The third annual DC Tattoo Expo certainly rivaled last year’s Baltimore Tattoo Convention in scope and substance.
Tattoos have long emerged from their subcultural roots and shed their “freak factor” cloak to boldly display their palettes, telling a story both about their owners and the artists who created them. Intensely public, yet simultaneous deeply personal, tattoos are pushing artistic boundaries in all sorts of strINK ways.
For many, conventions are the best place to get work done by artists they might not normally have access to. For others, it’s an opportunity to show support to their favorite artists by getting tattooed at the convention and showcasing the artists’ work. For others, it’s simply a chance to find some community and colorful camaraderie and enjoy the experience as an art show.
So what’s “in” in ink this year? “Portraits, divinity symbols of all kinds,” explains Paul Loh of Occoquan’s True Love Always Tattoo Studio. “Ribs are really big this year…probably due to workplace appropriateness concerns. The skin is really soft there, but it is super painful and people always move when I am tattooing them there. I am hoping the ribs become ‘the new tramp stamp’ because it is so hard to do them,” he says jokingly. When I spoke to him, he was tattooing an intricate African mask piece on Erick Atkinson, who had other similar designs in homage to his heritage. The time requirement–three hours…lest you had any illusions about how quickly even outline-only pieces take.
Fernando Prudencio, of the very popular H Street tattoo shop British Ink, chimes with his most popular tattoo requests: “Since we only do appointments and no walk-ins, we get a bit of a different client subset. A LOT of DC flags! And believe it or not, whatever celebrities are getting is really big. I did a TON of infinity symbols with the words ‘family’ or ‘love’ underneath this year. A lot feathers breaking into birds. When Rihanna got those Roman numerals…that too.”
Ink Master winner, Shane O’Neill,specializes in portraits, the hot item du jour for a good while now. As he explains, however, the portraits are not always in memoriam–they are often just a way to wear one’s heart and loved ones on one’s sleeve, literally. Annaliese Yoder got a portrait at Infamous Tattoos[Shane’s shop] of her grandfather, who is from Hamelin, the Pied Piper town in Germany. At the base of his feet are five mice, representing her aunts and nieces, a play on words. Ruben Cotreras got the face of Maria Felix, “Mexico’s Marilyn Monroe,” by Tommy Montoya in New York. Ink Master has been great in getting the word out about artists. Shane explains that before the show it might have taken 6-8 months to get an appointment; he is booked a year in a half in advance now, with frequent trips to Europe. Fellow Ink Master finalist, James Vaughn, was also staying busy, tattooing a sleeve on Tamara Ellis, working on his signature large Japanese-themed pieces.