OSU Inked: A look at tattoos at OSU, the meanings behind them and their possible career implications

 Kyle Van Krieken’s tattoo is a nod to his favorite anime figure Greed from the show “Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood.”

Richard Steeves

Natalie Paul knows the history of her art. 

The Corvallis native and local tattoo artist says tattoos date back over 10,000 years. They have since found their way into almost every culture on Earth. As the culture has spread, tattoos have become less and less taboo, and more and more people are getting them and displaying them for the world to see.

Paul has been tattooing in the Willamette Valley for eight years and has been working at High Priestess across the street from Oregon State University for four. She has seen her fair share of OSU ink, and said about 90 percent of her clientele is associated with the university. During football season Paul said it is common for people to come into the shop and get tattoos saying, “Go Beavs” and “Beaver Nation.” 

However, she said that the most common trend she sees is people getting tattoos in honor of their family. Younger people are getting more visible tattoos, before, Paul said it used to be older people wanting ink that was not as visible.

“I’ve seen it change drastically,” Paul said.

According to Paul, culture is becoming more accepting of tattoos, and this has trickled down to some employers, so more people are willing to get them and display them.

“I don’t discourage visible tattoos because the times, they are a-changin,” Paul said.

The inspiration behind tattoos and their artwork can be as unique as the individual getting them.

The character within a sword on Kyle Van Krieken’s right arm is not just a nod to his favorite anime figure Greed from the show “Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood.” It embodies what he wants to do with his life.

 

“This tattoo represents my entire life aspirations,” Krieken said. “He resembles a multitude of things about my journey.”

The tattoo is on his right arm so he can see it every day and have it remind him of what he is going after in life. Krieken is a new media communications major, and when he graduates he wants to write, produce and direct his own anime cartoons. 

Georgia Ry’s tattoos are a twist between her love for both dance and her parents. The ink on her wrists are alchemical symbols for the torrefaction process of taking base materials and refining them. The left wrist represents taking base metals and turning them to gold, and the right into silver.

“It’s a metaphor for turning a traumatic experience into something lighter, easier to get through,” Ry said.

The placement of the tattoos also have a deeper connotation.

“I put them on my wrists because I’ve been a dancer my entire life. It’s an extension of energy you’re expressing through your hands,” Ry said.

Ry thinks it is “cheesy,” but the flowers on her shoulders are for her parents. The honeysuckle and lilacs on her right shoulder are her mom’s favorite flower, and the irises on her left shoulder are her dad’s.

Johan Forsberg’s tattoos are a mixture of his world travels and family. The roses on his arm are from when he traveled to Thailand. Above the roses is his favorite tattoo, the Greek goddess Athena, who represents his time in the fraternity Phi Delta Theta. The ship on his lower bicep is also from his travels and is Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance.

“I went to Antarctica, followed in his footsteps and went to his grave,” Forsberg said.

 

The robin on the right side of his rib cage is for his grandpa who likes to carve birds, and the lettering on his back is his last name in Arabic for when he lived in Oman. His most meaningful tattoo is the letter on his chest from his mother, that she wrote him when he was going through some tough times in high school.

“If she ever passes away someday at least I’ll have this to remind me how much she loved me,” Forsberg said.

The two tattoos on Jacob Eldred Bucher’s forearm are rooted in family. The first tattoo he got was as a teenager while at a tattoo convention. Bucher said he was so excited at the convention he couldn’t leave without getting inked. It is a bear cub.

“Grandpa called me ‘cub’ when I was younger. Like ‘Jay-cub,’” Bucher said.

Bucher got his newest tattoo a few weeks ago. It is his family tree which is a Douglas fir. The initials JB are in the trunk. This is representative of his parents, himself and two sisters who all have the same initials. Although still single and without children, Bucher left room on the tree trunk for the initials of his future wife and kids.

 

“Each tattoo is like a memory,” Bucher said.

The tree is not just about family either; Bucher said it represents his time in the Northwest. Bucher has also worked as a wildland firefighter and would like to surround it with flames.

Not everybody spends their 18th birthday in a tattoo parlor, but Shylene Olsen did. And she had a sentimental reason behind getting her favorite flower, the lotus, tattooed on her thigh. A flower she called “different.”

“I got it for my grandpa who recently passed away from cancer. He was different and he taught me it’s OK to be different too,” Olsen said.

Olsen’s second tattoo is a sun located on her chest. Olsen was hanging out with a friend who had a tattoo gun one night and spontaneously decided to get matching tattoos. Although spontaneous, Olsen does not regret it one bit.

“My sun reminds me to look on the bright side of things. And the sun is warm and makes me happy,” Olsen said.

Although all of the tattooed interviewed are proud to display their ink, a common thread between them besides tattoos was future employment.

Nonetheless, Paul does not necessarily encourage tattoos on the face or hands. She said it depends on the person being tattooed, and if they are ready for that type of commitment or not. Paul has even worked with tattoo artists that discourage young people from getting face or hand tattoos that could possibly affect their future employment.

Overall Paul likes the direction that tattoo culture is going, and said whether it will affect their job status depends on the person and field they are going into.

“I love when people are fearless and want to show off their artwork to the world,” Paul said.

When it comes to the workplace, Ry wouldn’t work somewhere her tats were not welcome and feels lucky that she has not been discriminated against or harassed for her tattoos. 

“If you’re getting a tattoo you’re willing to stand up for the image you’re displaying on your body,” Ry said. “I think it’s important that people continue to put their stories on their skin through tattoos.”

Bucher said he has noticed people looking at him differently because of his tattoos, but is unconcerned because when someone gets a tattoo it means something. He is currently studying sports management and doesn’t feel it will affect his career.

“For what I want to do, I don’t think it will limit me,” Bucher said.

Olsen is fully aware that her tattoos if not properly concealed can be seen, but is unfazed at the thought of them affecting her career goals.

“I feel like nowadays it’s OK, and if someone was going to discriminate against me because of a job I wouldn’t want it,” Olsen said.

Although Forsberg nearly has a half sleeve on his right arm, he is concerned about getting a job and likes the fact he can cover his ink if necessary.

“I haven’t gotten ballsy enough to get my forearms tattooed,” Forsberg said.

Joanna Abbott, associate director of the OSU Career Development Center, and Wendy Kuessel Allison, employer relations events coordinator for the Career Development Center, work to get students and employers connected. Abbott works directly with students to help them find jobs. Allison works with employers looking for new hires and organizes career fairs on campus. And they both have tattoos.

Be that as it may, both Abbott and Allison said that depending on the field a student goes into, a tattoo could affect employment.

“It depends what they are, where they are, and what industry you’re going into,” Allison said. “It’s really up to the employer.”

According to Abbott, anything in the arts, agriculture and forestry is generally more accepting of tattoos, and anything in the corporate realm is not. She also said that jobs in the service industry, or where someone has to establish a level of trust with a customer is not as accepting of tattoos.

However, Abbott and Allison did agree that overall employers are becoming more lenient when it comes to tattoos, but reccomend not getting visible tattoos unless you are established in a position that allows them, and is accepted by one’s boss.

Allison said it is smart to follow the military’s guidelines on tattoos, which she cited as nothing above the collarbone, and nothing below the wrists or on the hands. According to Allison, they can have the biggest impact on employment especially during the interview process, as first impressions can be everything.

“Visible tattoos can be distracting and you have no idea what that person sitting across the table is thinking,” Allison said. “It’s always better to go on the conservative side of things.”

“You may have a boss who doesn’t have a problem with tattoos,” added Allison. “But he could be replaced or retire, and his replacement might not feel the same way.”

Visibility and industry are not the only thing Abbott and Allison cited that could affect a tattoo being acceptable or not. They said that it varies by region and the Northwest leans liberal, but other parts of the country are more conservative when it comes to tattoos. 

“There is no hard and fast rule,” Allison said.

“When it comes to a tattoo, one thing you have to remember is that art is subjective,” added Abbott. “What may be art to you may be offensive to someone else, and employers have to watch out for that.” 

Overall, Abbott and Allison said people need to do their research before getting inked.

“If you’re considering getting a tattoo talk to someone in the industry and find out what the culture is like,” Abbott said.

“Consider the piece, consider the placement, and consider the industry you want to go into,” added Allison. “Think about your future before you go under the needle.”