Slice of Life: When ink is more than skin deep

The composition was clumsy. The placement was unflattering. 

Simply put, the design was just boring. I tried to convince her to consider other designs. She held firm.

“Please can we put it somewhere else?”

But she wouldn’t budge. She wanted it just above her ankle. The placement was poor and didn’t complement her.

The real issue was not skin deep, however.


A family member had recently died and this was her moment to memorialise him. It was a generic and bulky symbol with some script next to it. I did my best to steer her towards something more elegant. Something I believed she would be proud to have as a tribute.

Looking back now, with years of experience, I would never be pressured into going through with such a piece if I knew better. But back then, I didn’t know I could do that. I didn’t have the same level of confidence. I was yet to learn that my opinion was as important as my clients’.

She chatted constantly while in the chair. Clearly emotional, it soon became clear that she had come to see me more as a psychologist than an artist. She was pleased with the outcome. I was not.

When she walked into the shop a few months later for a touch-up, I was terrified. Was she going to complain about the tattoo I should probably never have agreed to make?

During the following session, I was extremely nervous.

My doubts and anxiety about the piece had never faded away and I was terrified that she, too, had adopted them. My trepidation revealed itself as silence. My lack of counsel and unusually reticent attitude did not go down well with her. Soon after, my boss got a complaint in his inbox about me. Not about the bad design, but my “unprofessional” and shitty attitude!

Reflecting on the private details she shared, it became clear that
the first time I saw her wasn’t meant to be a tattoo appointment but a therapy session, and there was no need to be apprehensive about the piece I’d given her; that was never her real concern. — Lauren Peachfish, as told to Luke Feltham

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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