A Tattoo – MUM

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The brief for this exercise was for a tatoo for a young man based around the word mum that could also be printed on a card for Mother’s Day.

Some Tattoo History

Tattoos have been in use in many cultures throughout history, as far back as the ancient Egyptians who may have used tattoos for medical purposes. The word tattoo itself comes from a Polynesian word – tatau – meaning ‘to write’. The ‘tatau’ was linked to a rite of passage or family. The Maori ‘moko’ tattoos, brought to the Maori frop Polynesia, are associated with lineage and status within the tribe and most popularly applied to the face. In some cultures, such as Thailand, Cambodia and the Phillippines tattoos, or ‘yantra’ are considered protection from evil, or as good luck. In India popular bridal henna tattoos, ‘mehndi’, are temporary and worn by men and women.

Tattoos also have negative connotations. For example they were used by the Nazis as a form of identification of prisoners and during the Roman Empire for identifaction of soldiers that made it difficult for them to desert. Chinese authorities used tatoos to mark prisoners and slaves. Nowadays, particularly in Japan, tattoos are associated with criminality, e.g. the Yakusa, to the extent that there are strict regulations regarding tattoos there.

I started out with a mindmap where I considered different approaches for a tattoo around the word ‘mum’. There is existing symbolism that exists for motherhood/female fertility but I felt that a more generic approach would be more appropriate, considering I don’t know anything about the cultural background of the client. I became interested in different ways of representing the mother-son relationship, e.g. as apple-seed; oak-acorn; lioness-cub. As flowers are strongly associated with mothers in today’s culture, due to the international tradition of Mother’s day, I explored flowers that might be attractive within the design.

I started with some sketches of imagery around motherhood and then started making some sketches of ideas I had accompanied by a collection of imagery in a Pinterest moodboard.


I completely forgot to take a photo of my linework for the first tattoo idea, which is based on the idea of mehndi tattoos. I thought that this popular bridal tradition in which men also wear henna tattoos was a nice way for a son to celebrate his mum. So the design is a simple one color design. The second idea was of a lioness and her cub which I developed with a heart and lilies.


Reflecting on the designs I think I prefer the henna style design on the shoulder although the second design would be better without the five smaller flowers. I think these extra flowers make the tattoo somewhat more feminine, although as I don’t know the client this cannot be assumed to be a bad thing. I stuck to 3 colours for the second design as this has a direct implication for the price of the tattoo, with further colours costing more. An alternative would have been to do a detailed monchromatic version of this design. I would submit the lioness design as my final piece.

Update Following Feedback from Colleague

A colleague pointed out that ink pigments lighter than the skin pigment don’t show up after healing and tend to just be present as scars. I know this would be due to layers of skin covering over the encapsulated ink pigment. I quite like the subtle effect of white ink in tattoos, however there are draw backs such as a tendancy to yellow in sunlight. As the brief doesn’t specify a skin type for this exercise it is somewhat open to interpretation, however, it would be known with a real client. So I have mocked up the design on different ‘shades’ of skin, although these aren’t acurate skin colours, as an idea of how the design could be reworked. The darkest tattoo would need some further work defining lighter areas.


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