May 2014 Archives

Gerardo Zavala

Gerardo Zavala Chicago flag tattoo

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

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Patrick Cornolo Chicago Flag knuckles tattoo

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.


Patrick: Right.

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.

Patrick Cornolo

Patrick Cornolo Chicago Flag knuckles tattoo

Burt Olvera

Burt Olvera Chicago Flag and Mario Nintendo tattoo

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 Sebben

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David Sebben Chicago Flag Tattoo

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.

About CFT

We love all sorts of Chicago-related tattoos and love interviewing the people who have them. If you've got one or know someone who does, please let us know at to arrange an interview.

If you just want to send in a photo, we always love to know:

  • What is about Chicago that made you want to get your tattoo?
  • Where did you get it done?
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  • If possible, we'd love to see a photo of you and not just your tattoo. Check out some of the interviews on the site to see what we mean.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

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