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Day of the Dead symbol becomes new piece for tattoo fan (video)

By Bianca Montes
Oct. 30, 2013 at 5:30 a.m.

Tattoo artist Tone Mendez works on a Dia de Los Muertos tattoo on Tiffany Hill's left arm at Black Iron Collective. Mendez worked on the tattoo for eight hours before finishing in a second tattooing session.

Dia de los Muertos festival

• WHEN: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday

• WHERE: The Nave, 306 W. Commercial St.

• COST: Free

• CONTACT: The Nave at 361-575-8227

Dia de los Muertos - or Day of the Dead - skull tattoos haven't always been cute.

They weren't embellished.

They weren't pink.

And they definitely weren't a woman's tattoo. They were commonly seen on men.

But with the rising interest in tattoo reality television shows and just about everyone pinning something on Pinterest, the traditional marking is finding itself blinged out and becoming a national trend.

Victoria tattoo artist Tone Mendez said the image, once meant to celebrate the cultural belief of life after death, is now turning into a fashion statement.

Mendez opened the Black Iron Collective tattoo shop on North Star Drive last month.

He runs the shop with Chris Benson.

Some people walk into his shop and get the tattoo because their history and heritage, he said, "and some get it because it's a trend."

Tiffany Hill, of Victoria, is obsessed with tattoos. From a cross on her thigh that symbolizes rebellion to an anchor on her calf that reminds the 22-year-old of how her sister grounds her, every tattoo has a story and a meaning.

But as she sat on the chair inside Mendez's shop and he began to outline the body of her sugar skull tattoo, Hill is stuck for a reason behind wanting it.

The tattoo is elaborate - white, pearl necklace; pink bow; diamond eyes - and it covers her upper arm. It's big and grand and beautiful. But other than saying she liked the way they looked on other people, there is no story behind the design - in fact, Hill said she almost decided against the tattoo when she learned of its meaning.

Dia de los Muertos is a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico and several other cultures around the world to pray and remember family members who have died. Altars, whether handmade or marked on the body, symbolize life and death. Colors such as yellow - which is found in the holiday's flower, the marigold - signify new life. The skulls signify death.

Over the years, Dia de los Muertos has grown in popularity beyond its intended purpose, and the sugar skull artwork is decorating everything from cellphone cases to dinnerware. However, by far, the iconography of the sugar skull culture is now more associated with tattoos than its original intentions, according to a various web search engines.

Mendez said regardless of the motivation behind the tattoo, he still looks for the feeling behind the piece.

"The tattoo should represent the body it is on," he said. "A lot of thought should go into any tattoo you get; respect yourself and your body."

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