Forever Ink

Tattoos are a reflection of oneself! Each of mine is distinct and reveal a glimpse into the stories that compose my life. Deep, I know right? Well regardless of whether you have any tattoos or not, you are probably familiar with some of the stereotypes and perceptions that they come with.  This blog is my take on permanent ink and what artwork I have had placed forever within my skin. It is not my intent to persuade anyone with my take on this lifestyle choice, but to give a positive spin to how some choose to express themselves.


Permanent ink can be trashy if it is given little-to-no thought before a lifelong commitment is sealed.  They can also be frowned upon if placed in visable sight, especially in the professional arena.  I always made a conscious effort to ensure that the ideas that I had stewing about potential ink work remained desired for at least six months before I got them.  Additionally, I would make sure that the ink shop was high quality with top notch artists.  Ideally I like to see a good portion of an artists work either on the shop’s website or in person; the best case scenario I am able to meet the artists and match their specialty with the work I am looking to have done. A person must get there ink placed perfectly and the first time, so this little bit of research is incredibly important!

What better way to enjoy your tattoo than to say that’s mine, I created it and love it. The point that I am trying to draw out here is that as the soon-to-be owner of some fresh ink, it would be an added bonus if you were really a part of the artistic process.  So don’t be afraid to dabble with a pencil and some paper. My favorite and most personal pieces of body art have been or were partially crafted by me. Trust me I am no Michelangelo, but I do treat my body like it is the Sistine Chapel and only put the finest and most meaningful art upon it. Though this process can take several attempts, it truly has been a fun one for me and was a great stress reliever.

The big caveat to this of course is to not get or design an arbitrary tattoo that carries little to know emotional value or story telling. I could potentially draw a beautiful sunset, but if it did not come with an amazing story about how my life changed then it is carries considerably less value (to me).  There are exceptions to this rule of course mostly when the tattoo is meant to be symbolic and many carry the same (i.e. the Irish Clover, US Marine Corps, etc).  Another exception often would be a sleeve which is a big fad these days.  I have nothing against them, however, I would likely not get one as I do not have that much relevant story narrating to take up an entire arm.  So what do people do, they add in fillers and that’s just not for me.  Don’t worry, I still love all my sleeve slanging brothers and sisters out there; again, it is just a personal preference.

Next, I would like to share some of my art and provide the stories that show how they came to be. Oh yeah and also to see if I have really practiced what I have preached about in the above abstract.

Forever Ink #1 – ‘F***, Keep Going!

My first piece of art was driven out of a time in my life where there was huge change happening all around me and I needed a healthy way to keep pushing through the tough stuff.  The artwork itself was a tribal piece.  I find this humorous now because I basically jumped on a fad bandwagon and went with the style of ink that so many were doing at this time.  However, this piece originated with a friend of mine when I was still working at North Memorial Hospital.  My friend Nate was always expressing his talents via tribal pieces. One holiday when I decided to return home from Eau Claire and plug in some extra hours to earn a few extra to attend to some mounting life debts, him and I were doing our routine at work and he began the early workings of my tattoo.  I left with a brief outline of what I would come to know as my 1st (of 2) motivating tattoos.

A year or so later I decided to pull that scrap paper out and start tooling around on it. I was smart enough to have it photo copied several times so that I could work on it.  I would end up shading in parts of the tattoo so that it look more layered instead of purely solid tribal, which made it a little unique.  When I got done working on it I felt a sense of accomplishment.  It would be a few months later when life was really challenging for me that I would give my self a little boost by going and getting it placed on my right shoulder. At that time I was 1) Powering through my undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, 2) Working almost full-time at Menards Distribution Center driving forklift trying to make financial ends meet, 3) Doing my very best at being a new father and learning the ropes of a heightened level of responsibility. To say the vary least I was burning the candle at both ends and I knew that it was only a matter of time and life would get better.

You make your bed and you must lay in it, and I did. During that critical moment when I chose not to throw the towel in, I needed a boost.  It came in the form of that tribal ink piece that I worked on, symbolically to me it represents “F***, Keep Going!” I found a great place locally in Eau Claire off of Water Street called Midwest Tattoo.  The gentleman that worked on me was very professional and had a lot of experience.  It took him and I a couple attempts at scaling the tattoo before I was confident with the size and placement on my arm.  Sidebar – I don’t know how many great tattoos I have seen that were just placed awkwardly or were obviously too small for the area that they were placed.  Once we got it just right we were off and running. A couple hours later and a wallet $200 lighter, I was left permanently with my first tattoo.

The tattoo artist also did a great job at explaining the healing process. This sensitive period of tattoo ownership shouldn’t be taken lightly if you want the quality of your new ink to last.  “Be sure to use a good tattoo wax to keep it from drying out, keep it out of direct sunlight and don’t go swimming till it is healed fully. Most importantly keep it clean and don’t pick at it as it begins to shed”, he said.  The final result can be perfection if you follow those simple steps, and I did.

Everyday since getting it I have been proud to wear it and know that I accomplished something great that couldn’t be taken away. It reminds me of the process of growing up and learning about the bigger picture. Not to mention the design and placement are perfect (in my biased opinion). Here is what it looks like on my arm.

This ink was my focus and way of pulling through a tough time!

This ink was my focus and way of pulling through a tough time!

Forever Ink #2 – ‘MRC

My next piece of art would come approximately a couple of years later, when I was around 23. I was looking to get was my daughter’s initials, Madison Rose Carroll. This was going to be a special tattoo because my daughter was a child born from love, not a meaningless accident with someone I cared little about, but with someone that I experienced my first love with. Ever since her birth, Madison has meant the world to me, so this was to be my Forever Ink tribute to her.

Getting some initials placed sounds easy enough, but what I had envisioned would be a tastefully complicated piece.  I wanted people to be able to enjoy what they saw on my skin (the initials MRC) without readily understanding that it has a deeper meaning. The purpose was to keep its special meaning between myself and only friends and family, to ensure that the average onlooker couldn’t see what I knew was there without a conversation and further explanation.  The meaning was going to be cloaked in design.

So once again I drafted my artistic version of her initials. I used a tribal motif originally when drafting the first version of this tattoo and after my first iteration, I knew that it was going to be a fairly sizable tattoo. Next, I was going to need to find a good artist in the area that had the right kind of skills to pull this off.  Eventually I found a quality parlor called Tattoo Asylum in Fridley MN. It was close to where I was living at the time and it had a the right guy for the job.  Winfield (the artist) was eager to work with me on my tattoo and was pleasantly surprised by the nature of my drawing.  I could tell he was fond of my tattoo’s uniqueness and quickly went to work on drafting another version of my ideas but with more of a graffiti look and feel. The ending result was exactly what I was looking for.  It was again a layered tattoo that incorporated all the elements that I wanted and was able to camouflage the ‘MRC’.

MRC drafted in a graffiti style to hide the true meaning. Even harder to solve without color and shading!

MRC drafted in a graffiti style to hide the true meaning. Even harder to solve without color and shading!

When it came to getting this art placed, I specifically chose a place on my body that would show sacrifice and pride, naturally the ribcage was the most ideal real estate. This tattoo was going to take three different sessions to complete given the size, color and shading that it required.  My first appointment with Winfield was the most painful as it required the solid black outlining of my tattoo to be completed.  Getting ink on the boney rib area was quite painful and he had to remind me a few times to be sure to breath as he didn’t want me passing out. about a month or so later when the outline had healed I went back in to get the remainder of the tattoo shaded.  This is where I was really able to see the different dimensions and see the flow of the art. Finally, we got to add a splash of color to the mix on my last visit.  I chose to use some blue shades to make it stand out; Winfield knew how to feather in the color changes and taper them off as needed.

When all was said and done, I had spent a pretty penny but had a lasting quality tattoo that has ever since been a symbol of my love for Madison. To give you an idea of the art that was put together and how it evolved to become my ink, here are some pictures.

Layered, shaded and colored, it was my perfect tribute to Madison!

Layered, shaded and colored, it was my perfect tribute to Madison!

Forever Ink #3 – ‘Believe In Myself

The tumultuous transition of going from full-time college student, dad and fiancé  to becoming a single, part-time carter and career professional was a challenge to say the least.  I stuck through it and kept striving to cope with my issues and press on with life in a positive direction.  Similar to my ‘F***, Keep Going!’ tattoo, I had a desire to mark an end to my past turmoil and to reinvent myself.  The outcome was to be a epic journey where I would let go of my regrets, fears and wash away my lingering pain from the past. I had to once again ‘Believe in Myself’. This would in turn be developed into my next permanent body marking, but the path in getting there required planning and patience.

Many people have to escape their problems through some sort of activity. Whether they choose a healthy route like fitness or a destructive alternative like mind altering substances. For me, I needed to run away and be immersed in a world that I knew nothing about.  I would decide to travel halfway around the world to Shanghai, China to get my next artwork and to find peace with myself.  I will save a deeper dive into that story for another chapter in my Autoblography.

While abroad, I knew that I would be taking a risk in getting ink.  China, though a developing powerhouse, was much more like a 3rd country than the States. People there didn’t get medical treatment unless it was paid for upfront.  It was imperative that I was choosey in the selection of the parlor. Why get it abroad you ask?  I felt that to capture the true authentic spirit of my tattoo that it would need to be done there at the exact time I was neck deep in a new world.  Again in true MarathonJake fashion, I didn’t want to let the whole world know its meaning so I chose to mask it through leveraging Mandarin characters. The style would be a blend of the four characters but with jagged tribal edges and some haze-shadowing around it.

The end product turned out beautifully. There was a downside of getting the ink, timing. It would have to begin healing in China, which is not the cleanest place. I was uber active and walking ever where so naturally a combination of sweat and dust eventually led to part of my tattoo becoming somewhat infected. I made sure to manage it the best I could until I got back to the states. It ended up healing fine and to this day it is one of my favorite pieces. I was a new man when I returned, ready to conquer life and renewed with positivity.

This tattoo is a three-quarter ankle wrap and it totally turned out amazing!

This tattoo is a three-quarter ankle wrap and it totally turned out amazing!

Forever Ink #4 – ‘Triathlete

It would be a couple years later when I would earn my next badge of honor.  I had decided that I wanted to call out my love for sport and competition and express it through ink. At this point in my fitness career I had transitioned from strictly run races to competing in triathlons.  They presented me with a balanced mix of entertainment!  Each I loved indvidually but putting them all together presented a very difficult challenge.  When I chose to jump into competing in these types of races I went for the olympic triathlon distance: swimming .92mi, biking 26.2mi and running 6.2mi. As you can tell this is a great feat and I wanted to present it in a very cool way.

I accomplished this by doing a bit of research about triathlons.  I felt that many people had different symbolic interpretations that called out the different portions of the race.  Most found were really not my style and I had to keep looking.  Then eventually I found it.  It was to be a round medallion that broke out each section of the race through different images.  For the swim, bike, run tattoo it would be interpreted by waves, spokes and a foot.  For the actual placement I looked to what put in the effort to accomplish my races.  I chose to place it on my calf of my left leg facing the outside.  I did this to let the world know how proud I am to be an athlete.

This time around I found a different shop in South Minneapolis called Twilight Tattoo and reviewed the artists previous work and felt confident.  Eventually it was sized correctly and we were able to cover all the basics.  Soon my leg was shaven and he was off to the races on buzzing this ink into me.  I was a bit nervous about the bike spokes because it is very challenging to complete such detail, but he did terrific.  Take a look!

Swim, Bike, Run - forever!

Swim, Bike, Run – forever!

After Thoughts:

Do I have future plans to continue my body art and depict my life stories on flesh, well yes of course.  I will always do what feels right. I will continue to trust my gut and be sure to do my homework on the artist and their shop! As a minor spoiler, it is in the works to get some art that will show my love for my beautiful wife Nellie and the adventures that we have taken in the last several years traveling!


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