Finding Meaning

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78 Tattoos

By Skip Hellewell

Becoming Art

Perhaps you’ve noticed the increase in Laguna tattoo shops. Turns out there’s a “tattoo renaissance” going on, inspired by reality TV shows like “Ink Masters.” Searching for meaning, I took a tour of the shops. I hadn’t thought of tattoos as art; I was wrong. Here’s what I saw and learned.

Tattoos tell your story. Forrest, a Laguna guy working at Lo Cal Tattoo, is a trained artist who prefers to work on a living canvas. It also pays better.

The tour he gave me of his own tattoos was a walk through the most meaningful moments of his life. There was a tattoo of his dad, to remember what his father taught him; a swallow to honor a best friend who died of an overdose; a “sailor’s grave” tattoo (a traditional seaman’s tattoo with anchor, life preserver, sinking ship, and eagle framed by a liquor bottle) to mark his return to sobriety; a Phoenix on his chest for his rise from the “dead”; and a Vampira tattoo with his wife’s eyes to mark his marriage. He had walked through the valley of death, been saved by tattooing, and was looking forward to new life — the birth of a son.

Chelsea, from Rancho Mission Viejo, was getting a floral design on her arm using her daughters’ birth month flowers. An owl, the symbol of wisdom, decorated her other arm.

Tattoos can explain your values. Ginny, from Aliso Viejo but born in Korea, was getting an arm tattoo of an anatomical heart because she’s an honest person who “wears her heart on her sleeve.” She already had a shoulder tattoo of three swallows to represent herself and two sisters, a star for the meaning of her Korean name.

Tattoos can be humorous too.  Ginny was also thinking of a tattoo on the bottom of her foot, “Made in Korea.”

Anthony, owner of Cast of Crowns studio where all the staff started out as trained artists, noted that in recent years tattoo equipment and inks have greatly improved, facilitating finer work. He was working on Andy from Frazier Park, who was getting a tattoo of an adopted foster child. Andy’s prior tats honored a comrade from Fallujah, Iraq, who committed suicide, and his father who served in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam (that tat had a flag, ship, and anchor).

Tattoos can be a memorial. Brandon from Lakewood had a tattoo for a sister who died with two sparrows holding a banner to represent the daughters she left behind. He had been at the Las Vegas concert shooting and had a chest tattoo as a memorial to the 58 who died.

Jessica, of Mission Viejo, had come to the Bare Bones Tattoo studio to discuss a traditional Japanese tiger tattoo to honor a grandmother who had passed. Her first tattoo, done at 18 (the legal age for tattoos) in a Santa Ana garage, was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote: “What lies behind us and what lies in front of us pales in comparison to what lies within us.”

The tattoo art form isn’t what I imagined. Of the 10 clients I spoke with, two were guys (a policeman and a firefighter), no surprise. But 8 were attractive young women communicating the meaning of their lives by tattoo. I was starting to get it — to understand someone’s tattoos, is a peek into their soul. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected]


Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):

Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.

Calvary Chapel Seaside, 21540 Wesley Drive (Lang Park Community Center), 10:30 a.m.

Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 7 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.

Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.

First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.

ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.

Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.

Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.

Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.

United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.

St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m.  There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.

St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 9:30 a.m. (summer schedule)

Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.



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