On Clovers & Goldfish

story and photo illustration by Moth Moth Moth

No matter where you go in Memphis, odds are you have been in the room with a certain tattoo. About the size of a silver dollar, an image of a content goldfish in a bag tied with string. A lucky goldfish.

Clover Faulhaber, oft referred to by their screen name @straydogthey, has been on everyone’s lips and skin around the 901 for years.

If the name is unfamiliar then most certainly the style and impish wit of their drawings on people’s skin will prove unforgettable.

I bring a modicum of bias into the writing of this piece. Clover and I have been friends for a long time. When they came to sit for an interview it was a conversation filled with Saturn returns, anime references, and an unprofessional amount of giddy giggling on my side.

The first time I got poked by Clover was about four years ago. I had about three other tattoos from other artists. In that first session I was taken by how different Clover’s energy was. The thoughtfulness of the flash tattoo designs on the wall. The candor moving between silence and conversation. What struck me most was the quality of the scratch. Crisp black line work with subtle shadows. Hyper intentional. I thought their eyes might burn through my arm. Always with a gentle strength behind the pain of the tattoo gun. By the time we finished it was like the mark had always been there. I hardly bled.

As a draftsperson, Clover’s drawing talent is paramount to their successful and remarkable style. Cultivated through a lifetime of scribbles, media consumption, and 9AM art school critiques. Furthermore their talent has developed to match their tattooing career. A propensity for the hand drawn, the dear, the clever, and the clean are all present.

Clover spent some time with me to catch up and share portfolios of designs from the past few years. Every design an idea that landed on someone’s skin. A moment that Clover acted as a satellite between another human and their own epidermis.

It begged the question: “Can a tattoo be a source of comfort?”

Clover’s answer was simple, “People change in the chair.”

A discussion about permanence and intention ensued. Anything can be lasered off, but it doesn’t change the fact that time, intention, and pain were spent to inject an image into the skin.

Some folks need a tattoo to act as a magic spell. A release from something. An image to make you feel stronger. Sometimes a good luck charm.

But there are plenty of people that show up and just want to have an experience. Which is equally valuable.

This line of thinking lead Clover and I into discussions of Friday the 13th tattoos they have designed over the years.

To clue in the clueless, every Friday the 13th tattoo shops and artists will run specials on themed tattoo designs. Images of black cats, ladders, and horseshoes come to mind. A mix up of good luck and bad luck motifs.

But here is where we get to explore Clover’s mind corners a little more.

The idea of not using a sad face to express sadness was huge for Clover. Using objects to stand in for emotions was cooler and delivered emotion and message with a crisper wit. There is also a theme of warm yet sardonic wit, they reference “The Phantom Tollbooth” as an introduction to sardonic wit.

Clover’s images are clean, clever, and often complex. Also super f**king cool.

One tattoo was a three leafed clover with a bloom subtly creating the number 13 from an unremarkable clover. Thus making it feel lucky in its own way.

Another was a mysterious envelope with chains below it. “Oh, that one is chain mail,” Clover remarked.

“That’s the most cursed image I’ve ever encountered, ” I replied.

At the bottom of the page I found something familiar, the previously mentioned goldfish tattoo. Something about the image really does feel lucky. A goldfish in a bag is a hopeful image. A prayer that the fish will get home safe and into a happy habitat and live with you for a long happy life. The luck of bringing a smaller life in your orbit. Luck is a thing you feed fish flakes too. It set my imagination on fire.

“Clover made the remark about this one, “I’ve done that one a hundred times, I’m happy to do it a hundred more.”

I find myself longing for a goldfish.

An intrinsically magical nature is carried through the lines created by Clover. A spell for the skin.

Clover is now at a more free and independent point in their career than ever before. Their journey has been one of scrappy determination behind the scenes, all the while filling our brains with starkly darkly clever images.

To say that Clover has changed the stylistic and cultural imagination of tattooing in the Mid-South is one thing, but I think I would like to go farther.

I believe that Clover is an archetype for the future. From they way they lovingly draft work to the elbow grease that it takes to get the ink fused to skin to the bravery and candor it takes to negotiate their own name and space. A true genius if ever I’ve come to know one.