The Ink Link is an ongoing project at CN&CO that showcases the diversity of tattoos. One of the great things about a tattoo is that it goes against the commonly-held viewpoint that “what you see is what you get”. There’s a misguided belief in certain quarters that only “some” people get a tattoo. We are putting paid to that perception through the stories showcased in the Ink Link. If you or anyone you know would like to be featured, please get in contact with us.

Taryn Harrington teaches music at St Stithians Junior Prep, which is attended by children aged five to eight years old. She has worked at Saints for 13 years. During that time she has had 19 tattoos done to add to the one she had before she started working there. 

Taryn sees tattoos as a highly personal form of artistic expression and an assertion of freedom. 

“I was brought up in a very conservative household,” she says. “I wasn’t allowed to cut my hair or even wear pants. I also wasn’t allowed to go for dancing lessons, so I went for piano lessons. By the time I was 12 I was playing the piano and the organ in church. It was a very protected upbringing. Tattoos were certainly not allowed.” 

After matriculating from Jeppe Girls, Taryn studied music at UCT, graduating with a B.Mus., and then did a teaching qualification. 

“I was grateful for my focus on music during my childhood,” she says.

After qualifying Taryn got her very first tattoo, a treble clef just under her right should blade. 

“It was a disaster,” she says. “The artist went way too deep in my skin, so it looks horrible now. But I have left it there the way it is as a reminder of my impetuous youth.

“The artist was a Brazilian guy named Chico. He worked out of Rosettenville. Two weeks after doing my tattoo, he got shot in some gang related incident. So I had no recourse! I was stuck with it.”

Taryn didn’t get any ink for a long time after that. 

“I went and lived in London, where I taught music. I used all my money up on partying and travelling. There was nothing left for tattoos.” 

It was only when she came back to South Africa that Taryn started her tattoo collection in earnest.

“I think I have 20 in total at the moment. I know that because when I sit outside on the grass for break duty, the children count them. The most recent one is the word ‘imagine’ in John Lennon’s handwriting.”

The imagine tattoo is on her wrist.  

Taryn has been working at Saints for 13 years and has had most of her tattoos done during that time. 

“I think there’s a sense that, because I am the music teacher, I should do weird stuff. So my tattoos are tolerated. Plus I have had them done over time, so people have seen one, then another one, then another… kind of like the old story of gradually boiling a frog. 

“I do cover my tattoos up when I go for meetings with the rector or the head of my school because it makes me feel more comfortable.” 

Her most memorable and meaningful tattoo is a mandala on her right quadricep. It was designed by Rosalind Pape, a Cape Town based numerologist. 

The dragon and the mandala can be seen here on Taryn’s right leg

“Rosalind does your numerology and based on what she reads and intuits about you she designs your personal mandala, which she paints for you,” explains Taryn. “So she gave me my painting and my tattoo artist copied it and put it on my leg, which is really nice because it’s totally personal and no one else has one like it.” 

Couching the mandala is a big dragon on Taryn’s outer thigh.

“In traditional Eastern culture, the ball that a dragon holds in its claw represents the essence of life. So my dragon is holding my mandala, which is my essence of life.”

Most of Taryn’s tattoos have been done by Chelsea from Lucky Swine in Louis Botha Avenue. Among others, Taryn has a rose on her left bicep, a moon on her left foot and a sun on her right, her children’s names on her shoulder with the Harrington family crest and a ship in full sail all the way down her right side. Her most personal piece is a tattoo of music notes that she drew herself, situated on the inside of her left forearm. 

“It’s a G, a D, a C and an A,” she explains, pointing to each note in turn. “G for gratitude, D for dignity, C for compassion and A for always. It’s a mantra I chant to remind myself to stay grounded.” 

A moon on her left foot and a sun on her right…

Taryn’s husband and children all have tattoos.

“My husband is covered; he’s got loads. But he works in an environment where it doesn’t really matter and nobody challenges him. Both his arms are covered and he also has quite a lot on his legs. So it’s very visible. 

“But when he entertains business visitors from China, for example, he will cover up with a long-sleeve shirt.

“I allowed both of my children to get tattoos – something small that can be hidden by their school uniforms. They keep asking me ‘what must I get next?’, and I say ‘I can’t tell you; you will just know; it will be obvious’.”

Taryn says it always becomes clear to her what her next tattoo should be – although every time she gets inked she goes through a process of regret before becoming comfortable, and then eventually loving the piece.  

“I’ve had ‘tattoo regret’ with all of my tattoos,” she says. “After each one I ask myself ‘should I have done that?’ There’s a time period after you’ve had it done that you wrestle with it a bit, then it settles in and you accept it, then come to love it.”

CN&CO’s Carel Nolte, who chairs the governing council at St Stithians, says Taryn represents the type of diversity that is legendary at the school.

“We find a lot of strength in diversity,” he says. “Taryn not only sports 20 tattoos, she is also a great artist and educator. She and the Junior Prep team were in charge of music at this year’s Founders’ Day. They chose Black Coffee, which was awesome!

“Taryn is the type of person I love – someone who takes what she does seriously without taking herself seriously. That’s a wonderful attitude to have and translates into a great asset for the school.”