Putting pictures on the bare skin


In the Western world, the tattoo as decoration has again become popular in the last centuries. When the explorers Dampier (1691) and Cook (1774) exhibited fully tattooed people from the area of the Pacific Ocean in the West in the category of exotica, the public attention was drawn strongly there.

From Japan, the tattoo was spread through sailors across all ports of the world. Especially among French and English sailors it was very popular, and in the Nordic countries it was accepted in large sections of the population. Until 1960 it was from all European countries the least common in The Netherlands.

Maori Moko Facial Tattoo, New Zealand

face tattoo Iniuit, Alaska

Sumi-Yoshi tattooing, Yokohama, Japan

Horikin III busy to make a tattoo, Yokohama, Japan


The symbolism of traditional tattoos, as well as the repertoire of performances, was very limited, "watery grave," "faith, hope and love," "mother," or "Marie." The latter could give problems coming home, as the possibility existed that Marie had run off with another man. In general we can speak about little pictures, which were put on a fairly random part of the body. The story, that men were mostly drunk when they had a tattoo, is a fairytale: you cannot tattoo a person who has too much alcohol in his body, because the dilatation of the vessels causes severe bleedings.

Sumi-Yoshi tattooing, Yokohama, Japan

Skin souvenirs

The first collectors of tattoos now carry a motley collection of pictures on their skin, just like other people buy vacation souvenirs abroad and put them on the mantelpiece. Since a few years tattooing has become a fad among other groups. Consequently there is more emphasis on the artistic quality of the images. But many tattooists still use tracingpaper with the desired picture on it, or simply buy them at wholesale.

The customer can now choose from abstract figures in many styles. The trends go rapidly. Does the customer have something special in mind, then he can have it as tattoo. The technical knowledge of some tattooists at that level increased.

existing images you encounter worldwide

a motley collection of tattoos


The level was previously often so distressing that a tattooed tiger looked more like a striped dog. Nowadays you'll find more tattooists who have a good sense of lines and color and composition. There is a growing group of artists who master the tattoo techniques and make special projects. They have the canvas exchanged for the human skin. These kind of tattoos transcends the gummed pictures level.

professional tattoos drawn and made by artists

a tiger that looks more like a striped dog

But the scratchers working in dark cellars or in little dirty shops around the corner will never disappear. They have different customers, who don’t care about the pretty pictures, but care about the idea: I have a tattoo, so I am cool.

Tattoo Ramon at work in the 80s

Tattoo Studio in 2004
Eric Electric at work in 2004
Tattoo-studio electric tattoo:

Lifetime social service money

My own research (Van der Velden 1985-1992) showed that 78.2% had severe regrets about the tattoos, but 32% again will choose a picture, but in a place that you can cover with clothes. In another group these pictures often are visible and so arranged that they give the tattoo owners a good guarantee for a lifelong benefit for the social service money.

Why tattoos, and why not? There are just as many reasons to get your tattoo as there are reasons to get rid of them.

"eternal tears"

The Dutch tricolor upper hand

Some tattooists never learn. It is "not done" that professional tattoo artists treat customers in this way, applying tattoos on the forehead, throat and neck area, as you can see in the examples. This client has been under psychiatric treatment because, after a turbulent life, she could no longer take part in normal society.

More information?

This section is about a not translated book, called Adams coat, the skin from acne to tattoo.