When Jaimie Alexander’s amnesiac character turns up naked in the middle of Times Square, she doesn’t just become a mystery for FBI agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton) to solve; her more than 200 tattoos transform her into a walking map of clues for viewers to decipher.
And according to the show’s tattoo designer Christien Tinsley, those hundreds of tattoos take six hours, three artists, and an extremely patient Alexander to apply.
“It’s an extensive amount of time to get the tattoos applied to Jaimie when we do the full look,” he tells EW. “It essentially works like a three-dimensional puzzle. You have to find your anchor—the hip pieces—and then we work moving south and north from there. You have to go in a very, very specific order to make the puzzle work. If you’re off in any degree, something’s going to overlap, and it just takes that time to connect the pieces correctly.”
Tinsley, who previously designed tattoos for shows like American Horror Story, True Blood, and Prison Break, says all the effort is to make the mystery as deep as possible. “We’ve put together this Rubik’s Cube of ideas,” he explains. “If you look really closely, you’ll see there’s layer upon layer upon layer, but you’ll still probably not find all the little things we’ve snuck in.”
And in the first look image above, Alexander’s back is covered in a complex web of tattoos. Each one is applied the same way you would apply a temporary drug store tattoo—by adding water and carefully peeling off the paper—but Tinsley says the ones on Alexander’s body are much more durable, made of stronger adhesive and ink that attaches to the skin and can last through about three days of activity, including stunt work.
When it came to designing them, Tinsley focused on distinguishing between the tattoos by size and concept. He calls the large ones—like the spiral on her left hip, his favorite piece—”landmark” tattoos that attract the eye, while the ones between those landmarks are accents of red, blue, and green, colors that he says help the entire look give off an “inviting softness.”
“When you look at it as a whole, it has to flow like a suit. Otherwise, it looks sloppy and blocky,” he says. “Our job is to come up with a beauty to the chaos… What we’ve attempted to do is to make people say, ‘Can we get closer?’ We want people to want to understand them more.”
In other words, the tattoos covering Alexander’s body turn her into a human I Spy book. Some viewers, for example, will spot the “Kurt Weller” tattoo on her back first, while others will be drawn to the emblem on the base of her spine. Tinsley notes that each of the tattoos offer some meaning to the show, so none of the tattoo designs his team created repeat patterns or concepts.
As for Alexander? Tinsley says she’s been the perfect canvas, spending each six-hour session chatting, listening to music, and carefully maintaining the tattoos—even though she has to allow him and his team to wrap her nude body in ink every time.
“It is really above and beyond, to stand there for six hours and have people touch you and poke at you and push things onto you and wet you down with water,” he says, adding that Alexander enjoyed having the tattoos on so much she would ask to have them applied even when they weren’t needed for a scene. “She came at this like a champ.”
Blindspot debuts Sept. 21 at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.
An edited version of this story ran in Entertainment Weekly issue #1371-1372, on newsstands Friday, July 3.
Click here for more of Entertainment Weekly‘s Comic-Con coverage.