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Elizabeth’s Alphabetical Ink

September 8th, 2009
Imagine me in Penn Station. I see a woman with a small letter tattooed on her. Interesting. Then I notice that she has them everywhere, in no apparent order, on her legs, on her arms, on the back of her neck. Not something you see every day. I had to ask her about them, and Elizabeth was kind to indulge my curiosity.

Elizabeth is a typographer, by profession, and she works with letters as part of her trade. Over the course of three years, she had the entire alphabet tattooed, two or three letters at a time, all over her body.

Here’s the one photo I took that captured two letters in one frame:


I asked her if she went in alphabetical order and she told me she hadn’t. Whatever letters she was working on at the time, she would have inked. In other words, she’d head into New York Adorned for her appointment with Stephanie Tamez, and whatever was at the forefront of her consciousness, that’s what she had tattooed.

I was familiar with Stephanie Tamez for, most recently, this tattoo on the writer Eileen Myles. So I sent Stephanie an email and asked her to comment on this particular twenty-six part tattoo.

Stephanie wrote:

“I…remember the alphabet on Elizabeth, she is sweet and lovely as well. As you may or may not know I have had a reputation for tattooing many a letter, many a word, many a sentence and many a paragraph. I bet I have in all filled a few novels. Ha. Anyway from what I can recall with Elizabeth, it was very simple and fun and straight forward. I have done several alphabets throughout the years on mostly graphic designers who are captivated by fonts. I have done words on graphic designers from France to Mexico and done many a word on many a writer. I wish I could remember them all and had been logging all their tales…”

Elizabeth had also mentioned to me that she was meeting with Ina Saltz, an art director, designer, writer, photographer and professor at City College of New York. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Ms. Saltz had written a book called Body Type, which is a study of typographic tattoos.

Having since read the book (highly recommended to all), I related to Ms. Saltz’s quest, that began with a chance spotting of a word tattoo on a crosstown bus several years ago. Of course, I have featured numerous word tattoos over the past couple of years, but Body Type’s chronicling of the vast array of typographic tattoos is certainly entertaining to anyone who appreciates the art. In fact, Ms. Saltz goes out of her way to acknowledge Stephanie Tamez as one of the premier word tattooists. In all fairness to Ms. Tamez, one look at her website will reveal that, although she is acknowledged as a skilled tattooer of words, her skills and artistry go far beyond the inking of letters!

Anyway, back to Elizabeth, who followed up our encounter with an e-mail discussing the font she used for her tattoos, but also with (per my request) an alphabetical catalog of all her letters:

My tattoos are in Garamond (for the real font nerds out there, it’s a few different cuts, mostly Garamond 3 and Stempel Garamond, a couple are in Adobe Garamond). I’m a typographer and I’ve always loved Garamond — the first Roman font to be used on Gutenberg’s press. The typeface has been in existence since 1530, and still embodies so much of what we perceive as ‘perfect’ in letterforms today. Yes, they’re all in lower case. No plans for capitals, or punctuation…no plans for any more tattoos, in fact.

Below is the catalog of letters. although I will say I didn’t get them in alphabetical order, and I got them slowly over a few years. It was usually whatever letters I was drawing a lot at the time, or thinking about.

a: front-facing left shoulder
b: left thigh
c: inside left arm
d: right upper right arm/bicep
e: sternum
f: right calf
g: inside right wrist
h: inside right calf
i: inside left thigh, just above knee
j: inside left wrist
k: left upper left arm/bicep
l: left forearm
m: right forearm
n: collarbone
o: inside right bicep
p: inside right thigh
q: nape of neck [pictured]
r: top of right shoulder
s: top of right foot
t: left shin
u: back
v: back
w: back
x: shoulder blade
y: left calf
z: behind left ear [pictured]

Thanks to Elizabeth for her cooperation and participation here on Tattoosday. Also, much thanks to Stephanie Tamez (see her official website here) for her chiming in on the experience.

Do look into Body Type, as well. It’s a lovely book indeed.

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