Getting tattooed by Watsun Atkinson is more like participating in a sacred ritual than your typical tattoo session. In exchange for a story about his Illuminated Transformation series, Atkinsun offered to give me a new tattoo as part of his ongoing Offering Adorned project. In this series, he creates one-of-a-kind designs with powerful symbolic properties and lets clients select from his ever-growing sketchbook. The experience was both intimate and enlightening, giving me a deeper appreciation of the spiritual power of ornamental blackwork.
We began the session in the early afternoon, meeting at New York Adorned. Sitting in the lobby for a while, we discussed the project. “In the Offering Adorned series, I work in a number of styles within my overarching style, ranging from delicate linework, expressive brushwork, to bold blackwork,” he explained. “We live in a mix-matched culture, so it makes sense that art would crash together.” We also spoke about our mutual passion for poetry, talking about Rumi and other mystical poets whom we admire. Once we had thoroughly broken the ice, we headed to the back of the shop to get started.
Atkinsun asked me to flip through his sketchbook and select a design that spoke to me on a personal level. As I thumbed through the countless pages of intricate patterns, he explained their meanings to me, and after a considerable amount of deliberation, I decided on one that resembled a diamond-shaped piece of flint surrounded by a field of dots and crosses, because of the positive energy that it seemed to emit.
Midway through the session, we started talking about runes, and Atkinsun told me about how he makes them out of words by abstracting their letters to create symbols of protection. He said, “Why don’t we improvise one in the middle of your new tattoo. What’s one of your favorite words?” Because it had come up earlier in our chat about poetry, we arrived at the term “praxis” — the ancient greek term for realizing a theory through practice. We took a break from the tattoo and went to the shop’s backyard while he drew up the rune.
It was fascinating to see his process in action. Through watching him, I could see how intuitive his approach to making art is. Each line was rendered in a spontaneous nature, taking shape on the sheet of paper in an organic fashion. As he fervently scrawled out the rune, I could tell that creating these emblems was a deeply emotional and spiritual endeavor for Atkinsun.
After the tattoo machine finally stopped humming, Atkinsun asked me to film him reading the poem that he had written that morning, so we went back outside and after he’d finished reciting the piece, he took the sketch of the rune, crumpled it up, rubbed it in the dirt as a kind of blessing, and used his lighter to burn the edges of the paper. Then gave it to me. Body art always has an element of intimacy to it, but this was by far one of the most profound experiences I’ve had getting tattooed. In short, it made me believe in the magic of ornamental blackwork.
To see more of Atkinsun’s Offering Adorned series and more of his art work, follow him on Instagram or check out his website. Should you want to take part in this mystical tattoo project, he travels extensively and works at Hallowed Ground Studio in Portland, Maine, and can be reached at email@example.com for booking.