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Say It With Skin : As Valentine's Day approaches, tattoo artists expect demand to increase for their etched sentiments.


James Torres had already heard the quiver of Cupid's bow and felt the piercing sting of the love god's arrow.

So a few hundred needle pricks, he figured, would be a piece of cake.

"I'm serious about her," said Torres, 20, as he sat recently inside a Port Hueneme tattoo parlor and prepared to have his girlfriend's name, along with a heart, inked permanently onto his right shoulder. "We've been together for two years. It's possible we'll get married."

Torres isn't the only person not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve--or elsewhere on his body, for that matter. When it comes to proclaiming feelings d'amour , tattoo artists say a healthy number of couples are forgetting about flowers and saying it with skin.

And the people saying it, it seems, aren't who you might expect.

"Mostly it was bikers who used to get names tattooed on them. But now we're getting a lot of couples, high-class people and professionals who want them," said Jim Angelo, owner of Jimi's Tattoo Parlor in Port Hueneme. "They come in and know what they want. They say they're sure about it."

Dusty Geisman, a Simi Valley tattoo artist who owns a tattoo parlor along the boardwalk in Venice, also has seen a change in the kinds of people who want to show that their love is more than just skin deep. Bikers, he said, make up only a small percentage of his business.

"I had a woman come in today who got a man's name put on, and she was well-dressed, a college student," Geisman said. "A couple in their late 60s came in a few weeks ago, and it was the first tattoo for both of them. A lot of married people want one too. We're getting all kinds."

Part of the urge to get inked, some people speculate, is in reaction to the recent exposure tattoos have received being on the hides of such famous owners as Cher and several high-fashion models. At cable television's ACE Awards, held last month in Hollywood, actress Roseanne Barr Arnold joined the group when she showed off her new tattoo of two intertwined roses. Topping the design, which stretches from the top of Arnold's shoulder to the middle of her back, is the prominently displayed name of her husband, Tom.

But even that kind of gesture doesn't express the true depths of some people's devotion. Some besotted souls take the love connection even further.

"They bring in a photograph, I put it on a stencil and then I color it in," said Geisman, who explained that more advanced tattooing instruments and better inks enable artists to draw in greater detail--with thinner lines and more vibrant colors--than was possible in the past.

"I did one guy last week who had a 3-by-3 picture of his girlfriend tattooed on his back. He was 28, a nice guy, and she was a very attractive girl," he said. "He'd been with her for two months."

Cecilia Sanford, 34, a nurse's aide and mother of two who drove recently from her home in Ojai to a Ventura tattoo parlor, said permanently applying a picture of her husband might be going a bit too far. After all, she said, even if his likeness were placed where no one could see it, in a few years it would look as dated as a high school yearbook photo.

Still, the idea of giving her spouse epidermal immortality is appealing. "I was thinking of getting his name put on me, but the question is, where?" Sanford asked. "I'm kind of thinking about my derriere."

Which brings up a very important question: Is there a proper place for an emblem of love?

Angelo, who keeps several photo albums to show prospective clients the different designs he has done, says the only limit to where he can place a tattoo is a person's imagination. He has put cupids and names on the bottoms of feet, hearts and initials on the insides of wrists, and conjoining flowers and nicknames under bikini lines.

But Brian Passwaiter, a tattoo artist at the Ventura Tattoo House, thinks courage--and gender--also play a role. "Some people say (getting a tattoo) stings, others say it hurts. But the guys are the ones who faint," he said. "I've never seen a woman do that. Women have a higher pain tolerance. It must have something to do with having babies."

Regardless of gender, Passwaiter said the majority of clients still favor the less tender spots. "Most times, a woman who wants a man's name will get it on her shoulder or on her back," he said. "A man usually will get it on his arm or his chest."

And as Valentine's Day approaches, tattoo artists around the county said they expect the number of requests for names, hearts and other terms of engravements to increase. "Hey, they're in love," shrugged Passwaiter, leaning toward a client's back and dipping a tattoo needle--sterilized after each use to prevent transmission of disease or infection--into a small cap of red ink. "They want to show it."

So why not just use tried-and-true methods such as cards, flowers, chocolates or diamonds?

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