Tattoo Machines, Split Personalities, and Particle Physics

Tattoo Machines, Split Personalities, and Particle Physics

In Episode 136, Jake gave a bit of a rant that I wholeheartedly agree with. He mostly talked about the importance of growing your artistic skills away from your tattoo machine. He discussed the importance of stepping outside your comfort zone and experimenting in other areas, so that you can grow and evolve in your own field. This made me think of two things, split personalities and particle accelerators. Warning: this post may or may not have a lot to do with tattoos, but should have everything to do with your comfort zones. But stick with me, I’ll bring it back to tattoos before I’m through. I promise.

First, I don’t mean split personalities like the latest M. Night Shyamalan film starring James McAvoy. I was thinking more along the lines of what one of my academic mentors said to me when I first decided to pursue my PhD. You see I had already traveled extensively over the years and developed a very reflective writing style in an area that is currently referred to as “creative nonfiction”. This professor had watched and encouraged that development and truly wanted me to continue with it. However, when you enter the discipline of linguistics, it is required that you learn and write in a very scientifically geared style called APA. My professor basically told me that I needed to develop a split personality for my writing, one for my creative and one for my academic.

Having only ever written in the MLA format that is prescribed by every high school and university English department everywhere, I was most certainly entering new and murky waters. In fact, I was so far out of my comfort zone that I almost quit. If you know me personally, you would know that I live a life that is well outside what most people would consider comfortable. I also don’t walk away from a challenge. However, this forced me to do something that I don’t like admitting. It forced me to be vulnerable. I was forced to strip away my ego and detach from my writing on a level that allowed me to dissect the very idea of it. I learned the fundamentals of the new style, then looked at my ingrained habits and saw what was good and what was bad about them for the first time ever. It was more than just a path to a desired outcome, it was a transformation.

The second thing I mentioned was particle accelerators, specifically the CERN Hadron Collider deep underground in Switzerland. Last year I came across a really amazing artist residency that CERN was awarding one talented and lucky artist to go rub elbows with the scientists for about 3 months, then create a commissioned project based on what the artist learned about particle physics as it could be applied to their art. I know what you are thinking, “what does particle physics have to do with my work as a tattooer?” Nothing. Everything.

At its very essence, particle physics is outside the comfort zone of 200 years’ worth of traditional physics and established science with a primary goal of expanding our knowledge of the universe at its barest components.  Of course, the collider is permanently broken now. However, the growth that both artists and scientists have experienced from the experiments is immeasurable.

Now we can talk about tattoos.

Jake passionately addressed the irreversible bar that has been set by a newer and consistently growing generation of artists. This is not going away. You must learn to draw. You must learn how to continually grow. It will become harder and harder to make a living in this business if you don’t. Personally, I would think it would be fairly unfulfilling to do this job for decades with only minimal growth to show for it. That is why I would like to reiterate my writing journey. As tattooers, it is traditionally frowned upon to show vulnerability. That comes from the ever-present ego that plagues every person to ever pick up a tattoo machine. Only when that is stripped away, can you truly begin to grow.

So step away from the machine. Question everything. You don’t have to learn particle physics to grow as an artist, but watercolors are a good place to start. So be bold. Be vulnerable. And go forth and conquer.



See Jake’s righteous rant here:

If you are really nerdy and adventurous, check out the CERN residency here: