Tamriel and Tattoos

Skyrim Launches in less than a week, and I think that to say that I am excited is a whole level of understatement that has never been seen before. One day, centuries from now, lingual scholars will wonder whether anyone was truly excited before. For me, Skyrim isn’t just a game, but the continuation of an experience that has spanned decades. The Elder Scrolls have been like a second home for me, a world so rich and detailed that I have literally spent hundreds of hours (and quite possibly over a thousand) exploring. To give you an idea of just how much depth this series offers, in the third game Morrowind, there are 300 unique books scattered throughout the game world. Each book has excerpts that are fully rendered, most averaging 20-30 pages long. Oblivion increased this number almost twofold again, giving way to an actual library of texts, each meticulously detailing aspects of the rich history and cultural make up of the different races and settlements of the setting, a landmass known as Tamriel.

However it isn’t just the in game literature; the setting itself is a vast series of lands, covering thousands of square kilometres between the games, and within this are desolate settlements, bustling cities, ash volcanoes, forrested valleys, murky swamps, and snowing alps. Every location has a beautiful and gradual transition, every rock is appropriately weathered, every plant thoughtfully hand placed. The world feels alive, and that is probably one of the reasons I spent so much time escaping there, at a time when the real world just didn’t seem to offer me anything worthwhile. Fortunately for me and those I care about (and who care about me), those dark times are in my past now, but sometimes I wonder whether or not I would be here, and who I am today if it were not for Morrowind and that second life I led there.

This is why, several years ago, I decided to get a tattoo of the sigil of Alduin as depicted from Morrowind. Alduin is a prominent reference throughout The Elder Scrolls lore, known by a different name to each of the races of Tamriel, but sharing a common description; the Dragon-God of Time. So imagine my surprise and unbridled joy when it was announce that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim would feature none other than Alduin him/her/itself!

The tattoo itself has a story as well. It was done by the amazing Marc Pinto of Primitive Tattoos. Marc has done my other inking work, all of which is done in the traditional Japanese technique called Tebori. In contrast to “Western” tattoing, Tebori is done by hand, using a sharp implement to push the ink under the skin.

As no machines are involved the whole process is very quiet, so much that you can hear the sound of the implement piercing the skin; this is called Shakki, an onomatopoeic description of the noise it makes, and is deceptively relaxing.

Tebori is a time consuming technique, but the final results are most definitely worth it. I find that the ink stays darker for longer, the lines are more crisp and suffer edge-bleeding less, and the shading that is employed is far more uniform and smooth.

A good Horishi (trained artist) is hard to find, as the training alone takes years of dedication and commitment. An Uchideshi (apprentice) will work under a strict regimen, hand making the needles, the ink (Sumi), and keeping the studio clean and ready. At any one time, there are only a handful of artists trained in Tebori, and Marc Pinto is truly a phenomenal artist whom I have a great amount of respect and admiration for.

This particular piece took about 4 hours to complete, and the experience was amazing. The ultimate irony was that the chair had no head rest, and so my neck was sore and tired from holding it at an awkward angle. This complaint coming from the person who is having thousands upon thousands of needles puncturing his skin and depositing activated carbon underneath it.

The result was incredible and I was superbly happy with it then, as I am now. People often ask me what the tattoo is (as it is my only visible one when I am fully clothed), and often I tell them that it is either the Sigil of Alduin, the Dragon God, or the Akaviri Sigil from Morrowind (this is a long held debate among fans of the Elder Scrolls, but I won’t go into it here). When they ask why I would get a video game tattoo, often while smirking, I tell them that to me The Elder Scrolls are more than just a game. They are a symbol of creativity, dedication, and most of all they are a reminder that no matter how difficult things might have been, or how difficult they might be in the future, I was able to get through them.

So finally, I would like to say Thank You to Bethesda, and the team behind all of the Elder Scrolls games. You might not realise it, but you have indirectly helped to make me who I am today, and I cannot express enough how much that means to me.



  • Charles

    How much did it cost you?

    • I honestly don’t remember what Marc charged me in the end, but for this style of work you would be looking at about $250-300? It depends greatly on the complexity of the design and how long it will take to complete.

  • Aisya

    That is an awesome tattoo. I see you haven’t updated the blog in a while, though. Skyrim has drawn you completely into its universe, I believe? Haha! I totally understand. I was completely immersed in it for a good three months before I finally got a bit tired (and Mass Effect 3 came out! :P)

    Anyway, update Anchorage soon! xx

  • sara

    to me, you look interesting before and after makeover. i love your attitude :)