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Video:What Is a Sailor Jerry Tattoo?

with Jonathon Stewart

Sailor Jerry is one of ink's Hall of Famers. Learn all about his life, his work, and his influences on the art and technology of tattooing.See Transcript

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Transcript:What Is a Sailor Jerry Tattoo?

One of the most famous tattoo artists in American history is Sailor Jerry.

Information About Sailor Jerry

Living what he inked, or inking what he lived, Sailor Jerry has created some of the most iconic tattoo symbols of all time, that are still requested today. Before becoming an honest to goodness sailor and traveler, Sailor Jerry was born Norman Keith Collins in 1911 in the landlocked town of Reno, Nevada. A free spirit from the get-go, Norman traveled the rails as a kid and learned the art of tattooing from a fellow rails rider.

Facts About Sailor Jerry Tattoos

His wanderlust led him to join the U.S. Navy where he traveled to Southeast Asia, incorporating more tattoo technique and designs into his repertoire. And, Sailor Jerry's tattoos are standouts and recognizable for some key characteristics. In fact, you may recognize some of the designs but not realized who was behind the imagery. Popular symbols include pin-up girls, bottles of booze, dice, nautical symbols and weaponry. There is also the infamous “Aloha” monkey, eagle, swallow, wild cats and snakes. His designs were accurate, finely detailed, and incorporated bright colors and pigmentation. While many have tried to copy his designs, no one quite comes close to the retro feel Sailor Jerry developed. Beyond innovative designs, Sailor Jerry added revolutionary processes to the art of tattooing. Not only did he expand the number of colors used, but he also came up with needle formations that embedded the pigment into the skin in a way that minimized trauma.

More Information About Sailor Jerry Tattoo

He was the first to add sterilization to tattooing through single-use needles. Despite adding professionalism and standards to tattooing, Sailor Jerry wanted to maintain his rebellious attitude and roguish nature. He preferred to remain outside of society’s norm, choosing instead to befriend Japanese tattoo artists known as Horis and setting up shot in the Honolulu district of Chinatown. Although he is gone, his pirate spirit lives on in some surprising places.Mike Malone took over his tattoo parlor until he died in 2007, another protégé, Ed Hardy, has turned his tattoo designs into a popular clothing company licensed by Christian Audigier not to mention a line of rum and numerous catalogues of tattoo designs. Whether it’s through merchandise or a walking billboard, Sailor Jerry’s legacy continues.

I'm Jonathon Stewart, with About.com.
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