When Scout Frank loses his mother, he knows he has to hide her and finds the perfect solution when he discovers he can tattoo her ashes on his skin.
Clutching a small wooden box containing his mother’s remains, Frank was excited when he arrived at artist Kat Dukes’ tattoo studio in Oceanside, California.
“I’m a little overwhelmed,” he said, his voice breaking. “But I know I’m in very good hands. I’m looking forward to making my mom a more permanent part of my life.”
The Dukes tattoo studio has a different aesthetic than most of those found on high streets and shopping malls across the United States and much of the Western world.
Instead of roses, skulls, or other traditional designs lining the counter, it’s pure; its clean white walls and scented candles are more evocative of a spa than a tattoo parlor. The Dukes dutifully collected a little ash from the box in preparation for mixing the ink.
“Come on, Mom!” said Frank, whose tears were beginning to turn into a smile. “It’s respecting him in a different way, instead of just having him sit in my house,” she said.
Dukes, who has built a loyal following at his Steel Honey studio thanks to his style of hand tattooing, where artists use needles dipped in ink and go into the skin point by point instead of a machine, began to incorporate more than three years ago, when a client said she wanted to honor a dog as a pet.
“I heard it could be done, but I didn’t know how, so I looked,” he told AFP.
In fact, tattooing with tree ashes is an ancient practice, and the use of cremation ashes is a recent trend that American funeral homes are connecting with. in tattoo parlors or even posting instructions for making the ink on their websites.
“It’s very easy: just add the ash, and that’s what we do,” Dukes said.
“It just makes it that much more special. He gets the same, and he loves the tattoo, and he always, always tells people he has his dog’s ashes in the tattoo.”
Videos of Dukes’ hand-drawn black ink tattoos have gone viral on social media, generating widespread interest. Most of these are positive, but not all.
“I received a lot of criticism for doing this,” he said. “A lot of people would argue that it’s not good. I understand that this process is not for everyone.”
The Dukes insisted that there is no risk of infection or contamination from the ashes; if done correctly, the ink from a tattoo sits in the dermis and does not migrate into the bloodstream.
And cremations are done at such high temperatures that the ashes are usually sterile. Tattoo parlors in California must meet statutory health standards, and Dukes said inspectors verify that their work is safe and not in violation of any regulations on the use of those who are especially burned.
And, he said, the criticism is mainly because people in the United States are not familiar with it. “It’s something that people don’t hear very often, and things that are foreign to people are not immediately ignored.”
Dukes himself adopted the practice and has his father’s ashes tattooed.
“I still love being able to do it for people because there aren’t many tattoo artists willing to do it,” he said.