Typographical Tattoos: The Latest in Skin Art

Bill Morris. Contributor

AOL News (May 13) — On the eve of the 13th annual New York City Tattoo Convention, Ina Saltz stood in front of a room full of typophiles — or “type geeks,” as she affectionately calls them — and demonstrated that the big trend in tattooing today is toward elegantly inked words.

“It’s turning into something that’s unstoppable,” said Saltz, who was at the Type Directors Club in New York showing slides from her new book, “Body Type 2,” a sequel to her 2006 cult hit of the same title.

“Even the most wholesome role models now have multiple typographical tattoos,” she said. “I think that’s just one indication of the mainstreaming of typographical tattoos.”


Courtesy Ina Saltz
Chris Joseph, a “typophile,” shows off his typographical tattoo.As her books show, the inking of letters and numerals — to form names and sentiments, birthplaces and birthdates, snippets of poetry and literature and song lyrics — is a trend that has reached all corners of the globe.

After her first book appeared, she got fan mail and pictures of typographical tattoos from England, Paraguay, Tasmania, India and many places in between.

“It’s a phenomenon that’s fed by a number of factors,” said Saltz, who received a degree in fine arts from Cooper Union and worked as art director at numerous magazines. She is now chairwoman of the art department at New York’s City College.

“Tattoo artists tend to be graduates of art schools,” she said. “People who get typographical tattoos tend to be better educated. And you can interpret an image in many ways, but a passage of text is more precise, more direct. What does a dragon mean? But a verse by T.S. Eliot is very specific and it says something very specific. It says (the wearer) is educated and literary. It’s part of what they’re saying to the world at large. This is an elevated form of expression.”

Indeed, her books contain tattooed words lifted from Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Dylan Thomas, “Peter Pan” and Radiohead.

As interest continues to snowball, she’s already at work on a third book in the series. A few days before giving her slideshow, Saltz welcomed a young man named Chris Joseph into her apartment so she could photograph his tattoos. Joseph explained that the tattoo on his chest was taken from a poem read at the funeral of a beloved aunt who died in January. She was the first person in Joseph’s Lebanese Catholic family to be cremated. The lines read:

So, when all that’s left of me
is love,
give me away.

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