A Permanent Souvenir From London & the Graves of Stoke Newington
I first discovered Lucy Frost through Moo.
I receive newsletters from the graphics company who specializes in template/custom business cards and letterheads, a great source for building your brand and creating the materials to share your business with the world. They also do story highlights on customers who've worked with them and it was there I was introduced to Dark House Tattoo Co.
I don't think I've talked much about tattoos here on CLC, but I've got several posts that I'm working on, which delve into the topic. Soon you'll see just how much I love tattoos. Like a lot.
I created a design for a close friend of mine who was looking into doing a cover up on her arm. As I designed it, I began to fall more in love with it for my own skin. The design for her was inspired by her daughter, a precious little girl, full of spirit and so reflective of both her parents. It wasn't the right fit for what Jess envisioned and that's OK, it ended up being a most interesting segue into my next tattoo.
The Inspiration & process
I've always loved flowers and foliage, their symbolism resonates a lot with me. On my left shoulder I have a flowing stem of roses, now a bit faded and loved. As I drew the sketch of this new tattoo, I knew I wanted to have a rose and an iris included, two mementos commemorating something beyond their innate beauty.
Roses and Irises: my Mom loved the deep purple hue of irises, so much so, they were the direct inspiration for her bedroom and bathroom. I remember frames of them, each by a different artist, that deep purple finding its way into blown glass vases and accent towels. And we both loved roses, you'd often find a bouquet or even a single stem on our mantle, small gifts for each other throughout the year.
significance & design
Part symbolism, part aesthetic. Design matters by our own interpretation and value to its form, detail, shape. All the things. All the things that make up artistic creation. Have you ever thought of letting creativity be permanently a part of you?
I find I need my tattoos to honor something, to convey appreciation for a person, a memory, even a feeling. This is certainly no requirement, to each their own, but I love to see the significance expressed so permanently. And it can be something as simple yet symbolic as the petals of a flower.
It was important to me that the final tattoo be representative of Lucy's interesting style, not just my design. Her work, which is rich in black & grey dot work and geometric designs, was perfect for what I envisioned the final outcome of this tattoo. She had great attention to detail and I appreciated how she respected my inspiration while infusing her touch into it, creating a balance indicative of an awesome collaboration.
She was also wonderful to work with. Communication with your artist is paramount (especially when you have close to 5,000 miles between one another) and she was no exception. She was thoughtful and patient, especially as I struggled endlessly with technological difficulties. We tried to chat on Skype, but my connection kept faltering so the screen would freeze, and what good is discussing a tattoo when you can't see anything? I waited for the moment when she'd say this might not work out, sorry. I would have understood if she decided to call it quits, but she never did. So with massive gratitude, July 17th came with even greater anticipation.
The day of in the neighborhood
I remember walking through the streets of Stoke Newington, my first time in the neighborhood, and instantly felt a familiarity that took me back home. For those Seattlites, it reminded me of Greenwood or Beacon Hill, with dollops of small shops and cafes among homes and parks. It had a familiar calm to it that is maybe unique to the late Tuesday morning when I arrived. From what I've read, there is an extensive night life with a growing number of pubs and bars interspersed throughout. But in the early day, I felt a very relaxed vibe, quirky and unassuming. It was a nice change of pace from the bustle of central London (though I do love that bustle). I'm glad I got to explore it even for just a day.
Walking into the Santo Cuervo tattoo shop was small and intimate, with a spiral staircase that took you down to where the artists did their work. It was a great space with reclaimed wood and dark grey walls covered by artwork variously framed. I sat in the waiting area with a woman who was getting work done as well. She was a local, and as we chatted I remembered noticing how good it felt to connect with someone this way. Sitting in a tattoo shop in London, a dozen different choices could have led me to another shop or to none at all. But I was there and I couldn't wait.
But I was nervous. I get a little nervous before every tattoo because though my tolerance is high, it is still a pain I don't actively seek. But more than that, this tattoo felt special. It was special! My first international tattoo, the anticipation up to July 17th so great, as I realized I was flying 4,781 miles to meet my artist for the first time, truly. I found myself giggling like an idiot with excitement, this simultaneous sense of peace giving me a stride to my feet, that what Lucy was going to create would be a wonderful piece of art. The permanence I would be proud of. And Lucy, as she was through all of our conversations leading up to the day, was extremely kind and easy to talk to. It took us about 5 hours and she did an amazing job. I would travel 4,781 miles again to get work done from her.
abney park: the cemetery
There is a lush forest covered by tombstones and statues in Stoke Newington. Some exist deep in the foliage so overgrown you can barely read the words, and others stand tall like relics weathered by time. There is script etched into the stone, deeply personal and surprisingly legible. This place is Abney Park Cemetery. It is one of the Magnificent Seven garden cemeteries, the titled bestowed for the 10 year period after 1832 when a bill was passed to encourage the establishment of private cemeteries. At the time the inner city burial grounds of London were overflowing, so in those 10 years after the bill, seven cemeteries were created; including Abney park.
I hope to return to this woodland memorial park, especially since learning they have concerts, classes like woodworking and stone carving, and walking tours. But if nothing else, I hope to just walk among individuals histories and imagine their lives, details I can only know so much of by the words written for their memorialization. I marveled at time while I walked through, how with it are ends, beginnings, and changes. This place is also home to a sort of symbiotic relationship between nature and the human touch. The hands that formed these graves does not feel oppressive or create harm to the arboretum, they co-exist beautifully. It also blew my mind how some graves dated back 200 years before I even came into this world. Powerful.
The experiences from this trip are deep in my mind, and I love that one of them is this tattoo. I look at it and I am taken back to those Stoke Newington streets, to meeting Lucy, to the tender application of salve as I continued onto new cities, how I swung my arms a little too much as I walked so I could look at it (weird I know). This tattoo has been an invitation to new conversations, and has reminded me how tattoos can break barriers between strangers and create beautiful moments of connection and appreciation, ones that otherwise might not have happened. They are also reminders of what can inspire life and how life can inspire you. It can be an act of intentional living that receives the good of this world despite, or in conjunction with, the pain the world so strongly possesses. And you know how I feel about intentional living.
I left London with the best souvenir, one that I will have for the rest of my life.
To your fulfilled life,