Sunday, June 19, 2005

"Light Painter"

Reader Gordon emails:

"Hi there,

I stumbled across your site looking for some info. I admit to having gotten a tattoo a couple of years back, and like many, I am now concerned that it might not mean what I hope it means. Am I correct in understanding that you're willing to help translate characters correctly for people in my situation? I'd love any info you might provide.
Now that I am faced with the proposition of finding out I am not sure I want to know. Having it lasered off doesn't sound too pleasant.

Admittedly this tattoo is a combination of two ideas. The top character meaning "light" or having some inference to light. (not heavenly light, but actual light, though either will work.) The bottom two characters dealing with the idea of "Artist" or "Painter" I realize when placed on atop the other the grouping may mean nothing, or something else entirely, but I've always thought of them as top and bottom both withholding their individual meanings.

Go easy on me! I hope I am not terribly disappointed here.

Although the calligraphy is bad, the characters are at least recognizable.

The top character is the simplified version of , which means "lantern" or "lamp". (or traditional version ) means "painter/artist", but in the tattoo is missing a top dot.


  1. Wow! That's some pretty nasty calligraphy on the top character. At first I thought it was the mian2 and ren2 radicals, with the first one turned on its side.

  2. yeah, really poorly written. At least the second character turned out ok, i suppose. i didn't spot the radical on the first as fire though, it truly looks bizarre. The third character isn't exactly doing it for me either.

  3. I'd suggest finding a well-trained, native-speaking Chinese tattoo artist to touch up your tattoo to make it look better. I could not recognize the top character until I read Tian's explanation.

    I think 光 (light; glory) represents the idea of "light" better than 燈 (lamp) does.

  4. oh dear, very bad caligraphy, very very bad caligraphy indeed
    I agree with the previous user who suggested 光 instead of 灯 (sorry my computer only does simplified)
    Although, I suppose it is a little late to change it now...
    The upside is, I suppose, atleast it doesn't say something really horrible

  5. Maybe the touch-up could use some of that new flesh-tone ink to get rid of the two execrable characters. Sorry... I know the contributor said to go easy, but those two are completely unacceptable.

  6. I suspect that first character is 宀 reversed and on its side, with 丁.
    Any guesses what that would be trying to mean?

  7. Perhaps it is a G.T. trying to look like calligraphy! Was Gordon's last name something with T.?

  8. No, his last name starts with letter "O".

  9. I don't think you'd want to use 光 as the first character necessarily. It can sometimes mean "naked", as in "脱光", or "光腚" (literally "naked assed").

    I'm not confident enough to say for sure that a Chinese person who read a "光画家" tatoo would think it means "naked painter/artist". But still, it would definitely be worthwhile to ask a native Chinese speaker before you change it.


  10. No offence, but that looks like my scribblings from Chinese school during Saturday mornings many moons ago. I swear I probably have some characters written like that in black Crayola marker that look similar to what is on this poor guy's body.

  11. re: david, in chinese, 光 in that sense more generally means "completely" with the sense that things are no longer there. as in 花光 ("spend it all") and 吃光 ("eat it all"). it does not automatically conjure up the image of a naked body for this native speaker. in fact, when i hear 光畫家, i think of yet another definition of 光, "only an artist." in chinese, to make it clear you mean light, it would be better to pair it with another character (it would make it sound more natural as well), like 光亮, 光芒 or 光線, or add a possessive 的 to it, as in 光的畫家, "artist of light" (tho that still sounds a little awkward). i don't kno what would work best in japanese tho.

  12. Andy,

    In Japanese, 光 is understood as light or optics, not much else.

    光線 (kousen) - Beam, light ray
    光通信 (hikaritsuushin) - Light-wave communication
    光学 (kougaku) - Optics (study of)
    光ファイバ (hikariFAIBA) - Optical fiber

    So, 光画家(hikarigaka) or 光の画家(hikari no gaka) seem to work fine.

    Indeed, an interesting thing to have written. I would rather have 日光画家 (nikkougaka) written instead.



  13. Chinese characters should be written either from top to bottom or from right to left (although left to right is also acceptable these days). The tatoo in the photo starts from the top, then goes to the lower left corner, and ends in the lower right corner. I have never seen proper Chinese written like that before. It's as if to suggest the man's arm is too narrow!!

  14. "Painter of Light" - isn't that Thomas Kinkade?

  15. Ew... Thomas Kinkade! Truly cheesy stuff...

  16. Concur with Andy regarding the "completely" or "only" meaning of 光... In fact, as 脫 is a verb meaning "to strip," 脫光 literally translates to "strip completely," which then means "naked."

    In the case of 光腚, to be honest I never hear this spoken. I have, however, heard people say "光屁股" to refer to a bare butt. "Only the butt" would imply no articles of clothing, and therefore, naked butt.

    As 光 can have more than one meaning in Chinese, without something else to give it a definite meaning, the use of 光畫家 would be ambiguous, although the meaning should lean more towards "light" than "only," so it should be acceptable, since he'd have to explain its meaning to others anyway.

    To be completely unambiguous, I'd suggest 亮光畫家 or 光之畫家 (the Chinese equivalent to 光の画家 in Japanese).

  17. Don't forget 光頭 (光 head) meaning "bald". It does appear to have the meaning of "bare".

  18. Kinkade *was* the first name that came to mind when I saw the heading. And i fully concur that he's awfully cheesy. The tattoo saying "Lamp Painter" at least doesn't sound bad...just sorta odd. Like a very specialized profession of decorating lampshades.


  19. lazered off?? just get it covered up with something else, I have 5 on my neck and I'm getting them covered (yes they are black too)