The Quote Garden

 I dig old books.

 Est. 1998

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Quotations about Tattoos

The tattoo attracts and also repels precisely because it is different. ~Margo DeMello, Bodies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community, 2000

The old man thrust out his tongue, and, to Pool's amazement, he saw the surface of that sensitive organ, from root to tip, tattooed in intricate designs. ~Jack London, "The Bones of Kahekili"

Good tattoos aren't cheap and cheap tattoos aren't good. ~Saying

He was as tempestuous of exterior, as hearty of manner and as stormy of voice as ever, — and just as good a man as exists anywhere. His legs, and arms, and back, and breast, were just as splendid as ever with grand red and blue anchors, and ships and flags, and goddesses of liberty, done in the perfection of the tattooing art. ~Mark Twain, 1868

All sorts of men in one kind of world, you see. Dodge again! here comes Queequeg — all tattooing — looks like the signs of the Zodiac himself. ~Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Many spare hours he spent, in carving the coffin lid with all manner of grotesque figures and drawings; and it seemed that hereby he was striving, in his rude way, to copy parts of the twisted tattooing on his body. And this tattooing had been the work of a departed prophet and seer of his island, who, by those hieroglyphic marks, had written out on his body a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth; so that Queequeg in his own proper person was a riddle to unfold; a wondrous work in one volume; but whose mysteries not even himself could read, though his own live heart beat against them; and these mysteries were therefore destined in the end to moulder away with the living parchment whereon they were inscribed, and so be unsolved to the last. ~Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Tattoo parties: just like a regular party – but with a permanent hangover. ~Rob Ruckus, Bad Ink, "Tat's Ink-redible!," 2014  [S2, E9]

But Marbonna was just the man for this — large and muscular, well made as a statue, and with an arm like a Tahitian's thigh. His face, tattooed as it was in the ornate style of his tribe, was as good as a picture-book. His youngsters delighted to trace with their fingers, the outlines of the strange shapes there delineated. ~Herman Melville, Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas  [a little altered —tg]

Tattoos are walking artwork. ~Saying

Mothers don't like their kids getting tattooed. They get mad because that's their ultimate creation and they don't want you messing with it. ~Corey Miller, LA Ink, "Pixie Moonlights," 2008  [S1, E15]

For westerners, the tattoo has always been a metaphor of difference. ~Margo DeMello, Bodies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community, 2000

The skeleton dimensions I shall now proceed to set down are copied verbatim from my right arm, where I had them tattooed; as in my wild wanderings at that period, there was no other secure way to preserving such valuable statistics. But as I was crowded for space, and wished the other parts of my body to remain a blank page for a poem I was then composing — at least, what untattooed parts might remain — I did not trouble myself with the odd inches; nor, indeed, should inches at all enter into a congenial admeasurement of the whale. ~Herman Melville, Moby Dick

You think it, I ink it. ~Saying of tattooists

Inking without a plan gives Booth freedom to explore the desires of those seated in his chair, he says, to feed off their energy, allowing his clients' demons to help guide the needle. ~Joshua Lipton, about tattoo artist Paul Booth, "Bad Skin," in Rolling Stone, 2002

Be that as it may, primitive tribes were certainly convinced that the spirit, having escaped from the body at death, retained a replica of its earthly tenement. They therefore used tattoo marks as a means of identification in the next world and a passport to future happiness. ~Ronald Scutt, Art, Sex and Symbol, 1974

Beauty is skin deep. A tattoo goes all the way to the bone. ~Vince Hemingson,

Beauty is skin deep, unless you have really bad tattoos. ~Jacob Calle

From such records on the living pages of unconscious leafy organisms, I find myself unavoidably led a step higher, to gaze at that strangest of all papers, the bodies of living men! There are nice discussions in historical works as to the date of the first English paper-mill, and whether British paper is older than the days of Queen Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth! Say, rather, Queen Boadicea, or, far beyond her, select Queen Anonyma, who reigned in prehistoric times. Our ancestors wrote on their fair skins, in native woad or indigo, what they sought to put on record, and for I know not how many thousand years the practice has prevailed down to our day. We are living writing-paper. ~George Wilson, "Paper, Pen and Ink: An Excursus in Technology," in Macmillan's Magazine, 1859  [a little altered —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]

Tattooing is about personalizing the body, making it a true home and fit temple for the spirit that dwells inside it... Tattooing therefore, is a way of keeping the spiritual and material needs of my body in balance. ~Michelle Delio, Tattoo: The Exotic Art of Skin Decoration

Your body is a temple, but how long can you live in the same house before you redecorate? ~Author unknown

The first purpose of clothes, as our Professor of Things in General imagines, was not warmth or decency, but ornament. Says he, "among wild people, we find tattooing and painting even prior to Clothes. The first spiritual want of a barbarous man is Decoration, as indeed we still see among the barbarous classes in civilized countries." ~Thomas Carlyle  [a little altered —tg]

We are all tattooed in our cradles with the beliefs of our tribe; the record may seem superficial, but it is indelible. ~Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)

Men are tattooed with their special beliefs like so many South-Sea Islanders; but a real human heart, with Divine love in it, beats with the same glow under all the patterns of all earth's thousand tribes! ~Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)

Think before you ink! ~Saying

Your necklace may break, the fau tree may burst, but my tattooing is indestructible. It is an everlasting gem that you will take into your grave. ~Verse from a traditional tattoo artist's song, as quoted on, "Skin Stories: The Art and Culture of Polynesian Tattoo," 2003

...certain large intertwisted ciphers covering the whole inside of the arm, so far as exposed, with mysterious tattooings. The design was wholly unlike the fanciful figures of anchors, hearts, and cables, sometimes decorating small portions of seamen's bodies. It was a sort of tattooing such as is seen only on thorough-bred savages — deep blue, elaborate, labyrinthine, cabalistic. Israel remembered having beheld, on one of his early voyages, something similar on the arm of a New Zealand warrior... ~Herman Melville, The Refugee

There's no crying in tattooing. ~Saying

Not one great country can be named, from the Polar regions in the north to New Zealand in the south, in which the aborigines do not tattoo themselves. ~Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, 1871

      Reading and reverie were by no means the only methods adopted by my shipmates in whiling away the long, tedious hours in harbour. Many slept; some stitched elaborate shirts; some polished their brass or steel bright-work. Some excelled in tattooing or pricking, as it is called in a man-of-war. Each pricker had a small box full of tools and colouring matter. They would prick you to order a palm-tree, or an anchor, a crucifix, a lady, a lion, an eagle, or anything else you might want.
      The Roman Catholic sailors on board had at least the crucifix pricked on their arms, so that if they chanced to die in a Catholic land, they would be sure of a decent burial in consecrated ground. And many sailors not Catholics were anxious to have the crucifix painted on them, owing to a curious superstition that if you have that mark tattooed upon all four limbs, you might fall overboard among seven hundred and seventy-five thousand white sharks, all dinnerless, and not one of them would so much as dare to smell your little finger.
      We had one fore-top-man on board, who, during the entire cruise, was having an endless cable pricked round and round his waist, so that, when his frock was off, he looked like a capstan with a hawser coiled round about it. He paid eighteen pence per link, besides being on the smart the whole cruise, suffering the effects of his repeated puncturings; so he paid very dear for his cable. ~Herman Melville, White-Jacket  [altered —tg]

We seamen, when there's naught to do
In calms, the straw for hats we plait,
Or one another we tattoo
With marks we copy from a mate,
Which he has from his elders ta'en,
And those from prior ones again;
And few, if any, think or reck
But so with pains their skin to deck.
This crucifixion, though, by some,
A charm is held 'gainst watery doom.
~Herman Melville, Clarel

If the body is a temple, then tattoos are its stained glass windows. ~Vince Hemingson, 2010,

Such a face! At first I thought he'd been in a fight, but then I plainly saw black squares on his cheeks and I knew not what to make of this. Soon an inkling of the truth occurred to me — he must have been tattooed. And what is it, thought I, after all! It's only his outside; a man can be honest in any sort of skin. ~Herman Melville, Moby Dick  [a little altered —tg]

Ink to paper is thoughtful
Ink to flesh, hard-core.
If Shakespeare were a tattooist
We'd appreciate body art more.
~Terri Guillemets, "Ink to flesh," 2002

The crew were a buccaneering looking set; with hairy chests, purple shirts, and arms wildly tattooed. The mate had a wooden leg, and hobbled about with a crooked cane like a spiral staircase. There was a deal of swearing on board of this craft... ~Herman Melville, Redburn: His First Voyage

When the designs are chosen with care, tattoos have a power and magic all their own. They decorate the body but they also enhance the soul. ~Michelle Delio, Tattoo: The Exotic Art of Skin Decoration

For index now as he stretched forth
Derwent, arrested, cried, "Dost bleed?"
Touching the naked skin: "Look here—
A living fresco!" And indeed,
Upon the fore-arm did appear
A thing of art, vermil and blue,
A crucifixion in tattoo,
With trickling blood-drops strange to see...
~Herman Melville, Clarel

Louie brought home his girlfriend at Thanksgiving. The nicest thing I can say about her is that all her tattoos are spelled correctly. ~Robert Harling, Steel Magnolias, 1987

Tattoo the pristine flesh
What is permanent anyway?
This ink only lasts 'til the grave,
Time will decompose
That which we did compose.
~Terri Guillemets

It was now evening, and by the dim light we could just discern the savage countenances around us, gleaming with wild curiosity and wonder; the naked forms and tattooed limbs of brawny warriors, with here and there the slighter figures of young girls... Nothing can exceed the fierce gesticulation of these people when animated in conversation, and on this occasion they gave loose to all their natural vivacity, shouting and dancing about in a manner that well-night intimidated us. ~Herman Melville, Typee

Thank you to Vince Hemingson
— —
for his contribution to this page!

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published 2001 Oct 18
revised 2021 Sep 4
last saved 2022 Apr 3