Leigha Wells knows there’s more than one way to tell a great story and sometimes words just aren’t necessary.

This mother of four and resident of Friendsville has a tattoo on her sleeve that is almost complete after three sessions. It extends from her hand to her shoulder with crisp, creative and deeply personal works of art. This is the story of her young children, aged 18 months to 10 years.

These tattoos are getting attention these days and not just locally. Wells entered a contest hosted by Inked magazine where contestants compete for a grand prize of $25,000 and an appearance on the magazine’s cover.

Voting is currently underway for this first round, and Wells is one of the top contenders. There are only two days left in this round.

As she explained, the contest was announced on social media; interested women had to answer a questionnaire and also submit photos. The magazine handpicked the candidates and grouped them into groups of 33. Voting will continue after this first round until Inked declares a winner in March, Wells said.

The top 6 will even be entitled to a photo shoot with the magazine, she added.

Supporters can submit one free vote per day, Wells said. More than that will require a fee. Part of this money – 25% – will go to charity.

Wells’ sleeve tattoo begins with a human heart on his hand. “It’s like I wear my heart on my sleeve,” she said. “There are flowers coming out of it and dandelions because my kids like to pick dandelions. They call them wishes, so we always go out and choose wishes together.

The cover continues with a space theme, including an astronaut on his arm and the Milky Way. An Aquarius woman rests on his shoulder, and the Scorpio sign for her eldest daughter also has its place.

Her kids are really into space, she says, and she hopes she can take them to visit NASA, like she did when she was younger. “It was the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” Wells said.

“When I finish it, it will be a whole story about my children,” said this mom. “No one will know all of this unless they ask. If they have 10 minutes, I’ll share my story.

The artist who did all the work is Kris Ford, owner of Studio 617 in Blount County.

Wells said she would need another session with her tattoo artist before this one was over. She is certainly happier with how it turned out. Her very first tattoo, which wasn’t done locally – not so much.

She was only 15 or 16 when Wells said she begged her mother to let her get a tattoo. Wells said her mother had ink and wanted some too.

“You’re going to regret this for the rest of your life,” Wells told her mother, Ginger Fleischer told her. Wells went ahead anyway.

She now calls it “her mistake from the 90s”. It’s a tribal pattern that was so popular back then. Luckily, she says, it’s small. She also has stars on her foot which she said she might cover at some point.

Winning $25,000 and appearing on the cover of a magazine would be amazing, Wells said. She said she would put most of the money into her children’s college fund and maybe finish her sleeve. After that, she thinks to start on one of her legs.

She said a single session can take six to eight hours.

As for her own children, Wells is preparing for the day when one or more of them will ask to get tattoos. Her eldest daughter has already expressed interest, she said.

“And I’ll say, ‘You’ll regret it or the rest of your life,'” Wells said. Not because she’s against ink. But teenagers may now have tastes that don’t reflect who they are as older adults.

For Wells, she chose to stick with black and gray realism, without garish colors or cartoon characters. “For me, I like clean and crisp,” she said. “It’s going to be on my body when I’m 90. I want to be able to tell what it is, not a colored stain.”

It was Wells’ mother who contacted the Daily Times about her daughter’s pageant hopes. Fleischer lives in Florida but wanted the local Wells newspaper to know about the big opportunity for his daughter. Wells moved from Florida four years ago.

Fleischer said she had three tattoos and that was enough for her. She agrees that well-made and thoughtful tattoos can tell a person’s story in a beautiful way.

“I think tattoos are a way of telling your life story or honoring someone or something special that touched your life,” Fleischer wrote in his email. “Leigha’s arm tells her of her love for her beautiful babies. …I think the world needs to see what a strong and wonderful young woman she is.