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Wearing your heart on your skin

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Lori Martineau had been a widow for 18 months when she decided to memorialize her late husband David with a tattoo.

She was 57 years old and for the first time in her life she felt the urge to turn to skin art.

"I wanted something to remember him by," said the Grande Prairie woman, who had the French phrase "Tu me manques" - meaning 'You are missing from me' - inked on her left forearm in 2017.

Since then, Martineau has added to the creation and now uses the tribute to remember other loved ones who have passed away--including her mother and stepfather. She also has a small paw print next to the slogan in memory of two pet dogs that died.

"I'm very spiritual about my tattoos,” said Martineau, now 62, and who has about a dozen tattoos--all mainly in black ink--on about 20 per cent of her body.

Danny Cole, owner of Disturbing the Peace Tattoo in Grande Prairie has done all the work on Martineau.

“He’s very good at what he does," she said.

Martineau is part of a growing trend among older Albertans opting for this permanent form of self-expression.

"A lot more seniors are looking for tattoos," said Lee Robertson, an artist at Capital Tattoo in Edmonton.

Robertson says about 20-25 per cent of the clientele at Capital would be at least 50 years old, up significantly from five years ago. He says the quality of tattoos has improved substantially over the past two decades and the practice is fully in the mainstream.

"The stigma behind getting a tattoo is long gone. Tattoos are out in the limelight nowadays." said Robertson. "Back in the day, tattoos were associated with criminals. It was very taboo."

The younger generations are also influencing the move to get a tattoo.

"Older folks are getting tattoos because they are influenced by their grandkids, their nephews and what they see on TV," said Robertson.

Several years ago, Robertson created a tattoo on the left outer bicep of a woman in her late 60s.

"She had me create a portrait of her late husband. She talked about him a lot. It was very touching," he said. "I love to listen to the stories that these tattoos can tell. It's great to hear from the older generation."

While there is usually mild discomfort when a tattoo is applied, Robertson says more attention is required for older customers.

"Dealing with older skin means we do have to be more careful,” said Robertson, adding, “The skin does become frailer."

On occasion, older customers do drop by to either have a tattoo removed or altered.

"The most common is to remove an ex-partner's name. We can cover it up completely, revive it or work into a new piece," said Robertson.

The operator of a Red Deer tattoo establishment echoed the trend noticed by his Edmonton counterpart.

"For seniors, they mainly come in for sentimental type tattoos," said Chris Musson, co-owner of Renaissance Tattoos in Red Deer.

He said, "My dad got his first tattoo in his 50's. He's 72 now and he has quite a few, including chest panels."

“About 20 percent of our customers are seniors, and we definitely have more seniors coming in than we did five years ago," Musson added. "The oldest guy I had was in his mid-80s. It was his first tattoo."

Musson says the average customer spends between two and four hours in the studio. Prices can range from less than $100 for a small tattoo to several thousand dollars for large scale body pieces.

He said most seniors who come through their doors almost always return.

"They are never really, really done. Getting a tattoo is like eating potato chips. They can never have just one."

See the Alberta government website for things to consider before getting a tattoo: