Nico Roberts’ goal is to be covered “neck-to-toe” in body art, most recently completing his palm tattoos.

Nico Roberts’ goal is to be covered “neck-to-toe” in body art, most recently completing his palm tattoos.

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From palms to, yes, his eyelids, Nico Roberts views his body as a ‘canvas’ for tattoo art

Part of the Austin artist’s mission to be covered “neck to toe” in body art, Roberts, 25, had his hands tattooed, with a snake that seems to slither from one hand to the other.

Nico Roberts doesn’t need a palm reader to tell him what his hands are saying.

That’s because, as part of the 25-year-old Chicago artist’s mission to be covered “neck to toe” in body art, he recently got his palms tattooed — a two-part piece that flows together when he puts his hands side by side and also makes sense when they’re apart.

On his right hand is a Hannya mask — a devil-like creature with horns, sharp teeth and a menacing smile. It has its roots in Japanese folklore and often represents female rage and pain but also translates to the “wisdom of Buddha,” which is what spoke to Roberts.

Nico Roberts’ palm tattoos include a snake and dagger and a Hannya mask.

Nico Roberts’ palm tattoos include a snake and dagger and a Hannya mask.

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“It’s one of those things that I tattoo the most,” Roberts says. “I tattoo a lot of Hannya masks, dragons, Oni masks, things of that nature.”

A snake extends from behind the mask, appearing to slither its way to Roberts’ left hand, where it’s pierced with a dagger framed by drops of blood.

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“It’s basically like a protective piece to me, basically warding off evil,” says Roberts, who’s from Austin. “Keep the snakes out the grass.”

The palm piece was in the traditional tattoo style, including line work and flowers that are common in that design.

Nico Roberts, 25, an artist from Austin who says his goal is to be covered “neck to toe” in body art.

Nico Roberts, 25, an artist from Austin, says his goal is to be covered “neck to toe” in body art.

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Roberts says he has been “obsessed” with palm tattoos for years. But hands are always shedding their skin and coming into contact with harsh surfaces, so they can be hard to maintain — and many artists won’t do them.

That isn’t the case for Pilsen artist Stephen Lavallee, who tattooed Roberts’ palms and another uncommon spot for ink — his eyelids.

Pilsen tattoo artist Stephen Lavallee.

Pilsen tattoo artist Stephen Lavallee.

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Lavallee says he was told “no” by many artists when he first started getting tattooed himself and likes to take on challenges others might turn down out of fear of the difficulty.

“That made me really want to branch out, so clients aren’t being told no,” Lavallee says.

He says the challenge with palm tattoos comes mostly in the aftercare: Clients need to be committed to “babying” their hands for two to three weeks.

As for eyelids, one wrong move can jeopardize a person’s vision.

“You’re not just dipping the needle into the skin and dragging it,” Lavallee says. “You’re kind of etching it in gently while not trying to penetrate the eyelid completely and blinding your client.”

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Roberts’ eyelids were the first that Lavallee inked, etching “Anti” on one and “Hero” on the other.

Chicago tattoo artist Stephen Lavallee inked Nico Roberts’ eyelids with the words “Anti Hero.”

Chicago tattoo artist Stephen Lavallee inked Nico Roberts’ eyelids with the words “Anti Hero.”

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Roberts says he contemplated getting such visible tattoos for a long time before going ahead.

“I was very nervous about that stigma that, if you have a face tattoo, your life is over,” he says.

“But last year I went full-time artist,” Roberts says. “Since I’m an artist, I feel like this will not hinder who I am. I felt like this won’t stop any opportunities from coming in. This won’t make people judge me. And, if they do judge me, they’re not the type of people I should be around anyways.”

Roberts, who works mostly in photography and modeling, also recently got behind a tattoo machine, adding tattooing to his portfolio.

Nico Roberts’ hands feature tattoos from back to palm.

Nico Roberts’ hands feature tattoos from back to palm.

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He says he’s a “perfectionist,” so it can be intimidating to tattoo other people, wanting to get everything just right.

He says that’s what led him to first self-ink his entire left thigh.

Roberts says he’s made a few permanent mistakes on his own skin.

“I’m happy I did that to myself before I did it to any of my friends,” he says.

As he continues on the path to being fully covered in ink, Roberts says he wants people to see his tattoos as art — a goal he’s represented in a red ink “ART” tattoo on one sideburn.

“Not a lot of people interpret tattoos as body art,” Roberts says. “The body that you have is your canvas. You should be able to paint whatever picture you want on your canvas.”

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