6.3 – Tattoos: innovation in ink

Walter Isaacson discuss how sailors brought tattooing to Europe in the 16th century and how the practice has changed with the times.
All Trailblazers Podcasts

In this episode:

  • Buried with body ink (0:00)
  • Oceans of influence (3:57)
  • The singular Sailor Jerry (10:55)
  • Creating colors (14:51)
  • I want my tattoos (17:47)
  • Getting social (18:50)
  • Innovation bubbles up (22:40)
  • Biosensors and body art (26:24)


Tattooing came to Europe and North America fairly recently, with sailors learning the craft abroad and becoming tattooists themselves. As time went on, advancements in technology, changes in pigments and improvements in sanitation brought tattoos into the mainstream. Now social media and research and development are poised to disrupt this artform again. Go beyond the body art on this episode of Trailblazers.

“Often, those sailors that were tattooed on those voyages would become tattooers themselves.”

— Chuck Eldridge, tattoo artist and founder of the Tattoo Archive  

Guest List

  • Tattoos CW Eldridge In 1978, Eldrdige started learning the art of tattooing from the famed tattoo artist Ed Hardy at his original Tattoo City in San Francisco. Several years later, Eldridge founded the Tattoo Archive in Berkeley, California where he has been documenting the history of tattooing for over 40 years.
  • Tattoos David Fernandez-Rivas is an engineer, scientist, educator, and co-founder of BuBclean and FlowBeams, spin-offs from the University of Twente. He focuses on teaching and solving societal challenges as Professor at the University of Twente and Research affiliate at MIT. He leads the BuBble Gun project, aimed at developing a needle-free injection method.
  • Katia Vega is an Assistant Professor of the Department of Design at the University of California, Davis, where she founded and directs the Interactive Organisms Lab. Her research tackles new explorations of organisms-device symbiosis including ink for tattoos can change colour.
  • Tattoos Omar "Fame" Gonzalez is an award-winning tattoo artist, born and raised in Miami, Florida. He is the co-owner of Fame Tattoos in Miami. Omar has been tattooing since 2003 and specializes in hyperrealism, from black and grey to color tattoos. He is best known for creating the Realism 3-D X-Ray Tattoo style. This style is incredibly unique and changes depending on the lighting, giving you three tattoos in one.
  • Tattoos Shanghai Kate is the Godmother of American tattooing. She’s been a tattooist for over 50 years and apprenticed under the famed artist Sailor Jerry.