Ivy Esposito wears her heart on her sleeve, one she's been working on over four sessions and about 15 hours since November. Each bit of plush greenery that decorates her left arm represents a member of her family: parents, siblings, cousins. And hidden among the foliage and flowers is something else, a tattoo for her nine-years-younger brother. Unlike everyone else, Esposito's brother is represented by a cat, or, more accurately, a furry gray kitten with green eyes that almost mews at you from its tucked-away spot on the inside of Esposito's left arm.
"He's not much of a flower kind of a guy, so he wanted a kitty cat instead," the MUSC medical lab tech explains.
As children, the siblings had lots of cats at their home in Ohio, but none of them were like the one on Esposito's arm, with its bird-like wings and a tiny nub of a horn sprouting from its forehead. Esposito calls it the kittycorn. However, Margo Hawkins, the Blu Gorilla artist who inked it, prefers the term "unikitten." The horn was all Hawkins' idea.
Before Esposito got the tattoo, she had to get permission. "I had to ask my brother, since it's his kitty cat," she says. "He said it was a little weird and unusual, but still cute, just like him."
Hawkins, whose own body bears the marks of the more-than-50 times she's sat for tattoos, maintains a predilection for the magical. "I like fantasy art and stuff, so it definitely falls in there — unicorns, mermaids," she says. Inside Blu Gorilla, there's a glassy violet unicorn on a shelf above where Hawkins is sitting, while hanging on the wall is a piece of what Hawkins calls "unicorn bling," a necklace featuring one of the creatures — in this case a rainbow-maned one. She can't wear the necklace for too long at any one time because she's allergic to the metal chain.
Esposito was referred to Hawkins through a friend, whose own sleeve is proudly displayed in the portfolio the artist keeps in her cubicle. "Having a chick do it I think is awesome," Esposito says. "Investing this much time and energy and the whole story behind it, I didn't want to just go to some random person."
Hawkins says she tattoos a handful of unicorns annually, including four in the last year. She likes devising odd animal hybrids, like the kittycorn. "It's fun when you get to do something that's funny, makes you laugh, makes you smile," she says. "The last unicorn I did on a guy was a zombie unicorn with a severed head. I kind of like the twists on it."
Hawkins herself doesn't have a unicorn tattoo, yet. "I have plans for it, but I don't know when, where, and how it's going to happen." She's envisioning a Last Unicorn, Dark Crystal-style creature. But of all the one-horned creatures she's inked so far, the unikitten is her favorite. It's Esposito's too.
"This is the beginning of the way to take over the world: Margo, the kittycorn, and I," Esposito says.