Tattoos are certainly becoming more accepted with even businessmen and women sporting ink. Pro athletes have often embraced at least a portion of the inked lifestyle with the basketball and football players being the easiest to spot because of their uniforms. Professional hockey players are another group in which it is not unusual to find half or full sleeves as well as extensive back pieces. One of the more vocal about tattoos has always been Andrew Ference who currently plays with the Edmonton Oilers. I had a chance to catch up with him during the offseason and we talked extensively about his ink choices as well as some of the practicalities of getting tattoos, which will be in a subsequent piece.
If you Google Ference’s name and the word tattoo you will quickly see many images of his artwork—for that is what it is. His tattoos exhibit many variations including tribal, photo-realism, and many smaller items that have significance to him. However, as his ink sits today, it looks a little like it was planned that he would arrange his right arm to have his eclectic items, his left arm would be devoted to the art of Michelangelo and his back would be tribal.
“I think it just kinda, sorta, happened that way. I mean, I guess if I think about it, it’s kind of good because I’ve thought about what else I want to get, different tattoos too. Like the stuff I want now is totally different too. So it’ll just kind of throw a whole lot of stuff in there,” Ference shared. “But I think in a way it’s kind of good because I’ve got a lot of different stuff going on in my life and a lot of different interests. I’m not just kind of singularly focused on one thing or one style or you know one kind of personality or anything like that so I think it’s a good thing for me.”
And it is true that he is as eclectic as his body art indicates. He referred to his life as a “bit of a mish mash.” He’s a hockey player, husband, father, environmentally conscientious, world-traveler, student, and in the last year a dog owner. So perhaps it is not surprising to see that his interests in tattoo pieces are also varied.
For many, after they get their first tattoo, they find that they must have another, despite the pain involved in getting it. And in Ference’s case, he has gotten many. I asked him what it was that he liked about tattoos.
“I think it’s just an extension of… I mean, I think that people like having art on their walls or they enjoy graffiti art. They enjoy… you know… anything artsy,” he said, grappling with the right words to best explain it. “I think it’s just an extension of that, you know, I think that at least for me it is. I’ve had that conversation with other people with lots of tattoos and they’re all fairly similar. They do appreciate art. They enjoy different styles so I think it’s a bit of an extension of that.”
This is a sentiment that I have heard from others who have tattoos. And many of those with ink, myself included, often get something extremely personal woven into the overall piece, whether it be a symbol, initials or a quote.
“Obviously it’s a bit um… just of an individualization, like people who wear different clothes or jewelry to make themselves stand out, or a fancy pair of sneakers, you know,” he continued. “Whatever it is just to give themselves… to make themselves individuals. So I think it’s kind of like that. It’s just a little bit more of a commitment to this ‘this is who I am’ and it’s not coming off. Obviously you can change hats and change sneakers and do all that stuff a lot easier, but I think it basically boils down to some of the same things—just wanting to be an individual and putting it out there.”
And there are many people who walk by you on the street on a daily basis who have a tattoo or two and you would never realize it. Or they may have a certain piece on their arm, but their more personal pieces in places that only those closest to them will ever see.
“And obviously, like some people, you can throw on a dress shirt and a tie and you’d never know what was going on underneath there,” Ference concurred. “It’s only really something that they choose to share with people that they allow to see, so it’s maybe a little more of an intimate level than your outer clothing.”
In addition to the expected pieces that include a Canadian flag, the Boston Bruins’ Spoked-B with the year 2011, which is the year he and the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, and other hockey oriented smaller pieces, Ference’s back is a complete tribal piece with his daughters’ names prominently included. For me though, as we were talking, his left arm was the most intriguing, which has all pieces of classical art and what it was about that artwork that appealed to him.
“Uh, I don’t know… It just looks good, I mean, I think that’s…. so it’s all Michelangelo. It’s all his paintings and sculpture. And it’s just a kind a… kind of an old classic, beautiful style, I mean,” he struggled to explain. “It’s something that isn’t really traditional tattoo work, where you see a lot of it. I think it was really challenging for my tattoo artist. He enjoyed doing it as well, just because…. It’s not a normal kind of fire or cartooney. It’s just different. And so honestly, it doesn’t mean a lot. Like there’s not some deep meaning, like I had some great trip to Italy, or I’m not like a religious guy at all. But it’s just beautiful. I just think it’s really nice, beautiful artwork.”
And beautiful it is. His latest addition to his Michelangelo arm is a wonderful image of the face of Perseus. Perhaps my calling this arm photo-realism isn’t the most accurate, but as Ference said, this is not something that you see a lot of people wearing, and the way his artist has managed to get it to flow from one piece to another makes for it’s own work of art.
And while these pieces may not have some deep significant meaning, there is a saying that is woven into his Michelangelo arm, in Latin, in a ribbon. Translated, it means, “Learn like you’ll live forever, but live like you’ll die tomorrow.” Which seems applicable to how Ference approaches his life.
“I don’t say I always live like I’m going to die tomorrow, but in certain situations when it calls for it, I think it kind of… like the two polar opposites are actually kind of… try to, uh, you know when the time is right for one then you live that way and when the time is right for the other then you live that way,” Ference interpreted. “Yeah, never stop learning. Make sure… don’t forget to live a lot when you’re doing it.”
Ference has returned to school, taking extension courses through Harvard. So he’s certainly embracing this sentiment, along with trying to get the most out of life both in his profession and with his family.
“Yeah, I try not to just throw it on a tattoo. I try to actually do it,” he laughed. “Kind of back it up if you’re going to write it on yourself.”
Disce quasi semper victurus vive quasi cras moriturus
Ference is a vocal individual with some impressively strong and educated opinions on many subjects. He got his first tattoo, the Canadian flag, at the age of sixteen, which required his parents going with him to give permission. So would he do the same for his daughters?
“Uh…. Probably not,” he said after some thought. “Yeah, probably not. I’d first like obviously make a nudge here to the long-thought process rule, but yeah, if they actually went through with that and it was like something good, you know, if it looked good and wasn’t like one of those obvious regrettable ones, I’d have to think long and hard about it, but my initial reaction would be no.”
I had to smile when he grappled with this. As a parent myself, I couldn’t help thinking of situations where I might have had to resort to the old adage of “don’t do what I did, do what I say.” However, given his obviously close relationship with his daughters, I’m sure he would discuss it with them in a mature manner and really listen to what they had to say. After all, they were finally able to convince him to get a dog.
I also asked Ference for guidance in choosing a tattoo artist and other practical matters. He’s always so willing to share his knowledge and experience that it seemed he would be one of the best to get some of those thoughts from, for those who may still be considering getting their first tattoo. He was indeed happy to share and that will be in a subsequent piece.