Tattoo Story – Cindy Emch

Cindy Emch aka Emchy is an accordion player, poet and pop culture dork. She has three bands and you can learn all about them and her writing on her home page.

This tattoo was gotten for my wife on our anniversary. Always superstitious, I modified the grammar to read Love for the Life – incorporating a double meaning of love for life, and love for The Life – referencing the queer life. This to me makes it both universal and specific for who I am and who the tattoo was for. This tattoo was done by Mikal Gilmore at Black & Blue Tattoo in the Mission in San Francisco.

Wrist Stars
These were done by a friend who was just learning how to ink, they were her 3rd tattoo on actual human skin. They mark a moment where I chose to lead my life with more active choices and not just let life happen to me. These were done by Mikal Gilmore in a kitchen in an apartment in Noe Valley in San Francisco.

Grandparents Crest
This tattoo was specifically for my grandparents. I got it a couple of weeks after my grandmother had died. The heart with antlers represents the fact that I come from a family of hunters. The birds are my grandfather and grandmother’s favorite birds respectively. The acorns are a Michigan Red Oak and California Live Oak to represent where I am from and where I make home now. The stars number the months in a year. This is actually my favorite piece that I currently have. This tattoo was done by Scott Silvia at Black Heart Tattoo in the Mission in San Francisco.

Willem the spider was my first tattoo. Done in a closet made up to be a tattoo studio in the lower haight district of San Francisco, the image comes from the Lenore comic drawn by Roman Dirge. I had this image taped to my computer monitor of my day job for over a year before getting the ink done. I found the image charming and see Willem the spider as my protector. Willem was never named in the original comic strip, instead I named him based on a song from the Tom Waits / William Burroughs opera The Black Rider.

When I turned 30 I started taking my writing and my spoken word seriously. This was to remind me of who I am, and who I have been since I started writing poetry at age 7. This tattoo was done by Mikal Gilmore at Black & Blue Tattoo in the Mission in San Francisco.

Lee Dotson – Tattoo Story

I’ve wanted to photograph Lee ever since he showed me his recently completed tattoo at a friend’s housewarming party. He designed it himself, and the artwork fits his personality perfectly. You can check out more of Lee’s art and character designs at his personal art site here.

I thought about my tattoo for about seven years during which I prototyped out various designs by way of placing them on characters that I was designing for various video games at the time. From a design stand point the tattoo is an amalgamation of my influences as an artist. I’m largely a digital artist a love affair with art noveau, high contrast design work, technology, and things that go bump in the night. The application of the tattoo itself was done by the wonderful Idexa Stern at Black and Blue Tattoo who not only did an amazing job of making sure everything lined up and sat correctly on my body but also made the three months we spent together working on the tattoo more of a journey than a mere technical process.

While the pen nib on my right arm is the only directly symbolic portion of the tattoo it relates to who I am on several levels. The piece is largely hidden on a day to day basis because in many ways I’m a private person and I like being able to choose where and when and with whom I share various parts of myself. I love art and music that is layered and complex and I love that I now have this hidden layer that only people who are close to me know about. I realize that having photos of my tattoos on the internet runs somewhat counter to this idea but that highlights two other aspects of the tattoo that are important to me. The first is that a couple years ago the idea of shirtless pictures of me on the internet would have been absolutely mortifying so I love the fact that having them has made me more comfortable with myself. Secondly, I think it’s important to remember that the rules we live by are our own creation and as such we can change them and break them whenever we see fit.

Chance McKinsey – Tattoo Story

I wanted something simple for my first tattoo, and settled on my astrological symbol in the middle of a tribal sun. While looking for artists, I became inspired to start planning out my next, oh, dozen or so tattoos and found myself scribbling constantly in my sketchbook. One day, I banged out four tribal looking symbols for the elements: earth, wind, water, and fire. I was so pleased with the results that I immediately 86’d the idea of getting anything else.  And then, I found Dawn.

Dawn was a corporate graphic designer for ten or fifteen years before waking up one day and realizing she was unhappy. She quit her job, bought a motorcycle, and became a professional female bodybuilder and a tattoo artist. She told me all this to distract me while she inked up my chest, getting my attention most when she was going over the tender collar bone area. I was so inspired, I never forgot her story and repeat it to myself every time I worry about not knowing what I want to do with my life.

For a week afterwards, I wore button-down shirts so I could periodically rip them open and break into the Captain Planet theme song. Really, the symbols are just there as reminders of the love and awe I feel for the power of nature.

Continue reading “Chance McKinsey – Tattoo Story”

Tattoo Story: J-Bird

“Everyone deserves a chance to fly”

This was my very first tattoo. It’s a quote from the musical, “Wicked”. Its sung at a very pivotal point in the musical where the “wicked” witch defies all odds and flies, even when there are people trying to stop her. This quote reminds me that even though people may try to bring me down, I know I can defy their expectations and just be myself. If I don’t at least try, they win.



My best friend Mo stuck and poked me right before I moved for the Bay. Not only did it symbolize our friendship but it also symbolizes that no matter where I end up, that compass will always keep me from getting lost.

Crane Tattoo

My grandfather was the first family member to pass away. I remember it was so hard for me to cope with his death that getting this tattoo in his memory was the only thing that helped ease my pain. I remembered my grandfather used to play with these Japanese playing cards. When he played, I remember as a child how that was the only time I really saw him smile and really enjoy himself. I took an image from one of these cards and did my own drawing interpretation of it.

When I started to identify as “Queer”, not just as a “Lesbian”, is when I got this tattoo. I couldn’t have been more proud of how much I opened my heart and my mind to infinite possibilities of sex, gender, identity, and love.


Live in San Francisco and have some ink you’d like to show off, or are a tattoo artist who just finished a really cool piece? Contact me about a shoot. I’m always looking for people with creative and interesting tats to work with.