Elisa Espinosa and Zach Gronewold hold hands at their wedding reception. Espinosa’s tattoo was customized to complement her dress.

Elisa Espinosa and Zach Gronewold hold hands at their wedding reception last month. Espinosa’s tattoo was customized to complement her dress.

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Something old, something new, something borrowed, something tattooed

Elisa Espinosa of Orland Park thought her open-backed wedding dress was missing . . . something. So she got a tattoo before getting married last month.

In the midst of wedding planning mayhem last summer, Elisa Espinosa checked off a big item on her to-do list: She finally found her dress.

But something seemed to be missing. The dress had a wide-open back, and Espinosa thought it looked plain that way. Some people might have chosen jewelry or other accessories in that situation. Espinosa decided what she needed to set off that space was something else — a tattoo.

“I already had the dress, but it felt like the tattoo was the surest I had been,” says Espinosa, 27.

Espinosa met her now-husband Zach Gronewold when they were in a Spanish class at Valparaiso University in Indiana in 2014.

Elisa Espinosa and Zach Gronewold met at Valparaiso University. They were married this summer.

Elisa Espinosa and Zach Gronewold met at Valparaiso University. They were married this summer.

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One day, she was late to class, “so she was stuck sitting next to me,” says Gronewold, 28, a lawyer who works for the Atkore manufacturing company.

Six years later, at Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Gronewold proposed.

And so began the wedding planning that Espinosa added one unusual item to: Get a “statement piece” tattoo to complement her dress.

Espinosa, a student activities coordinator at Midwestern University, stumbled upon Humboldt Park tattoo artist Sydne Barard on social media. Drawn to her “whimsical doodles” and incorporation of nature in body art, she sent Barard a photo of her wedding dress and made an appointment for a freehand tattoo.

Barard, 26, creates tattoos part-time while working for Capital One in human resources and marketing. She’s long been interested in art and, when she was younger, thought about becoming a tattoo artist “in another life.”

Tattoo artist Sydne Barard is all smiles as she stands beside the tattoo she did for Elisa Espinosa.

Tattoo artist Sydne Barard is all smiles as she stands beside the tattoo she did for Elisa Espinosa.

Owen Ziliak / Sun-Times

Eventually, Barard says she decided: “Why not this life?”

After practicing on herself — her thighs are covered in her early work — and connecting with Chicago’s self-taught tattoo artist community, she began working as a tattoo artist in 2020.

By the time of Espinosa’s appointment in January, Barard was accustomed to using freehand style — when artists don’t use a stencil but sketch the design directly on the skin in Sharpie before etching it permanently in tattoo ink.

But Barard still felt the pressure. This tattoo, after all, was going to be showcased at a wedding.

For Espinosa, walking in to her tattoo studio was a symbol of the “magnitude of the moment.”

Barard drafted an idea on Espinosa’s back. But they scrapped that design, and Barard went back to the drawing board, which she documented on TikTok.

The second option — featuring vines, leaves, a few sparkles and a flower — proved to be a winner.

On July 7, Espinosa and Gronewold got married in Galena, his hometown, near the Iowa border. They danced a choreographed routine to Kat and Alex’s “I Want it All — Spanglish Version” and honored Espinosa’s Mexican heritage, for instance by including clay jugs, cantaritos, as centerpieces.

Elisa Espinosa and Zach Gronewold dance at their wedding reception in July.

Elisa Espinosa and Zach Gronewold dance at their wedding reception in July.

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All through her wedding night, the tattoo was a big attraction. Bridesmaids fawned over the piece, Espinosa says. And other tattooed friends appreciated the artistry.

“I didn’t want to wear my veil after the ceremony because I wanted everyone to see it,” Espinosa says.

Listening to her talk about that night, Barard gets a little emotional.

“It’s like my artwork lives on,” she says.

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