The needle punctures the skin, vibrating like a cell phone persistently ringing. Ripping into his flesh like a thousand small bee stings, leaving behind a trail of black lines and splotches of grey to create an eagle clawing its way through a snake. Pain washes over his face, with a wince and sneer, but through that pain is laughter from jokes told by his friends. This tattoo and memory will stay with David Stern until his body decays in the earth.

Tattooing has been an art form for thousands of years, used in countless ways to represent you, your heritage, or whatever you want it to be. There are countless tattoos in the world and every single one has a different story or reason behind it, whether it be going to a tattoo shop with friends or travelling to another country or even just because someone wanted some cool art on their body.

Tattoos can hold an importance to an individual for whatever reason they wish.

Jensen Beach, an English professor at Northern Vermont University – Johnson, hosts a living gallery of inked art on his body. 

“I like to get tattooed when I travel. I take students to Lisbon every summer, and get tattooed by the same person, and those are always memorable experiences and good memories of the trip and reminds me of the group that I brought that year,” he said.  

When asked about his favorite tattoo, David Stern, a paraeducator at The I.N.S.P.I.R.E. School for Autism, said, “My favorite would honestly have to be my cyborg reaper on my thigh. I love the intricate detail and color in it. Just allowing myself to be completely open to whatever my artist wanted to do was a great experience. I got to go down to my favorite shop, kick it with my friends and laugh at dumb jokes for like six hours while we all got tattoos. It was a great day.”

It’s experiences like these that make Beach and Stern happy they have their tattoos, using them to look back fondly on memories.

First tattoos often maintain a special significance for devotees of this form of body art, which is certainly the case with Northern Vermont University – Johnson student, Patrick Regels. “I would say my first tattoo, which is a Buddhist endless knot,” Regels said. “I think that’s always gonna be the most special because I got into Buddhism when I was in middle school. I’ve tried to live my life based on Buddhist philosophy, and I thought, ‘what better way to represent that than with an endless knot?’”

Patrick Regels
Regel’s tattoo

Regels has his tattoos for a particular meaning rather than for a particular experience, holding something on his body that means something that he feels will represent himself. 

“It’s an outlet for self expression,” he said. “It allows me to put something on my body, and I can look down at wherever it is and say, ‘I care about this thing, this is a work of art that’s gonna be with me forever.’”

A secretary at Castle Hill Resort in Ludlow, Vermont, Zoe Joseph, said her tattoos’ primary purpose is aesthetic, which for her is meaning enough. “I just like how they look, honestly. I like having something pretty on my body that I can look at whenever I want,” she said. “Sure, I have some tattoos that have meaning, but it’s things like my rat tattoo that make me smile when I look at it.”

Joseph’s rat tattoo is primarily line work of a rat that has splashes of vibrant colors throughout that give the appearance of watercolor paint.

Everyone who has a tattoo seems to have different reasons for their body art, and find multiple meanings for what is depicted on their skin.  For Stern, the meanings are multiple: “What tattooing really is, is friends and family, and crying and laughing, and shitting your pants because it’s so fucking funny. Tattooing is just like, incredible.”