Bobby Allred recalls working on a patchwork quilt, putting careful detail into each patch.
Allred wasn’t working on cloth, though. He was working on someone’s body. An artist with Plan B Tattoos and Body Piercing in Florence, Allred said he does many memorial tattoo creations.
The customer had it done in honor of family members who had died.
“It was a patch for each family member,” Allred said. One patch, for example, was a truck in honor of a family member who was a truck driver.
“There were 20 patches when I finished,” he said. “When I moved on to another patch, I heard the story behind that person.
“By the time I was finished, I knew everything about her family.”
While they typically honor someone who has died, memorial tattoos sometimes serve as a show of love toward someone who came near death.
“I’m really close to Dad,” said Loretto, Tenn., resident Josie Brown, who has a large tattoo that includes a motorcycle across her upper back in honor of her father. “He had a motorcycle accident a year ago, and is mentally and physically disabled.
“When he came out of his coma, when he could communicate, I asked if he wanted me to get a tattoo of him, and he said yes, and I asked where, and he pointed to my back.”
Brown said it is a way to carry a symbol of her father with her always.
“It reminds me of him,” she said. “I always said I’d never get one above my ankles, but this one’s different, so I made an exception.”
Denice Schofield Hobbie, of West Coast Tattoos in Florence, has a tattoo depicting an airplane in honor of her father, who is battling cancer.
“It’s sweet,” she said. “It has Dad’s airplane number on it from the one he owned.”
She said her father always questioned why she got tattoos. “But he was OK with that one.”
Hobbie said the tattoo provides an additional connection with her father. “It’s Dad. That’s a part of him that’s always going to be with me.”
Matt Green, a tattoo artist at Dream Land Skateboards in Florence, said memorial tattoos are common requests.
“They ask for anything from names to faces or something that reminds them of the people they lost,” said Green, who has a tattoo of two cousins who died.
“Everybody’s got a story with it,” he said. “Just about anyone with a lot of tattoos has a memorial tattoo.”
Depictions of the loved one’s faces are common memorial requests. Crosses, symbols of a loved one’s hobbies, sayings and poems also are popular.
Allred receives many requests for tattoos of angels from parents who have lost a child.
He showed a sketch of an example of one such drawing, which includes the phrase “Rest In Peace.”
“I’ve done that one probably 100 times,” he said.
Allred said it’s easy to reach an emotional attachment with customers while giving them a memorial tattoo.
“We’re like therapists,” he said. “We hear their stories. Some people choke up and cry when we do their tattoos and they talk about them.”
Allred recalls a television show about a man who lost his wife and mixed her ashes into the tattoo ink that would be used on him. “He said that way, part of her was with him always.”
Tattoo artists say they typically receive a photo of the customer’s loved one and do a line drawing and stencil from there, and then start tattooing.
Allred enjoys listening to the stories behind the tattoos while working on a customer. He said they help inspire him.
“When they’re telling the story, you feel like you get to know this person,” he said. “You put a little more heart into it.”
Bernie Delinski can be reached at 740-5739 or bernie.delinski@TimesDaily.com.