A Tattoo to Remember the Virginia Tech Shooting

t2a contributor and enthusiastic creative Amanda Heptinstall had the unique task of drawing a memorial tattoo for her friend and Virginia Tech Alum, BJ. We all remember the sensationalized coverage of the VT shooting. All of that ‘coverage’ overshadows and eventually buries a tragedy like this one. It was comforting to learn that the VT community continues to honor the people who were lost, here: We Remember VT. Additionally it was an honor Amanda was willing to share her thoughts about the tragedy and the creative process of tattoo design.

LM: What inspired BJ to want to a tattoo remembering the tragedy at Virginia Tech?

AH: I got to know BJ as I designed this tattoo for him. He is a Virginia Tech Alumni who is very thankful for the life and friends he made there. I feel that he wanted to show his gratitude and dedication to the place that taught and gave him so much.

LM: What kind of input did your friend offer in guiding its creation?

AH: Verbatim he said: “I want you to come up with a representation of what happened at Tech on 4/16/07. I’ll give you carte blanche. My only mandate is that the number 33 and obviously VT be included.”

Each time I completed a drawing, we would discuss what he appreciated and what he thought could change. The biggest challenge for me was interpreting what he said and actually making the changes into something concrete that he loved.

Tattoo to Remember Virigina Tech

The black lines represent the roads of Virginia Tech’s campus. The maroon lines rotate 33 degrees from West Ambler Johnston Hall, the location of the first shootings and deaths. The orange lines rotate 33 degrees from Norris Hall, the second location of the remaining deaths. Orange and maroon are the colors of Virginia Tech.

View the full tattoo evolution here.

LM: Where does your friend plan to put the tattoo?

AH: BJ is dedicating his right arm to those he has lost. He already has one tattoo in honor of his friend who passed away in high school on his right arm and this tattoo will mirror it on the inside of his bicep.

LM: You went to another nearby Virginia state school, James Madison University. What was the sentiment on campus after the Virginia Tech shooting?

AH: JMU’s purple and gold were traded in for VT’s orange and maroon. Our campus seemed paralyzed. Flags flew at half-staff. Faces were somber. Three days after the shootings, JMU’s President, a VT alumni, addressed our students and faculty to raise “Hokie Hope” and shared how proud he was of JMU for offering our support to our sister school. I still have the orange and maroon ribbon I was given that day to remember.

LM: You mentioned you were happy your friend wanted to remember the shooter. What made you say that?

AH: Live for 32. That is the tagline that I remember and often see in reference to the VT massacre. I’m sure most people associate it with 32 deaths. I really admire BJ for wanting to acknowledge that the shooter took his own life. I’m happy and proud that he collectively honored all those that died that day.

LM: Can you describe how that creative process is different from creating a painting or a drawing?

AH: The creative process for a tattoo is much more challenging. I tend to feel like a painting is never finished. Also a painting is a less limiting form of expression. A tattoo is an active emblem of someone’s beliefs, thoughts, and feelings. Accurately conveying all three at once is difficult, yet exhilarating.

LM: I know you created a tattoo to remember your grandmother. can you tell us about that project?

AH: My grandmother, “June the Prune,” passed away in 2006. She was my very best friend and one of the most amazing women I will ever know. She adored butterflies. I designed a butterfly tattoo that encompasses me and her as one. When designing the butterfly I remembered that an astute palm reader told me my life begins in a chaotic manner, becomes orderly, and then slowly fades out. I used those three themes as the construct for my design.

Amanda's tattoo to remember her grandmother Prune.

Amanda Heptinstall is a Washington, D.C.-based marketing manager for an architecture firm focusing on commercial interior design.  She holds a BFA in Art with a concentration in interior design from James Madison University.  She has a deep passion for painting, graphic design, and panda bears. Follow her on amandaheptinstall.tumblr.com for more creative inspiration.

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