Teacher Jessica Kaufman on her love for body art


Kaufman's flower tattoo spent a total of two hours to ink

Shannon Lin

Kaufman’s flower tattoo took a total of two hours to ink. They are just one out of the seven that she has. Source: Shannon Lin

How many tattoos do you actually have?

I have 7 [laughs]. When I was eighteen I wanted one because at the time, I thought they were pretty. Most of my tattoos are flowers and I wanted a flower so I got a lily with a big plant thing that takes up my lower back. I decided that I didn’t like the “little” tattoos that everyone was getting and so I wanted to get a big one. Part of the reason was also because my parents were always like “Don’t get a tattoo!” so I was like “Yeah! I’m going to get a tattoo!”

How do you come up with the designs for your tattoos?
Most of mine are flowers. Except for one, which is a phoenix, most of my tattoos don’t have any significance or anything. I just thought about what I would want on my body forever; what I could handle looking at forever, and flowers are always designs that I like. I always pick colors that I like and my tattoo artist and I will talk for a couple of minutes and then he’ll draw something for me. I can’t draw at all. I’m pretty sure if I did it, it would look like something a 5 year old did.

Would you ever let a student design something for you?

It depends on what it was. You know being a tattoo artist is incredibly hard and [a tattoo is] permanent. It’s not like a painting which you can go back and change so I respect the artist’s work like that. And if any student is talented enough to draw something like that, then I’d go for it. I mean I don’t know if I would ever get it, but I’d definitely let them influence a design.

What are the meanings if any, behind your tattoos?
My tattoos are less about what they actually are except the phoenix on my leg, which I got after a really, really difficult year in my life and it symbolizes strength and the fact that I was able to overcome [my adversities]. That is the only one for which the image itself is significant. The rest of them have to do with times in my life that I got them. I’ve gotten one worked on every year of my life since I was 18 so it’s about when I decided to do them. Like I got my first one when I was 18, my second one when I was 19 and I had just started dating somebody and I got another after we had broken up. It just reminds me of the times I had in my life rather than a specific image.

A total of four hours were spent on this tattoo which Kaufman had completed in two sessions which is normal because the pain of the needle is unbearable after too long a sitting. Source: Shannon Lin

What was the most memorable moment related to your tattoos?
They’re all really painful? [Laughs]. I remember when I was getting my first one, the shop I got it at had a back room with a little window that the artist could look out of to see if somebody was at the lobby and I had stood up for a break because you get really cramped from sitting in the same position so I got up for a break. I stood up and turned around and there were these people walking by on the street outside and they were just looking in [pause]. My first tattoo was of my entire lower back, it was not a small one and I’m a small person and so their eyes popped out from the back of their heads. That’s the only thing I can remember being particularly memorable other than certain parts being painful.

Of all your tattoos, which one is your favorite?
I have dahlias along my rib cage on both sides and those are probably my favorite. They’re just pink and yellow flowers that look like a sunset. I started them, it took me two years to get them finished, when I was 24 so about four years ago.

How much time do you think you have spent in total on your tattoos?
Probably about 50 to 100 hours? Somewhere in there. A lot of time because you can’t do it all at once; your body runs out of adrenaline.

How have your tattoos affected your work or personal life either beneficially or detrimentally?
I think they are more accepted so I don’t really get any detrimental effects but when I first started getting them, I was really nervous because I knew that I wanted to become a teacher and so I didn’t want that to affect my job so I purposely put them in places where I could cover up easily. When I knew it was going to be seen, I got stuff that wasn’t offensive, something that people wouldn’t comment on too much. But people do react very weirdly sometimes to tattoos and I don’t know why. I had a woman come up to me in a grocery store where I bent down to get a loaf of bread and she literally came up behind me and pulled up my shirt to see my tattoo and I was like “Excuse me, what are you doing? I don’t know you!” [laughs]. They just think that because you have [a tattoo] that it’s okay to do something like that? I’m not really sure. I mean I haven’t seen somebody and been like “Hey! Let me just see your tattoo”.

How do you deal with people’s reactions?
I’m so used to it now. I have a lot of tattoos that are really big and that cover most of my body but you just can’t see most of them. So it’s kind of like when I go swimming and stuff like that when people get a little bug eyed, especially people who don’t know me that well. So that’s always a conversation starter like “Wow. Why did you get all that?” and my answer is always “Because I wanted to”.