Bart’s and story came in through the Chicago Flag Tattoo inbox:
Bart Borrelli: I moved to Chicago in the Summer of 2006 with a few of my friends after Graduating from the University of Dayton. This was my first time living in the big city and I came without a job or a real idea of what I wanted to do with my life. Over the next 7 years I created some of the best friendships I could possibly ask for and so many great memories (and a lot of great stories I’ve been told that I can’t remember). I moved in August of 2013 when I got a job offer out in Washington, DC that I just couldn’t turn down and also to be closer to family. I came back to the city in March 2014 for work and had wanted to get this tattoo for a long time and timing was just right. Why not in the city itself! I was lucky enough to have 3 great friends living in Chicago come and support me on my endeavor. Chicago will always have a special place in my heart and now a place on my body.
Bart Borrelli’s tattoo by Brian Buchak at Insight Studios.
Ken sent in a photo of his tattoo and this explanation of its meaning:
Saw your site and really dig it. All of my tattoos are personal and symbolic of something in my life.
I got my most recent one to celebrate the release of my first published book: No One Said It Would Be Easy: A Husband’s Journey Through His Wife’s Battle With Breast Cancer. The flag represents the city I not only call home but the city that has shaped me. Being a celebration of the book, the quill represents me as a writer.
The tattoo was done by Chencho Leon of 45th Street Tattoo in Griffith, IN. I grew up with Chencho and he’s a genius artist. He’s done all of my work.
Reggie sent in a photo of his tattoo with a great description of what Chicago means to him.
Reggie: My name is Reggie a.k.a Stamp. I grew up all over Chicago but Rogers Park is where I spent most of my 33 years.
Chicago means several things to me. The first being home… I grew up with family saying never forget where you come from no matter how life turns out for you.
It also means diversity. We have so many different cultures in the city it’s like going to a different country every few blocks. You can experience other people’s ways and customs in a way that no other city I’ve been can ever top.
The last thing is strength and survival. We can make it anywhere and through anything and that just comes from being in a city where, as I said before, is like going to a different country every few blocks. You have to learn what cool to do or say and what’s not. Growing up this way makes it easy to move out of the and fit in.
I got this tattoo done at a place called Magick Dragon in Lawrenceville, GA by an artist named Hair Braine. I’ve been wanting to get it for years and it just so happens that once I moved here I got off my ass and did it.
Man I love the site, it’s cool to see how much Chicago means to other people as well. BOY DO I MISS THE FOOD!!!!
I noticed Sebastian’s bold arm tattoo across the theater during a Neo-Futurists show in Andersonville and was able to snag him for an interview at Kopi Cafe a few days later.
CFT: So what’s your story? Are you a lifelong resident?
Sebastian: No, I’m not. I moved to Chicago. I grew up in Minnesota, outside of Minneapolis, and I moved to Chicago for college, when I was 19 years old. I was at the University of Chicago, and I really enjoyed it. And then I left, and I kind of traveled around, and then I went back to Minneapolis to go to law school. Then, I was trying to figure out where I was going go after I graduated, and where I was going to try to get a job and stuff like that. I thought about staying in Minnesota, but ultimately I decided to come back to Chicago even though I didn’t have a job lined up or anything like that, just because, you know, I had a lot of friends here still and I just really loved it and I wanted to give it some more time. I moved back in 2008, so more than 5 years ago now, and it’s been really great. I really enjoy it. I’ve been moving around a lot within the city, which is its own fun, but just this year, I bought a house. And it’s a new idea; rather than just exploring, kind of surveying the city, now I’m trying to focus, kind of put down roots in one spot, in the Albany Park neighborhood. Right around the same time is when I really decided to get a tattoo of Chicago, and I just kind of feel like I’m really tossing my lot in with Chicago. I guess I’m sticking around here.
CFT: Is that your first tattoo?
Sebastian: No, it’s my second tattoo. My other one is very little.
CFT: Oh! That is, in fact, very little.
Sebastian: It goes in the back as well, it’s a representation of a staple that’s going through my shoulder. Which is also based upon another thing that I love, which is also Chicago based—the University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt. Have you ever heard of it? It’s a pretty fantastic thing that exists. Down at the university every spring, the four days leading up to Mother’s Day, there’s an annual scavenger hunt, and it’s humongous, and it’s insane, and it really has grown beyond what you typically think about a scavenger hunt. It has people doing very strange and crazy things. I was involved for many years, even after I graduated, helping to make the list of items and being one of the judges. So this is related to that, for those who make the lists. It’s one of the judge tattoos. We make this list every year, and we staple it, but now we’re the ones stapling ourselves.
CFT: So other people have that same tattoo?
Sebastian: They do. So, two different Chicago loves that I have.
CFT: That’s amazing. I guess I asked if it was your first, because it is very large. That is a bold statement, that big of a tattoo. What made you want to go that big?
Sebastian: Well, I was actually inspired by a picture, and some of it’s in the Chicago Public Library in the Washington branch downtown in those hallways that lead off on the street. They’re kind of narrow and uninviting. I think the one that went past the teen center—they put a bunch of pictures on the wall, and one of the pictures was an old advertisement. It was like a Chicago Public Library, their internal flyers for I don’t know what—advertising an event maybe or just like “Chicago Library—you’re great. Go read books.” And there was one, it was of this woman and she had this big shock of red hair and her arm kind of had big muscles, and yeah, she had four stars like that. It wasn’t quite like this, it was actually on the whole arm—two on the forearm and two on the bicep, and I thought it looked super cool. I’ve gone back to try to find it, and I couldn’t. I talked to someone that worked at the library, and they didn’t know what I was talking about. I think it’s lost for the time being.
CFT: There was a series of ads that the library did that were oddly worded in that charming way when institutions try to be cool? But the pictures were very striking. I remember—like somebody DJing, but maybe what they were DJing on was like a stack of books—a turntable on a stack of books.
Sebastian: Clever, I like it.
CFT: The copy was something like “Yeah, that’s right. We know what the kids are hip to.” Or something.
Sebastian: That’s wonderful, and I am sure this was something similar to that.
CFT: I wonder if it was in that series.
Sebastian: I wouldn’t doubt it. I really love that. I like poster art in general—I think it’s kind of really fun. Particularly the sort you’d see during World War II telling people to “make sure to turn off your lights” or “loose lips” and it’s a really simplistic style. I just love that. So, that is what inspired it. I like that it’s bigger, and I really like that it crests the elbow. I think that it gives it another dimension to it, which is fun.
CFT: It’s big and bold and awesome. Where did you have it done?
Sebastian: This tattoo place in Roscoe village called Family Tattoo. It’s on Belmont, East of Western there.
CFT: You went to Law School, are you a lawyer?
Sebastian: I am.
CFT: I imagine work involves wearing long sleeves anyway.
Sebastian: Yeah, I wear a suit every day, although I have shown my coworkers, so they know about it. You see lawyers now, though—they have tattoos you can see. Women have tattoos on their feet and wear shoes without socks. It’s a brave new world.
Gerardo’s big stars came in through the Chicago Flag Tattoos inbox.
Last July, I got the states where my parents are from in Mexico on each of my triceps. My dad is from the state of Michoacán (left tri) and mom from Nuevo Leon (right tri). It pays homage to my ancestors and never forgetting where my roots are from and the Chicago flag represents new beginnings and start to a new generation.
Chicago is where my parents met and if they hadn’t I wouldn’t be this much pride-full in Chicago. I also love our sports, architecture, food, people/culture and yes, even the weather. It still amazes me driving in from the West Side on the 290 and seeing the backdrop of our city. Never fails to amaze me. Chicago love! Chicago for life!
All tattoos were done at The Native Soul tattoo shop in Pilsen by my friend that goes by Mero.
Patrick Cornolo did my second tattoo, back in 1999. I was still a few months away from actually moving to Chicago and drove up from Indiana so he could do my alphabet tattoo. Patrick now owns Speakeasy Custom Tattoo and when I came in to get my Chicago flag tattoo twelve years later he stopped by and said “alphabet on the upper arm, right?” When he saw what I was getting that visit he showed me his awesome knuckles tattoo. When I started this site, I knew I had to get back and interview him. He started off by turning the tables on me:
Patrick: So tell me about your project.
CFT: I just love the flag and the way it’s so malleable. The first person I had an opportunity to interview after I was even sort of vaguely thinking about the website was somebody who had bike chains and bike gears turned into the flag and I was like, maybe there’s something here of just talking to people about this …
Patrick: I’m seeing it everywhere not even just as tattoos. There’s a new café down the street. There’s an E as their symbol so it had the sticker that has got the four red Es in place of the stars. So it’s definitely a good marketing thing. Chicago pride.
CFT: So what’s your Chicago flag tattoo story?
Patrick: For me, I will be honest. I got the idea from a button. I saw a button that had the star and the bars behind it and I was like oh, that’s a cool little take on it. I could make like rings out of them and the joke was if I’m punching somebody in the face, they will know I’m from Chicago. So I don’t go around punching people in the face ever but I thought that was funny.
Growing up, I was hanging out around Clark and Belmont. I was going to punk rock shows and stuff as a teenager and a lot of us had little Chicago cop jackets, the leather jackets and they always had the flag patch on them which I don’t think made the cops too happy if you’re wearing them.
So that has always sort of stuck in my mind too as sort of a punk rock thing even though it’s not. But after I saw that button, I mean I had done dozens of Chicago flag tattoos on people and had toyed with the idea of getting one but it didn’t gel with me until I saw this pin and I was like oh! fingers! It has like a little flag of its own. Genius.
So now I’m just waiting for people to rip it off because it gets commented on it all the time. I was picking up lunch today and a teenage girl behind the counter was like, “Oh, that’s badass!” Thank you. Don’t steal it. But honestly, people do steal it. That’s fine too. I don’t have the copyright.
CFT: Yeah. I guess it wouldn’t make sense anywhere else and a hand tattoo is still a barrier.
Patrick: Still for the time being anyway. It doesn’t seem like it’s going crazy.
CFT: A little bit.
Patrick: Everyone is getting necks and faces. I was at a pumpkin patch the other day and there was like a teen mom there with just crude hand poked stuff all over her hands, on her neck and didn’t look like she had any other tattoos just like the neck and the hands and I guess you just want to never get employed. That’s cool. She wasn’t in the industry. But I guess that’s a topic for another website.
CFT: So who did yours?
Patrick: This one was done by Omar Gutierrez at Revolution Tattoo. I just like his work. He’s very precise. He did some lettering on me after my daughter was born. I like his attention to detail. Plus he’s from Chicago so that wasn’t like a requirement, but I thought it was a nice bonus.
CFT: Were you born here?
Patrick: I was born in Joliet, so suburbs of Chicago. But I moved to the city in 1994 and moved out in 2002, back to the burbs. Not as far as Joliet but I mean I’m in Berwyn now. But I can still see the Sears Tower so I still consider myself a Chicagoan even though Lockport, Joliet, 40 miles away.
So it’s not as bad as - I’ve had some people who have tattooed. Where are you guys? Where are you from? They’re like “over the south side”. South side? Where about? “Lockport”. That’s beyond south side. That is its own thing but I never considered myself a south sider.
Actually, I just did a Chicago flag tattoo the other day. This guy was getting a tribute to his dad who’s a Chicago fireman and so he got the badge off of his helmet. So he did like bricks around it to look like it was behind the wall and the wall was broken and behind the bricks and stuff, you will see fire coming up. But on the inside, we tuck the Chicago flag behind some things, too. So it’s still going on. It’s happening everyday. It’s a popular thing. Not a week goes by someone is not getting a flag tattoo.
CFT: I have no idea if this is an answerable question: Any cool stories? You said you had noticed a trend or you had done a bunch of people who were leaving and were getting it as a memento.
Patrick: Yeah, I’ve done that a few times. You’ve seen the color-coded map of the L system. I’ve done that as a tattoo before. An interesting one that sticks out in my mind was a girl from Detroit who moved to Chicago and is now back from Detroit but had enough Chicago pride or whatever that she got the Chicago flag amidst the sort of female sculpture things that are on Meigs Field, whatever they call that now.
CFT: Oh, Northerly Island?
Patrick: Northerly Island. There are some sculptures there. So, these women were based on those sculptures and then the Chicago flag but one with the stars is the sculpture in Detroit. It’s like a dude holding something. So that’s one of the stars and it’s a Detroit/Chicago tattoo, which is kind of cool and unique.
Yeah, there have been a lot of people who are getting them on the way out. Yeah. I’m all for it. I like Chicago.
CFT: Me too.
Patrick: I like it. I’m prideful.
Burt sent in his tattoo through the Chicago Flag Tattoos inbox and, I mean, holy cow. That’s amazing. His answers to my questions about why and where he got it were short and sweet:
I love Chicago and everything about it. I was born in Chicago and have lived here my whole life. And as for the Nintendo part (Mario) I am huge NES fan. I got it from private tattoo artist.
Sylvia is a friend and so I had plenty of advance warning that she was going to be getting a Chicago flag (in part) tattoo and once it was healed up it was just a matter of popping over to her house for a formal interview:
CFT: Tell me about your Chicago flag and other things tattoo, and the story of it, and why you got it.
Sylvia: So I got a tattoo when I was 18, long time ago, and I immediately wanted more, but I forced myself to wait. Forcing myself to wait turned into 10 years. But I have always wanted another one, and I knew if I got another one, I wanted a big piece. I’m graphic. I didn’t want something that immediately represented anything, because I’m big into color and shapes and all that, I’m super drawn to big, bright objects. So I knew I wanted something like that. And I have always wanted a tattoo that represented sort of how I grew up, and I grew up in seven different countries, moving around a lot.
I think for a lot of my life, I blamed a lot of my problems and who I am on growing up that way, and moving around so much, not having a home, all of that. But in the last two years, I’ve come to sort of embrace what that’s turned me into and how that has shaped who I am as opposed to blaming it. So I felt like that was the right time to get that as a tattoo on me, to represent all of the places I lived.
That said, the hardest question in the world for me is “Where are you from?” Hardest thing in the world to answer. I’ve never been able to answer it.
CFT: I always just say “all over.”
Sylvia: All over, everywhere. And for the longest time, I think I blamed a lot of things on it, that I probably used it as an excuse. But yeah, we never stayed anywhere longer than three years. That was our max, too. Until undergrad was the first time I lived anywhere past that three year mark, because it was four years of college.
So I moved to Chicago, and Chicago, more than any, is the first place that’s ever felt like home. I think it’s the first place I’ve ever chosen to live as an adult, not where I was taken by my parents. And I fell in love with the city. I’ve always said if I were to move again, I would move back to Europe; I don’t have much of an interest in staying in the States or somewhere else in the world, but I have fallen so in love with this city that I don’t really want to go. Full-time; I always want to go somewhere for short amounts of time. But yeah, it’s the first place that I’ve felt like I’ve been able to settle into home, or a home. So I wanted Chicago to be the central, the focal point of the tattoo.
CFT: What are the pieces and parts? I recognize the star.
Sylvia: Right, you’ve got the star. And Serena Lander did the tattoo, Tattoos By Serena. And she’s wonderful, and I really went to her basically with what I just told you: I want a way to represent all these countries and not make it look messy, and lots of color. And I knew that I wanted each section to be the colors of the flag of that country, but for it to not look messy. And I’m not a designer.
She took it, she ran with it. Originally I was thinking flags, I was thinking an abstract world map with those places sort of marked. But she came up with the idea to find symbols and symbolism from each country and work that into those colors. So she designed it for me; I loved it. We went back and forth a few times.
The star is the central focal point, and the blue sort of stripes around it are the stripes of the star; they’re in the same shade of blue. We made it curved in that sense because the stripes represent the river and water, so creating more movement and stuff, we sort of made that—I’m making hand motions, but the arc. I wanted Chicago to be the biggest part, and then we sort of fanned out the rest of those countries all as part of the same whole.
On the top, you have Switzerland, which is red and white, and you have the Swiss flag. The Swiss cross surrounded by the edelweiss, which is the flower of Switzerland. And then you have France next to it, which is again the colors of those flags. I lived in the village of Grenoble, and their city symbol is a snowflake, because there’s a lot of skiing and stuff. We went with a lot of flowers and stars.
And then we have the little tiny nod to the stars and stripes, to America, because we didn’t need too much more. And like I said, I connect with Chicago more than I connect with this country, because it’s never been my country of origin.
Then we have the Tudor rose in the Union Jack colors. This is the Italy, which is the first place we lived, which is the Crown of Caesar and the Italian Republic star. And then this is Belgium, which is the Belgian Iron Cross and the lily, which is the national flower. And then we added an extra drop, just a drop from the water. So that’s what they all are.
CFT: I like that it’s laid out with graphic considerations rather than trying to tell your story in order.
Sylvia: And the sizes are different. For awhile, we sort of talked about does it mean something that some are smaller than others, or does it mean something that some are on top and on the bottom, and none of that was really thought about too much. It was more where does it look best. Except for the little tiny star. There’s a combo of stars and flowers. For awhile, we were looking at other symbols, like the fleur-de-lis and all sorts of other things, but it got too cluttered.
CFT: I like the swoopiness as well for water, and then also that it is a journey. It’s not a straight line journey. It’s not a “I started here and I knew I was going there.”
Sylvia: You never know where you’re going next. In fact, when we were in the second session—because this took about six hours—she was like, “Let’s add more.” I was like, “I have to live somewhere. I have to move somewhere first to add more.” That’s the nice part of it, is next time I move or next time I live somewhere, it can be easily added to.
But she wanted to keep going, and I was like “But I have to live somewhere first.” Serena was like, “Why don’t we just start putting all the places you visited? We can make it bigger and put all the places you visited?” I was like, “We don’t want to start that, because that’ll become a giant, giant project.” We joked a bit about maybe creating on the other leg a different kind of complementary piece that was the places I’ve been, but I don’t know.
CFT: Awesome. How long have you been in Chicago?
Sylvia: With the exception of the one year I left to go get my Masters, I moved here in ‘07. So six years. Actually almost seven years now, but I went away for one year. My parents moved here when I was an undergrad, so I went to high school in Kansas City When I went to college, they moved here, so this became home base for summers and Christmases, and I fell in love and moved here after college.
CFT: Awesome. And then you fell in love here.
Sylvia: And then I fell in love here, so then I was stuck in Chicago. No, I had a reason to come back here after I finished my Masters - because Lord knows where it would’ve taken me otherwise, because I have trouble sitting still.
CFT: It’s a gorgeous tattoo.
Sylvia: Thanks. She’s great. I would send anyone to her. She’s a beautiful designer, a great person, and her touch is so gentle. It was just like a pleasant experience.
CFT: Awesome. Well, thanks.
Sylvia: You’re welcome.
David sent in his tattoo and story through the Chicago Flag Tattoo inbox:
I just plain love Chicago. I was born and raised on the Southside but live in South Florida now. No matter where I live, Chicago will always be my home. My family is all still there and although I come home every summer I still miss living there, I don’t think I ever had a boring day there, there is always something to do. And even though the streets downtown get crowded the people are far more polite and just generally nicer than any other city Ive been to.
I just got the tattoo three days ago in Miami from Lucky Lucio, owner of Pirates Cove Tattoo.