Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them

Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them

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by Wendy MacNaughton, Isaac Fitzgerald

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Every tattoo tells a story, whether the ink is meaningful or the result of a misguided decision made at the age of fourteen, representative of the wearer's true self or the accidental consequence of a bender. These most permanent and intimate of body adornments are hidden by pants legs and shirttails, emblazoned on knuckles, or tucked inside mouths. They are battle

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Every tattoo tells a story, whether the ink is meaningful or the result of a misguided decision made at the age of fourteen, representative of the wearer's true self or the accidental consequence of a bender. These most permanent and intimate of body adornments are hidden by pants legs and shirttails, emblazoned on knuckles, or tucked inside mouths. They are battle scars and beauty marks, totems and mementos.

Pen & Ink grants us access to the tattoos-and the stories behind them-of writers Cheryl Strayed and Roxane Gay; rockers in the bands Korn, Otep, and Five Finger Death Punch; and even a porn star. But it also illuminates the tattoos of the ordinary people living in our midst-from professors to thrift store salespeople, cafe owners to librarians, union organizers to administrators-and their extraordinary lives.

Curated and edited by Isaac Fitzgerald, who sports twelve tattoos himself, each story "is like being let in on . . . secrets by . . . strangers who passed you on the street or sat across from you on the train" (Strayed) and features Wendy MacNaughton's gorgeously rendered full-color illustrations of the tattoos on black-and-white drawings of the bearer's body. At its heart, beneath its colorful skin, Pen & Ink is an exploration of the decision to scar one's self with a symbol and a story.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Based on the popular Tumblr pen & ink, Fitzgerald (books editor at BuzzFeed) and illustrator MacNaughton (Lost Cat) bring their inspired collaboration to the page. The premise is simple: Fitzgerald and MacNaughton asked online readers to submit an image of their tattoo and its story. The book features 63 tattoos, with text that answers questions including: the reason for the tattoo, the individual’s name and profession. Drawn in a whimsical, tender style, MacNaughton’s portraits are captivating in their intimacy: the lower half of a hirsute man with his pants down, a skateboarding bear on his right thigh; a student peeling down her lower lip to expose the words “I forget” in black ink. The accompanying explanations, some of which are entertainingly straightforward (a fondness for pizza) and others that tell a darker story (a celebration of survival after a sexual assault), demonstrate resilience and imagination. Without judgment or regret, this emotionally raw collection, featuring an introduction by Cheryl Strayed, explores how we find permanence in an impermanent world. As MacNaughton says of her very first tattoo, “What the tattoo does prove is that Wendy, like most 19-year olds, used to take things very seriously, and that things change.” 4-color illus. throughout. Agent: Charlotte Sheedy, Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency. (Oct.)
lead singer of The Decemberists Colin Meloy

Oh my god, this gorgeous, gorgeous book. It will, like its subject, alter you permanently. We sometimes forget: each tattoo has its story. Many are lovingly recorded here--from the wicked to the profound to the ridiculous. This gorgeous, gorgeous book perfectly chronicles the stories that we wear on our skin.
author of Seven Tattoos Peter Trachtenberg

For anybody who ever looked at a stranger's tattoo and wondered why?, Pen & Ink offers a gorgeous, hilarious, and moving Because. In its pages, the most amateurish, outlandish, and bizarre tattoos become portals into their owners' lives and dreams. In the process, they become beautiful.
Roxane Gay

In Pen & Ink, Isaac Fitzgerald and Wendy MacNaughton have captured the fascinating stories people secret beneath their skin, how they have marked their skin and why. The revelations in this remarkable collection are, in turns, poignant, charming, heartbreaking, and honest. Like tattoos, these stories leave an impression that will linger.
Huffington Post

[One of] the best art books of 2014.
25 Must-Read Books for the Fall Flavorwire

The real reasons people get tattoos.
Mother Jones

Fascinating . . . Gorgeous.
Best Illustrated Books Design*Sponge

Each ink drawing is a secret story. What I love most about this book is that it doesn't cover just huge sleeves and complicated tattoos, it also honors the newly popular (again) art of poke-and-stick tattoos.
Brain Pickings Maria Popova

Pen & Ink is absolutely delightful from cover to cover.
Shelf Awareness

Beautifully illustrated . . . More than a keepsake for tattoo enthusiasts; it is an artifact of diverse, deeply human histories, like the cave paintings of Lascaux or an illuminated manuscript, a compilation of intimate knowledge we can only hope to see continued in the future.
Design & Photography Books of 2014 Brain Pickings' Best Art

Illustrator and visual storyteller Wendy MacNaughton--she of extraordinary sensitivity to the human experience--and editor Isaac Fitzgerald catalog the wild, wicked, wonderfully human stories behind people's tattoos. . . . The stories--sometimes poetic, sometimes political, always deeply personal--brim with the uncontainable, layered humanity that is MacNaughton's true medium.
"The Year's Most Beautiful and Interesting Art Bo Flavorwire

Pen & Ink takes a brilliant concept--hey, what's the story behind your tattoo?--and brings it to life with MacNaughton's vivid illustrations and BuzzFeed Books editor Fitzgerald's knack for getting true, fantastic stories . . . The collected portraits are funny and sometimes heartbreaking, and they show human nature and experience in all its endearing colors.
The Drunken Odyssey

Pen & Ink reads like a good book of poetry, like an illustrated sonnet sequence. It makes literature out of the experience of tattoos without being . . . precious, or pretentious, or opaque, or ugly. This book is as strong and weird and reckless and smart as the people in it. on the Pen & Ink Tumblr Conz Preti

The second my eyes met the beautiful drawings I was in love.
The Oprah Magazine on the Pen & Ink Tumblr O

Reveal[s] the often hilarious, sometimes poignant stories behind these permanent remnants of our fleeting opinions, passions and phases.
@brainpicker on the Pen & Ink Tumblr Maria Popova

New favorite Tumblr.
Library Journal
Fitzgerald (books editor, Buzzfeed) and MacNaughton (Lost Cat) illustrate and narrate in a kitschy, hipster way the tattoos of others. Their work began with musicians, writers, illustrators, and everyday people submitting their tattoos and the stories behind them to, and Fitzgerald and MacNaughton transforming them into visual narratives. The reasons that the tattooed give for their ink vary from almost profound to really silly, and are all related through Fitzgerald's voice. MacNaughton's drawings are lovely and are rendered in almost all black and white with hints of a few colors in select tattoos. These stories are now compiled offline in this volume, which raises the question: If it's free on Tumblr why buy the print version? Because the book is charming. Not groundbreaking or earth shattering or revelatory but enchanting. This is a title that readers can leaf through a little at a time, savoring the illustrations, or perhaps devour in one sitting. VERDICT For hipsters, people who give hipsters gifts, readers who love tattoos, people who give tattooed people gifts, and those interested in popular culture and the translation of Internet content into print books.—Amelia Osterud, Carroll Univ. Lib., Waukesha, WI

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Product Details

Bloomsbury USA
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7.10(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.70(d)


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Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
LisaAhn More than 1 year ago
As Fitzgerald says so well in the Intro to this collection, tattoos are memories, stories, pieces of a life. On every double-page spread there is a glimpse into someone's history, someone's story. I kept changing my absolute favorite as I read, but, in the end, I'm a sucker for the Grammy Pac Mac tale. Overall, a treasure book, worth savoring again and again and again.