me was the death camas (Toxicoscordion).
It was a plant that I’d get really excited about whenever we found one and it was fun to watch them grow and bloom over the summer. The death camas is also native to the west and mirrors the antelope in its wildness, appeal, and survivor mentality. It can live in dry or moist terrain, low or high elevation, in shade or sun, and among other plant communities. It thrives in stressed or disturbed areas. I like that it uses toxins to protect itself and that in reality the only animals that are dumb enough to eat it anyway are domestic cattle and sheep. And to that industry, I say good riddens for destroying our wilderness. With this tattoo, I would like to honor the camas and symbolize my connection with nature and plants.
I would like this tattoo to symbolize wildness, how special our western habitats are, and my commitment to conservation. I hope it can also serve a couple functional purposes; one that it will cover old scars and two that it will be the beginning of a full sleeve. The theme of the sleeve will be a tribute to western habitats and will focus on plants, mushrooms, and a few more animals.
My hope is that the pronghorn and death camas can be depicted pretty realistically because it’s important to me to honor nature as it really is – wild, unique, and beautiful – and not try to shape it into what I think or want it to be. I hope that it can be bold in color and style, anatomically correct, and captivating.
All in all, the tattoo came out better than I had imagined and I’m still high from the incredible energy and fun at the convention. The process was fun and I can’t wait to go again next year. Huge hugs and thanks to Ryan Willard, the wild former raft guide who now owns Marion Street Tattoo in Denver, CO, for bringing my pronghorn and death camas to life and putting my old scars to rest.