Tattoo project targets young patients


This is the award entry for The Temporary Tattoo Project, entered by Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust in the Best Collaborative Arts Project (Performance) category

The Temporary Tattoo Project allowed young people at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) to explore what it means to be an adolescent in hospital and the therapeutic coping mechanisms they employ to emotionally manage their illness.

The project resulted in the creation of a set of temporary tattoos designed in collaboration with participants.

A quarter of GOSH inpatients are over the age of 13 and these young people can often feel socially isolated when on the wards.

GOSH Arts invited artist, Davina Drummond, to work with these young people to reflect on what it means to be a teenager in hospital and how they cope with the challenges that creates.

The hospital also wanted to a resource that would allow young people to know they were not alone in their hospital experience.

They chose to use temporary tattoos as a starting point for the project as they are an everyday part of popular culture and are often used by young people at parties, festivals or special occasions as a means of expressing individuality.

The simple, graphic designs of tattoos convey strong messages, often pictorially, making them accessible, and historically tattoos have served as decorations for bravery, pledges of love and hope, celebrations of achievement, and as reminders of important events, all themes that were explored during the project.

The artist worked with more than 40 young people over 10 days. During the sessions, which were supported by the psychological services team as needed, the young people talked about what kept them strong while in hospital and how they coped with their illness.

They then experimented with typography and illustration to create simple, graphic designs which conveyed their coping mechanisms.

These designs were refined and translated into 8 temporary tattoo designs by Drummond and tattoo artist, Ella Bell, in consultation with the young people.

Tattoo project targets young patients

The designs were printed to create a limited edition set of temporary tattoos. These were given to project participates and are given on an ongoing basis to young people at GOSH when they first arrive or are going through a particularly-difficult point in their care.

Receiving a packet of temporary tattoos created by young people with history of illness lets other young people know they are not alone in their hospital experience.

And the temporary nature of the tattoos acts as a reminder that not all experiences or situations, especially when in hospital, are permanent.

One patient said of the project: “Today I feel on top of the world and full of so much pride and happiness as I saw my tattoo design come to life....seeing it in real life genuinely made me well up and cry as it meant so much to me.”

Another adds: “Being involved in the project and designing the heartbeat tattoo meant a lot to me; and placing it on other people’s arms just made me feel so proud.

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“When you are in hospital it’s hard to stay motivated, but having something like a temporary tattoo you feel inspired by the message behind it.”