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For the Love of Tattooing, the Transformative Tattoo: London Reese

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For the Love of Tattooing, the Transformative Tattoo: London Reese

Sean Herman

This is the first story we are bringing you for the Transformative Tattoo series.  Learn more from our prior blog that you can read here.  We are working with an amazing organization, openoureyes.org to bring you stories of lives changed through tattooing.


Written by Sean Herman

Hi, I’m Sean Herman, and I’m an over-planner.  It took me years to accept that I operate in a world that I tend to plan out to the last minute.  I don’t mean to do it, I just keep thinking about things that I want to do, and the best way to get them done is to write them in the book of life, sorry, I mean, my schedule.  It’s a disease I’m trying to overcome, but the first step is acceptance.  Those spur of the moment occasions, those are the ones that end up throwing a much needed wrench in my system.

Me tattooing Yall's thumb at Hell City

Me tattooing Yall's thumb at Hell City

In my years of working tattoo conventions, I have always found that the unplanned walk-up will be one that ends up changing my life.  I was approached by a formidable presence of a man years ago while I was packing up my table, getting ready to leave Hell City, and make the drive back to Alabama from Ohio.  Yall Quiñones approached me to get his thumb tattooed.  His passionate love of tattooing, the work that goes into it, and his ultimate respect easily convinced me that Alabama could wait, and I had more important things to do.  That tattoo changed my life, but that is for a different story that I will tell later.  One of the other times that I was approached at a convention to do a piece was by a kind, soft spoken man named London, and little did I know, that experience would create a bond that, in the end, would help give me hope for someone I love.

 

photograph of London Reese

photograph of London Reese

London Reese approached me years ago, asking about an opening that weekend at the Motor City Convention.  Within minutes we had a common bond in punk rock and hardcore, and even more in struggles going on in family matters.  We both had a mother that was in a similar place, and it tore us apart.  In London, I found someone that not only understood where I was coming from, the pain I was going through watching my mother continue down a path of self destruction.  London had something I didn’t have though, and that was hope.  When we spoke about the piece that he wanted to get, a woman with tears streaming down her face, the thing he wanted to emphasize was that he wanted hope in her eyes.  Listening to him talk, I found that the only way I was going to find that hope was going to be if I got over my own anger and resentments, and focused on love, on showing my mother that same much-needed love.  That tattoo, that day, changed my life in more ways than one.

London talking about his neck tattoo

London talking about his neck tattoo

The following year, I met up with London at the same convention.  I was able to see his healed tattoo, and he told me the good news of his mother’s continued sobriety.  He gave me a painting that year, that hung in my station for years, and now hangs in my home.  That painting reminds me of that hope, and holding onto that light, even in the darkest of times.  Here’s a excerpt from a conversation he and I had about his getting his neck tattooed, and how that tattoo’s meaning has changed over time.

London:

“I have always wanted to be covered in tattoos. I have known, from a young age, that I wanted to collect different pieces of art all over my body. I have always compared tattoos to fine pieces of art that I get to wear and show off, rather than hang on a wall in my home. I'm still collecting, to this day. 

My mom and I have always had a special relationship. She is one of the smartest and kindest women I know. We bumped heads through my formative teenage years, quite a bit, but I was shrouded with love and support. My parents urged me to pursue art and I even went to study fine art at California Baptist University, where she worked. I always knew I wanted to get a tattoo for her. I could never decide what that was, though. I assumed it would come to me some day so I let it stew. 

My mom and I lost her mother (my dear grandmother, whom I have two tattoos for) to complications related to Alzheimer's. It broke us all, but mostly my mom. She began drinking heavily, and due to other health issues, it became a problem rather quickly. It was a mess for a couple years. Interventions from myself and the family weren't helping. It was difficult to grasp that the strongest woman I know could be dragged down so swiftly. Her addiction finally came to a halt when she hit her proverbial "rock bottom". She reached out to me and my wife and we helped her. She went to a recovery program and got the support she needed from everyone around her. She has been sober for over 5 years and doing wonderfully. She's healthy and positive and back to the strong, beautiful woman I know and love and respect. Upon her recovery, we grew very close. It finally hit me. I wanted a tattoo that would represent her journey and transformation and my upmost admiration for her. I knew I wanted this important piece on my neck, an important piece of real estate. I planned to wait to find the right artist for this project. 

Photo of London's tattoo 

Photo of London's tattoo 

It wasn't too long, before I found myself at the Detroit Motor City convention and met with the incomparable Sean Herman. I have wanted a tattoo from him since I was a kid, before I even began my tattoo career. I explained my ideas to him, and my mother's journey. We connected instantly. He immediately made it clear, to me, that he was the artist for the job. He took my ideas and designed something perfect, that same evening. We did it that Sunday, at the convention. We talked about our moms, music, tattoos, and art. It was the best tattoo experience of my life and it is, still, my favorite tattoo on my body. I told my mom, a year later, what it was and what it meant to me. She loves it and is very proud of it and that is something pretty sacred to me. “

promotional photo of London for "Best Ink"

promotional photo of London for "Best Ink"

Sean:

“Reading your story is so interesting for me because I don't think I could imagine my mother any other way than how she was.  I grew up with her struggles with mental stability and addiction, and never really had a foundation or a compass pointing in the direction of how she "used" to be.  I can't imagine the struggle or difficulty to watch such a dramatic change happen, especially to someone that had the ability to be such a foundation for you.  I remember your take on it when we were talking about the design, that look of sadness and emptiness, but making sure to leave hope in there for change. You had this undying hope that she would come back. That really personally stuck with me, and helped me to always keep hope for my own mother.  I think it was commitments to family, like the one you had to your mother, that was one of the things that kept me trying to make sure mine knew she was loved.  I learned that love sometimes creates a change greater than a cure might, because at least it gives unconditional hope for the future.”

 


Photo of Pamela Martens, 1945-2016

Photo of Pamela Martens, 1945-2016

 

At 7:45am, on April 20th 2016, as I held her hand, my mother passed away.  We played the sound of birds singing, mornings were her favorite.  Alcoholism had taken its toll, and her body couldn’t keep up.  That hope I had never went away though, it just changed direction a little, now focused on myself and my family.  That hope now guides us, guides me, to make sure I’m going to keep focus and never forget that hope in your family can be the greatest thing you can have.  Even though our stories ended very differently, our future and focus remained the same, the love of family, tattooing, and a positive change.  Hope is what creates growth and change.


Photo of London Reese tattooing

Photo of London Reese tattooing

In talking about his life after getting tattooed, London continues, 

“…I just want to create cool tattoos for my clients and be different. I always want to change things up. I try all sorts of mediums of art and styles of tattooing so I feel like I'm constantly learning and pushing myself. I tried the reality television tattoo competition thing because that was different, in the beginning, and I thought it could be cool. I think the shows are pretty ridiculous, but I tried to do good tattoos and show the world what those look like. Since having my daughter, I haven't cared to do that many conventions. I love traveling to do shows but you end up sitting in a convention hall, hotel, or mediocre restaurants, all weekend long. I loved doing the circuit but now I want to do my traveling with my family and friends and actually enjoy the destinations I go to. I was doing 20-30 shows a year at one point. I was gone every other week, all year long. It was gnarly. Now, I like to do a few shows a year, now, and travel the way I want to.”

I was excited to see that after London won a tattoo competition on television, he used his winnings to start a website that’s purpose is to spotlight and bring attention to other artists, tattooists, and musicians.  Prophets and Poets started in 2011 and has grown into a thriving art community, focused on bringing positive attention to a world and subculture that is foreign to many.

useprophetsandpoets.jpg

When speaking about Prophets and Poets and new projects with the site, London says,

“A lot of my time outside of my daily work goes toward my new documentary style web series where I tattoo some of my clients who are well known musicians, athletes, or celebrities. It's called "Backstage Ink". We go behind the scenes with them and learn about their lives, their jobs, their day to day routines, their current projects, and I get to tattoo them and ask them why they get tattoos and what they mean to them. It's a pretty special experience that I get to have and I'm stoked to share it with the world. I'm working on a few more right now so stay tuned for sure.“

Here's a video of London talking about his neck tattoo for Oxygen's "Best Ink".

Here's a video from London's series "Backstage Ink"

You can learn more about London, his work, and how to get tattooed by him by visiting his here

Here's some examples of the awesome tattoos London creates.  Click through the gallery to see more.


Every tattoo I am fortunate to do is important to me, but tattooing London was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had.  It led to a friendship that I am extremely grateful for.  I look up to London, not only for the awesome tattooing he does, but for the amount of hard work and heart he has to accomplish some amazing work.

I hope you are enjoying this blog series, and make sure to check back for our next piece.