The body’s a can­vas wait­ing for paint­ing

Baltimore’s Tat­too Arts Con­ven­tion at­tracts thou­sands of en­thu­si­asts

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Cather­ine Rentz

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.

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