Tattoos mirror feelings, and this year everyone has been feeling much the same: scared, stir-crazy, and thoroughly sick of COVID. For tattoo artists, this has resulted in a small wave of people requesting COVID-themed tattoos—either in the form of people wearing face masks, or just cartoon renderings of the virus itself.
We wanted to get an idea of how often these requests are coming through, so we emailed a bunch of tattoo artists from around the world. They each gave us a short interview on how their art has imitated life, and sent us a photo of their proudest COVID-themed ink to date.
Rami “Ramo” Rosvall, Finland
Tattooing for 14 years
VICE: How many COVID tattoo requests have you had?
Ramo: I’ve had quite a few, but I’ve only been able to do one so far because my waiting list is super long.
What was the inspiration behind your COVID tattoo?
I’ve designed a few, but the one I’ve already done is definitely my favourite. I love doing portraits, and this tattoo is a portrait of a distinguished gentleman wearing a mask and with “COVID” script on his face. To me it represents that classism doesn’t exist during crisis; that we’re all going through this together no matter how much money we have. My client just wanted something crazy to remind him of this crazy time.
Do you think getting a COVID tattoo is becoming a trend?
Right now, yes. It’s like when any worldwide phenomenon occurs—like a new hit Hollywood movie—it can be seen in tattooing. At the moment, COVID is trending all over the world. It’s all we talk about.
Will people be getting COVID tattoos long after it’s over?
I don’t know if people will still want COVID tattoos five years after the pandemic, but then again, will it ever be over? We could all be getting COVID tattoos for the rest of our lives.
Mundane Death, Australia
Tattooing for one year
How many COVID requests have you had since the shop reopened a month ago?
I’ve only done the one so far, but got another couple booked in for later this month.
What inspired the one you’ve done?
This year, really. I was on such a roll and then lockdown kinda killed my momentum. The inspiration just came from around me; I’ve been drawing latex gloves, plague doctors and medical masks for months. I just put them on my Instagram and people resonate with them and want them done. My friend loved the design of the cute girl with a mask, so she came in and we smashed it out. Now she has a reminder of 2020!
Have you always been inspired by the things happening around you?
Yeah. I grew up kinda poor so I never had video game consoles or anything like that, and I started drawing just to keep myself busy and entertained. I guess I’ve always let my emotions come out through drawing.
Do you think COVID-themed tattoos are becoming a trend?
People definitely seem to want a permanent reminder of this year. But I think tattoos are good for people’s mental health too. Getting a tattoo after an absence feels good; like a breath of fresh air.
Woodz, Brooklyn, USA
Tattooing for 15 years
Who did you do your COVID tattoo on?
A managing nurse at Brooklyn Hospital. She contacted me in April as the levels were rising and her hospital was overwhelmed with severely ill COVID patients. She wanted to commemorate that time with an everlasting keepsake, as a reminder of the stress, sacrifice and loss. Hopefully this will be a thing of the past one day and she can look back on it and be proud.
What is the tattoo of?
It’s a take on the Virgin Mary wearing PPE; basically, my version of the Virgin Mary as a COVID first responder nurse. My client inspired the design. I incorporated Indigenous flowers of her native homeland as well.
Have you designed many COVID-related tattoos?
I haven’t really pre-designed any. If people feel they need them, I let them come to me and I design based on their specific experiences, emotions and inspirations. It’s kind of like their therapy, designing a keepsake to symbolise the way they’ve dealt with the pandemic.
Have you got any more COVID tattoos lined up?
No, but since reopening in July the studio has been busier than ever, and tattoos are integral in self-care for people across many demographics. I’m sure that we’ll see plenty more COVID-related tattoos as people try to get their life and their mental health back on track.
Do you think these designs will become a trend?
Yeah, I think they already have. Personally, I think it’s tasteless to profit off a pandemic; I’d rather do tattoos that help people through a healing process. The trend and the pandemic won’t last. That’s been my driving force throughout this whole shitshow.
David Barão, Portugal
Tattooing for seven years.
Have you been asked to do many COVID-themed tattoos?
I’ve done a few actually! I love them. My favourite is the COVID “bug” or “virus” with a 2020 banner. Fuck 2020.
Why do you love them?
I love that people have the guts to tattoo something like that on them, and that it’s such a harsh, unavoidable reminder of a crazy awful year.
Who got your first COVID-themed tattoo?
A long-time client who has become my friend. He was supposed to be travelling overseas the day before, and of course, he couldn’t. So his reaction was to get a virus tattoo.
What inspired you to design COVID-themed tattoos?
Tattoos come from a feeling, similar to music or perfume. You know when you smell something familiar and it takes you to a feeling? I wanted to capture the feeling of this year in the form of tattoos.
COVID has changed all of our lives so radically this year. There are parts I want to forget, but also things I’ve learnt that I want to remember. It’s also going to be super funny to show our grandchildren these tattoos. They’ll spark so many stories, both joyful and horrific.
Dominic Sniatowski, Poland
Tattooing for four years
What’s your favourite COVID-themed tattoo you’ve done?
My favourite is a tattoo I called “Devotion”. It’s the face of a young woman with tears streaming down her face and a medical “COVID” mask that has a smiley face.
What inspired “Devotion”?
The word itself is an ode to all the frontline workers. They’ve seen so much pain this year, yet they’ve stuck through it and put a “happy face” on and they’ve remained dedicated to saving lives.
I really wanted to create a dramatic image; something that would get people in the gut, you know? I can’t imagine how dark it would’ve been to see all that grief and loss in such a short time period, especially with all the uncertainty and just having no answers for people’s loved ones.
Has COVID brought out a lot of creativity in you?
Yeah. I mean I’ve felt a lot of emotions, which always sparks creativity. This design in particular pretty much drew itself. I’ve been thinking of words a lot, like “pain”, “suffering” and “devotion”… and the creativity just starts there and goes in its own direction.
The pandemic is fucking everywhere, there’s so much imagery to draw from—things we’ve never seen on this scale before.
Like you know, masks: the standard COVID ones but also people wearing face shields and gas masks. It’s like a horror film. But masks have also really forced you to look into people’s eyes, which is actually kind of beautiful and another reason why I wanted my design to have one.
Interview by Laura Roscioli. Follow her on Instagram