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Life Arts    H4'ed 6/21/11

This Librarian Is Smashing Stereotypes, One Tattoo at a Time

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My guest today is Valerie Kyriakopoulos, of the award-winning Skokie Public Library. Welcome to OpEdNews, Val.  How long have you been a librarian?

Technically, I'm not a librarian at the moment.  I'm a circulation clerk here at Skokie Library and I've been here for a little over two years.  I got my master's degree in library science from Dominican University in January of this year.

You came to library school in a circuitous way. Can you tell our readers what you were doing prior to that?

Before I decided to go back to school, I had a career in the theater.  I did just about everything that happened backstage, I was never an actor.  I started as an undergrad at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan and that was a great place to learn a bit of everything.  The theater department was relatively small (it was lumped in with music and dance) but we did three or four productions a semester, in addition to scenes and one-act plays that students did for class, as well as some lab productions.

The good thing for me was that there weren't really many tech people at Oakland, everyone wanted to act.  So, when I said that acting was the one thing I didn't want to do, they basically gave me the keys to the scene shop, lighting booth and sound area and let me loose.  I met another tech-minded person during that semester; we basically did all the backstage stuff for the next two years.  After I graduated, I worked as a theatrical carpenter for a few seasons at the Attic Theater in Detroit as well as doing some lighting and sound work at other local theaters.

When I realized that being a theater technician was turning into a career, I decided I needed to move somewhere that had more opportunities and Chicago was that place.  I freelanced at various theaters for about two years and then got a job running wardrobe at Steppenwolf Theater.  That ended up turning into a 12 - year gig.  The funny thing is, the one thing I didn't do much of as an undergrad at Oakland or during my freelance years was wardrobe.  I did, however, know how to do laundry.  I did lots and lots of laundry at Steppenwolf in those 12 1/2 years.

Oh, the glamor and fame! At some point, you began to collect tattoos. How old were you and what got you started?

I didn't get my first tattoo until I was 28 but I'd wanted one since I had been in my teens.  I knew that it wouldn't go over very well at home though, so I waited until I moved out to Chicago to get my first.  It marked the decision to move here in order to really pursue a theater career.  My parents have both passed so they never saw any of my tats.  I think my mom would have liked them though.  My dad, probably not so much.

The choice of image for that first tattoo, in addition to marking the move to Chicago, also reflects my love for heavy metal music.  The image is the symbol of a band called Queensryche.  Their music, as well as music from all the other bands I listened to growing up (and still listen to today!) really helped to shape me as a person.  Those bands also got me through some tough times.  In addition to the Queensryche tat, I've got a tattoo of Eddie, the mascot from Iron Maiden.  They are still my favorite band to this day, 29 years after I saw them for the first time in 1982 at Cobo Arena in Detroit, Michigan.

So you began accumulating tattoos and worked in theatre. I imagine that was not so out there. But what about when you decided to apply to library school? Were you worried that you would be judged and found wanting because of the tattoos?

It wasn't a problem at all in the theater especially since I was backstage running around in the dark as opposed to being onstage as an actor.  No one saw me or my tattoos much!  As for library school, I did initially wonder if there might be any problems or obstacles with my tattoos and the library world.  I have to say though, that after I visited Dominican University and met some of the professors, staff and other potential library students, those concerns were pretty much gone.  The tattoos (as well as my theater background) seemed to be more a source of interest and curiosity rather than any sort of hindrance.  Even the dean of the GSLIS program always recognized me in the two years I spent at Dominican.  
I think that once people get to know you, hopefully the outside stuff won't matter so much.  Of course, I know that "judging a book by its cover" is a reality so there will always be someone who disapproves.  The one thing I try to do is be upfront about who I am, which includes my tattoos.  Some of them are pretty visible and I won't cover them or pretend they don't exist because someone might not like them or thinks less of me because of them.  They are a big part of what makes me "me".

Great attitude. I have to ask; doesn't it hurt? A lot?

Yes, it does hurt.  Needles are going into your skin.  The tattoo will bleed while you are getting it and there is usually excess ink as well as a lubricant like Vaseline all over the place too.  I always laugh when I see an actor getting a "tattoo" on TV shows.  It's so clean and neat and the person jumps out of the chair like it's nothing.  There is a lot of care involved in getting a tattoo, especially for the first few days after you've gotten it.

As far as the pain in the days after getting the tat, for me it feels a bit like a sunburn in that your skin is tight and itchy and very tender to the touch.  No scratching though or you will lose ink and wreck the tattoo.  It also depends on where you get tattooed, I think.  Different areas of the body hurt more than others.  I would not get anything on my feet or neck or head because there's not enough "padding" there!  My inner forearm tattoo (the Queensryche symbol) hurt quite a bit and I had trouble tying my hair back in a ponytail while it healed because I had to bend my arm and sort of smash the tattoo in order to reach the back of my head.  I didn't think of that when I decided on the placement - that was also my first one.

Just a side note - I love tattoos but I have no piercings whatsoever.  I actually have a needle phobia but to me the tattoo needles are different because they are so small it's more like a scratching of the skin rather than something going in and through and then coming back out.  I don't even have my ears pierced and I never will.  People have told me that I am weird because of this but it is what it is.  No piercings for me.

Another assumption dashed to smithereens.  Once you have a tattoo, can you change your mind?

Well, some people can change their mind I guess but I won't.  From what I understand, laser removal of tattoos hurts ten times worse than getting one in the first place.  I put a great deal of thought into what kind of ink I'm going to get so I haven't regretted any of my decisions.  I think tattoos can say something about who you were at the time you got it so that's not something that I would necessarily want to erase.  Of course, we all change and grow and move on but that doesn't mean we can't remember what we used to be.  If you stay away from any drunken, spur-of-the-moment tattoos then hopefully you won't feel you've made a mistake. :)

Are you about done now?

No, I'm far from done.  I would love to have full arm sleeves someday.  The thing that has kept me from getting anything done recently is time and money and having both of those at the same moment!

Speaking of time and money, how long does it take to get a tattoo and how much does one cost?

There isn't really one answer to either of these questions.  It really depends on where you go and who is doing the tattoo.  Some artists work faster than others.  The design itself also dictates how long it might take.  If you've got a lot of detail or color in your design you should be prepared to sit for a while.  The longest I sat was four and a half hours which was for the big wolf on the side of my left leg.  He goes from just below my knee down to my ankle and there is quite of bit of detail in the fur.  I think that's about as long as I can do in one sitting.  If I ever get something really elaborate, I'll definitely split it up into multiple sessions.

As far as pricing, this can also vary wildly.  When I got my first few tattoos in the early '90s, it seemed most artists were charging around $100-$125 per hour.  I know it's gone up since then.  Most shops will have a set minimum price if something is going to take less than an hour.  I also try to give my artist a nice tip, especially if it's something that's been custom designed for me.  I usually meet with the artist before getting the tattoo to talk about the design and decide things like placement and size.  This is where you really have to listen to the tattoo artist and take their suggestions.  They know what will work and what won't and you want them to be invested in the tattoo as well.  Especially if it's a custom design, the artist is going to have a great deal of input so you want to work together to come up with something that everyone is jazzed about.  I do have tattoos that already existed as images but you still want to get advice from the artist about how to best interpret those images on skin.  Good shops and artists will work with you to make sure everyone is happy with the result.

It sounds much more artsy and professional than I might have imagined. Do you have more ideas and places to put them?

I am always amazed by the talent, skill and professionalism of good tattoo artists.  They really are artists in every sense of the word.  As for me getting more tattoos, I have lots of ideas for new ones.  I'd like to continue the wolf theme I have going on my left arm and leg.  There's also plenty of room on the right side for more representations of my favorite things.  I'd like to get something to commemorate getting through grad school.  It would be nice to get one once I find a full time librarian job as well.  Then, hopefully, I would have the money part of the equation!

Anything you'd like to add before we wrap this up?

I'd just like to say thanks for this opportunity to talk about my ink and about tattoos in general.  I feel that most of the time, I get a very positive reaction to my tattoos from people that I meet.  I'm always happy to show them off because I think they are awesome (as are the artists that did them) and it's nice to be able to share some of the stories behind each one.

Thanks so much for talking with me, Val. It was fun and educational!

Skokie Public Library website
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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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