Well when you meet me, you will see I have a tattoo sleeve on my left arm. I get so many compliments on it and always get asked the story behind the sleeve. So for all the tattoo lovers out there, here is my tattoo sleeve story.

My tattoo sleeve was created by Derek from Red TideTattoo Studio located in Orange Park, FL. It was done in many stages with about 22 hours of work.

My tattoo sleeve is dedicated to my brother who we lost in a motorcycle accident on Thanksgiving day November 22, 2018. After he passed I knew I had to get a tattoo in honor of him.

It started with the skunk. You see, my grandmother LOVED skunks. Prior to her passing, when I was getting my bird tattoo on my side, Derek and I were talking during a break when I told him about my grandmother loving skunks. About 10 minutes later Derek came back with the drawing. I held on to that drawing for 7 years because I didn’t know where I wanted to put it.

When my brother passed away and I was thinking of a tattoo in honor of him, I felt like he was telling me the skunk is going on the forearm and whatever I choose for him right under it. I know it sounds crazy, but I knew I couldn’t have it any other way.

So why a penny for him? Trust me, I never thought in a million years I would have Abraham Lincoln tattooed on me! Prior to Matts’s funeral, I started to look up gifts off Etsy for my family. My mom and dad were divorced and remarried but I wanted something that brought us back together. In searching, I came across this poem with a keychain, Pennies from Heaven. It was PERFECT. So at the funeral, when I spoke I read the Pennies from Heaven Poem and handed out the keychains for my family.

After the funeral, I was hearing so many stories of the people finding not just pennies but other coins that they have found. Weeks gone by and I hadn’t found a penny yet. I was beginning to get upset thinking I will never find my penny. Will he send me one? Well of course he did!

My mom had asked me over and over again to make a small shrine in the house for Matt. It is important to light a candle for 40 days in the greek tradition. It is said it takes 40 days for God to determine if you will be going to heaven, become an angel, or well I think you know the last option, “going down under”. So I did, I went to the Greek Shine in St Augustine to buy what I needed to honor my brother and pray for him to go to heaven or become an angel. After I finished the shrine at my house I started to clean up and right under a bunch of wrappers was a 1994 Penny! (1994 was the year he was born) I couldn’t believe it! I felt like it was a way of telling me not only thank you for the shrine but he’s going to be just fine up there in heaven.

After that moment I knew I had to get the penny on my wrist.

So that is why my skunk ad penny was the beginning of my sleeve. Well kind of…

In the beginning, I never intended on getting a sleeve. But as the grieving process began it became harder and harder, day by day, to bear the pain I was enduring from losing him. I had to seek counseling to help me learn to live this new life without him physically here. It has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to go through.

I began to watch my favorite movie of all time The Last Samurai and it started to really help me through the grieving process. Quotes from the movie just kept me moving forwards as they played in my head over and over again when I was having a bad day.

My favorite scene and quote from the movie was: Nobutada : [after Algren is defeated in fencing pratice] Please forgive; too many mind. Algren : [puzzeled] “Too many mind?” Nobutada : Hai, mind the sword, mind the people watch, mind enemy – -too many mind.”

This quote to this day plays in my head over and over again, reminding myself, “Too many mind”… stop overthinking, stop thinking of the bad but the good, and turn the pain into strength.

Throughout the movie, he (Algren), fails and gets beat down, over and over and over again, but soon he trains himself “No mind” and became a warrior in the end.

I soon started to pay a lot more attention to my skunk & penny tattoo but as I looked down at it, I was in pain. I knew I needed something to add to it. Something that reminded me of the strength it took to get me through these hard times. The one thing that helped me the most was the movie.

I called Derek and we began the process.

I wanted a temple to represent the place where he (Algren) learned respect, honor, and dignity of himself because I definitely lost myself drowning in grief.

I wanted cherry blossoms because a lot of sense from the movie has cherry blossoms, and they are pretty!

Next, I wanted the camera. These are the cameras they would have been using during that time and there is a scene in the movie where the translater was getting ready to take a photo but everyone scurried away in fear when the samurais came into town. Not only does it represent what I do for a living (the camera) but it also represents the fear I had when I got the call. Soon after the call, my dad and brother came to my house and in that scene, I literally envision both of them walking toward me as if they were the ones on that horse.

The next stage was finishing up the flowers and adding some highlights to the camera.

Next, it was time for the warrior. Well yes, I could have put Tom Cruise (Algren) on my arm and with Derek’s talents it would be incredible, however, All of these pieces were not directly from the movie. That temple is not the exact temple from the movie, the camera in the movie was actually in the box and you didn’t see the actual camera. So everything just represents parts of the movie. I wanted it that way because it wasn’t necessarily about the movie itself, it was more about me and what that movie did for me emotionally.

So Derek drew up a female warrior holding the death mask representing myself and the strength it has taken me day to day.

She is holding a “Death Mask” aka “Hannya Mask”. “The mask itself represents female rage and pain and is demonic, angry, frightening, and dangerous while at the same time tormented, heartbroken, melancholic, and sorrowful.” So you can see why a death mask was extremely important to me and had to be incorporated. (Hannya Mask Reference)

The final stage was shading, filling in empty areas with swirls. Here is the finished sleeve (though I probably need to go back for final touchups since it’s fully healed. I’ll update you on that when that is done)…

Derek is not only an amazing artist but also an incredible person. If you ever need a tattoo definitely go to Red TideTattoo Studio located in Orange Park, FL