Visitors to tattoo convention get body work done

More than 5,000 people attend the annual event

September 13, 2010|By Eileen Ambrose, The Baltimore Sun

Plenty of skulls, dragons and elaborate flowers were on display at the Baltimore Tattoo Arts Convention on Sunday — but not so much the traditional "Mom" enshrined in a heart.

"This crowd is a bit younger; it's a bit hipper," explained Paul Roe, a Washington tattoo artist attending the event.

More than 5,000 ink enthusiasts attended the fifth annual convention in downtown Baltimore, according to promoter Troy Timpel. The three-day event, which concluded on Sunday, featured about 220 artists, seminars on technique, and entertainment by Enigma, a man whose body is covered with tattoos resembling blue puzzle pieces.

But many visitors Sunday came to the convention to lift their shirts and get some work done.

One of them was Jason Wright of Delaware, who sat patiently while an artist inked a tiger surrounded by a circle of bamboo on the 26-year-old's left shoulder. The elaborate work was expected to take up to five hours. Tattoo artist Phil Gallagher of Salisbury usually charges up to $500 for such extensive work, but Wright got a repeat-customer discount.

If Sunday's crowd was any indication, customers want dragons, intricate flowers and abstract designs that are big enough to cover most of a limb.

Traditional tattoos like "Mom" went out in the early 1990s, replaced by names of loved ones, Gallagher said. But he tries to talk customers out of committing to a name.

"It jinxes a relationship," said the artist, adding that he and his wife have been married for 27 years without having each other's moniker on body parts.

"Generally, about 99 percent of the names that I do I cover up in about 6 months," he said. "If they insist on doing it, I will do it. …The whole time I'm doing it I'm thinking about how am I going to cover it up."

Tattoo artists say once a person gets a tattoo, it becomes addictive and others quickly follow. Indeed, the ink wasn't even dry on Wright's tattoo and he already had his next one picked out.

Is this needle-point art painful?

"Don't let anyone tell you that it's not," said Tiffany Weigle, an artist from Pennsylvania. But for some stressed-out individuals, going under the needle can actually be relaxing, she said.

"You had a hard day, you're angry about something. Sometimes having that pain released in another form takes it out," she said.

Some of the tattoos done at the convention entered contests, where judges evaluated them on clean lines, good color, strong execution and placement — which is another way of saying that the tattoo doesn't twist out of shape when a person moves.

With so many visitors already sporting tattoos, the people who stood out at the convention were those with no body art.

Don Burgess, a T-shirt vendor from Virginia, attends dozens of tattoo conventions annually but said he can't explain why he hasn't gotten one himself.

"I feel naked," said the 48-year-old. But he added that those with tattoos are a tolerant group.

"They really are pretty cool about it. Sometimes you'll see their T-shirts that say, 'Don't tease the non-tattooed.'"

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com

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