Jen Trok

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Jen Trok Chicago flag tattoo

Jen Trok’s name has come up several times on this site as the tattoo artist behind various designs. She had a few moments to spare at Speakeasy Tattoos and I asked her if she had any Chicago flag tattoos herself.

CFT: You were just saying, you grew up in the suburbs.

Jen: My parents grew up in the city and then I moved to the city right after high school and then I’ve lived here since. I never lived anywhere else. So I love the city. It’s not perfect but I’m probably never going to move away.

I got this with the anchor just because my parents always had boats growing up and I sort of decided it was my family crest. So now my family has a tattoo.

CFT: So you started it.

Jen: Yeah. Even though my parents have tattoos, they don’t have this tattoo. Scott Fricke did it for me. I guess when you’ve been tattooing for 13 years, it’s not like a lot of planning. You know, I mean there is but it’s like the same thing as for everybody else. You have a consultation when you go in and then get the tattoos.

CFT: Awesome. Thanks.

Jen Trok Chicago flag tattoo

Matthias Brutscher

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Matthias Brutscher Chicago tattoo

I got this photo at the CFT inbox with a short description:

Matthias: My name is Matthias, I’m from Germany, and I visited Chicago a few weeks ago. I became a fan of Chicago quite a few years ago, with the history, all the sports, the architecture etc. When I visited Chicago it was my first time, but won’t be my last. I knew before my trip, that i’d like to get a tattoo. I’ve attached a picture of it with this email.

To which my reaction was, of course, what the what? He visited Chicago for the first time and got a tattoo while he was here? That’s pretty hardcore. I shot off an email asking, basically, what the what? and got back this great story:

Matthias: So I’ll just tell you a little bit about myself: My name is Matthias, I am 29 years old and I live in a little town in the mountains in the very south of Germany, pretty close to the Austrian border. For quite a long time I’ve been a huge fan of Chicago, and I don’t remember exactly with what it started.

I think it was when I first watched a game of the Chicago Cubs on TV about 9 years ago. Since then I found out that a few of my favorite music bands came from Chicago, like Hot Water Music and Lawrence Arms. During the time I got more into the other sport teams from as well, the Bulls, Blackhawks and the Bears. I am a huge wrestling fan and one of my favorites is CM Punk. I spent more time over the years reading about the history and the landscape and the architecture of Chicago. I was quite interested in it. I knew a lot about the city before I had even been there.

For a couple of years I have been self employed and vacations were getting short - no wait. There weren’t any. In four years I didn’t take a vacation. So last year I decided to do otherwise and flew for a week to Chicago. I had great expectations, so I decided if I wasn’t disappointed I would get a tattoo.

And as you can see, I wasn’t!!

On my last day, just a few hours before I flew home, I had an appointment at Metamorph Studios with Picasso Dular. And he made a hell of a job, I am still so happy with it, every time I look at my arm.

I had lots of ideas for the tattoo, but he said we should just use two: the Chicago flag and ivy from Wrigley Field. Maybe the next time I have the time to visit Chicago, which will be hopefully soon, I’ll get the other ideas on my arm.

Gwen Tulin

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Gwen Tulin Chicago tattoo

Gwen Tulin is a big wig at Gorilla Tango Theater Bucktown, a venue perhaps best known for their “Geek Burlesque” series, but with plenty of all kinds of shows going on. CFT’s Erica Reid came home from choreographing a show at the theater and said, “Gwen has a great Chicago quote on her arm, we should interview her”. We managed to finagle a few minutes of her time when she wasn’t running around keeping the venue going and talked in the basement of the theater.

CFT: Gwen, what’s your Chicago tattoo story?

Gwen: I got these tattoos in stages, five or six years ago. Actually the text in the background was a cover-up on a different tattoo and I just always really liked Nelson Algren and the history and the meat packing districts and all that stuff about Chicago because well, before I moved here, I loved The Jungle, Upton Sinclair, all that stuff.

So, that kind of gritty component of it was really appealing to me and then we transplanted from the East Coast and I’ve here eight years. So I wanted to acknowledge my transplant official-ness.

CFT: Awesome. So I mean it’s “Chicago, City on the Make”. What’s the other side?

Gwen: The other one is “Your very flesh will be a great poem,” which is from Leaves of Grass. It’s kind of a common section of it that’s quoted out, basically, about not being an asshole, not being judgmental.

CFT: Has Chicago been a city on the make for you or are you on the make or has it made you or … ?

Gwen: Absolutely.

CFT: You’ve been made.

Gwen: Yeah, I mean the reason I moved here instead of New York because I’m from Boston and so a lot of people from Boston go to New York for theatre and the main reason I moved here was that this is the kind of place where you can come and you can start your own theatre company. You can get a space and you can have a house that’s not ten feet wide.

I mean I was able to come here with no connections, like one friend, get a job, start a theatre company. I now have essentially a family out here that’s a network of artists and everybody I know who moved to New York has moved since - just because the cost of living is so exorbitant. But more so than that, I think that there’s a level of support in the theatre community out here that has absolutely made it someplace where I’ve made an identity and been able to grow as an artist and I plan on staying. I think it’s also a hub where you can go to either coast if you wanted to and still make this your home.

So absolutely, yes, I feel like it is a city on the make, continually, albeit with some issues but …

CFT: Well, I was going to say because I think “On the Make” is sort of - I think the connotation there is ambition with a little unscrupulousness.

Gwen: Yeah, there’s like a political - a little flavor of the mob, a little flavor of like “every man for himself” for sure. I mean it also belies the era. It was really a time where the city was - politically speaking - there were a lot of imaginations, lots of like all sorts of things.

But there’s something about Chicago and especially a lot of the neighborhoods that many people move here don’t spend time in but is still - that’s the authentic character of the city to me is that you really can just - you can make it. Like there are ways to do it.

Yeah, there’s also an element of corruption to Chicago that I think is endemic and is never going to change. I mean that’s why like our parking meters got sold to a privatized industry and Ventra. All that stuff, it’s like, of course, this is how the city functions. There’s a level of greed and illegality that I think is at the core and probably will be for a long time.

CFT: Awesome. What does it cover up if you don’t mind?

Gwen: Oh, sure. Well, I got these birds done and the tattoo artist was—he was an interesting guy—he was very grim and very toothless and like very … It was A+ Tattoos which is actually really close to my house on Belmont and I was a little shy about being very clear and he just decided to put a background on that was this purple splash background and it was really, really strange. It didn’t look bad. I’m sure someone with maybe a more girly aesthetic would have been fine with it. But I just wasn’t into it. It was confusing-looking and to me it was not grounding, artistically, for the way that the birds were kind of set on the arm.

So I ended up going to Revolution Tattoo which is where I’ve gotten pretty much everything else done, because I really like it there. There’s a guy Marshall who believes in aliens and stuff and he’s amazing.

He does great work. He has done a lot of my friends’ tattoos. So I went in. It was like what can we do. It wasn’t anything crazy. It wasn’t somebody’s name. It wasn’t like a swastika. It was just this color that I was not into. So he was like well, we can just put like a big banner in the back. Like, find some text that you are happy with and we will put it on there.

So, there’s an element, too, that this is imperfect. Like this isn’t centered. If I had done it all as one piece, I probably would have gone about it differently. But part of what I’ve actually liked about having tattoos is that this is what it is.

I teach with kids a lot and sometimes I make a decision to roll my sleeves down if it’s a new family. But then I kind of got to this point like maybe a year and a half ago where I was like “fuck it”. If you have a problem with this, then we probably shouldn’t be working together anyway. So it has actually been very character-building to that effect.

There are parents who didn’t like it, but honestly they’re not the parents that I work with long term. Every family I’ve worked with says, “Why would you care about such a thing?”

Also, I got these when I was doing very little acting, I really came to the city and was an actor for a long time. When I did this, I was kind of like, oh well, I’m moving on to directing. I don’t give a shit. But especially in a city like Chicago, this is absolutely marketable as an actor and if I get my headshots redone at some point, this would be part of it, because it’s a huge bonus. I mean there are plenty of actors in this city with huge tattoos that in a place like New York or LA, they would be like “you have just shot yourself in the foot. What are you thinking?” What I love about this place is there are actors of all shapes and sizes. You can have a gigantic back piece and be in a show and that’s awesome.

CFT: Totally.

Gwen: It’s such a huge appeal to me about the city. I mean my mother hates them. Don’t get me wrong. She hates them! Every time I see her, there’s always like a brief adjustment where she looks and is like, “Oh, why would you do that to your body?” But it’s fine now. It’s like it’s just the way it is.

CFT: We were just talking about my new tattoos. They’re not in a very marketable style. Like on paper, “long gray beard, visible tattoos on forearm” then people would be like, “Oh, OK. Get that guy because we need a biker guy.”. But they’re French abstract tattoos, so they’re like just weird. “You have a French cat and a flower lady.”

Gwen: I think if I get through this year, like I’ve decided from the business angle if we get through this year and at least break even for our first year in business, I will get another one. That’s my goal because I had to pace myself. I had like a year and a half where I was a little crazy and then I realized like I have pretty much like one set of skin. So I should pace a little bit. So I’m pacing it out a little bit now.

CFT: Just a little. It’s hard to do that.

Gwen: It is. It really is addictive and not because like I enjoy - I’m not somebody who’s like, oh, I enjoy the pain process of it. It’s like just great.

Yeah, it’s a fun experience. It’s like a haircut but a little more permanent. So the next one I’m hoping to get next year. I have some time to plan it out. I wanted to get something Colonial because I’m from Lexington, Mass where it’s all Colonial history. But the Tea Party has appropriated so much text from the American Revolution, completely wrong. Like a complete bastardization of what all of that meant. So I have to be real careful because I’m going to look insane if I choose things that have been lifted from that era. We will figure it out.

CFT: It’s disappointing.

Gwen: I know. It was such a bummer. I was like, that’s not what that means. That’s not what the American Revolution was going for, guys. What a shame.

Gwen Tulin

David Lind

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David Lind Chicago tattoo

David Lind Chicago tattoo

I met up with David Lind in Lincoln Square a while ago. Long enough ago, in fact, that you could stand outside without a shirt comfortably. We had a great conversation, discussing tattoos, of course, but also talking about art, careers, other cities we love. And then I got behind on the interview transcriptions for this site a little (a lot) and then… disaster. The audio file of David’s interview was corrupt and was completely inaudible. So I reached out to David by email and asked him to re-create our entire conversation from memory. He did better, producing these concise and delightful answers to my questions.

CFT: Are you a life-long Chicago resident?

David: I was born and raised in the NW burbs, but have always had a connection to Chicago through my uncle’s family and my grandparents. Both my uncle and gpa were Chicago Police Officers, and I spent a lot of time at their houses for family gatherings. Along with that, I also made sure to visit Chicago as much as I could growing up (concerts, sporting events, touristy things, etc). I finally made the move to Chicago in 2004 when I moved downtown for schooling at Columbia College, and I have never looked back.

CFT: What is it about the city that made you want to get this tattoo?

David: I just have a pure love and fascination with Chicago, and the city’s flag is so simple in design, but so meaningful in description with the city’s rich history. My heart is within Chicago, so why not make it permanently tattoo it across my heart?! I have even expanded my love with Chicago by starting a clothing and design company based around Chicago called Biddywax Clothing and Design. I use images of historical figures and symbols of Chicago and combine them into an art form not seen around. It’s a raw, edgy way of representing Chicago. Kinda the way Chicago is meant to be.

CFT: Your particular tattoo has a lot of of components — what’s else is going on there?

David: For the most part my chest piece is an abstract mirror image of my family. Without my family I am no one, so I like to present them to the public through art. There’s a cardinal for my mother, an anchor for my Gpa, GNR logo representing my love for the band and symbolizing my 2 brothers, father and I protecting the rose which is my mother, a purple rose for my Gma, and of course the Chicago flag done in a similar style from one of my favorite paintings done by Hokusai called “The Great Wave”. In other words, a lot is going on in chest tattoo.

CFT: I remember we talked about your mother (you have a tattoo of her on your forearm, right?)

David: I have a portrait of my mother when she was 18 on my left forearm. My family and I unfortunately lost her back in 2010 due to cancer, so I decided to permanently wear ‘my heart on my sleeve’. She was the glue to our family. I am fortunate of how much attention this one tattoo of her gets daily. It makes me proud to be able to tell people, such as yourself, about her. It’s truly my favorite tattoo, and then my Chicago flag tattoo.

CFT: And where did you get the tattoo, from who?

David: I got my tattoo done by Phil Cisco at Maximum Tattoo. I plan on going back to him to get a huge Chicago Blackhawks tattoo on my left arm. I’ll let you know when that is done…

Thanks again for everything! I hope to be in talks sooner then later. Also, I wanted to inform you about an art community I am part of every 2nd Wednesday at Galway Bay in Lakeview from 10p-2a called The Infusion Project. It’s a collaboration of artists from DJs, live paintings, henna tattoos, tarot card readers, and myself. Come on by sometime. Our next show is March 12th.

David Lind Chicago tattoo
David says about his back piece: “I want to give a shout out to my friend and tattoo artist who works on my back, Drew De La Fuente. He’s a very talented artist out of Texas and owner of 13th Ave Ink in San Antonio.”

David Lind Chicago tattoo

Jordan M

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Jordan M Chicago tattoo

Jordan M Chicago tattoo

Jordan sent in some photos of his epic Chicago-themed sleeve and when I sent him a few followup questions he replied with this great essay:

Jordan: Chicago is my favorite place in the entire world. No other city offers the total package like Chicago does. We have the most stunning architecture, an incredible restaurant scene, nationally recognized craft beer makers, unbeatable music venues and festivals, the world’s best comedy, a tremendous sports and recreation scene, incomparable artwork, an ocean-sized lake with sunny beaches, world-class higher education, convenient public transportation (that is, until Ventra came along), and best of all, the people are as kind as they are beautiful! I can’t imagine living anywhere other than Chicago. I truly feel bad for people who miss out on the opportunity to live here.

I am not originally from Chicago. I was born and raised near Lincoln, Nebraska (Go Big Red!) and have lived here for seven years. I visited Chicago with my family for the first time roughly around junior high. I remember being captivated by the size and beauty of Chicago’s skyline and telling myself that it was just a matter of time before I would be living there myself. That was really the extent of my experience with Chicago before actually moving here in 2007 after college. Since moving here, I have lived in Evanston, Lincoln Park, and Lakeview (twice) and hope to move to Bucktown, Wicker Park, or the West Loop this summer. I plan to live in Chicago for the rest of my life without question.

I got my tattoo at Deluxe Tattoo at 1459 W Irving Park Road in Lakeview. Miles Maniaci was my artist and I’m very happy with the work he did. The tattoo required four visits to the shop plus a quick touch-up session after I was fully healed to see if anything needed to be darkened. It is my first tattoo but not my last. I spent several months sketching my ideas over and over before setting up an appointment and running my ideas by Miles. Miles was very easy to work with and being the professional artist that he is, he was able to take my sketches to an entirely different level. He made sure that the placement of the various elements made sense and that there was a nice balance of color throughout the entire piece.

My tattoo is basically a collage of all of my favorite things about the city of Chicago. It includes a portion of the city’s famous skyline (anchored by Willis Tower, the CNA Center, and The John Hancock Center), the vertical Chicago Theatre sign, the Art Institute lion statue, the Chicago Marathon, the Flag of Chicago (which serves as the marathon finish line), the Andersonville water tower, and the Lollapalooza logo. The underside of my arm includes the Kuma’s Corner logo and a glimpse of a passing “L” train.

I already touched on my love for the Chicago skyline above. I chose the Chicago Theatre sign for its flash and color and because it’s a recognizable symbol of the city’s entertainment history. The Art Institute lion (in addition to being my favorite part of my tattoo) is just so majestic and the Institute itself so breathtaking that I couldn’t not include it. I decided to include the Chicago Marathon scene after watching my mom run the race (and qualify for Boston) in 2011. Including the Flag of Chicago was a no-brainer but it was Miles’ idea to incorporate it into the marathon finish line. The Andersonville Water Tower is important to me because not only because Andersonville is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city (great food, festivals, and people), it’s also the Swedish capital of Chicago and I have strong Swedish roots in my blood. The Lollapalooza logo was included for obvious reasons - it’s the greatest weekend of the year in Chicago! The single most fun I’ve ever had in Chicago was on August 7, 2011 when I saw my favorite band, Foo Fighters, play “My Hero” through a tsunami in front of about 50,000 people. I was practically front and center for a performance that will never be topped in my lifetime. People that were there know what I am talking about. YouTube it. Kuma’s Corner is one of my favorite restaurants in all of Chicago and the heavy metal burger bar’s logo, for the purpose of my tattoo, serves as a symbol of Chicago’s mouthwatering food scene. I’m a die-hard foodie and want to visit every restaurant in the city before I croak. Kuma’s is so outstanding that it’s one of the few places in the city that has earned my repeat business (and by repeat, I mean 20+) despite the insane amount of competition. Finally, my Chicago tattoo wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t include some kind of nod to the “L”. Ventra headaches aside, the “L” is a fantastic way to quickly explore the various neighborhoods of the city without blowing all your beer money. People that complain about the “L” should really spend some time in other major U.S. cities to see just how good we have it. This city is a piece of cake to navigate on the “L” and it’s one of the city’s most iconic images.

Jordan M Chicago tattoo

Jordan M Chicago tattoo

Cassie Brucci

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Cassie Brucci Chicago skyline tattoo

Cassie was spotted by CFT’s Erica Reid at one of Chicago’s many theatres, where they were both doing theater-y things and she (Cassie) was nice enough to sit down with us (Erica and Fuzzy) at New Wave Coffee in Logan Square to talk about her tattoo.

CFT: Tell me about your Chicago flag tattoo… sorry, that’s habit, about your Chicago skyline tattoo.

Cassie: So, I moved to Chicago in September of 2011 and I came here on sort of a whim. I decided to go to Columbia. I came here to visit family and I decided to go visit the school while I was here and I fell in love and was like “this is where I need to be”, so I transferred into Columbia and switched my major. Ever since I’ve been in Chicago I have really felt like I’ve grown so much as a person and there are so many opportunities that were presented to me here that wouldn’t have been presented to me at home and it’s such a huge part of who I am now. I mean, I wouldn’t be the same person that I was if I had just stayed at home and continued doing what I was doing there. So, I had the idea to get the skyline since it means so much to me, but get an EKG outline of it so it looks like a little heartbeat because I felt like when I came here was when I really started to “live”. Like I felt really scared to be who I was back home and wasn’t really true to myself but then when I got here, it really opened up my horizon and opened up just me in general to being proud of who I am and what I’m doing. So that’s the story.

CFT: Where did you come from?

Cassie: I came from Scottsdale, Arizona. I was born in California and we lived there till I was three and I have lived in various cities in Arizona ever since. Mostly Paradise Valley in Scottsdale.

CFT: It’s interesting that you call Arizona home. Does that still feel like home to you and Chicago is something different than home?

Cassie: It’s really weird because I will interchange home for Chicago and Arizona. Like when I’m in Arizona, I can’t wait to go home and I’m referring to here. Then I’ll be here and I’ll tell people that I’m going home for Christmas. I don’t know, I guess they’re both homes to me. I have to give credit to Arizona because that’s where I was raised. A lot of things happened there that shaped me but this is just like another stepping stone in becoming who I am so it’s just like a second home.

CFT: You can have more than one home. I don’t mean to challenge your word use. I guess I just wanted to explore that a little bit because I have had so many homes.

Cassie: Yeah, this is definitely equal on the playing field of home, if not better to me as home.

CFT: I guess 2011 has only been like 3 years. You fell in love right away. There wasn’t a tipping point, you visited and then knew, “I have to be here”.

Cassie: I have always wanted to move away ever since I was 8 years old. My parents knew eventually, “she’s not going to be here forever” and then I finally was able to go to a place and really connect with it just right away. Because I had explored going to other schools but they weren’t cities I really loved; it was more for the sake of just getting out and I was like “uh, alright, let’s see” and then I came to Chicago and it was just like, instantly, “nope, this is it”. You just know when you have a gut feeling in you that something’s meant to be. That was it when I got here, like I had that.

CFT: What are the things that Chicago has let you do?

Cassie: I wanted to go into the entertainment field doing more behind the scenes work. I have been dancing since I was like 3 years old and I’ve always been very heavily involved in music and playing instruments and singing but I don’t feel that being a performer is where I’m meant to be for a career path. I like being behind the scenes, I like just being there and doing the work that no one sees, to be able to put on events that people then go and see and love and cherish for years to come. That gives me really deep satisfaction knowing I was there working to put this whole event on. When it comes down to it, you know, there are people working behind you don’t even see, they’re one of the reasons these events even happen.

I came to Columbia and saw the arts management program. That’s kind of a vague major; no one really has that anywhere else. So when I came there, I saw, this is a thing? I have to do it! Perfect! I’ve just had really awesome internship opportunities open themselves up to me. I worked at City Winery and I got to work with Schubas and I got to intern at a really awesome booking agency called Flower Booking. It’s just stuff that’s here and I wouldn’t have found at home that’s kind of helped me build up to where I’m at now. Now I’m helping a local producer here do his marketing and his PR and he’s pretty well known around the scenes. I know I wouldn’t have found this stuff staying at home at Scottsdale, Arizona.

And just on top of it, I mean, aside from being career focused, you guys know there’s so much to do here. The restaurant scene is kind of unmatched unless you’re talking about New York or something like that. There’s endless things to do in the summer. There’s always something going on with museums, festivals, whatever, you can never get bored here. You can always develop your knowledge and you can find your people. You can never get bored here and if you do, you’re not looking hard enough. You don’t even have to look very hard. It’s just nice to know that there are so many great resources for art and science and literature and music and food and anything you can think of is right at my fingertips in my own backyard. That was a huge appeal of the city to me.

CFT: Is that your first tattoo?

Cassie: It’s my first and only tattoo right now.

CFT: Where’d you get it done?

Cassie: I got it done at Deluxe Tattoo at Southport and Irving, probably a month after my graduation ceremony. It was like June of 2013 so I’ve had it like 6 months. It’s pretty fresh ink.

CFT: I don’t know if you’ve travelled since you got it done, but do people know what it is? Here, it’s pretty obvious.

Cassie: I’m trying to think because the only place I’ve really gone with the tattoo was probably back home and I think people know. They actually do, they go, “oh my god, Chicago skyline!” Some people go, “is it New York or Chicago?” but either way they have a general idea of what it is so yeah, there’s no real abstract guesses.

CFT: “Oh, I guess you really love Toronto!”

Cassie: Right, exactly. “Oh, you like lines with a lot of pointy ends on them.” Like, no guys, they have the right idea so they either nail it or you have to steer them a little bit. A few states too east, so I gotta get them back to the midwest.

CFT: Awesome! Thanks!

Cassie: Thank you guys!

Cassie Brucci Chicago skyline tattoo

Connor Skelly

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Connor Skelly

Connor sent his own interview in by email:

I’ve been looking at your website for a while and love all the tattoos I’ve seen. I’ve been waiting to get my tattoo for a while so when I finally got it I had to send it to you.

The blue lines are self-explanatory. I’ve been writing, performing, and studying music all my life and that is eventually what I want to do with my life. The “162” was my grandfather’s police badge number, who was the Captain of the Chicago Police. And of course, with my family being completely Irish, the shamrocks were just the perfect thing to balance it out. I am actually the only one in my family not born in Chicago but now that I live here and have been coming here my whole life, I feel like a Chicagoan. This city has brought me so many great experiences and definitely many more to come.

Zach Stuka did the tattoo over at Deluxe Tattoo in Irving Park. Definitely recommend him.

Connor Skelly

Eithne McMenamin

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Eithne tattoo

Eithne tattoo

Eithne McMenamin is a friend-of-a-friend who has always been a delight to talk to at parties, so it was fun to get an email from her saying that she had seen two different links to this site from Facebook friends who live out of the city. And that she had, herself, a Chicago flag tattoo (combined with the fleur de lis of New Orleans).

CFT: So yes, it’s been a lot of strangers, but also friends saying, “oh didn’t you know that so-and-so has a Chicago flag tattoo?” And so I did not know that you had a Chicago flag tattoo.

Eithne: Yes. I have had it for a relatively short period of time. I got it about a year ago. Well, a year ago April. So it was April of 2012. And I actually had it done in New Orleans. So it’s a combo kind of thing. I feel like one or two others on your site were combo kind of tattoos.

CFT: Yeah, actually I’ve interviewed two people with Chicago-New Orleans combo tattoos and then I saw a guy where I swim who had the whole flag with fleur-de-lis instead of stars. Just as he was leaving the pool I was like, “I don’t have any cards on me, but I run this site and I’d like to interview you.” I haven’t seen him at the pool since, so I guess I scared him away from the whole place.

Eithne: He’s found someplace else to swim.

When I was trying to figure out what I was going to get, or how it was going to be designed—because I thought about getting a tattoo probably a year and a half before I actually got it. But I didn’t know what I wanted, and I was like, that’s silly, I’m not going to get something just to get something. That’d be ridiculous—it’s permanent! I’d always in the past been scared, because I didn’t want a tattoo that much, that it would hurt. And then around about the end of 2010 I was like, there’s not anything that can hurt that much, I think I’m going to be OK. It’s been a shitty year and I think that I can handle this. Even though it’s a different kind of pain, psychic pain versus physical pain.

I had gone to New Orleans for Jazz Fest in 2011 with a girlfriend of mine who has five tattoos representing all the different cities she’s lived in. And she was like, “Yeah! Let’s go get one for you right now!” I was like, “No, no, we’re just going to get one to get one.” I pondered it for another six months and towards the end of 2011 I was finally settled on the Chicago-New Orleans combo thing. But I couldn’t figure out what I wanted exactly and I went through a couple iterations and asked some people what they thought. One thing I came up with was entirely too complicated. The tattoo artist said, “No, that’s too much. Like, get a whole other tattoo if you want all that, you can’t put too much in one.” He helped me come up with it. I like the Chicago flag with the fleur-de-lis instead of the stars. I can’t remember if I thought of that one or not. That’s an obvious kind of mixing of the two, I think. The tattoo artist helped me design it. Or, he designed it and I said, “Yeah, that looks good, that’s what I had in mind.”

CFT: That was down in New Orleans? Did you just walk in somewhere off the street?

Eithne: It was a place that some friends had recommended who had fleur-de-lis tattoos, because fleur-de-lis tattoos are a big thing in New Orleans. They had gotten them post-Katrina and they symbolized the water rising. It’s a couple and they both have them on their forearms. So they recommended this place. And it’s actually a place that opened after Katrina. So it’s called Hell or High Water.

I went down for the French Quarter Festival last year and stayed with a friend. She knew I was thinking about it and that I was still on the fence. We had taken a tour of the Garden District and we were getting ready to go home and her friend’s daughter who was with us was whining about having to go home. So my friend Amy was like, “We could always go get Eithne’s tattoo.” And the girl was like [eyes-wide] “What? Oh yeah!” She was twelve going on twenty-five and she was totally delighted at the prospect. “When I turn eighteen, I’m gonna get a tattoo and it’s gonna be right here and it’s gonna be a flower and…” You know, she’s twelve!

So we went and she’s giving me all kinds of advice about what to do if it hurts. A twelve year old! Very helpful. And then my friend bought me a large margarita to go from the Mexican place next door. We had already designed it by that point and then I had to go across the street to get cash. I took literally the last $140 out of the ATM. I tried to get $160 out to have a little cash on hand and the machine said “sorry, I only have $140”. Which is exactly how much I needed. So it was fated. We went back to the tattoo shop and I really liked the tattoo artist, Eric Huffman. I can sort of see people falling in love with their tattoo artist. I wonder how often that happens. Because you’re doing this intimate thing—someone is permanently altering your body. And he was kind of cute, so that didn’t hurt. And he let me put my own music on the stereo, because they were playing some death metal or something and I was like “no no no”. So we compromised on The Pixies. Later I was complaining about something and he said, “hey, I never let people put their own music on, so just settle down”. He was funny, I liked him.

He started working on the tattoo, which is on my shoulder, and my friend and the twleve-year-old said, “oh, we’re going to go across the street and get something to eat, we’ll be back in a while.” It turned out the twelve year-old was getting ready to throw up. She couldn’t handle the blood. And this is the “tough” twelve-year-old who is telling me what to do if it hurts too much. So it basically was a Scared Straight video. You have a twelve-year-old who thinks they want to get a tattoo? Just send them to me and I’ll show ‘em. She was sick for the rest of the day and when she got home she told her mom she wasn’t sure she still wanted a tattoo. Teaching the youth!

New Orleans has sort of become my spiritual home. In 2011 I’d gone down for Jazz Fest but I was down there four or five times throughout the year. Totally fell in love with the city, as people do. New Orleans is many people’s mistress, I think.

I had gone at the end of 2010, at the end of that shitty year, at the insistence of a friend who wanted me to come down and volunteer. He was bringing a group from his church in Chicago down to volunteer. We had a really great experience and then I wanted to come back and spend as much time as possible in New Orleans in 2011. And that’s what I did. After you’ve been at my work for 5 years you get a one month sabbatical in addition to your vacation. I wanted to go back to do a more long-term volunteering gig with the place we had volunteered with in the fall. And I met someone and fell in love, and so I fell in love in and in love with New Orleans. And so that made it a lot more fun to be there. In addition to just being an awesome city. So yeah, I spent a lot of 2011 there.

So, yeah, New Orleans is my spiritual home and Chicago is my adopted home. We moved here when I was in high school and I came back a few years after college. I had gone back to the East Coast, briefly, after college, and then came back here for graduate school.

And it was funny, when I told my friend I was getting this tattoo—she doesn’t consider me a civic booster—she said, “I find it so odd that you’re getting a city symbol, you were the one getting arrested in high school for protesting the US policy in El Salvador. You’re a rabble-rouser.” And I work in Chicago politics, so it is a little weird. But oddly I do love this city, even though I’ve seen the nastiest parts of the city, and the politics of how awful it is and I work in it. And yet somehow I still love it. And I get tired of it somedays, and I get tired of the bullshit from the administration and this mayor and this city council. I don’t know if my love of Chicago is greater than all that, or if that contributes to my love of Chicago. I don’t know what’s playing on what. Can I just set all that aside and still say there are so many great things about Chicago, or is it that somehow our totally fucked-up politics somehow contribute to my love of the city.

CFT: Well, it is your profession to get in there and fight. If this was a utopian city, you wouldn’t be here. You’d be somewhere else fighting there. So it is a love-hate-love.

Eithne: It’s true, I’d be out of work if we were a perfectly run city that had no homeless people and where everybody was housed and closed and fed. Right, so I have to engage with the system. So, yeah, it’s a thing that complicated and I can’t quite tease out all the pieces of it. It’s a friendly city, and its got the culture and the restaurants and the beautiful lakefront. Which is huge and awesome and unique in this country, I think—it’s the largest publicly accessible lakefront in the country. So there’s just so many good things about it. But every couple years I’m like, “I’m leaving”. And then I don’t. And then I re-fall in love with Chicago and recommit myself to staying here.


Trish Ward

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Trish Ward Chicago flag tattoo

From the Chicago Flag Tattoo inbox comes Trish Ward and her tattoo:

Trish: A friend told me about your web site and I was delighted to see it! I am a life-long Chicago woman, born and raised here. I am 49 years old and work as a critical care nurse. On my last birthday I got this tattoo. I gave careful thought to what I wanted, as this is my first one. But I knew it had to be Chicago themed. To me the flag was perfect: simple, recognizable, beautiful. I know these flag tattoos are not rare, ( Your web site proves that!) but I feel what makes mine truly my own was the phrase I added: “My home my heart”. I love my hometown so much and I truly never feel settled unless I’m here where I belong!

I got this around the corner in my hood, Uptown, at the Tattoo Factory.

Thomas P

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Thomas P Chicago flag tattoo

Thomas comes to us from the Chicago Flag Tattoos inbox.

CFT: What’s the story behind your tattoo?

Thomas: While I was in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina free out of Basic training for the US Army, I wanted something that I missed more then anything. Home. There is no better symbol for Chicago than our flag. The amount of background from the blue strips to every star, there is so much history and pride in it.

CFT: Whats so special about Chicago to you that you’d want to get this tattoo?

Thomas: Chicago has always been my home town, I was born there. I moved when I was younger to the suburbs and let’s just say I never adjusted. I did move back into the city when I was 18, and it opened my eyes to everything. So many different people together, I love the culture. Never a dull moment.

CFT: Are you a chicago native?

Thomas: Hell yeah, I am a Chicago native!

CFT: where did you get your tattoo done?

Thomas: Since I was on leave from Basic Training, I had my tattoo done in Myrtle Beach, SC since I did have a couple days to kill until I had to start up again. Long story short, I got it done at Elite Ink Tattoos, Myrtle Beach, SC.

CFT: When people see you tattoo, do they know what it is?

Thomas: I would say in Chicago, yes everyone! But while I was in Las Vegas some people said it looked like the flag of Israel.

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