Chicago tattoos: Former Marina Towers resident got a tattoo of the corncob buildings to remind himself of his first apartment

Graham Ellinghausen, 26, got the Marina Towers tattooed on his thigh after living there when he moved to Chicago after college.


Marina Towers — those corncob-looking buildings just north of the Chicago River at 300 N. State St. — are iconic Chicago architecture, the image on countless postcards and a Wilco album cover and a permanent feature on one of Graham Ellinghausen’s thighs.

Ellinghausen, 26, moved to Chicago after college, at 21. After getting a job downtown writing software, he was drawn to those two funky looking buildings on the river and got his first apartment there.

Growing up in Woodstock, he’d come to the city and look up at the buildings in wonder.

“They’ve always seemed kind of iconic to me, some of the most memorable designed skyscrapers I can think of around the city,” he says. “They always caught my eye.”

Living there, he says he learned a lot from his neighbors, many who’d lived in the buildings for decades.

“A lot of the older population there has lived pretty much in Marina Towers more or less since it was built, so there’s a lot of history there,” Ellinghausen says.

He lived at Marina Towers in a circular, largely unrenovated unit for a few years before moving to Uptown.

Two years after moving out, he decided to give himself a permanent reminder of his former home — “long enough that I think I could look back on it with a little more fondness than immediately after I moved out” — courtesy of tattoo artist Dylan Cullison, whose portfolio is filled with intricate architectural images.

Graham Ellinghausen.


Cullison’s clients typically are looking to get tattoos of, say, a house — their childhood home or their grandparents’ house. Ellinghausen’s Marina Towers tattoo was the first Chicago skyscraper Cullison had done.

“I feel so incredibly lucky to live in a city that is so rich in beautiful architecture,” Cullison says.

Compared with houses, skyscrapers are “harder to translate into a tattoo because they’re so detailed,” Cullison says. “It works out my brain more. Honestly, it’s a lot more challenging and fun to turn into a tattoo.”

Dylan Cullison’s work often involves giving clients a tattoo of a home that holds meaning for them.


Cullison, who grew up in Lincoln Park, has always loved drawing buildings. The artist wasn’t sure there was much of a market, though, to create building tattoos until a client asked for one of his grandparent’s house. After that, Cullison kept getting similar requests.

“I think there’s something about the permanence of it,” Cullison says. “Especially childhood homes. They hold so much, but the majority of the time you do lose that building eventually.”

Ellinghausen’s Marina Towers tattoo is composed of dozens of the precise, super-thin lines that are a signature of Cullison’s work.

Tattoo artist Dylan Cullison.


“I always say that everything is just a line or a splotch in art, and you can make any image with just lines and splotches,” Cullison says. “Clearly, I focus on just the lines.”

The artist uses a single needle to create those lines, taking care to leave space because the ink will spread out over time. So the tattoo needs room to expand without ending up leaving the image jumbled.

“You really have to figure out exactly which lines you need and which lines you can take away,” Cullison says.

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