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Normally when somebody looks at a tattoo and says, "That looks like it must have hurt," they're merely remarking on the experience of getting inked, not the actual appearance of the tattoo. SJ Horvath's realistic "cosmetic scrape, bruise and scar tattoos" don't just look like they hurt, they look like they need to be cleaned up with some Bactine and a bandage or two. 

Recently Horvath's work has been going viral on social media as people can't help but become intrigued by the style. Some are impressed by just how realistic the coloration of the bruises works, others are bewildered about why people would want to be permanently bruised in the first place. The tattoos are realistic enough that Instagram has taken down some of her posts claiming the image goes against their guidelines, presumably for depicting violent images. 

We spoke with Horvath about how she first came up with the idea to do bruise tattoos, the reasons people clients have sought them out and more. 

Can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about who you are?

My name is SJ Horvath. Mother. Artist. Collector of oddities. Hillbilly. A threat in Mario Kart. I co-own and operate at Black Moon Tattoo in Knoxville, Tennessee with my husband, Mo. I have been an artist my entire life. I can't even remember a time where I wasn't drawing, painting, sculpting, crafting or just making a huge mess. I love being able to express myself in ways that I can't always vocalize.

Tell us about how you became a tattoo artist?

In 2016, I was able to find an apprenticeship at an established walk-in shop in Knoxville, and the beginning was honestly the hardest few years of my life. I wanted a career that I knew I would love and I put in blood, sweat, tears and money to achieve that goal.

How did you find your tattoo style?

My tattoo style is a little all over the place. It's a bit illustrative and a little neo-traditional. Mostly color. Usually sparkles. I'm a self-taught artist and I'm always wanting to learn and grow.

Lately, I've been falling into the beauty of cosmetic tattoos that are unconventional. I do scrapes, scars, slaps, bites, freckles, bruises and blemishes. Something about giving people the power to choose what they want their meat suit to look like, to have me help them become more of themselves, is extremely rewarding to me.

When did you come up with the idea for bruise/scrape tattoos?

About four years ago, my coworker Finn and I were talking about how beautiful bruises are. I know, it sounds silly, but they're like tiny little galaxies under the surface. We were convinced they were tattooable. He trusted me enough to make some nasty color washes and pack them into the side of his knee.

If it was not for that day, I never would have found my love for sfx tattooing. The Bruise/Scrape tattoos have become popular and recently have gotten gnarlier.

How do you do your research/references for these?

I've been into horror movies, macabre art and special effects for a very long time. I feel like a lot of my background in drawing creepy horror scenes and playing in sfx makeup has made the tattooing medium so much easier for me to jump into. I honestly don't use a reference for my cosmetic tattoos. I don't stencil them, not even my freckles. I just go into it with the idea of making it special and unique for the client in that moment. I follow my heart, not a stencil.

What kind of clients come in and request these tattoos? Are they trying to memorialize an injury sustained previously? We'd like to understand the mindset of who would be interested in these?

I've experienced a few different reasons:

- Clients who have SH (self harm) addictions have told me that seeing something realistic on themselves would prevent them from actually causing them self harm. Some people want to represent internal pain with something visible.

-Some people want to just look differently from the "beauty" society has created.

-Some people want to remember tough times in their life that made them stronger.

-Some people just think it looks cool.

It's not my place to judge anyone; Just to provide a service that is well done in a clean and safe environment. I enjoy being the person who can provide this service to that specific demographic.

What sort of reaction have people had toward the bruise/scrape tattoos?

Never in my life did I expect my odd tattoo style to go viral on so many platforms. I get a tremendous amount of hate and even more love. I feel like I'm finally reaching the demographic that was meant for me.

Some people become inspired and empowered after learning about these and seeing them on their friends and family.

In person, most people don't even say anything until you mention to them that it's a tattoo. And even when you do, they usually don't believe it until you squeeze or manipulate the skin. It's super trippy.

What's the secret to making one of these tattoos look good?

From the client's perspective? Confidence. Rocking these beautiful blemishes with confidence.

From the artist’s perspective, there is no secret. Knowing how your colors blend together under different skin tones, how scrapes and blemishes heal in different stages, and how a wound would look on a bony thin-skinned area versus a fatty area are what make these tattoos what they are. They are messy and chaotic, but you still have to have that knowledge to make them appear realistic.