My sister says I pick out my body modification like I’m picking out a sweater. Somehow, this one seemed a little heavier of a decision. I’ve been wanting an owl for about three years, to hallmark some pretty big changes I’ve gone through since a certain date on the “Mary time-line” February 7th, 2006, to be exact. I knew the tattoo I wanted needed to be big, life changing, like what I’ve been through. Honestly, I’d never considered my throat for it. However, it kind of made perfect sense. But the throat? I’m a sissy. Getting tattooed on the throat-- sounds pretty darn painful. What if I tap out in front of all of those big heavy industry guys and girls at the convention, My sissiness would be a huge public fail. On a shortlist of stuff that scares the crap out of me: public places, and uncontrollable pain rank in the top-two.
|Tim on the Cover of Tattoo Guru in Drag|
Tim seemed super friendly, humble, down-to-earth--mentioned that he liked bacon and one-liner heavy movies. I’d been stalking his portfolio with the guys in the shop religiously before the convention. His cover-up work is awe-inspiring, his color blends like berries and cream, and the wide variety of themes are stylized but only to a perfect point. This guy was big-time. The kind of artist you want your son to grow up and be like. I was nervous to meet him. I mean aren’t biggies like this guy like rockstars in our world? I stumbled my way through introductions and became very excited about his vision for my throat. He seems to have a vivid sense of creativity and a love of animals doing something ironic. His portfolio features punk-rock penguins, walruses snorkeling and other fun stuff. Plus at his booth he was playing Iron and Wine (a poetic, softy band I like), and was singing along. Okay, he’s rad, loved him in an instant… but still—MY THROAT??!! I didn’t know.
We watched the Friday night tattoo contests with Mr. Pangburn and the energy of so many talented artists throwing down, being excited and feeding creatively off each other was contagious. We were excited. My buddy Emilio Saylor was competing for Umbrella Ink in the tattoo of the day, a black and gray portrait. There was no negativity to be found and everyone was super fun and constructive throughout. The vibe was catchy, to say the least. The thought of getting tattooed on Saturday was far from my mind. I wanted to explore and meet and see all the people from all over. My senses were over-loaded and I was wearing cheetah print tights with red heels, if you know what I mean.
I did get to ask a couple of people who had neck tattoos how they did—and the answers were not the “oh it’s a cakewalk” I was looking for. Mostly I saw a bunch of necks with line work, but unfinished color—signs of tap-outs abounded. The people who had neck and throat tattoos that were finished said things like “get drunk, it sucks.” “Especially here (pointing to the center voice box area) and here (pointing now to the outsides.)—OUCH!!!” and time and time again “get drunk”. Hmmm.. I don’t drink. I rarely take ibuprofen for extreme pain. I was scarred shitless, but put it on the back-burner and continued absorbing the atmosphere and meeting some of the raddest people in the industry.
We closed up shop and went back to the hotel. Emilio was sharing a room with us, so I had an opportunity to ask his expertise about the neck tattoo. “Mary, you saw me after I got my neck done, you saw how I swelled. Shit sucks. It’ll look bad-assed though. “Emilio has a large-mouth bass on one side of his neck and a tiger on the other. I took note that the center is still somewhat open. “Yeah, I heard that it get’s tender in here near the Adam’s apple, but you’re a girl, so maybe it won’t suck as bad.” Thanks bro, that helps. When I asked him “Yeah, but do YOU think I can do it?” to which he said , “You’re a pretty tough broad, I think if you really want to, you can do just about anything.” Dang, I love that kid. My boyfriend shared the sentiments but mostly kept centering on the fact that “It’s gonna look so dope.”
I reviewed the images from Friday night the convention and focused on the booth scenery around Tim’s booth. Mentally I went through the list: Ron Russo (studio 570), he’s super nice, I thought, he might not laugh till I leave if I pee my pants. Also, Bare Knuckle Irons, manufactures of supreme tattoo machines—well they would be so busy they would never notice the pee water mark on my jeans, I thought. Besides, I’m a girl, and the booth is right near the exit. I wrapped into bed and snuggled peacefully, content that this is what I want to do… maybe.
Okay, so long story short, I had a healthy respect for what seemed to be a reality for Saturday.
That morning we woke up, had an amazing omelet at the Hyatt, lots of coffee, and headed over to the Stevenson Convention Center. I need to say that Chicago has my heart, from the skyline to the crazy cold winters that we somehow survive together, to the extremely efficient public transportation: Chicago in the spring inspires renewal and growth and a feeling of overcoming the impossible. The convention was a little north of town in Rosemont, but still it was nice to see the place I dig in spitting distance, it always puts me in an extremely good humor. I was motivated to overcome the impossible reality of my fears, and face them head-on. Sort of.
We got inside; set up the Umbrella Ink booth and Emilio started working almost instantaneously. My partner Kevin lovingly put his work on hold to get me started at the Pangburn/Russo booth. I wandered around a little, and talked to some people. I made a fast friend in Woody from Artistic Outcasts in La Porte Indiana and found out he was getting tattooed by Ron Russo Right next to me. But he was getting his upper arm, and I felt for sure this big awesome artist was going to get a laugh out of my screams. Ugh.
I met with Tim at his booth and nervously talked about what I wanted. He was excited to bring the wings out to the side of my neck (recall: “Especially here (pointing to the center voice box area) and here (pointing now to the outsides.)—OUCH!!!”) again, UGH!. He took out his sharpies yellow red, orange and blue and began designing my throat piece.
So Tim Pangburn was drawing on my neck, the my fear was meshed with a strange buzz of excitement set to a soundtrack of finely tuned machines. To be present and witness industry-wide passion and inspirational muses at convention is like no other feeling in the world… And hey—it’s not like I’d have to do anything but lay there and focus on not freaking out. He had the incredibly trying job of convention tattooing which just looks to be a painful mix of un-ergonomically place amenities, noise, and standing for long periods of time hunched over my throat… I’d say I got the better deal.
As Mr. Pangburn pulled the first line on my neck m toes began to uncurl and I became overwhelming feeling of “that’s it? That’s not so bad.” I could feel the smooth flow of his lines and the even rhythm of his well-tuned liner. It was an oddly exhilarating experience to feel the precision and expertise of an artist so near my head. On hour or so later the line work was in, and I was feeling pretty good about things. He let me take a break (for some not so fresh air, coffee and ibuprofen. I was thinking that maybe this was a cake-walk and that I was pretty bad-asst for doing so well, and that this tattoo wouldn’t take nearly as long as I thought.
When I got back to the spot, things like people watching and the comments they were making began to register. It was a little distracting, but I quickly became entranced with the metal playing and the rhythm of Pangburn’s machine as he softly packed in the color starting on the right side of my neck. He was comforting and made small talk to which I dared not nod in agreement to (which was hard, cuz I’m a nervous talker. I watched Russo’s client (Woody ;) tap out for frequent breaks and kind of just got into the moment.
“These machines are my favorite and only machines. I had an odd occurrence where my coil knocked completely loose from the frame. I replaced the coils and now it runs better than it ever did. It puts the color in like butter.”
Mmm-hmm, that’s nice I thought, but didn’t dare nod.
I learned a little about his super-cool wife, the progression of their gallery Art Machine Productions, the transition from big to private studio (Tim recently left Deep Six and is now master of his own private studio adjacent to Art Machine Productions… a little about his security with public drag, faux-drag contouring, and the lines to some hardcore music that was playing (it sounded like “I like to chew gum” but that’s probably not correct). Tim’s a closet singer—I just know it.
So into two breaks and the beginning of the left side of what was shaping into an epic owl throat piece (I mean it was really looking fantastic. I however, was starting to feel the burn (to pun intended). Thoughts began creeping in that I dare not voice like “Are we there yet, Pappa Smurf?” but I can only imagine how annoying that must be to an artist. Back to the fact that tattooing at a convention, on a throat, was not an easy job, and quite labor intensive.
Around the fifth hour, I romanced myself into a kind of panicked fear that maybe this tattoo would never end, you know like that guy from “Johnny Got his Gun” and the corresponding Metallica music video? That this was going to suck and swell for much longer than I had the emotional and physiological make-up to cope with--this thing called a throat tattoo. I played with the idea, put it away, and then got it back out. I have pictures of me smiling and chatting, but I’m not really sure that that was me. Just when I was about to tap out Mr.Pangburn mercifully applied some topical Bactine (sunburn relief), and it was just like I pictured heaven would be like. It seemed like no sooner did that relief wear down that he made a final feeling wipe, and say, “Take a break and then we’ll finish up with the white.”
AAAGGGHH, I was super stoked, but my experience with white highlights on a swollen tattoo told me that this was going to suck. Mr. Pangburn soaked a bandage with Bactine and told me to take a break. I’ll admit. The topical painkiller was something I was begging for, despite my entire tough-girl act. No matter though, getting the white sucked. It hurt, and I was tired. I’m sure I was whining because Tim Pangburn started talking in a soothing, fatherly way, like “Almost there.” And other soft reassurances. “I promise, not a tattooer’s ‘almost’, but a sincere 5-10 minutes away from perfection.” And then, viola, it was done.
It was amazing and creamy and flowing and a magical mix of blues and whites blended through the wings to a traditional army type green, with the complimentary sherbet flavored body. I may be partial, because it’s on my throat, but it’s a brilliant and genius balance of color theory and technical skill and just about the most fantastical thing I’d ever been through (two kids--lots of drugs).
More than the art, and beaming in awe of witnessing firsthand Mr.Pangburn’s skill, I was proud of myself. The reward for facing fears is growth. It was an exercise in the bravery to look something in the eye, acknowledge being afraid, and going forth anyway. It completely hit the mark on the very reason I wanted the owl, and has healed into one of my most treasured stories.
Also, I got to meet a pretty inspirational down-to-earth guy.
Check out his work at www.timpangburn.com, and get some.
Oh look, something shiny!
(photos courtesy of kevin Cole and mAry d'Aloisio, permission granted to photograph via Dan Collins, Chicago Freedom Expo, Also, mag Cover of Tim Pangburn in Tattoo Guru Magazine)