The temporary tattoo project


The temporary tattoo project took place at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), led by artist Davina Drummond in collaboration with GOSH Arts, the arts programme at the hospital. The project allowed young people who were inpatients at GOSH to playfully explore what it means to be a young person in hospital and the therapeutic coping mechanisms they employ to emotionally manage their illness and their hospital experience. The project resulted in the creation of a limited edition artwork in the form of a set of temporary tattoos designed in collaboration with young people.

Background to the project

Just 25% of GOSH inpatients are over the age of 13 and subsequently these young people can often feel socially isolated during their stay. Being in hospital is an emotionally challenging time for a huge number of reasons, but when you are a young person and your independence should be increasing, you are missing out on key social experiences your peers are enjoying and you are faced with the additional challenges of adolescence, being in hospital can have a huge impact on your wellbeing.

GOSH Arts invited Davina to work with young people over the age of 13 in inpatient wards at GOSH to:

  • Reflect on what it means to be a young person in hospital
  • Explore how young people cope with the challenges that being in hospital creates
  • Create a resource which would create an invisible network of young people allowing them to know they are not alone in their hospital experience

Davina chose to use temporary tattoos as a starting point for the project as:

  • Temporary Tattoos are an everyday part of popular culture; they are often used by young people at parties, festivals or special occasions as a means of expressing individuality
  • The simple, graphic designs of tattoos convey strong messages often pictorially, making them accessible to all
  • Historically, tattoos have served as decorations for bravery, pledges of love and hope, celebrations of achievement and as reminders of important events, all themes that were explored during the project
Artist Davina Drummond in the Temporary Tattoo Parlour at the Association for Young People’s Health conference. Image courtesy of GOSH Arts.

Project delivery

Davina worked with over 40 young people who had had experience of being an inpatient at GOSH over 10 full days between January and March 2017. She ran group and 1:1 sessions on the wards, for the Young Peoples Forum (a group of young people who advise the hospital on matters which affect young people) and with pupils at the GOSH School. All the sessions were supported by the Psychological Services team as needed.

The GOSH Young People’s Forum model the temporary tattoos. Image courtesy of GOSH Arts.

At the start of the sessions the young people were invited to choose and apply a temporary tattoo from a shop-bought selection and explain why they had chosen that design encouraging them to think about how imagery and text could represent different meanings. They then explored what kept them strong whilst in hospital and how they coped with their illness through playful discussion facilitated by Davina. Finally they experimented with typography and illustration using basic materials including ink, pen and pencil to create bold, graphic designs which simply conveyed their coping mechanisms. Many of the ideas came up several times with different young people for instance, nature, home, being with animals and setting goals for the future.

A young person’s tattoo concept. Image courtesy of GOSH Arts.


During the sessions, Davina gathered over 70 ideas for different tattoos. The young people’s ideas and designs were collated and refined and 8 temporary tattoo concepts which best represented the range of young people’s ideas were selected. These 8 concepts were then developed by Davina and tattoo artist Ella Bell in consultation with the young people to create the final set of limited edition temporary tattoos.

Each project participant received a set of the tattoos and on an ongoing basis they are given out by medical and play staff to young people at GOSH when they first arrive or are going through a particularly difficult point in their care.

The GOSH Young People’s Forum model the Temporary Tattoos. Image courtesy of GOSH Arts.


The participatory sessions and the set of temporary tattoos that have come out of the project have had a positive impact on the wellbeing of both project participants and those who have received a set of temporary tattoos.

The participatory sessions allowed young people to creatively reflect on and share the techniques they use to cope with their illness, process their hospital experience and share the challenges they face as hospitalised young people. In addition to these positive outcomes, receiving a set of temporary tattoos created by young people with history of illness lets young people at GOSH know they are not alone in their hospital experience and the temporary nature of the tattoos acts as a reminder that not all experiences or situations, especially when in hospital, are permanent.

The GOSH Young People’s Forum model the temporary tattoos. Image courtesy of GOSH Arts.

Project developments

In February 2018, we hosted our first Temporary Tattoo Parlour at the Association for Young People Health 10th anniversary conference. The tattoo parlour was an immersive experience and included a checkboard floor, a tattoo chair and regulation stainless steel furniture! The tattoo parlour will be revisiting GOSH during Creativity and Wellbeing Week in June 2018 to help increase our supportive but invisible network of young people who have experience of physical and mental health problems.

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter @GOSH_Arts@DavinaDrummond#TheTemporaryTattooProject

About GOSH Arts

GOSH Arts is the arts programme at GOSH. Our participatory programme, art commissions and temporary exhibitions inspire creativity, create welcoming environments, and offer meaningful cultural opportunities across a variety of art forms for patients, families and staff.

Our work plays an essential role in enhancing the hospital experience. Engaging with visiting artists and having art integrated into our buildings helps to create more relaxed spaces, less clinical environments and contributes to reducing stress and anxiety for our visitors and staff.

About Davina Drummond

Davina Drummond is a social practice artist and art educator who lives and works in London. She works at the intersection between socially engaged art and art education, purposely blurring the boundaries between the two disciplines. She creates context specific relational works, often incorporating the use of text and textiles. Davina’s practice explores modes of making artworks, which involve the process of social interactions and creative collaborations with others in gallery and non-gallery spaces and educational