COLLABORATION WITH: SHANNON, MONTY & ADIE

As we get older we face such unexpected challenges, especially around our health and the health of those we love. I am grateful to Shannon for sharing the inspiration behind her tattoo. 

"The phrase "it is well" comes from a hymn penned by Horatio Spafford in the 1800s. The song begins with these words:

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll, 
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul. 

These lyrics remind me of several truths. First, the idea that, no matter the circumstances surrounding us, we can turn to God for a lasting peace that runs far deeper than any momentary troubles. Second, when we believe that Jesus Christ is God's Son and that He paid the price for our sin so we can be with Him for eternity, our hope is no longer based on what does or doesn't happen during our days. Rather, we have an eternal hope that is firm and secure—unwavering no matter what sea billows may roll. 

I understand how it feels to have the storms of life overwhelm you, but I also know firsthand the joy and peace God brings when we trust in Him. 

My mom has Huntington's Disease, a devastating neurodegenerative condition, and was recently placed on hospice care, but I can say it is well with my soul. 

My grandpa has been fighting cancer, but still I know it is well.

My sister just found out she, too, has cancer, and likely has a long battle ahead. But it is well. 

I, too, carry the gene for Huntington's Disease and could face a future similar to my mom's. Even so, it is well with my soul. 

Mara's design is a beautiful reminder of a truth that was already a part of me. Now that it's inscribed on my arm, I find myself looking at it often. 

I see it as I soak up what time we have left with my mom. I see it as I call my grandpa to talk about his treatments. I see it when I text my sister, asking if it's a good day or a bad one in her fight against cancer. And I see it when I think of what may lie ahead for me—knowing that God will be faithful no matter the pain that may come. Huntington's Disease might crush my body, but my future is secure with Christ in heaven. It IS well with my soul."

Thank you to Shannon; to tattoo artist Monty Mavimol of the The Honorable Society (West Hollywood, CA); and to photographer Adie Gateley.

 


 

COLLABORATION WITH: DEVIN, NINA & AMBER

Greetings, 2017! Sharing this tattoo story from Devin seemed appropriate for the start of the new year as we prepare for what is to come, come what may. 

"This is a quote from an Andrea Gibson poem. If you've never heard of her she's one of the most wonderful spoken word poets out there. Many of their poems have moved me during hard times of self-identity and coming to terms with who I am in many ways. Here's an excerpt from the end of 'Dive.'"

life doesn’t rhyme

still life is poetry
not math
all the world’s a stage
but the stage is a meditation mat

you tilt your head back
you breathe
when your heart is broken you plant seeds in the cracks
and you pray for rain
and you teach your sons and daughters
there are sharks in the water
but the only way to survive
is to breathe deep
and dive

Thank you to Devin for sharing his story; to tattoo artist Nina Dinh in Toronto; and to photographer Amber Patrick.

 

COLLABORATION WITH: KEVIN, NEX & ERICH

Working with Kevin was a total dream and privilege. He commissioned four tattoos, the most I've ever done for any client. The first time I saw these photos I gasped with astonishment. What a privilege to be granted so much real estate! The translation of the first tattoo, in Gaelic, is, roughly, "I will love you until the end of time." My gratitude to Kevin, Nex and Erich. 

Why does anyone get a tattoo, really? 

I can't say the reasons I've chosen to decorate my skin with images and words. There's no eloquent story of change or struggle or growth that led me to my first tattoo some (nearly!) twenty years ago. It just felt like something I needed. And I've continued this vague pursuit of self as I've added tattoos and tattooed over tattoos. 

Each is intensely personal. Each is a story. An element of me. They speak of my frailties and failures, my successes and loves. They are totems of fatherhood, heritage, the people most important to me.

The expression of these things – these deeply meaningful, particular things – through Mara’s designs are elegant and striking and seem at once foreign and perfectly at home on my body. They are too beautiful for me but are mine and mine alone. They are an idealized representation of thought that is yet unexpected. A cherished surprise. A fortunate, emotional reminder of the things that make me who I am.

Why does anyone get a tattoo, really? To express their feelings as eloquently as Mara’s art is perhaps reason enough.

Tattoo by Nex (Chicago, IL). Photographs by Erich Schrempp.

COLLABORATION WITH: KATHERINE, KEVIN & GENIA

I'm especially grateful every time I have the chance to work with a client that is honoring their children. Here's Katherine's story:  

My story is very simple. I am blessed with two beautiful little boys which are my world. I wanted their names on me somewhere to be able to see at any given moment that's why I choose my forearm. As soon as I saw Mara's work I knew with out a doubt in my mind I needed her calligraphy on me!! I could not be happier with the way it turned out and am proud to wear the most meaningful things to me on my arm every day!

Thank you to tattoo artist Kevin Sherritt (Alberta, Canada) and Genia Aasen of Divine Edge Photography. 

COLLABORATION WITH: KATHLEEN & JOSE

Hello there! I'm happy to share this latest tattoo story from Kathleen. The phrase reminds me of this article I read in the New York Times about how serendipity is one quality that, in some ways, protects us during these difficult transitions. 

Two years ago I moved to Zurich, Switzerland with my husband who is getting his master's degree here. We quit our jobs, put our life in storage, and came to this foreign place with nothing more than our two suitcases.

Expecto Patronum is Latin for "I await for a protector." Over the past twelve years and specifically during this transition, my husband has protected me through some really difficult life events.  Expecto Patronum represents my memories growing up with my him as a major Harry Potter fan and serves as a symbol of support and protection.

Many thanks to Kathleen and tattoo artist Jose Flores (Indianapolis, IN).

COLLABORATION WITH: NATALIE, STEVE & ELYSE

One of the best parts of collaborations is learning new words. This was the case with Natalie and sophrosyne, or the opposite of hubris. What a gift to meditate on this word in the new year. 

I first stumbled across the word “sophrosyne” about two years ago, defined as “a healthy state of mind characterized by self control, moderation, and a deep awareness of oneself, resulting in true happiness.” And that was it - I couldn’t stop thinking about it. 
There are traces of sophrosyne’s etymology woven through content from all over the world. While there is no direct translation for it in English, there are entire books and philosophies devoted to dissecting it. In Greek myth, sophrosyne was one of the “eduaimonia” or good spirits that escaped from Pandora’s box when she opened it. Aristotle described that this good spirit enabled one to “live well and do well.” The Greeks believed you had to work to achieve sophrosyne in your life by striving to be safe, sound, and whole through integrity and humility. Socrates saw this spirit as emphasizing all passions of the soul with balance and harmony.  As the opposite of hubris (arrogantly believing you are equal to the gods), those with sophrosyne humble themselves before God. Over time Catholic scholars adopted this theory and invested in the meaning even further, illustrating that sophrosyne is about striving toward the imitation of or a sense of union with God. 
Sophrosyne resonates with me so deeply because my parents raised my two sisters and me to have innate self-respect, but simultaneously taught us that we are not the center of the universe. As a result, I’ve become a bit stubbornly self-assured. I know what I want and am willing to work very hard to achieve it. 

These past few years, however, have been more challenging for me than I ever could have anticipated. On more than one occasion I have compromised that self-respect I always strive for. It often felt that no matter what I did, nothing was working out the way I had hoped or planned - that I had no control over my own life. I felt out of place in my own skin; unsettled and irritated and unfulfilled. So I turned to sophrosyne, allowing myself to trust that I will find what I need (even if it’s not what I want). 
Mara’s calligraphy, with its graceful and fluid movement, is truly a work of art; I knew right away that if I was going to have something imprinted onto my body forever, it was going to be her pen that would do it. 
What I love most about tattoos is their permanence; they cannot be lost or stolen. This was years in the making and I’m obsessed with how it all turned out. Now that it’s done I feel as if I’ve always had it, that it’s always been a part of me, its rich complexity motivating me daily. 
Sophrosyne is a strictly divine gift, not simply a human attitude. I can’t achieve it on my own, but now it is etched into my skin reminding me to stay humble and hustle hard - trust and self-acceptance will follow.

Tattoo by Steve at Saint Sabrina's (Minneapolis, MN). Photographs by Elyse Rethlake

COLLABORATION WITH: SUSAN, MIKE & ASHLEY

It was a treat to collaborate with Susan Hutchinson, of the blog Fleurishing, for this tattoo honoring her twins, Henry and Marie. Here's more from Susan about the significance: 

This tattoo represents many things to me, including my identity, my love story and…my children. The number three (trois, in French) has always been significant in my life, but only became evident to me when I met my husband. Suddenly, it was like the pieces of my own personal puzzle were finally coming together. Fast forward (three) years, and I was pregnant with twins. My body became a sanctuary for two human beings to grow and thrive in. Three of us, as one. While we no longer share my body, my beautiful children, Henry et Marie, will always be a part of me, until the day I die. They are my greatest gift.

Thank you to Susan for sharing (you can read more on her blog), tattoo artist Mike Ski (Philadelphia, PA) , and photographer Ashley Ludaescher

Betty Soldi + Retrouvius Calligraphy Workshop in London

Last month I had the privilege to co-teach a calligraphy workshop with Betty Soldi, my dear friend and muse, at Retrouvius in London. Retrouvius is a magical architectural salvage and design firm. Their showroom filled with microscopes, butterfly boxes, antique French lights, and church pews could not have been more atmospheric or beautiful. It was an unforgettable evening. I am unspeakably grateful to Betty, Matteo and &Co; Adam, Maria, Nick, and the entire Retrouvius team; and photographer Anna Ambrosi, who captured the spirit in the room perfectly; and our sponsors, Mount Street Printers and Lamy.

You can find many more stunning photos on the workshop page. Betty and I are dreaming up a summer calligraphy retreat in Europe next year. Sign up on the workshops page if you'd like to learn more!

COLLABORATION WITH: CRYSTAL & CHRIS

Hello and happy fall! I was glad to receive this latest tattoo story from Crystal, who chose Dante's phrase, "A great flame follows a little spark."

Mara's beautiful calligraphy was the best way to represent the elegance of Dante's work. To me this phrase serves as a gentle reminder and encouragement that essentially, small steps lead to bigger ones. Whether it's personal goals or anything else, the hardest part is just getting started and having the will not to give up on our dreams, because I believe that this life is the only one we are gifted with.

Thank you to Crystal, and her tattoo artist Chris Wellard in Toronto.