Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom
One of Jonathans original designs waiting for a client.

Jonathan Infuses Ink, Dyes and Pigments into Human Skin

Roatan saw many pirates in 1600 and 1700s, but those pirates didn’t sport tattoos, it was Captain Cook’s voyage to New Zealand and Polynesia in 1771 that started the tattooing trend amongst European sailors. Cook recorded the process at “tattaw” or “tattau” long before the current spelling was embraced.

In recent years, tattooing has become more mainstream and tattoo parlors have sprung up around the world, but despite its pirate history Roatan has been late to the party. Mandy, or Miguel Armando Paredes began tattooing on Utila in 1988 and would occasionally come to Roatan to work. Scarlet Lopez, or “La Gata”, has been tattooing in Coxen Hole since 2002. More recently, Jonathan Orellana, 33, who was born in La Ceiba, but moved to the States at 11 to join his mother in Indianapolis, Indiana joined the ranks of Roatan tattoo artists. “The only reason I took [school] art [class] is because I didn’t know how to speak English,” said Jonathan. He got better at drawing and painting and began tattooing during his high school years in Indiana. “It started as like a joke. We decided to tattoo each other, the four of us, and I did better than all of us,” said Jonathan. “We made a homemade tattoo machine with a guitar string and an engine made out of a fan.”He shows off the first tattoo he received on top of his left hand: the word NACO. “It’s the initials of my grandfather,” says Jonathan.

On the urging of a Salvadoran friend and fellow tattoo artist, William Jueso, who traveled to Roatan regularly, Jonathan eventually moved to Roatan and began tattooing again. He began working at Roatan Ink, in the middle of West End, in 2015. The shop was started by Jo French, an English tattoo artist, and Jonathan took it over in 2017. “It’s not a steady work like in the States. I work maybe once-a-day. Some days I get crazy: four, five clients in a day,” says Jonathan.

In Honduras, 95 percent of tattoos are gang and prison made tattoos. “On the coast is more dangerous to be tattooed up,” says Jonathan, “but it’s getting better.” Those tattoos are meant to identify the individual’s gang affiliation and their standing within the organization, and to keep a record of the violent acts they have committed in the name of the gang. “We don’t have mareros here [on Roatan] and if we do, they stay in hiding,” says Jonathan. In fact, Honduran mareros, trying to stay off the radar, are switching to smaller identifying tattoos on fingers and inside their lips. Meanwhile, the tattoo for the “regular folks” had become more acceptable.

Body modification in general is finding a growing following among islanders. It’s become a status symbol for some. “Tattoos are luxury, like a car. You want to buy a quality car that will do you good,” says Jonathan. Unlike their pirate and gang predecessors, these tattoos are purely decorative, symbolic, and pictorial and Jonathan does them all. He especially enjoys inking bigger pieces. “Dots, geometrical, realistic, I go with it. I do any tattoo, any style. If there is a client and he wants a certain type of tattoo and you won’t do it that’s a lost client,” says Jonathan.

Jonathan has aquatic themes, mermaids, and Freemason all-seeing-eye tattoo designs hanging on the wall and ready to be placed on skin. Some clients come into Jonathan’s tattoo parlor for help with a failed tattoo or to correct a tattoo applied as result of spur-of-the-moment, snap decisions. Improving upon those mistakes through the design and inking of what are referred to as a “cover-up” tattoo is also a challenge that Jonathan enjoys. “Some people come to do a cover-up. A tattoo that covers something that a bad tattoo artist had made,” said Jonathan. “It’s hard to do a cover up and make it look good.”

“Certain artists work slow, they take their time. I don’t. I concentrate, I want to get this done, I do. Quick. That’s the way I work so I charge by the piece,” says Jonathan. “It’s all about the details, colors,” says Jonathan, who uses Mom’s Ink brand made of pure, homogenized pigments. “Sometime I go with my tattoo machine and I hit the line and I don’t see anything. I hit it again, I wipe it out and you can barely see it,” says Jonathan. “All skin is different.” A good tattoo artist merges great design with excellent technique, and an ability to adapt to each individual client.

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