Saturday, 21 May 2016

An Inkling of an Inking


Everyone and their granny has a tattoo these days, especially in the UK where we are apparently the most tattooed nation on earth (anyone know who collects the statistics on this?) Recently I’ve been mulling over my own next inking. In doing so, I realised the world of science-themed tattoos is a rich and creative one. This led me down a rabbit-hole of natural history and palaeontological tattoos. Here are a few I particularly want to mention.

The coelacanth, "defying expectations" on the back of kittenhiccups.

The coelacanth is a fish that needs no introduction. This lobe-finned survivor is famous for being "re-discovered" off the coast of South Africa. It is one of the only sarcopterygian fish - more closely related to us tetrapods than to ray-finned fish - alive on earth today, and its closest relatives were thought to have gone extinct at the end of the Cretaceous. This stunning coelacanth tattoo graces the back of Flickr member, kittenhiccups. Although no artist details were supplied, the tattoo bearer explained that she chose it because it reflects "evolution, beauty, horror, life, death, defying expectations, [and] surviving against all odds". The detail is pretty stunning, down to the white flecking on the scales and beautiful lobe-fins.

(Image by Wendy Sloboda)
What do you do if someone names a dinosaur after you? Well, get it tattooed on your arm of course. Wendy Sloboda's beautiful tattoo was widely shared online after she discovered her namesake triceratops. This is someone who really deserves the honour: hailed as possibly one of the best fossil hunters in the world, Wendy has spent 30 years working alongside some of the biggest names in palaeontology.

Image by Tracey Switek, from this article.
One of the best known tattooed gentlemen of science is the writer, Brian Switek. His stunning skin art includes multiple fossils such as an Allosaurus (pictured), Ceratosaurus and Torvosaurus. He also sports one of the nuttiest tattoos I've ever seen, of the mythical jackalope. I'm especially fond of skeletal tattoos like this, as they never age - that is, as representations of actual fossils it's unlikely that new discoveries will effect their accuracy. Juxtapose this with the multiple tattoos of snarling scaled velociraptors with no feathers and Jurassic Park-esque broken wrists. Having said that...

Jeremiah Drewel defies accuracy with this beauty.
 ...this tattoo is pretty awesome. Yes, they are outdated, featherless and broken wristed, but the scene is stunning with those crepuscular rays highlighting their old-fashioned scaled skin. It belongs to Jeremiah Drewel, who at the time the picture was taken was a geology student at the University of Alaska. Kudos for getting something so good-looking that long-term accuracy doesn't matter. It is gorgeous.

Another way around the accuracy issue is to just go wholesale weird. Type "raptor Jesus tattoo" into your search engine and see what I mean.
An example of the popular Jesus-Raptor tattoo.

Taxonomy and evolution make for excellent tattoo inspiration. One of the best has to be evolutionary biologist Clare D'Alberto's Tree of Life. It combines the inherent artistry of the spiral tree of life with carefully chosen illustrations of major groups of living organisms. She's not the only one who has this tattoo, but hers is possibly the best designed and executed.

From 1pm moving clockwise the organisms are: an echinoderm (brittle star); a vertebrate (weedy sea dragon); a cyanobacterium (Anabaena); a radiolarian (Acantharea); a dinoflagellate (Ceratium);  an angiosperm (spider orchid); fungi (Penicillium and a yeast); a ctenophore (comb jelly); a mollusc (nudibranch). (Image from here)

Finally, my current favourite tattoo artist: Pony Reinhardt. She owns Tenderfoot Studio and is an award winning multi-media artist who has shown at the Smithsonian. I don't even know where to start, her tattoos are just out of this world. They are natural history, they are beauty, and they're bonkers. If I had the money to go to Portland right now and get inked I'd be on the next plane. Here is a selection of my favourites.


Pony Reinhardt's tattoos.


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I have merely scratched the skin of the world of science tattoos. For more, check out Carl Zimmer's Science Ink, or do some searching online - there are tonnes out there to admire (and abhor!)

I'd also love to see your tattoos - wanna share them with me on twitter? @gsciencelady