NYC's Coolest Tattoos — 18 People Who Make Ink Look Chic

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Fashionable folks change their style like some people change their socks. But, a tattoo is forever — so you know there must be some pretty great stories behind that ink. So, we rounded up our favorite stylish people and got them to spill on their epic chest pieces, T. rex tats, and college-party stick-and-pokes — and, boy, did they have tales to tell.
From getting inked in a Tibetan refugee camp and tattoos that almost caused a breakup to tributes to childhood homes and favorite basketball players alike, the accounts ahead are the real crazy stories behind the art. Plus, they also touch on all the parental grumbling that ensued...
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Anastasia Browning, bartender

“I have a variety of tattoos ranging from traditional to obscure and quite a few stick-and-pokes. I have around 30, so describing each one would be a bit extensive. When people ask me to describe my tattoos, I'm like, 'Do you have a few hours?'”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
“I got my first tattoo when I was 16. I wasn't old enough to get it on my own, so I had to have my mother's consent. She agreed to do it as long as I promised her not to get any more. I obviously didn't keep that promise. My first was five stars as a tramp stamp. I had this great meaning behind each of the stars, but I honestly don't remember them now. Now, I just have a five-star ass. Haha!”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
“I think my most [aesthetically pleasing] tattoo is my pineapple on my arm. It's just beautiful. But, my favorite would have to be my 'Can't touch this' belly rocker. It's just so funny.“
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
"I definitely wouldn't recommend tattoos to people who don't like standing out. The other day at the airport, I was stopped by a couple who asked me to pose for photos with them because of all my ‘crazy tattoos.' My pet peeve would definitely be that people seem to think that tattoos are a reason to touch you. I hate when people grab my arm and start rubbing all of my tattoos. Gross. I don't do that to you, do I?

"But, I do plan to get many more. I'm currently planning a back piece. I gave up on the idea of saving space years ago. I love tattoos. I want to be covered.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Lani Lee, photographer

“My tattoos are pieces of art I’ve collected from artists I admire and close friends. Some of them have personal meaning for me, like my mother’s portrait done by Tim Hendricks and the little graveyard on my ankle by Bert Krak. Those tattoos were like therapy.

"The tattoos I get most excited about are the little ones, especially if I’m getting them with someone. I have a few dates, initials, funny sayings, ‘friend’ tattoos, and lots of ‘love’ tattoos. I have a little camera on my knuckle. It's my favorite! I love what I do, and it's a tiny, little reminder.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
“Working in New York and L.A., tattoos are a positive. But, I like doing nonprofit work and travel-documentary stuff, and sometimes I feel too exposed. I want to blend in and be respectful of other cultures, so I cover up as best I can, including my neck and head, if it's appropriate. Yes, my tattoos are a part of me, but they are not the color of my skin — they were and are a choice. So, I feel it’s my responsibility to be respectful with how and when I choose to display them."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
“I hid all of my tattoos for a long time. But, my family has given up at this point and are just happy that I'm happy and that getting tattooed is my worst vice. My mother has come all the way around and can even find the beauty in some of them now.

"My advice to anyone thinking of getting a tattoo? If your artist tells you no, it might be for a really good reason."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Spencer Mandell, producer

“For many years, I lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia as a photojournalist and news producer. I collected art from every country and region I visited. Many of those pieces were then translated into tattoos.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
“Inside my left arm I have some Tibetan script. I used to live in a Tibetan refugee community in Nepal. When I was moving back to the U.S., my friends had local monks perform a naming ceremony for me and gave me a Tibetan name as a going-away gift. Afterward, the same friends gave me a bottle of Jack Daniel's and told me to drink it because now we were going to get the name tattooed on me so I would never forget them. I vaguely remember the tattoo artist taking a needle out of a glass jar of that blue liquid that barbers keep their combs in. I had learned the Nepali word for pain from an earlier incident that I will NOT share here, and I remember mumbling it to the tattoo artist as he hammered into my arm. It isn't the prettiest tattoo I have, but it is the most meaningful to me.

"I have some additional tattoo work to do, and, luckily, I have been working with Chris O'Donnell, who is one of the best tattoo artists in the world, for the past few years on the rest of my plans.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
“In 1994, I was 18 and deeply involved in the Hare Krishna hard-core music movement. I hung out at the temple on the Lower East Side and interned at a Hare Krishna record label. I found an outline of a stylized lotus flower in a book at the temple and Xeroxed the page. I went to a place called Mackenzie's Tattoo in Carmel, NY, since tattooing was still illegal in NYC and got it inked on my leg. I remember my mom not being all that psyched on that one.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Lori Leven, owner of Love Adorned and New York Adorned

“I started getting tattooed when I was 17 years old and am still getting them. My first tattoo was a butterfly on my hip that I got because, years earlier, I had seen a woman on the beach at Fire Island who had an impossibly chic little butterfly on her hip. And, oh boy, did that butterfly cause a ruckus in my family.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
“Being in the industry for most of my adult life, it's easy to get pieces on a whim or to wax poetically with an artist long term over the finer points. Or, sometimes, maybe a bunch of friends go back to the tattoo shop to all tattoo each other, even though only half of us are tattooers…

"I have a lot of cool Daniel Higgs tattoos, but I would have to say my favorite is a Fire Horse done by Horizakura, who works with us at New York Adorned."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
“My pet peeve is when strangers think it's okay to touch you to feel what tattooed skin feels like. There have been times when mothers pull their children away from me, saying, ‘Leave the nice, tattooed lady alone,' and times where people want to know every detail of your life. Which is worse?

"I think it's important that people think long and hard about how their design choice will grow with them over the years. You are always better to pick a classic design in whatever your preferred style is, so that years down the line, when you're shaking your child's teacher's hand during the PTA meeting or trying to talk a co-op board into letting you into their world, it doesn't become a sore spot for you. Simple is always best.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
DaMonica Boone, fashion assistant at Allure magazine

"I got 'L'Amour de Dieu,' which is French for 'The love of God,' when I was 20. I took French for four years and became obsessed with the language and culture. I got the tattoo right before I left to study abroad in London. It was one of the hardest times in my life because I was unsure as to what was going to happen to me once I got on the plane, but I knew in my heart that God would keep me safe and secured. I got the tattoo to remind me of his love."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
"My best friend of 10 years and I always wanted a matching tattoo. I moved away from home at 22, so we decided to get something then. She's a very religious person, so we settled on the word mercy, because we both believe God continues to bless us, even though we haven't been the most holy.

"My favorite tattoo is the kitty on my pinky. It represents the nickname my late grandfather gave me as a child, which is Moni Cat, because he always thought my eyes resembled those of a cat. My grandfather helped turn me into the young woman I am today, and he will always be missed. The tattoo reminds me that he's always with me."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
“I have an open heart around each nipple that I got when I was 22. I've been insecure about my A-cup breasts — that often feel like AA cups — since they started to sprout at age 12. It took my last semester in college for me to realize that I was beautiful as is. The hearts are daily reminders for me to love myself just the way I am.

"Also at 22, I got a feather on my front rib. I have a degree in journalism and am a freelance style and beauty writer, which is my passion. The feather represents my freedom with words and myself as a writer, and it symbolizes a quill pen."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Bethany Brill, freelance hair and makeup artist

“I got my first on St. Marks Place when I was 19. I had just moved to NYC and was itching to do something rebellious. I got a few more super-simple ones over the next couple years but didn’t really start getting tattooed until my brother ordered a machine and started tattooing his own legs. I was pretty bored that summer and thought, ‘Whoa, that looks so cool.’ So, I let him start practicing on me.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
"The girl head is one of my favorites. It was done by my brother, Jordan Brill, who is no longer a bedroom wizard but a super-legit, clean, and talented tattooer in L.A. She’s beautiful and spooky, which is always a good combination. Another one of my favorites is the hand of knives by Matt Bivetto. He saw I was a hairstylist and drew this up, à la Edward Scissorhands.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
"I got into it really quickly. I used to wake up, walk to my brother’s house, and pick out a design. He had a ton of cool flash books from the '40s and '50s. I would get something about once a week. My friends were like, ‘Um, another one?!’ I was like, 'Guys, calm down, it’s not like it's permanent.’

"My mom was surprisingly into it. She loves color and cute things, so I think I won her over."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Lindsay McCabe Pope, owner of LMNOP, a design and branding firm based in Brooklyn

“I got my first tattoo when I was 17 in a backroom of a dirty apartment in Worcester, MA. The guy’s name was Tyco, and he was new at tattooing. It was a stealth mission with my two best girlfriends. I had no idea what I wanted, so I chose a design from a jewelry box I’d received from my mom — an oval with a swirl in the center, very '90s. Unfortunately, it ended up looking like a big, black egg, but I was super proud of it. I felt like a total badass — emphasis on bad and ass. (It’s on my butt.)

"When I was 19, I saved enough money to get it covered by an actual tattoo artist instead of a creeper in a dirty apartment. I was a sophomore in college majoring in art history, so I got Botticelli’s Venus head tattooed over my existing black egg. I actually always forget that I have this tattoo...because of where it is, I never see it."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
"I have my childhood home on my right arm. The next one I’m planning is a smiley face — that's an ode to my hometown, too. Worcester is the birthplace of Harvey Ball, the artist responsible for the earliest known, commercially commissioned smiley face. Legend has it that his tombstone is just a giant smiley face. Brilliant!”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
"The L and R tattoos are for my husband's and my initials. I designed them myself. It's just peeking out here, but my second tattoo I got at 32 — the rose from Depeche Mode’s Violator album, which was designed by Anton Corbijn. For years in high school, I would come home after school and watch the documentary Depeche Mode 101 on VHS. It made me feel like I knew something other people around me didn’t know. The rose was my personal memorial to that influence."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Brittnee Cann, QA analyst

“I got two small stars on my stomach at 16. I had to cross the border into ‘Live Free or Die’ New Hampshire to find a shop that would do it. My mom actually came with me to supervise. Since I was acing my AP classes and abstaining from drugs and alcohol, I guess she figured if this was the worst trouble I was gonna get into, she'd just let it happen.

"My dad found out when my brother told him. He called me into the kitchen, asked to see them, and then went on a tangent about how we had a special connection now because my stars matched the one he got on his bicep when he was young. I think he felt more excited about our newfound camaraderie than anything else.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
"Thirty-four is a big number for me. It's the number of the house I grew up in and the jersey number of longtime Boston Celtics captain Paul Pierce. The other one, 'Ace,' is a Descendants song that means a lot to me.

"The 34 on my finger is my favorite, absolutely. I find myself rubbing it with my thumb like some kind of magic lamp whenever I need a little reminder of home or extra boost to be great like Mr. Pierce.

"I once saw a stand-up comic who joked that the smaller a tattoo is, the bigger a story that person has for it. I don't think I'd ever laughed harder because of how true that seems to be."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
"Elements in my sleeve pay tribute to family members. Bees are an homage to my dad, who's always called me 'honey bee'; my mother's initial is hidden inside of a rose; and the piece on my leg borrows nautical themes from my younger brother's sleeve, so it reminds me of him.

"Almost all my tattoos were done by Daniel Albrigo at Three Kings in Brooklyn. After seeing a coworker who had just gotten work done from him, I felt like, 'This is the guy.' I knew right away that he would be the artist for me.

"The only one Daniel didn't do is the '23' in roman numerals behind my ear. I got it after finishing a book about Michael Jordan, a way to serve as a reminder of the power of your own will, to always strive for greatness, and what it means to have focus, hone your craft, and be the best at something."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Meirav Devash, writer

"I got these Sailor Jerry angel and devil pinup girls first, by Maya Ventura-Medina at Third Eye Tattoo, which used to be a shop in Park Slope. I saw these pinup girls for the first time in high school in an ad for Estrus Records in punk zine Maximum Rocknroll. I was weirdly obsessed with them. It was the ’90s, what can I say?

"I was nervous about having tattoos in such a visible place — plus, they were topless. But, then I remembered: F*ck it. I use them as an anchor and reminder: There is no situation that my tattoos are inappropriate for that I would want to be in. My parents weren’t shocked that I got them, and I wasn’t shocked that they hated them at first.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
"I have Mexican sugar skulls on each arm, done by Joe Mags of Brooklyn Ink in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. They're inspired by lowbrow artist Sunny Buick. They’re bright and cheerful and fraternal twins: One is the good one; one’s evil.

"One former boss suggested that I wear a cardigan in the summer when walking the halls in the office so people didn’t get 'the wrong idea.' I did not heed her advice, and it didn’t seem to matter.

"Tattoos weren’t even legal in NY until 1997. Tattoo culture has changed a lot — you used to get a bunch of smaller pieces and link them all together with flames or Japanese clouds eventually, so it didn’t look like you spent time in a Russian gulag. The stigma has really faded, especially for people in creative fields. I used to be considered heavily tattooed, but now kids are getting full sleeves right out of high school, so that’s not the case anymore. The art has gotten way better, too! Now that tattooing is a legitimate field, there are some really talented artists out there, and they’re doing beautiful work."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
"My husband and I were married about a year — we worked opposite shifts and never saw each other. We were fighting, which is rare. I went to North Carolina with some girlfriends, and I did the most relationship-cursing thing you can do: I got Eddie’s name tattooed. It took less than 45 minutes. And, we made up after I got home. I always tell him if things don’t work out, I can just tattoo a period between the two Ds."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
"Medusa of Guadalupe, done by Regino Gonzales of Invisible NYC, is my favorite. She has serpents for hair, which are a representation of trichotillomania, a compulsive hair-pulling disorder that I have. I was born an Israeli Jew, but I’ve always been drawn to Mexican art and Catholic imagery. Sorry, but Catholics made the best art. She’s a traditional virgin and a bit of a monster. Religious Mexican ladies tend to really like this piece from afar, but I’ve also been yelled at on the street for blaspheming the Blessed Virgin.

"There's also a surprise guest: a little creepy dude that looks like he could be in The Cramps hiding in my lower-back hellscape. That little guy was not discussed — Troy Denning, also of Invisible NYC, just drew him in there. I’m a huge control freak, especially about art I’m going to be wearing long after I die, and, well, there’s this. But, I’ve learned to love him."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Travis Weber, art and design director

“I have 14. Ever since I can remember, I was fascinated with people who were inked, and I always wanted to be one of those people. Some of my tattoos carry a lot of meaning; others represent moments in life that I’ll always hold with me with each tat. I am in love with the process, culture, and the art of tattooing and will forever be attracted to it.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
“Sarah Bolen did the moth-dagger on my ribs. A lot of people are drawn to the psychedelic tribal piece on my arm by Daniel Albrigo. Mostly because I think it's totally different than what most people are getting tattooed these days, which seems to be lots of traditional-style tattoos.

"My tattoos aren't that big of a deal to my family. They feel it's my body and I can do what I want with it. Grandma and Grandpa, on the other hand, don't really get it, but that's okay — maybe one day they will."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
“Gregorio Marangoni did the skeleton. I always tell friends thinking about a tattoo that they should do the due diligence of researching tattoo artists and understanding their different styles and capabilities. The artist is everything, so if you love every tattoo they post on their Instagram, you will more than likely love the art they’ll permanently place on your body. You should also remain open to the artist’s own interpretation of your idea for a tattoo. That way, they’re just as excited as you are when the time comes to do the ink.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Drea Ramos, casting agent

“My favorite is my very first tattoo: my phoenix. It's a half-sleeve that took about 20 hours to finish, mirroring a lot of pains I experienced when I was 24. I was going through something really challenging before I got my first tattoo, and the experience inspired me to get a piece that represented rebirth. I just went for it.

"My mom lectured me for a while the first time she saw ink halfway down my right arm. I sat through it, and she didn't say anything further about it ever again. In fact, she likes to show them off to her friends now!”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
“I got my roses a few years ago. It symbolizes members of my family. Roses are one of my favorite flowers, and I admire the femininity they represent. I've had a lot of strong women around me growing up, shaping me into the woman I am today, and I felt roses were the best way to illustrate that. The thorned, unopened bud with three leaves represents that special someone, a little darling boy whose life was taken by cancer at the age of 3.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
"It may not look like it, but my rose tattoo isn't actually finished. A really dope artist in San Francisco, where I’m from, started it before I moved to NYC. Part of the reason it's not finished is obviously because of the distance but also because it hella hurts in that collarbone area, and I'm slackin’! I do plan on finishing it someday, though."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Laurel Pantin, market editor at Lucky, and Emily Holland, stylist at Glamour

Laurel: “My friend Emily and I were at the Refinery29 house in Montauk this summer, where we got some really fun and dumb tattoos that are kind of matching. Hers says ‘regrets,’ and mine says ‘neat.' The 'neat' one is actually my favorite. It's pretty dumb, but I like the word, and I like neat stuff.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Laurel: "I got a tiny star when I was 17. I hid it from my family! It would definitely have been a big deal, though. I think my parents always kind of knew I was going to end up with a few. Every time I get one, I have a little bit of a dread feeling after, like, 'Did I really need to do that?' But, then that goes away, and I haven't regretted any of them."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Laurel: "I have 'USA' in my inner lip. I think unplanned tattoos are generally the most fun. I watch a lot of those crazy tattoo shows — they're so addictive, just like tattoos themselves — and it makes me feel weird when people put tons of meaning and all this heavy thought into something. If you want to get one, get one! I know everyone gets things for different reasons, but if you're going to get a tribal tramp stamp, let's not pretend it's a memorial to your granddaddy. Unless it is, which is cool…"
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
"I have three safety pins on my right arm that I got when I was 25. I also have a little asterisk on my right arm, a small horseshoe, and a ring around my finger, '1010' in lavender on my left arm...

"I have an idea with a jackalope and a mermaid and a bluebonnet, but I'll probably just keep collecting dumb, little things."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Zana Bayne, designer, and Todd Pendu, photographer and creative director of fashion label PENDV.

Todd: “My tattoos are all black, no color. They all have to do with images of freedom and the cycle of life. I like to use old-school, traditional images like clipper ships and wolves but incorporate them in a new way. On my left arm, I have two wolves by Tamara Santibanez that circle around my arm, howling to the sky together. On my palm, I have the alchemical symbol of sulphur, which has also been incorporated into my brand as PENDV. The word pendu in French means ‘the hanged man’ and is related to the tarot card of the same name.”

Zana: “None of my tattoos are particularly meaningful in their symbolism. They’re all designs that I am aesthetically drawn to and find to be beautiful adornments."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Zana: “The ring of keys by MxM was my first piece. It was two months after I quit my final retail job to focus on my collection full time, and I felt it was appropriate to mark that milestone visually. Sometimes you get the occasional corny pickup line: 'Are those the keys to your heart?'

"Funny story about these. The keys were based off my personal collection, which I’d accumulated over years of travel and gifts from friends. Later that year, I lent my ring of collected keys to a photo shoot for Interview magazine. Somehow, my keys made it onto Karolina Kurkova and into five images of the printed story, but were lost on set, and I never got them back. Luckily, I have them on my leg forever…”

Todd: "I have a clipper ship on my right arm, also by MxM, collaged with an image of the grim reaper sitting on the moon from a Gustave Doré illustration from Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven. The ship is a symbol of adventure and danger, but no matter how far or fast we go or how long we last, the reaper is always watching from above, so it's 'carpe diem' until the end."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
"The pair of crossed, long-stemmed roses on my back by Tamara Santibanez was just finished in January. It’s not fair to choose favorites! I love all my tattoos equally, but I can say that I enjoy rediscovering the bats on my ankles, as I am a perpetual stockings-and-boots wearer, which keeps them hidden most of the time."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
“Across my entire back I have a scene from the tomb of Nefertari in progress by Zac Scheinbaum. It's based on a 3,500-year-old image created during the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II. The scene is of Imentet comforting Ra on his journey to rebirth. It's as much about the image as it is about the love story between Ramesses and Nefertari. Her name meant 'beautiful companion,' and Ramesses liked to call her 'The one for whom the sun shines.'”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Anna Maltezos, art director, and Shelly Lynch-Sparks, head of commercial design at Homepolish

Anna: “My favorite tattoo is my quarter-sleeve that I got at 27. It’s my visual interpretation of my understanding of quantum theory. I love science. I plan on extending it down to just above my elbow. I also love the pair of googly eyes I have tattooed on my hand, because they're ridiculous.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Anna: "People are drawn to my tattoos. I work in a creative industry, so most people I am around on a daily basis have tattoos...or, at least, they don't mind people who do."

Shelly: "After we get married, I’m going to get a piece of the floor plan my dad hand-drew of the house I grew up in on my rib cage. And, probably a few words from my grandmother on my arm."
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Shelly: “At 27, I got the semicolon on my right hand with my fiancée, Anna. It was an inside joke, but it became a way to say I love you without saying it. She would leave it on little notes.”

Anna: “I got the semicolon at 28 with Shelly, because she used to make fun of me for using proper grammar in text messages.”

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