All words: Toni Tileva
All photos: Mark Zimin
This year’s Baltimore Tattoo Convention was slightly less raucous and frenetic than last year’s, but what it lacked in hype and clamor, it certainly compensated with the sights and sounds of hundreds of buzzing needles—almost all of the artists were assiduously tattooing, which is quite unusual considering how large the convention is. In other words, the “we are so busy” mantra I kept hearing translated to the convention as well. Tattoos are in(k) and they are here to stay, boldly splashing across the public’s imagination and remaining intensely personal yet defiantly public in their statements. Tattoos have firmly solidified their place in what is considered “art” and the artists who create them have fully reveled in the opportunity to showcase their work on mobile canvasses.
Tattoo conventions are truly communal and inclusive. They present opportunities for people to show support for their favorite artists by getting tattooed there or entering competitions. For others, it’s a chance to meet and see the work of artists they would otherwise not be able to. Then, of course there is the entertainment—sideshows, like The Enigma and Serana Rose, and suspensions (not for the faint of heart).
This year’s convention featured a lot of the local shops who were also at the DC Tattoo Expo, as well as some “celebratooists” like Ink Master winner, Shane O’Neill, and Ink Master finalist, James Vaugh, as well as the crew from VH1’s reality show Black Ink, who were funnily enough attracting Justin Bieber-like-hysteria levels of photo-op-seekers. Piercing guru Steve Truitt was also in attendance.
Marlowe Ink’s Steph Damiano and I shared a laugh over her being erroneously featured on the site as Stephanie Damiand, which she promptly called a “stripper name.” Anything referencing gemstones or diamonds definitely fits that category. James Marlowe, a really respected and sought-out artist, has been tattooing for 25 years and the shop attracts people looking for his custom work. Steph has “only” been tattooing for 5 years, but her folky, vintage-leaning style is really singular, fresh, and indelibly her own. “I have been getting a lot of requests for women’s faces with animals engulfing the top of their heads. Even though 5 years is not a terribly long time, I am going to stick with this. There is no other job where you feel like you are constantly learning and growing.”
Citizen Ink’s Joe Khay, who is originally from Georgia and has been tattooing for the last 10 years, also specializes in neo-traditional, Americana-influenced tattoos. “The tattoo industry has really changed from the 80s and 90s. The clientele has \wizened up and we get a lot of people approaching us with this very European type mentality to the work—they have an idea of what they want, but also trust the artist to draw the piece. They give us more liberty and have done their homework more—it’s a matter of trust. Of course, we still get the kids that want to have ‘faith’ tattooed on their arm, but they are no longer the norm.”
Springfield’s Way Of Ink received several honors during the tattoo competition—1st place for large black & gray and 3rd place for small color. Duong has been tattooing for 15 years and specializes in Asian-themed pieces. The Way Of Ink table is also a testament to the bond that people develop with their artist—there is always a large crew, an extended family, really, who are all too happy to keep entering competitions and promoting the work of their favorite artist.
Virginia-based Rick’s Tattoos is the oldest shop in the area, having been around for 33 years.Rhiannon August, apprenticed with Rick, who has been tattooing for 43 years. In response to what she has been tattooing a lot of this year, she responded “lots of pin ups and some abstract flower pieces.”
British Ink’s Aaron Trimiar was working for close to 4 hours on a beautiful back piece of a ship on a client who had literally just met him. “I have been doing a lot of Afro-centric pin ups this year, a lot of black and gray work. I feel like I am right where I need to be with tattooing. It allows me to constantly learn and grow as an artist. I am a tattoo artist, but I am also an artist, period. I am always working on sketchbooks and developing my art this way. It’s really the best occupation anybody could have.”
And that is a sentiment that seemed to be shared by many of his comrades in needles.