A liv­ing can­vas

Artists armed with nee­dles, cus­tomers seek­ing body art come to­gether for pic­tures here, there, ev­ery­where

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY DONNA ST. GE­ORGE

A tat­too expo makes for a col­or­ful week­end in Crys­tal City.

So much skin, so many pos­si­bil­i­ties to ink.

Shirts are off, shoul­ders are bared, and pant legs are hiked up at a high-rise ho­tel in Ar­ling­ton, where the buzz of tat­too ma­chines com­petes with heavy metal an­thems and where inked art spreads across bod­ies like Tracy Tay­lor’s.

Tay­lor’s up­per arm evokes Alice in Won­der­land, with a ver­sion of her­self as Alice near a blue cater­pil­lar on a mush­room. Now, af­ter al­most five hours of painstak­ing work, her lower arm is a pinup girl as the white rab­bit, set near a watch with the word late.

“I live in Won­der­land, so it’s just my world,” said Tay­lor, a 20-year-old singer-song­writer from Gainesville.

This is tat­too No. 8 for Tay­lor, who’s at­tend­ing the DC Tat­too Arts Expo, at the Crys­tal City Dou­ble­tree un­til Sun­day, and this statis­tic could place her among be­gin­ning col­lec­tors.

Mandy Searer, 31, of North Carolina lost count a long time ago (“I couldn’t even take a guess”) and was be­ing tat­tooed on a two-inch open spot at the tip of her el­bow. Her tat­too was a pink-and-white num­ber. “Lucky 13,” she said. Searer has been though a lot — a divorce, a bleak job hunt. “I need some luck in my life right now,” she said.

“Oh, I like that,” she told tat­too artist Kevin Ku­rant of Detroit as he fin­ished the piece. “It’s per­fect.”

There were more than 70 booths with sim­i­lar scenes un­fold­ing — hours of work on still bod­ies, pain from the nee­dles, art emerg­ing from ink across a wide and bril­liant color spec­trum: Skulls, flow­ers, por­traits, Ja­panese de­signs, memo­ri­als.

Lately, some tat­too artists say that larger de­signs are big­ger than ever be­cause, as expo pro­moter Greg Piper said, “It’s harder to get a look with a lot of small tat­toos.” Those done as “sleeves” that en­velop an arm or as full-back art are pop­u­lar, he said.

Small tat­toos are “ like tak­ing a big can­vas and paint­ing some­thing lit­tle in the corner,” said Aaron Bell, 44, a tat­too artist from

“I love be­ing a walk­ing piece of art. I dreamt about this last night. I’ve been talk­ing about it for weeks.”

Tracy Tay­lor, 20-year-old singer-song­writer from


Seat­tle. Larger work can be more ex­pres­sive, he said, think­ing of it as a choice be­tween “a col­lage or a pal­pa­ble piece of art.”

Jonathan Vega, 29, of Al­len­town, went all out for the big cre­ation, etched over his back dur­ing six hours: a heaven and hell piece, with demons com­ing out of rocks and an­gels fight­ing them with swords — set be­low an ear­lier tat­too evok­ing Michelan­gelo’s God.

“It’s the ev­ery­day bat­tle of good and evil,” Vega said. “Ev­ery­one has choices of good and bad.”

Les Boyd, a Uni­ver­sity of West Vir­ginia grad­u­ate stu­dent, cel­e­brated his 25th birth­day by get­ting tat­tooed across his right calf — a fierce red Ja­panese mask of ag­gres­sion, not far from an­other mask de­pict­ing a lov­ing, re­spon­si­ble, guardian of oth­ers.

“It’s find­ing that bal­ance be­tween your im­pulses and de­sires, and your re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and morals,” he said.

Get­ting a tat­too, Boyd said, “ hurts like hell” but it’s “one of those things where you want it, and then, once you get it, you fall in love with it.”

In an era of the tat­too-stu­dio re­al­ity show “LA Ink,” more at­ten­tion has come to the tat­too world, and per­haps more di­ver­sity.

“I’ve tat­tooed ve­gans, and I’ve tat­tooed hunters,” said Ed Lott, 38, a Seat­tle artist. “Peo­ple you’d never imag­ine are tat­tooed. Peo­ple can be com­pletely suited un­der their clothes.”

Even politi­cians, he added, re­minded of his lo­ca­tion in Washington.


“Well, I tat­tooed a Repub­li­can assem­bly per­son,” he said. Think flo­ral. So it was for Karen Van Name, 31, who works for a de­fense con­trac­tor and wanted a new tat­too on her shoul­der to ob­scure a killer-whale done when she was 18.

Now she was go­ing for an ar­ray of lilies af­ter re­cently get­ting a yel­low rose tat­too be­hind her ear in me­mory of her grand­mother. Down the road: three but­ter­flies, one for each of her three daugh­ters.

“I like scrap­book­ing, and I think of this as a scrap­book I can take ev­ery­where with me,” she said.

Por­traits also are com­mon, and Jen White, 31, was sport­ing one of her de­ceased pit bull, Pre­cious. White works at Naked Art Tat­toos in Oden­ton, Md., where she had it done by her artist col­league, Sean “Halo” Jankowski, 27.

Jankowski — with a mo­hawk, pierc­ings and an un­told num­ber of his own tat­toos — was busy with free-style art on the expo’s open­ing day, recre­at­ing the fore­arm of John Et­man, 64, a client who flew in from Texas.

“We’re kind of just mak­ing it up,” Jankowski said, work­ing on a skull de­sign with an air­brushed qual­ity.

“I fi­nally found a true artist,” Et­man said.

Some at the expo say this is what tat­too­ing is all about, in­clud­ing Tay­lor, whose Alice in Won­der­land tat­too was done by Rhi­an­non Au­gust of Rick’s Tat­toos in Ar­ling­ton.

“I love be­ing a walk­ing piece of art,” she says. “I dreamt about this last night. I’ve been talk­ing about it for weeks.”


At top, tat­tooed stars and spots dec­o­rate the head of Sean “Halo” Jankowski, 27, of Brook­lyn, Md. Above, Am­ber Rose, cen­ter, of Raleigh, N.C., gets a tat­too byMikeHay­ley of the tat­too shopWar­lock’s, near Raleigh. The Ar­ling­ton event has drawn more than 100 tat­too artists.

Top left: Chris De Ar­mas, 23, of Orange, Calif., shows a por­tion of a tat­too on his left arm that rep­re­sents a tran­si­tion from chaos to peace. “Ev­ery­thing on me rep­re­sentsmy life,” De Ar­mas says.

Tat­too artist Jay Quar­les of Queen ofHearts Tat­too in Nashville works on a Kurt Cobain ren­der­ing for Quinn At­tika of Sil­ver Spring at the DC Tat­too Arts Expo in Ar­ling­ton.

Left mid­dle: Po­lice of­fi­cer Steve Mor­ri­son, 39, ofWood­bridge shows a tat­too por­tray­ing the war in Heaven.

Up­per right: Duffy Forner, 24, of Calvert County shows her knuck­les as she poses for a por­trait. She said she had the mes­saged inked on her hands when she was in search of love.

Bot­tom left: Melissa Bell, 40, of Seat­tle shows off sev­eral por­traits on her left leg, in­clud­ing Abra­ham Lin­coln, Franken­stein and Al­bert Ein­stein. She says she got the tat­too of Lin­coln as a good luck charm.

Be­low right: Kait­lyn Cooper, 25, of Bal­ti­more poses for a por­trait. She said the tat­too was in­spired by the sugar skulls that are as­so­ci­ated with the Day of the Dead. The expo con­cludes Sun­day and in­cludes more than 100 tat­too artists.

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