Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Feeling Crabby at the NYC Tattoo Convention

It's a long story, so I'll cut right to the chase - here's my new tattoo, inked Saturday at the New York City Tattoo Convention:

This tattoo makes me happy, and I am grateful to the good people of Independent Tattoo in Selbyville, Delaware, especially James Delzel (@jdelzel on Instagram) and Tasha Halphen, the shop manager, who helped set it up.

Now, the question, why? Here's the scoop:

This was my eighth year visiting the convention and I've always remembered talking to the crew from Independent who have come to the show. This year James was with Matt Amey, another great artist. Tasha was there last year. But at some point, several years back, a seed was planted. Someone mentioned that they had done a crab event, tattooing crabs a la Friday the 13th flash. Selbyville is in close proximity to Ocean City, Maryland, in the one county in the state where tattooing is illegal. And, well, crabs are quite popular in Maryland. I don't remember the details of the event (or who told me about it), but that stuck with me and I've craved a crab tattoo ever since, so much that it's subsequently come up as a possibility, but never a reality, until this year.

A month or so ago, I was messaging with Tasha and the stars aligned. She mentioned the possibility to James and he was excited to do it. The rest is history.

But, why a crab?

First of all, I remember my mom had these cool oversized astrology postcards when I was growing up. I loved playing with the Cancer card, a bright colorful illustration that featured a crab.

Add to that the fact that no kid grows up in Hawai'i, as I did, without spending time chasing sand crabs on the beach. It was just a part of my childhood that always stuck with me - one that also influenced my tastes. I was never a big seafood fan, but I'm convinced my distaste for crab has more to do with my affinity for the creatures, as opposed to what my actual taste buds tell me.

The design itself was developed by James, with the following image as a starting off point:

That is Scylla Serrata, known also as the mud crab, mangrove cab and, In Hawai'i, the Samoan Crab.

Why this crab? Well, put on a 7-year old's hat, and recognize that Samoan rhymes with Cohen. As a young buy, my active imagination took my astrological sign and merged it with this rhyme, making the Samoan Crab my totem. I even formed a "Samoan Crab Club," a group of friends, all with names given by me: Samoan Dog, Samoan Mouse, and Samoan Goat, to name a few. Silly boyhood stuff.

My father remembers this Samoan Crab business and occasionally reminds me of it, but I thought that was the extent of this long-lost aspect of my childhood, until a book-signing, several years ago. One of my oldest childhood friends, who teaches at a prestigious university and has published several books on cultural affairs (an oversimplification), inscribed his first book to me, "Bill - Samoan Crab!...". He didn't sign it "Samoan Goat," but he might as well have.

Anyway, that's why Scylla Serrata was the basis for my new tattoo. I left the final design up to the artist - they always know best, and it shouldn't surprise people that a lifelike rendering of the Samoan Crab, known for its dark color, would not translate well to skin. I was totally fine with lightening up the design and adding some color that "popped."

On the way to the convention Saturday, James told me that he and Matt had seen someone walking with a crab tattoo and they saw that it was very unreadable from a distance. James told me it was fortuitous encounter, as they saw what didn't work, in that instant, and it helped guide his idea of how to complete the tattoo.

James placed the stencil higher up on the leg, as it just looked better higher up, juxtaposed with the eagle on the side of my calf. 

It is off enough from the height of the opposite leg's tiger, that it is obvious we were not trying to line up the two tattoos.

James is a great tattooer - my legs tend to occasionally twitch unwittingly when getting tattooed, especially when we get into the second hour, but he just "rode it out."

James sizing up the tattoo with an Independent crab mallet (photo by Matt Amey)
So that's the story of my newest tattoo. This crab will keep me happy for many years to come, and I thank, once again, James Delzel and Independent Tattoo for all their good work and friendship over the years!

Be sure to visit them at their website here and, if you're ever looking to get inked in Ocean City, just head north to Delaware and find them in Selbyville!

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