Meaningful Brand Icons From Unique Tattoos — Going More Than Skin Deep

My attachment to my tattoos goes more than skin deep. Using them as brand icons isn’t something I planned, but I’m sure happy with how things have turned out!

I’ve been using my Eco-Footprint tattoo as my brand icon for almost five years now, and it’s always served me well, ever since it was designed for me and I had it inked into the inside of my ankle nearly seven years ago. A couple of years before that, I had seen the original design used as an avatar online, and it resonated with me right away.

I remained attached to it, and one day mentioned it to an old university friend and graphic designer. He agreed to redesign the image for my tattoo, and since I was living in South Korea at the time, he was inspired to add an Asian spin to it.

I was lucky, too. When I first moved to Korea, tattooing wasn’t legal unless performed by a medical doctor, but by the time my design was ready, the law had changed. With the help of a Korean friend, I was able to find a trustworthy tattoo artist in my city. His assistant had lived in the States and therefore spoke fluent English, so communicating particulars about the tattoo was no problem.

The Niackery Eco-Footprint tattoo was the first to be used as one of my brand icons.

It wasn’t until two years later that I began using the design as my brand icon (my friend having transferred all rights to me). I was also inspired to use another one of my tattoos as part of my tagline… Or rather, it was the other way around.

About two years before I got my Eco-Footprint tattoo, I was introduced to the concept of self-branding during the course of my studies. Throughout the program, “Natural Nomad” was my self-assigned brand. And it was also the idea for a tattoo. But I wasn’t sure, and since I didn’t have any tattoos yet, I didn’t know what to expect or whether I’d have any regrets, so I waited.

A few months later, while I was backpacking in South America, I decided to go for it. At first, my intention was to have “Natural” tattooed on one arm, and “Nomad” on the other, but I ultimately thought that was just too much! So I chose to keep it simple, and just go with “Nomad.”

I absolutely love the tattoo, but when she first saw it, my mother joked that I couldn’t wear t-shirts anymore because I would just look “mad” — lol! Ok, so that’s not a big deal… I still wear t-shirts.

However, long-time readers will also remember that I used to have a buzz cut… And a tattooed woman with a buzz cut must surely be the object of judgement — I was mistaken for a motorcycle gang member more than once!

The first time it happened, I was waitressing at a fishing lodge in French River the spring and summer after I got my Nomad tattoo. Once a month, the Blue Knights — a club of retired motorcycle-riding police officers — would come by for lunch. They were always rude to me, for no reason that I knew of, so on their third visit, I politely confronted them about it.

One man retorted something about having no reason to be nice to someone like me. Of course I was insulted, and gearing up for a challenge over my hair, but he right away identified my tattoo as the reason for their dislike. I couldn’t believe it, for many of them were heavily tattooed, including the women in the group.

I began a brief tirade against their prejudice, but I was interrupted. I guess I said something that clicked with them, because someone asked why I had gotten “Nomad” tattooed in the first place. When I explained that it’s because I like to travel, and that even when I’m not travelling, I’m a hiker and I move around a lot, their looks of disdain changed to expressions of concern.

They told me I would have to be careful wherever I went, because there would always be people like them judging me for having that tattoo, and others who would be worse. Huh?? What was this all about? It was soon revealed that Nomads are a biker gang, apparently rivals of the Hell’s Angels. Since I’d never heard of them, I didn’t much care.

But it’s a good thing I had that heads-up! Two years later, in Australia, I finally met a Nomad.

I was out with some newly-made Canadian friends, but I noticed a man staring at me throughout the evening. Sure that facing him would be less scary than waiting to see what would happen, I went up to him and asked him why he’d been staring at me all night. He pointed his chin across the room and told me it was because another man had also been staring at me, and he was keeping an eye on the situation.

I looked at him, bald and covered in tattoos, and despite my previous affront at being judged for the exact same reasons, I knew I now had no choice but to make a quick judgement call. I simply said, “It’s my tattoo, isn’t it?” He confirmed my guess, and told me that the man across the room was with the Hell’s Angels. That must make him a Nomad then, I ventured. It did, though he was no longer a member.

Feeling that trusting him was probably my best bet, I got my friends to join us, and we sat with him the rest of the night. The other man continued to stare at us, so our new Nomad acquaintance escorted us back to our youth hostel.

That was about five years ago. It was an intense situation to be in, but nothing memorable involving my Nomad tattoo has happened since. When I tell this story, some people have asked me if I’ve considered having my Nomad tattoo removed. Nope. I couldn’t do that. I’ve had it for so long now, I’d feel really weird without it!

Besides, it was my first-ever tattoo, and I got it in celebration of hiking my first ever multi-day trek — following the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. There are so many memories associated with this tattoo — it’s like having a constant photo album or memento with me (smiley face).

My Nomad tattoo was the first to go more than skin deep.

Even though I’ve had the tattoo on my back for almost two years longer than the Eco-Footprint, it never occurred to me to use the image for anything — that is, until I needed a brand icon to represent Arts and Culture on this website.

Niackery Elements tattoo — Design by Julie @Niackery

It may seem like it’s representative of my journiac and greeniac ways — and it most definitely is — but the inspiration behind it is cultural, the philosophy, spiritual, the interpretation, artistic.

While I was in Peru, I saw many indigenous crafts that blended representations of the sun and the moon, tributes to la pachamama. I was inspired to produce my own rendering of the Earth Mother, and added portrayals of the planet, the rain, and the wind to the mix.

I know it’s not the best drawing, but hey, I actually drew it myself! It was something I worked on during my spare time while volunteering at Picaflor Research Centre. Unfortunately, there was a little misunderstanding with the tattooist, otherwise I would probably have brought a final version to show him, instead of just a rough draft!

While I was getting my Nomad tattoo, I mentioned that I liked the portrayals of la pachamama I’d been seeing in local markets. The tattooist encouraged me to design what I had in mind, then come back and he would give me a discount for the second tattoo. Since he’d been recommended to me by the staff at my youth hostel, I knew this wasn’t a sham.

So, I tried to explain to him in my halting Spanish that I can’t draw very well, and that I would just bring un ejemplo (an example). I thought the tattooist assured me that he would improve whatever drawing I brought to him. Well, something must have been lost in translation, because when I returned over a month later, the tattooist reproduced my drawing exactly.

At first I was a little embarrassed, but I got over that real quick! And when I decided to use it as a brand icon several years later, it made me drum up the motivation to get it fixed (winky face). So I asked a talented friend to work it over in a way that would be both appropriate as a logo and possible for a tattooist to reproduce. What she came up with is amazing!

Niackery Elements logo — Design by Julie @Niackery, with modifications by Tia Tanguay

I’ve yet to get my Elements tattoo touched up, but something tells me that’s coming soon!

The last tattoo I got was one that also meant a lot to me for so many reasons, and it’s again something that I’ve been using online for a very long time, but this time, it was done with purpose and intent.

When I was still in high school, it became popular to hang out online, whatever that meant. Back then, people had internet handles instead of usernames, and anonymity online was still important. I tried out a couple different handles that never stuck, until I got the idea for “habannah” shortly after a family vacation to Cuba, and have been using it, though less and less, ever since.

Many years later, while living in Busan, I became fascinated with the use of English words in the Korean language, especially when transliterated into Hangeul (the Korean alphabet). During my many city walks, I would read as many street and business signs as I could lay my eyes on, and it always amused me to discover that I could understand many of them.

After my return, it was clear that for my next tattoo, I wanted an English word transliterated into Hangeul. By this time I already had three meaningful tattoos. It was becoming easier and easier to make the decision to get a tattoo, but I still had to put a lot of thought into which word I would want to have tattooed onto myself.

Because most people wouldn’t be able to read this tattoo (and those who would might not understand its meaning), I knew that what I put on myself still mattered a lot. I figured it would become a talking piece, and I would have to explain it to random strangers and new acquaintances more than any other tattoo.

Well, I was only partially right. I’ve found that most people, after asking about one tattoo, will ask about the others. But the Habannah tattoo usually is the first one people ask about…

That might also be because it’s often the most visible, positioned inside my arm, just below the elbow (winky face).

Tattoo of the word Habannah transliterated into Hangeul.

What makes this tattoo even more special, though, is that it was my first Christmas present from Marc — a gift certificate from Canadian Red Dragon in Sudbury (smiley face). So that means this was the only one I’ve gotten done in Canada so far…

It was also the easiest one, taking only about 20 minutes to complete. The Nomad tattoo had taken 30 minutes, the Elements tattoo had taken 2 hours (!), and the Eco-Footprint, 45 minutes. But I’m pretty sure the next one I’ve got planned will beat them all. It’s going to be big and colourful, so I expect it’ll hurt more, too (frowny face). But it’s going to be soooo worth it!

I haven’t put it all together yet, but I’ve had the various aspects of this tattoo planned for a few years. The inspiration behind it is similar to what inspired my Elements tattoo — love of art and nature.

When I was in Vancouver during the Olympics, there were sculptures of eagles all over the city, each painted differently, usually with a First Nations theme. One of them blew me away. I knew the moment I saw it that my next tattoo would be inspired by it.

Tribal eagle sculpture colourfully painted.

In fact, it didn’t take me very long to figure out what I wanted from this tattoo. Visualize this:

  • Instead of an eagle, a phoenix rising out from flames (because I’m a Sagittarian, a fire sign).
  • Instead of a red background on the bird, a blue one.
  • And lastly, instead of white calla lilies with their stems, these pink waterlilies with lily pads, which I photographed in Korea.
Water lily and lily pads.

So yep, this tattoo will also represent the four elements as well as travel, but this time, I’m hoping to get an old high school friend to put the design together, and do the ink work for me, too… Plus I like the idea of getting this tattoo done in the Sudbury area because, as a place where I have roots, it gives the bird a place to land when it needs to recharge (winky face).

Whether I’ll end up using this tattoo as a brand icon remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: each one of my tattoos goes more than skin deep, revealing a lot about me — which is why they’ve served so well as brand icons for Niackery.

N.B.: As always, my images are copyrighted, which includes reproduction of my tattoos. Many thanks for your respect (smiley face).