"Prizm Tattoo" by Karen Kiefer
All rights reserved. Copyright 2012 - 2015
I had wanted to include a tattoo artist in this series from day one. I began by asking Kelli a few questions, trying to get a better understanding of why people want tattoos. She explained that a tattoo is a very personal form of expression; each recalling a particular place and state of mind that existed during that period of the individual's life. Kelli serves not only as a tattoo technician, but has the ability to put her clients at ease during the process which takes a great deal of compassion and the verbal skills to handle it.
Her son, Tyler, was getting a new tattoo. I could see his reflection in the mirror behind Kelli. Perfect. In my studio, I realized that there were elements of several of the photos that I might use in the painting. One of those elements was Tyler's left foot. At one moment during the tattoo session, his big toe separated from the others. I don't know if it was just a momentary "stretch" after having been in the chair so long or if it was a reaction to the sting of the needles. I did know that it was expressive and I wanted it in there ... the "talking toes". Kelli's hands were especially interesting in yet another photo and a fourth photo showed Kelli with a very slight "Mona Lisa" smile which I thought would reveal her personality better than the others, so I included those elements in the painting as well. It's my job to present the most expressive yet typical view of the subject I can muster.
Painting the tattoos were quite a challenge for me. I first painted their flesh as if there were no tattoos, let that dry, then "applied" the tattoos using a dry brush technique (an incomplete stroke) then softened the edges. The first thing Kelli wanted to see in the painting was how I treated those tattoos. After all, if I didn't do them justice, it wouldn't represent her business very well. She was relieved to see that they looked right and gave me her stamp of approval.