The body’s a canvas waiting for painting
Baltimore’s Tattoo Arts Convention attracts thousands of enthusiasts
The lobby of the Baltimore Convention Center presented a study in contrast Saturday afternoon.
On one side, a crowd featuring fuchsiacolored hair, rainbow ink-dyed arms and shiny silver piercings from head to toe lined up to enter the Baltimore Tattoo Arts Convention. On the other side, preteen girls in sparkly sapphire and gold leotards and foot-long ponytail bows walked toward a cheerleading and dance competition.
As the girls headed upstairs, the tattoo enthusiasts moved to the main floor for the second day of their three-day event, now in its 10th year. The convention concludes today.
More than 10,000 people were expected this year, said organizer Troy Timpel of Villain Arts. Timpel said one of the trends he’s noticed in recent years has been the presence of more women. He estimated about 60 percent of attendees were women.
The tattoo convention room was a feast for people-watchers. A sea of body artists populated dozens of booths topped with skulls, colorful ink and exotic designs. The music of Journey, Kanye West and AC/DC streamed out of the stalls while herbalsmelling electronic cigarette exhaust hung in the air, even though signs and announcements specifically requested “no vaping.”
In the stage area, a purple-haired woman swung through the air suspended by a cable attached to four hooks plunged into the skin on her back. Onlookers stood by, taking cellphone video.
One of the primary draws for the attendees are popular tattoo artists from cable television shows like “Ink Master,” who have made the tattoo world more accessible, Timpel said.
Like professional wrestlers, many of the artists have developed their own personas. At one booth was Lydia Bruno, a “Black Widow” character on “Ink Master” who likes to draw cartoon tattoos and whose famous television moment was telling off one of her hometown friends.
“She couldn’t stand the pressure,” Bruno said, “so I told her to ‘stop being a little crying [expletive].’ ”
Across from her booth was Jason Vaughn, who said he likes to draw Japanese art and says his best television moment was being called out after accidentally drawing two right feet on a pinup he was tattooing on a customer.
“I really think the only time she found out was when it was on TV.”
Down the row was artist Steve Tefft of Connecticut, the winner of Season 2 of “Ink Master.” Sitting in Tefft’s tattoo chair was Dawn Sylvester, 49, of Edgewater, waiting to have her first tattoo — an ankle bracelet featuring a cross and the initials of her three children.
“I’ve been trying to get my tattoo with him for three years,” Sylvester said. “But I always had work or something to do with one of my kids. I feel like if I’m going to get my first tattoo, who better to do it than an Ink Master?”
Sylvester, a legal assistant, had intended to get her tattoo the day before but chickened out. Saturday afternoon, she brought courage in the form of a friend who gave her sips of pinot grigio and told her “I’ll sit on you” if she tried to get up. Sylvester’s 14-year-old daughter held her hand and told her, “You have to do this.”
Her daughter confided to a reporter: “I still don’t feel like she’s going to do this. I think as soon as the needle hits the ankle she’s going to say, ‘I’m going home.’ ”
But Sylvester persisted and after two hours declared herself pleased.
On the other side of the convention hall, artist Jason Ackerman of New York inked a slice of cake on the calf of Sara Blades of Long Island, N.Y.
“My late husband always said ‘piece of cake’ whenever I asked him to do anything,” Blades said. “I wanted a tattoo for him.”
Nicky Hennerez, a tattoo artist from Crofton, works on a design at the Baltimore Tattoo Arts Convention. This is the 10th year for the convention.