The tattoo sleeve: What once was thought of as being only for punks and criminals is now a flesh-and-blood artistic statement. In recent years, sleeves of tattoos have broken out of the underground and become more mainstream for people from all walks of life, from chefs to moms to musicians.
Here at 225, we’re always coming across intricate and elaborate works of art on the arms of the people we write about. Sitting in a meeting with Chef Darryl Smith of Batch 13, we glanced across a box of his signature pastries and first noticed the ink covering his arms under the rolled sleeves of his chef’s jacket. The questions immediately jumped to mind: What does each piece mean? How hard is it to commit to something like that? How long does it take to build up to a sleeve?
To answer those questions, we rounded up some of the most striking ink-wearers we know and invited them to bare arms and tell us the stories of their sleeves. Fair warning to your mothers, everyone: You might end up wanting one, too.
Artist, Meadowlark Artistry
Looking at Kimberly Meadowlark’s own art, you can see quite a few similarities with the work on her skin. She chooses deep jewel tones, improvisational shapes and striking lines for her canvases, drawing inspiration from everything wild, from geodes to flowers to fauna. So a geometric wolf on her wrist or cosmic stardust swirling permanently on her forearm comes as no surprise.
She didn’t start out planning to get a full sleeve—she still remembers the sting of her horrified mother slapping her shoulder after the eight-hour session to get the massive piece there—but within two years, it just happened. Meadowlark, 24, loves collaborating with tattoo artists to create custom work, often based on what she’s exploring in her own projects at the time. And even her mother has started to come around.
Hover your mouse over different tattoos to read the story behind art
Owner, InkFetish Tattoo Studios
Tai Henderson became a tattoo artist by accident.
Fifteen years ago, he had no interest in learning how to use a needle, no matter how much his tattoo artist friend tried to talk him into it. When Henderson brought one of his drawings to his friend and asked him to ink it, his friend said he’d do it for free if Henderson would agree to be trained in the art. And, well, he just couldn’t turn down a free tattoo.
A decade and a half and many, many completed tattoos later, the 33-year-old has been featured on TV and in national magazines like Urban Ink. He has tattooed his way across the country and attracted clients from all over the world for ink.
Musician and jewelry designer, Beneath the Bark Jewelry
Musician, bartender and jewelry designer Molly Taylor is as sweet—and as Southern—as a homemade pecan pie, but her sleeve is proof that she’s tougher than you might expect. She’s been steadily building up her left arm since she was barely in her 20s, and now she’s starting on her right arm to match.
Taylor, 26, specializes in blues, so it’s only fitting that she draws inspiration for her vintage-style tattoos from the music and fashions of the past. She favors bright colors, thick lines and a rockabilly aesthetic with her work.
Chef, Batch 13
A tattoo sleeve is one huge lifelong commitment, but Chef Darryl Smith is too laid-back to stress about it.
Smith, 40, spent years traveling all over the country to cook, and his sleeves are almost like stamps on a passport. Many of them were spur-of-the-moment, like a “feeling lucky” tattoo he got while cooking in Las Vegas, while others are more sentimental, like a daggered heart in honor of both of his grandfathers.
Smith will be the first to tell you that nobody with a good tattoo sleeve gets it all in one sitting. His sleeves are made up of 37 individual pieces acquired over several years, each one with a story behind it.
This article was originally published in the September 2017 issue of 225 Magazine.