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My Body Art Explained

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Since I was a little girl, tattoos have always fascinated me. The untold stories, the memories, the choices behind why that specific piece of art was chosen to represent that moment in time. I love the expressions that come across the face when you ask about the visible artwork. To see the emotion come flooding back and suddenly you're in that moment with them. To hear the tales of love, loss, pain, triumph, drunken mistakes, remembrance, remorse, growth, and passion.

However, when I'm asked about my body art, I shy away from the conversations afraid that I won't be able to convey why I chose the art I chose. Maybe writing about it will help me articulate my tattoo choices better.

Chinese Symbol #1 - The Butterfly.... This tattoo was my very first tattoo. It was my 18th birthday and I was sitting in CC's Pizza with my soon to be husband. My high school sweetheart. While we were eating, he asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I told him I wanted a tattoo. We discussed different ideas for the remainder of our dinner before heading over to Voodoo tattoo. We sat in the little, dark shop looking through the tattoo books for ideas, inspiration. I came across a page of butterflies and I stopped here for a little while looking at all the different ones, while thinking to myself, "Why?" In that moment I realized I was finally coming out of my cocoon. I was transitioning from that scared little girl, who was abused, bullied, scarred, hurt, into this beautiful, amazing, individual that despite everything the world had thrown at her so far was stilling moving forward, unafraid, and ready to take the world head on. I was leaving my caterpillar phase a moving into my butterfly phase. While I'm sitting there mulling over what butterfly I was going to get to represent this transition in life I realized that I didn't want just a regular butterfly. I wanted something different. Mind you this was in 2001 when the wonderful fad of Chinese Symbols was super popular and the ever so popular Tramp Stamp came on scene. So I chose in that moment to go with the Chinese Symbol for butterfly and have it tattooed on my lower/middle back. I felt it worked out nicely because when people saw it they always felt the need to ask what it meant. Therefore, creating a conversation and the possibility of them showing me their body art and telling me a cool story about them. I never realized just how many seniors in high school actually had tattoos until I got my first one.

Chinese Symbols #2 & 3 - Strong Spirit...…. Shortly after my first tattoo was completed and graduating high school, I moved to North Carolina alone. My husband was stationed in Jacksonville NC and I was moving to Wilmington NC to be with him when he came back from his med float. I was living with his friends fiancé who I had only met once before. After being moved in with her for a few weeks we decided that we were in need of some ink therapy after a long day of being on base getting my spousal paperwork corrected because apparently the Marine Corps had my husband married to a 12 year old. We stopped at a tattoo parlor in Jacksonville and began our mission of picking out cool new ink. While we were walking around the shop looking through the portfolios and such, my roommate began to tell me that in her culture, she is Korean, they believe that whatever you get tattooed on your body becomes you. The example she gave me was, if I were to tattoo a car on me, that's what I would become..... a car, metaphorically speaking. With this little bit of worldly knowledge, I of course changed my direction and started looking for art with a little more meaning behind it. This lead me back to the Chinese character chart where I chose the symbols for Strong Spirit. At that moment in time, I was feeling unsure about my surroundings and what I was doing in life. Having just gotten married, graduated high school, and moved out of state alone all in a 3 month time frame had me feeling a little out of sorts with myself. However, I knew, I was strong and could handle whatever life had in store for me. I just had to take it one day at a time, keeping putting one foot forward, and most importantly keeping moving. I felt that having these symbols tattoo on me would be a constant reminder that I was going to be fine and that I really was a strong spirit. I later learned that you are not supposed to go swimming only a couple days after getting said tattoo. Chlorine doesn't help the color set. We ended up a little spotty in the color department.

Chinese Symbol #4 - The repeat offender...… This is absolutely the only tattoo that I have that really holds no meaning to it. But..... then again, maybe it does and I'm just now seeing it. After being in North Carolina for 6 months and fucking everything up while I was there, I made a very complicated move back to Texas to then move back in with my mom. Once home, I realized my mistakes I made in the previous 6 months and realized I needed to get my shit together. Mind you I was 18. A day after being back home in San Antonio TX, I got hired as a waitress and started working. From there I went on to be a Teacher's Assistant, and after realizing I had zero patience for children, I then moved on to work as a front desk clerk at a hotel. While there I made friends of course and one of those friends was just as into tattoos as I was. However, being single, making minimum wage, and paying bills I was always broke. One afternoon she had an appointment to get a tattoo and asked if I wanted to go with her. Of course I did! While we were there she told me to pick something out and she would pay for it. Not wanting to pick something expensive or over the top, I found a really cool tattoo of the Chinese Symbol of the butterfly that had butterflies drawn around it. After telling the tattoo artist where I wanted it, it had to be shrunk down so much that the butterflies looked like black blobs and therefore, had to be axed all together. So I just ended up with a smaller version of my original, first tattoo, just in a different spot. Although, while I'm sitting here typing this out, I realize that I was transitioning again, into someone I had never been before and it would be the start of a new chapter in my life. Me getting my shit together for the betterment of myself.

The Cross Bearing Butterfly - I know, I know..... man she's got a thing for butterflies, but this particular piece of art work is actually an ode to two very special women in my life. At the time I got the tattoo my Aunt was battling cancer. One of her sisters had come to spend the weekend with us in Austin, TX and my cousin showed me the art work she had drawn up as a tattoo idea to show our support for our Aunt. It was a butterfly with a cross as it's main body. We talked about placement and when we all could go to get the art work completed. Few weeks later right before our appointment to have the tattoo done, I was informed that my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer as well. I walked into that shop heavy hearted as I laid down preparing for my ink therapy session. My Aunt passed from her battle with cancer and my grandmother is still with us. I look at this piece of work daily and it reminds me of all the memories I have with those 2 special women and how I believe one is watching over me as she did when she was physically with us. I love you and miss you dearly Aunt Mary. I love you Memaw. Thank you both for being apart of my life.

My gay bee - HAHA, some of you have your eyebrow raised at this title, but if you saw the tattoo you'd understand why I call him, "my little gay bee." Shortly after getting the cross butterfly tattoo the same Aunt and cousin decided that we needed more ink. This time however, we also included my sister n law. The family had gotten together over the weekend at our house in Austin, TX and we decided one night after a lot of drinking that the next day we were all going to get another tattoo. So the next morning after tacos, dr. pepper, menudo, and pain killers for the awful hangover, we drove to the tattoo shop. We sat around looking at ideas in the books and on our cell phones, finally coming up with a little bumblebee laying on a sunflower. It was very cartoonish in the way it was drawn and we all decided that its body instead of being the typical black and yellow was going to have our birthstone colors in it. Then there was the question on where we would put it. I picked the top of our right foot and everyone followed. I will say...… this tattoo is by far the most painful one I have gotten out of all of them. So painful I wanted to punch the tattoo artist and I have not gone to have it touched up or fixed after I had foot surgery. So because of this, his stinger is cocked to the side making it look broken.

The phoenix - After having given birth to two beautiful children and being income tax rich at the end of the year, this next tattoo came a few years later after the bee. Becoming new parents and adulting on a regular basis came with its tolls and one of those being always broke. When we realized that at the end of the year we were going to have a few extra bucks in our pocket, my husband suggested to me that I get some more ink. So I sat around for months thinking about what I was going to get. This was during the time Harry Potter was popular, so I had originally settled on a Griffin. Something out of the ordinary, but strong and mystical. Sort of how I was feeling during that time in my life. As the days got closer to me actually going to get the art work done, I had seen "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." I started looking up the significance of the Phoenix and what it represented. When I found out that Phoenix represent rebirth, I was hit with.... "out of the ashes we are reborn." Then I realized I had made another transition in life. I had become a mother to two beautiful daughters. I had finally let go of the guilt of my father's death and made peace in my heart. My husband and I were a well working, greased machine and I was finally happy. I had accomplished several promotions within my career. I had been reborn into a strong, capable woman, who was now raising two strong capable women. I walked into the shop that day and laid there thinking to myself just how far I had come in life, just how happy and blessed I was. The tattoo guy thought I was crazy though because I laughed and smiled through the whole set because I decided to have it placed on my left hip and I'm super ticklish there. Oh and let's not forget the Phoenix is holding my birth sign, Aries. The fire sign, the first sign of the zodiac, the god of war, and I was just getting a taste of how powerful I really was. It wasn't until years later and another baby, that I was told by another tattoo artist that my Phoenix looks like the eagle on the Mexico flag. FML.

The Sparrow - The most expensive tattoo I had at the time and I over paid. For our 15 year anniversary my husband and I decided to go to Las Vegas. This trip was a double whammy because my birthday is also two days before our Anniversary. So we flew out to Vegas on my birthday. Happy birthday to me!!!! Our first night there, I slept lol. Such a partier! But in reality, I just wanted room service and snuggles. I got exactly that. However, the next day it was demanded that we leave the hotel room and do some sight seeing. We wondered all over Fairmont St. and New Vegas when the light bulb came on and we decided we were getting tattoos. WE.... were getting tattoos. My husband at the time had virgin skin. So this was an extremely big deal for both of us! I was going to get to pop his tattoo cherry! Hell I didn't even care if I didn't get a tattoo just as long as he did. We walked into a random shop and started looking around. Talking to the artist there and throwing around some ideas. We fell on what we wanted and started talking prices. Because this was an extremely exciting moment for the both of us, price didn't really matter. I was getting to share this experience with my partner in life. I couldn't have been happier. I had decided to get a sparrow holding a ribbon with my now three children's name in it on my left shoulder. I also decided to have it tattoo and colored in the traditional sailor artwork. Hubby got a scary ass scorpion on his left forearm. His was no where as expensive as mine and his was bigger then mine. Definitely paid Vegas prices for this experience, but it was worth it. Even the story of us getting lost in the Vegas projects on foot after our tattoos because GPS was hating life at the moment, was something to chuckle at. Oh I almost died too because my shoe decided it wanted to commit suicide and throw me out into on coming traffic. Translation, I tripped and fell off the curb.

The Twin Advertisements - out of my family I hold the most body art, with my mom coming in behind me at a whopping one tattoo. She had been bugging me for years about getting a matching tattoo. We threw around ideas, but never pulled the trigger because she could never decide what she wanted. Then finally she came across the double x that was the, "Accident Celtic Ruin" for "Where there's a will, there's a way." I found it to be fitting at this time because our family had been through some very tragic events and even though times were tough, we were tougher. During this time I was also looking for something small as a little motivational reminder for myself to be proud of who I was. I had already had a giraffe picked out with the words stand tall next to it. A really great friend of mine at the time was always referring to me as a giraffe because I'm taller then they are, but has always made me feel great about my height and has a way of forcing me to except me and be proud of me. So my little giraffe is a reminder that I'm awesome and I should stand tall no matter what. When my mom finally picked the tattoo she wanted, we went together and I got both the Celtic Ruin and the Giraffe at the same time. One on each forearm. Later that evening I was sitting on my back porch drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette when I realized that my two new tattoos looked a lot like the brand of beer I drank (Dos XX) and the cigarettes I smoked (Camels). So I deemed these two lovelies the Twin Advertisements because they were born at the same time and I candidly became a walking billboard for Dos XX and Camel.

Mrs. Badass - She was another transition tattoo. She came from my realization of just how durable and strong a person I truly am. I had been tossing around the idea of getting Wonder Woman tattooed on me for a long time. I would spend hours looking up art work and thinking of concepts. But nothing ever really stuck or matched exactly how I was feeling inside. Then one day...BOOM! I had found her. Tattered and beat up. Clothes ripped, hair tattered, bloody. But still as bad ass as ever. She was the one. I had gone through a dark patch before I found her. I was struggling every day to find myself again, to the point of almost ending my life because it felt easier then dealing with the pain and depression. When I saw her, it registered to me, she was my alter ego. She was the badass I had lost sight of in myself. She was going to help me find myself again, love myself again, respect myself again. So I sought out artist and landed on my guy who did an amazing job portraying her on my skin. I had never before received so many compliments on any of my work, then I did when I got her. The people who really know me and know my whole story love her because she is a true representation of who I am as a person. I cried while she was being brought to life. She is my daily reminder that I am durable, strong, compassionate, an all around badass. She also birth the badass females of comic books sleeve I have in the works.

The Anchor - I decided after wonder woman that I was going to sleeve out both my arms. One side being my badass women of the comic book rhelm and the other side a tribute to my family. I once asked my daughters what they thought of me and they both told me that I was the glue that held us together. That when times got hard, I was what held us down. That I would never let us sink as a family. This made my heart sing and smile. I was looking into getting more ink and not really knowing what I wanted yet, I had come across an anchor that had a ribbon on it that said, "refuse to sink." I sent it over to my tattoo artist and told him some ideas that I came up with. I also told him to run with it. In the art work we also incorporated a poppy flower that my husband wanted me to get tattooed. At the top of the anchor sits the poppy, and at the bottom are three Rose's, one to represent each of my children. The anchor holding them, is me. This is my symbol for my family. This is how they view me. I couldn't ask to be seen in a better light.

I'm not done yet- This little arrow has so much history behind it. After my dad took his life back in 2005, I came across an article that talked about the Semicolon Project. The founder of this project had a story just like mine. Her father had taken his own life. So she started this project as a way of connecting with people who had attempted suicide and survived, or who had lost family members to suicide. It was a way for people to let others know they weren't alone. For YEARS I melded over if i was ever going to get the semicolon tatted in representation of my father. I could just never find the courage to pull the plug. I had so much guilt and anger built up. Then when I finally hit the wall myself and found myself staring down the same path my father had walked all those years ago, I knew I needed help and I needed to open up and start having conversations. I got help and started having more open conversations with my family and children and started moving in a different direction. A different path to forgiveness and self love. A year after and I felt strong in my footing, I went to my tattoo artist and asked him to do his magic. On my upper ribcage, just under my side boob, I got an arrow tattooed with the semicolon connecting the arrowhead to the shaft with the words "I'm not done yet," making up the shaft of said arrow. I often forget it's there, but when I do see it, it's a great reminder that, I'm not done yet. I have some much to live for and be happy about. Can't give up now.

The trinity - On my quest to self love and forgiveness, I joined my cousin and her husband on their work out journey. I started hitting the gym 2 to 4 times a week working on my body and mind transformation. During this time I already had wonder woman tattooed on my right forearm. Well my cousin has batman tattooed on her right forearm and her husband is a huge Superman fan and has Superman tattooed on his right forearm. NONE of this was planned, FYI. All three of us are Comic Book fans, Marvel nerds, and DC lovers. So we call ourselves the trio or trinity. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman. We have cups, shot glasses, beach towels, work out clothes, t shirts, etc..... we live this. Last year we decided to get matching trinity tattoos; Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman symbols intertwined, making this one my most recent piece of art work. My reminder of who my real ride or dies were when the shit hit the fan multiple times. Who has been there to wipe away tears, open their home to me when I was away from mine, took care of me when I was getting on my feet, who continue to push me in a healthier life style and simply love me for me. My reminder that there are people out there that have your best interest at heart and will help you with no strings attached.

There are more pieces of artwork to come. I don't rush the process has they all have a way of happening at the perfect times. Each carrying their own little stories and histories. I have also had piercings, but those faded almost as soon as they happened. My tattoos though..... that's where the real stories lay. The journeys through my life, a story being told, a map being drawn. My canvas ever changing.

healing
Katherine Morales
Katherine Morales
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Katherine Morales

"Never be afraid to try something new. Because life gets boring when you stay within the limits of what you already know."

See all posts by Katherine Morales