Literary Ink: How to Choose a Design That You Won’t Regret

Everything you need to know before making your favorite literary moment a permanent fixture on your body.

You’re finally doing it—striking out to get that literary tattoo that you’ve been contemplating for what seems like forever. Whether you’re going for a Deathly Hollows tat over the crook of your elbow, or a 1984-inspired 2+2=5 on your ankle, committing to a lifelong relationship with your favorite literary quote can be daunting and exhilarating.

That’s why this year’s Book Riot Live held a panel, entitled “Literary Ink,” that tackled how to choose a literary tattoo, how to decide on a meaningful design, and what it means to commit to a lifelong, bodily relationship with your favorite author.

The panel featured Jeph Jacques—an American cartoonist know for the webcomic series Questionable Content—and Myles Karr, an artist at Escapist tattoos. Here’s how they recommend you navigating the waters of permanently etching pieces of literature on your body. 

What possible regrets can accompany a lifetime with a literary tattoo?

According to Jacques, you’re only really safe once the author is already dead (seeing as their reputation is not yet set in stone). Tattoos always come with connotation, so you need to carefully consider what your quote could mean to others before plastering it permanently on your body. Aesthetically, it always pays to come up with a design rather than a block of text that stands the chance of looking tacky or bulky on your body.

Karr argues that tattoos are more of a timeline, so if you get a tattoo when you’re young that you later regret, you can try to remember how you thought about it at the time and why it was meaningful to you then. You should always go for tattoos that will stand the test of time and go to an artist who’s willing to accept a challenging design.

What’s it like to have someone tattoo your work onto their body?

Since Jacques is a cartoon artist himself, he’s seen a handful of people make his work a permanent installment on their body. Since his artistic style is constantly changing, the tattoo may not stand the test of time. But usually, he won’t discourage people from getting the tattoo if it’s truly what they want.

When people come to you with tattoo ideas, how do you proceed?

Karr explained that some people come to him with a passage, and then they work together to make the tattoo aesthetically pleasing while still relating to the text. Recently someone brought him an entire book and asked for him to craft a meaningful tattoo inspired by the text, so he had to read the whole book.

Both artists stressed the importance of creating a design that encapsulates the quote that will be uniquely relevant to you so that you don’t just have a block of words on your body.

Do you feel a sense of responsibility for the tattoos you give people?

Karr admits that if people bring him something very specific that they want, he feels strongly about making sure it’s exactly right. If a customer comes to him with a broader idea for their ink, he feels like he is free to be more interpretive with the design.

Jacques stressed the importance of communicating well with the artist. It’s crucial that you’re on the same page and tell the artist exactly what you’re looking for so that they don’t take your desire for the tattoo at face value.

What are the most common/interesting/surprising tattoo ideas that have come your way?

Karr says the most popular tattoos are often driven by fandoms—including Harry Potter, “Always,” lines from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and—in the past couple of years—tattoos paying tribute to The Great Gatsby.



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