Cool Skin: Life’s Outlook in Japanese Ink

Erica Langworthy is an early-30-something animator for a video game company in New York. She uses a wide variety of programs, techniques and technology to execute her work, moving from 3D to compositing and FX, to character design and animation. She loves her job, but today we’re talking tattoos, dramatic and beautiful body art.

Erica Langworthy

Why did you decide to decorate yourself?

I’ve wanted a tattoo since I was a teenager, though I was smart enough to know I wanted to wait until I could afford a talented artist and had a clear idea of what I wanted the piece to be. My 31st birthday was only a few months away. At the time I was still a freelance animator at a video game studio here in New York. Most of my coworkers and bosses had these beautiful, intricate tattoos, so the desire for a tattoo increased tenfold.

My director also kept asking, “So when are you getting your tattoo?” All these people were insanely talented, as well as kind and good-natured and it really shattered the idea that tattoos were for ignorant people and thugs. I grew up in the Midwest and tattoos had a real negative stigma, which has thankfully disappeared for me. I had an awesome job with great people and had the money to get what I wanted. It was definitely the right time.

How many do you have?

Right now I have a “Horitimo” style (named after the pioneering Japanese tattoo artist) half-sleeve that covers my upper right pec and goes down to just above my elbow. I wanted to go big for my first piece.

What’s the story behind it?

As a kid I watched a ton of cartoons. Tom & Jerry, Ren & Stimpy and Macross (aka Robotech) were some of my favorites. I really got caught up in Macross, which is a Japanese anime. A couple other TV stations began to play animes like Vampire Hunter D, Project A-ko, Akira and Iria. The art style really struck me because it was so different culturally and stylistically from the other shows I’d been watching. I got into drawing characters from the animes and mangas I was immersed in and eventually started doing my own characters and stories. It had a tremendous influence on my drawing style, which ultimately led me to my tattoo design and choice of artist.

I decided I wanted to collaborate with a Japanese artist and have one of my own character designs worked into a Horitomo sleeve. First I designed the female character that’s on my right pec — this warrior woman with a ram skull helmet. Basically it’s my own interpretation of perseverance. Then it was on to finding the right tattoo studio and the right artist.

Erica Langworthy Tattoo

I started doing searches on Google and asking my inked friends who and where, etc. I looked at portfolios until I came to Horisei at Rising Dragon Tattoo here in New York. I booked a consultation with him and checked out the shop. I showed him my artwork, went through his portfolio and asked what was possible. We came up with using a combination of my character, a Koi swimming up a waterfall, wind bars and sakura (cherry blossoms).

The Koi fish stands for a few things in Japanese culture. In Japanese mythology the Koi swims upstream and eventually up a waterfall. If the Koi gives up, the journey can claim its life and if the Koi perseveres and reaches the top of the waterfall, it changes into a dragon. The dragon will then rise to seek eternal enlightenment. In short, my piece is about hard work, learning, and how another culture and people have had a profound effect on my life. After six sessions and 17 hours, I now have this amazing piece!

Do you have any other art on your body, like piercings?

I can handle a needle micro-stabbing me thousands of times but one big hole being punched into something is cry-baby time for me. A tattoo won’t snag in my headphones or get ripped out playing rugby. I do admire people who have cool piercings though.

Are you planning any more work?

Absolutely. I’m in the early planning stages of placement and subject matter. I’m trying to work out a design that incorporates human beings and astronomy since we’re comprised of the same matter as stars. I also have this nutty fixation on one day having a tattoo bolero, a shrug-shaped work across my shoulders and upper arms. I’m looking forward to working with Horisei again. He was honest with me and it was a pleasure collaborating with him to come up with the first piece.

It’s great that you don’t have any trouble about them at work.

I’m very fortunate because the culture at this studio is very healthy, as well as full of extremely talented artists, programmers, writers and editors. It also helps that most of the people I work with have incredible tattoos.

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