Tattoo Tales: Sophie Graham shares the story behind her tattoos

Graham often ties her unique designs to personal anecdotes or connections that are used in her tattoos. Photo by Eli Kohn

“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. Every design is unique and tells a story. Graham uses a spontaneous approach to permanent body art to commemorate the people and moments that are most important to her. 

Give us a quick overview. What are the tattoos you have? 

Ok, now 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 an elongated fedora, a Volkswagen logo, and a deep-sea diving helmet.

What was your first tattoo? 

My mom was pleased that I waited until I turned 19 to get my first tattoos. She was like, “Don’t get tattoos as soon as you turn 18,” [because you get to] Take a moment to think about the ideas. [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] have meaning to me. 

Did you have a rhyme or reason for which tattoos you wanted to get?

“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 hook you up.” So I got eight tattoos all done by her, for much less than one would expect for eight tattoos. 

I [also] You did something very interesting [in that] My first four got me at the same time. Then I got four more. There wasn’t a ton of rhyme or reason. The idea was that I found them when they were ready. [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] Snapchat with the timestamp. I took the picture in 2018, and I knew pretty much immediately, like, “That’ll be something to get tattooed someday.” 

How can you find inspiration to design and create tattoos?

One of my best friends [and I] Transferred to Inkbox I love tattoos and the design of this one was my favorite. [the frog,] So I then sent it to my tattoo artist and she added some unique touches. 

The free flash art included the deep sea diving helmet as well as the fish bag. [set] My sister discovered TikTok and I bought them for her with the intent of one day getting 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 going to be cool. [but not] Matchy-matchy tattoos were a favorite of 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, the whale, and the snake with a hat and Volkswagen logo [all as the second set of tattoos]. These are the things my family made. 

My dad is a Volkswagen guy and so am 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.

My best friend and the planet’s greatest artist drew me the serpent with the fedora. I also had my sister draw the moon and my mother the whale. So [those are] I feel like I have pieces of my family all over my body for the rest of my life. I [also] Just wanted to ensure that I had an equal number. That’s another quirk about me, is [that all of my tattoos are] All in the same spots on both arms, so they mirror one another. 

Would you agree that most people are supportive of your tattoos and would you consider this a compliment? 

Overall, yes. My dad stipulated 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 enjoy being able to make a mess of 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! These have a lot of meaning to me because my family drew these and my sister’s gonna have a matching one someday.”

Which tattoo was most painful? 

The frog is holding a guitar. George is his name. 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. They were all manageable overall. 

Do you think you have a favorite tattoo?

They all look great but my favorite is the one with one leg. In 2018, I named her Evangeline, a nod to Disney’s story. [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.

What do you think your tattoos say about you? 

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 the back of my arms, and I forget that they’re there because I can’t see them. They sort of match me. [in that] Although they may look a bit odd together, they complement each other well. [all] Have stories. I’m hoping one day to have a patchwork tattoo or sleeve, where [the designs will be] They are united by the fact that they have absolutely nothing in common. There are just gonna be a lot of little random things that make up me. 

Do you have any plans for the future? 

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 are 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] are just random things that I find interesting but have meaning for me. 

What advice do you have for people looking to get tattoos?

Think about what you’re getting, but don’t think too hard about it. I believe it is important to place them in a safe spot. But I’m also of the opinion that, for me, 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.

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