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Back around 1997 I was on the staff of a local Gold Wing Road Riders Association chapter. I had served in several staff positions over the years. Officers and staff were always working on ideas to increase and maintain membership participation. A pretty common task for anyone who's ever worked with volunteer groups.

One of the annual activities was a Chapter Rally to help raise funds for various activies in the coming year. As with many such recurring activities, the hardest part is avoiding repetition in the various activities scheduled for rallies. Some repetition is expected (poker runs, food, etc.) but being creative and original can get to be difficult after several years. It was during one of the planning meetings that, with my typical intent to shake up the status quo, I tossed out a unique-to-Wingsters idea for at least one prize: A Discount Certificate for a tattoo! After all, I argued, we're a motorcycle group and yet I had never seen anything even remotely related to tattoos at any of the local, state, or national rallies. Our chapter could be the first! Talk about bragging rights!

The folks around the planning table pushed aside their double cheese burgers and triple thick shakes to laugh at the joke. Somewhere around the third meeting where I proposed the idea, the Chapter Director responded with a challenge along the lines of, "If you want them so bad, go and solicit them. If you can arrange the discounts, then we'll offer them up as prizes."

Aha! A challenge! I canvassed several places in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and was able to arranged for 2 different shops that wanted to participate. When I brought the certificates to the next meeting, it was almost as if some people were not very excited. I suspect I just misread their reactions though. In the end, the certificates were offered up in a separate "purse" from any other prizes. I was told that this was so that no one would get one unless they knew exactly what it was they were buying chances on (we can't all it a raffle). I think the officers were surprised at how many people actually participated in the drawing for the tattoo discounts. But, when the dust settled, I had won one and the winner of the other GAVE me his. One lady in the chapter literally begged me for one of the coupons, so I gave it to her. The last time I checked, she never had redeemed it. What a waste.

I left the rally and went straight-away to the participating shop that was nearest (in Denton, Tx). I already had the design that I wanted; the "Steal Your Face" (SyF) graphic from a Grateful Dead album (something I'd been considering for at least 4 years). Four hours later I had my long-pondered tattoo and a hard lesson about artist recommendations. "Be sure that you get a recommendation for the specific artist and not just the shop." The shop was good, but I got a newbie artist instead of the skilled one. The tattoo, while nice, was less than stellar and resulted in having to return to fix some scarring due to overworking the skin. Even then, the tattoo wasn't centered which affected later work as will be seen.

SyF Tattoo

album cover

The first tattoo can be seen in this 1999 photo from somewhere in the Black Rock Desert near where the annual "Burning Man" event takes place in Nevada.

Guns & Cigars

Fast forward 8 years to February, 2005. For the past couple of years I had been considering getting the SyF graphic embellished. I learned that a business trip would put me within striking distance of an artist that I had heard great reports about. Over the years he'd moved from Michigan to San Francisco. Regretfully, my time wouldn't allow me to get from the conference in San Diego to The Reverend Dark in San Francisco. Rigger, a friend who had spoken highly of Dark, told me that Dark had moved to LA some time in the past few years. A 3 hour trip was within striking distance given the time I have, so the planning began. I looked at his photo gallery again, talked with several people who have had work done by him, and ponder what to have done.

Over the next month, Dark and I discussed what my general ideas were and what his might be. In the end, I pretty much cut him loose. My basic idea was to frame the existing tattoo with Celtic knots. Beyond that I let him know that there was a reason he's an artist and I'm not. I wanted him to be as creative as possible within the Celtic knots framework theme. A few weeks later, Dark sent me a sample graphic with his idea and an explanation that he normally didn't send out conceptual art in advance. I was knocked out by the sample. To break from traditional Celtic artwork and the constraints placed on "historical accuracy", he proposed a stylistic design. We agreed on the concept art, made appointments, and I then waited for the day to arrive.

The shop was spotless. The attention to comfort was excellent. Over the course of the next four hours, Dark not only created the new artwork, but also "freshened" the original tattoo. He was constrained by the off-center location of the original work, yet the end result is a tribute to his ability. Dark's original concept also called for a colored background that fades from dark green to light green starting around the SyF piece and fading outward beyond the new piece. Given my time constraints, I chose to wait for a second visit for that portion. In either case, as a finished piece or a work-in-progress, it's great.

darkness reigns

As described by Dark, the general design reflects Celtic knot work, but the stone work texture (complete with cracks) breaks from tradition. The top of the piece has a fleur-de-lis while the bottom of the piece hints at the skull in the first piece; the inner loops reflecting eyes, nose and chin like a tribal mask. Dark's shadowing work really makes the original piece POP! The entire piece is a tribute to the difference between an ink slinger and an artist.



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