Graham ties unique designs to personal anecdotes and connections for the artwork in her tattoos. Photo by Eli Kohn.
LEAH OLLIE | CULTURE CO-EDITOR | email@example.com
“Tattoo Tales” is a series in which The Butler Collegian speaks with a Butler community member about their tattoos and the stories behind them.
Junior combined history and anthropology major Sophie Graham’s arm tattoos may not bear much correlation or cohesion at first glance. However, from line drawings of eclectic animals to German car logos, each design tells a story of personal significance. In taking a spontaneous approach to permanent body art, Graham seeks out creative ways to memorialize the people and moments in her life that mean the most to her.
THE BUTLER COLLEGIAN: First, give us a comprehensive rundown. How many tattoos do you have, and what are they?
SOPHIE GRAHAM: Okay, so I have eight tattoos. They’re all on my arms, above the elbow, to please my dad.
I’ve got a frog with a guitar and a little hat, and he’s sitting on a mushroom. I’ve got a fish in a bag, “Finding Nemo” style — it’s not dead though, it’s a live fish. I [also] have a snake with a fedora, a Volkswagen logo, a deep sea diving helmet, a moon and a whale.
TBC: When did you first start getting tattoos, and what was your inspiration to begin?
SG: When I first started getting tattoos, I think I waited until I was 19 just to please my mom. She was like, “Don’t get tattoos as soon as you turn 18,” [because you get to] sit on the ideas for a little bit [if you wait].
I started by thinking, “I’ve got these super deep ideas, and they’re gonna be super related to what I want to do with my life, and they were like classics related”, so then I sat on those ideas for a bit. Then as my appointment was coming up, I was like, “You know what? Nevermind! I’m gonna do some fun random ones instead.” That’s how I ended up with a bunch of random tattoos, but they all [still] do have meaning to me.
TBC: When you started planning your tattoos, was there a particular rhyme or reason as to which came first or when or where you planned to get them?
SG: “When and where” ended up being a nice little coincidence. My gym buddy back home, his roommate is a tattoo artist, and I was talking to my gym buddy about wanting to get tattoos, and he was like, “Oh my god, I could totally hook you up.” So I got eight tattoos all done by her, for much less than one would expect for eight tattoos.
I [also] did something interesting [in that] I got my first four at the same time, and then I got another four at the same time. There wasn’t a ton of rhyme or reason. The idea was just that I got them when the [ideas] came.
Oh, I didn’t tell you about the [eighth tattoo of a] duck! I have a [tattoo of a] duck with one leg, and she’s based on a real duck that I met at Disney World. I have [a picture of her] on Snapchat with the timestamp and everything. I took the picture in like 2018, and I knew pretty much immediately, like, “That’ll be something to get tattooed someday.”
TBC: How do you find inspiration for the designs and artwork for your tattoos?
SG: One of my friends [and I] traded Inkbox tattoos, and I ended up really liking the design of [the frog,] so then I sent it to my tattoo artist, and she made it a little bit more unique.
The deep sea diving helmet and the fish in the bag were part of a free flash art [set] that my sister found on TikTok, and I got them with the intention for her to one day get the [complementary designs]. I think the complement to the deep sea diving helmet was gonna be an astronaut’s helmet, and I think the other one was gonna be fireflies in a jar. They were gonna be kinda cool [but not] quite matchy, matchy tattoos with my little sister. She hasn’t gotten those yet, so now I kind of just have them on me, but it’s okay.
I got the moon and the whale and the snake with the hat and the Volkswagen logo [all as the second set of tattoos]. Those are all things that my family drew.
My dad is a Volkswagen guy, and I [came to him and] was like, “Can I get something that you’ve drawn on my body?” And he was like, “Why would you want that?” And I was like, “That’s the whole point, Dad.” So then he just gave me the Volkswagen logo.
Then my best friend on the planet drew me the snake with the fedora, my sister did the moon, and my mom did the whale. So [those are] kind of just having pieces of my family on my body for the rest of my life. I [also] just wanted to make sure that I had an even number. That’s another quirk about me, is [that all of my tattoos are] all in the same exact spots on both arms so that they mirror each other.
TBC: Would you say that the people in your life are generally supportive of your tattoos?
SG: Overall, yes. My dad’s stipulation was that I can’t get anything below the elbow, so at my elbow is where [my tattoos] end, because he wants me to “look respectable one day.” But other than that, generally yes, all the people close to me are super supportive.
I like being able to kind of mess with the people [who I don’t know very well] who aren’t so supportive when they’re like, “Why would you get a bunch of random things tattooed on you?” Then I get to go “Jokes on you! Actually, these have a lot of meaning to me because my family drew these and my sister’s gonna have a matching one someday.”
TBC: Which tattoo was the most painful to receive?
SG: The frog holding a guitar. His name is George. There’s a part of the guitar that kind of goes towards my armpit a little bit, and the closer you get to the armpit area — that was the most painful part. Overall, they were all pretty tame.
TBC: Would you say you have a favorite tattoo, whether based on its meaning or design?
SG: I like all of them, but I think my favorite would probably be the duck with one leg. To go back to the Disney story, I named her Evangeline immediately in 2018 [when I met her], so then when I was talking to my tattoo artist about it, she was like, “What if we did a little North Star, like [the character Evangeline] from ‘The Princess and the Frog?’” So the frog has a little North Star next to it. She’s got a little stumpy leg and she’s probably my favorite, but I get the most compliments on the frog.
TBC: How do you feel like your tattoos represent you?
SG: That’s a hard question for me to answer because I don’t think about them all that often. Honestly, I’ve got tattoos like on my triceps and on the back of my arms, and I forget that they’re there because I can’t see them. I think they kind of match me [in that] they look kind of random together, but they [all] have stories. I’m hoping one day to have a patchwork tattoo or sleeve, where [the designs will be] united in the fact that they have nothing in common with each other. There’s just gonna be a lot of little random things that make up me.
TBC: Do you have current plans for future designs?
SG: Yes. I don’t know how common this is, or if this is gonna be something that comes to people’s minds, but when you go camping, there’s these blue enamel metal mugs. They’re deep blue, and they’ve got little speckles on them, and they are my favorite mugs on this planet. And so I’m gonna get that.
I [also] went on an archeology dig last summer, and I’m gonna get a little trowel to commemorate that. So [these plans are] just more random things, but they have meaning to me.
TBC: Do you have any advice for people who may want to get tattoos after reading this interview?
SG: Definitely think about what you’re getting, but don’t think too hard about it. The responsible side of me says to make sure to get them in a good spot. But I’m also of the opinion that, for me personally, there’s not a ton of a point in getting tattoos and putting art on my body if no one’s gonna see it. I mean, it’s all subjective, so do what you want, and don’t let people tell you not to do what you want.