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The Tattoo Encyclopedia – Terisa Green

I chose to review this book from my collection first, in relation to the other articles published and purely because it is a fantastic book to begin learning about the vast array of tattoo imagery that plasters tattoo studios. For those that opt for a ‘flash’ design (i.e. a design that has already been drawn, printed, laminated, sold and displayed for tattooists to use as a means of a ready, ‘instant’ design that does not necessarily need altering) – this book is a useful tool in helping to choose a design, and even giving a small amount of information about the history, relation and common reason for choosing the particular image etc.

The book has been well laid out, in a handy A-Z format, also cross-referenced, indexed, and illustrated with three hundred examples of tattoo line art. Although the images themselves are not particularly useful towards ‘solid’ images to be picked for an actual tattoo, either for the consumer or tattooist – they are subtle enough to get a general idea of the design they are representing. And with the added bonus of being able to study this in your own home, it can even help some to feel more confident when they walk into their chosen tattoo studio – having more knowledge and a better idea about the tattoo they are about to choose from the wall.

The Tattoo Encyclopedia is an extremely good reference book – even for looking up information on a tattoo you may already have chosen to live with, but weren’t necessarily fully educated on its true meaning and historical links and values. The included examples of tattoo imagery range from the anchors sported by sailors, to the Harley-Davidson tattoos inked on bikers, right up to the tigers that so many people choose to have as their permanent body art. It also includes a welcome range of religious-themed tattoos, which many people do not seem to research properly before choosing as a new piece of ink – including Chinese, Buddhist, Christian and also some tribal and pagan examples.

I bought this book approximately three years ago, purely as a way of helping people to realize what their particular chosen tattoo represents and its links. I was also looking for more material that included some tattoo history write-ups – a ‘very brief history of tattooing’ is included in this encyclopedia, followed by a small amount on symbolism, which both served well towards my own studies, reports and papers. There is also a small section on ‘how to use this book’ – with a small ‘disclaimer’ that I just have to agree with 100% - “It is important to note that the nature of a tattoo symbol is sometimes so personal that the only definitive interpretation can come from the bearer of the tattoo. No matter the established meaning in one culture, the obvious meaning derived from a historical fact, or the original source of a particular image, people will and do ascribe their own meanings to their designs.” Which urges you to remember not to take this book as ‘gospel’, to still withhold your own intended meaning and interpretation of your tattoo, but simply to gain a little more knowledge about your design from this book, and use this knowledge as you so wish. Disregard it, argue against it, completely trash it, or take it as it is; a little piece of information that you may not have known or even considered before.
Either way, this book is still worth having, even if just for the coffee-table or as a good conversation starter. Terisa Green writes in a very easy-to-read manner, informative and educational but not too formal. A pleasing read all-round.
‘The Tattoo Encyclopedia’ – A Guide to Choosing Your Tattoo, by Terisa Green. Illustrated by Greg James.
This edition (English) first published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2003. A Viacom Company.
ISBN 0-7432-5226-8
-Tattooed Babydoll
Recommended retailers:
Available from Amazon and all good UK bookshops, including Waterstone’s and Ottakar’s. Barnes & Noble, USA also stock this book.

About the Author: Scott Jones organizes Tattoos by Design Zine at

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