By Jon Waterhouse
Many dyed-in-the-wool Elvis admirers make a lifelong commitment to fandom. Some display it in the most permanent way possible: an Elvis tattoo.
They view it as a badge of honor where artistic expression meets affection that runs beyond skin deep. Elvis Week vet Christina Holgate of Calgary, Canada is one of a myriad of fans who took the plunge, braving the needle for the love of the king.
Spanning from the top of her left shoulder to her elbow, Christina’s chromatic half-sleeve tattoo pairs an 1969-era Elvis concert portrait with a melange of patterns each representing those found on several of Presley’s most iconic jumpsuits. Elaborate, for sure and a decision Christina did not made in haste.
After first trekking to Elvis Week in 2008, she began making annual return trips. Five Elvis Weeks in, and Christina’s interest in Presley hit a zenith. She already had a pair of small Elvis silhouette tatts on her right ankles. Now it was time for a next level leap.
“I never thought I would be a person with a big old half-sleeve, full-color tattoo,” says Christina, who teaches English to adult immigrants at the Equilibrium School in Calgary. “By then, my love and fascination for Elvis had grown and become a true passion. Plus, I had seen a lot of really beautiful half-sleeve tattoos, so the idea started forming in my head.”
Her original plan was a tattoo resembling the sleeve of an Elvis jumpsuit with a river of beads and jewels flowing down her arm. She then opted for a collage of various EP stage costumes, including the Tiger, Peacock, Starburst, Vine, Burning Love, and American Eagle jumpsuit patterns. Christina then consulted with celebrity tattoo artist Walter “Sausage” Frank of Revolt Tattoos in Las Vegas, Nevada, who brought recommendations to the table.
Frank, a former competitor on Spike TV’s “Ink Master” series, suggested the tattoo would look more anchored with a portrait at its center. Although Christina had not considered an Elvis image in this design, she trusted Frank’s savvy and skill as a portrait tattoo artist.
“So, I picked a few of my favorite Joe Petruccio Elvis portraits and sent them to Walter,” she recalls. “He got pretty excited when he saw them, and we picked the one we would use. I said, ‘If you can make the portrait look like that, then I’ll go for it.’”
And go for it she did. Christina and husband Stephen Holgate visited Las Vegas in 2013 for her first session. According to Christina, the experience proved practically painless. She and the artist chatted through the entire process, swapping Elvis stories and having laughs. Six hours later, Christina walked away with a half-sleeve homage to the king of rock ‘n’ roll.
“Walter is a true artist and had incorporated several of the jumpsuit patterns into a cohesive, artistic, flowing pattern surrounding the portrait,” she says. “It’s possible I cried a little when I saw how beautiful it was. It’s better than I could ever have envisioned.”
But the adventure continued. In 2015, Christina returned to Vegas, and Frank added a few more patterns on the underside of her arm. That session, she says, brought the ouch. She went back once more in 2016 for more ink-laden jumpsuit bling. Today, she says, “I think it is finally done, although there are still so many jumpsuits yet to be added.”
For Elvis Week 2019, the tattoo has new meaning. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Elvis’ 1969 Vegas residency. And Christina’s Presley portrait tattoo serves as an in-the-flesh ode to that impeccable era of Elvis entertainment.
“I love my tattoo,” says Christina. “I think it is still the best Elvis portrait tattoo I have ever seen. During Elvis Week, I always get stopped by people who want to snap a picture of it. Elvis fans get it.”
Other Elvis Tattoos Seen at Elvis Week 2019
Jason Russo, Adelaide, Australia
As a child, this professional drummer learned his craft by playing along to Elvis music. When it came time to pick a tatt, James chose an Elvis logo used for Presley’s 1977 tour, Elvis in Concert. “It’s always been my favorite Elvis logo, which you very rarely see,” says Russo. He now shares the logo in tattoo form with fellow fans while manning the drum kit in the Tributes in Concert Band, which backs ETAs in Australia and New Zealand.
Sonia Reid, London, England
Sonia boasts a bevy of Elvis tattoos on her body. On her left arm resides a 1950s-era portrait. A 1970s Elvis mug lives on her right. Others include a huge back piece featuring the iconic image of Elvis at age 3. The script “I’ll Remember You” scrolls across her upper back.
Savannah Burkholder, Memphis, Tennessee
Savannah, the special events facilitator at Graceland, has several Elvis tattoos and recently got a new one in the midst of Elvis Week 2019. She chose her favorite Elvis quote, “Do something worth remembering.” “I think that Elvis’ life and legacy is something that we can all be inspired by,” she says. “Whether you’re a fan or not, you can look at the man and say he lived a full life. So I try to live my life to the fullest.” After more than three years at Graceland, Savannah will soon transition to a position with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, an institution near and dear to Elvis’ heart.
Marnie Haak, Brisbane, Australia
“I was going through lots of Elvis photos, and I kept getting drawn to a picture of him in the Army,” Haak says. As a fan of Elvis’ late 1950s and early ’60s music, she took that as a sign and chose to get the image emblazoned on her right arm last year. “I was raised on Elvis,” she says, “and growing up we listened to a lot of his really early stuff, because my dad really likes that era as well. It’s always had a special place in my heart."