Medical Illustrator Tattoos SurvivorsElizabeth Nelson
Marie Sena is a tattoo artist at the Electric Eye, which she and her husband co-own, in Dallas’s Oak Cliff neighborhood. But Sena offers something a little extra special that other tattoo artists can’t, particularly for those clients who have been through physical traumas that have left them feeling disfigured and deformed.
Sena has a Master’s Degree in medical illustration, which means she has specialized training in the workings and details of the human body. Her other job, which she does upstairs in the loft of the Electric Eye, is to make the art that goes into medical textbooks and helps medical professionals and those training to become medical professionals understand the body so that they can heal it.
Sena contributes to patients’ healing by helping train medical professionals through her art, but she also uses her medical expertise to offer specialized tattoos to breast cancer survivors who have lost some of their most intimate and feminine body parts to cancer and surgery: namely their nipples and areolas.
“It’s the whole reason why I do this,” Sena said. “It means so much to use my artwork to help somebody in a critical time in their life. It’s something I’ve never felt before and it’s definitely what I’m supposed to do.”
Being a tattoo artist who creates realistic 3-D nipples takes a lot of patience and compassion. Luckily, Sena has both.
“I don’t know a single person that hasn’t been touched by breast cancer in some way. My grandma had it,” Sena said. “I feel a great big responsibility to really do right by these women.”
Sena takes her time creating nipples and areolas that perfectly match the rest of each client’s body. She believes there are a lot of factors that go into making these intimate parts look the way they do on each individual, and she uses visual clues from her clients’ bodies to recreate them in the most realistic way possible.
“Every time I work on a new project, I try to look at factors like the shape of a client’s breast, their frame, their size, complexion – even hair and eye color – all those little nuances that make an areola color,” Sena said.
Mindy Button, one of Sena’s clients, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. She went through surgery, treatment, and reconstruction, and what she was left with were nipple-less “breasts” that felt more like foreign objects than parts of her own body. She came to Sena to have her nipples and areolas recreated in 3-D tattoos to help her heal from her recent traumas.
“It’s a lot. A lot,” Button said. “It affects our ego, what goes through our heads. You try to be upbeat. I’ve been this way since 2012 and I thought I was happy. But there was a void.”
Sena says this isn’t the first time she’s met with a client who felt this way about her breasts. “A lot of my clients will describe their reconstructed breasts as sort of like a face without features,” she said.
Check out the video below to see Sena in action, making Button feel whole again. Sena’s art is truly breathtaking, and Button’s reaction to the finished product says it all.