Tattoo expo showcases ink and holds contests

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Malik Shelp | The Daily Wildcat

Tattoo artist Anthony Michaels tattoos a client at the Tucson Tattoo Expo on March 5 at Hotel Tucson City Center. The expo featured tattoo contests as well as a car show.

Hotel Tucson City Center hosted the Ninth Annual Tucson Tattoo Expo this weekend, drawing in Tucson residents and visitors alike.

The expo began Friday and carried onto Sunday, holding events including live tattooing, tattoo contests, a Kustom Kulture car show, a charity auction and art fusion.

Erika Jo Smith, a local 27-year old tattoo artist from Marana tattoo shop Trinity Art Collective, said the expo was a place where artists and people come together. 

“My favorite part is the intimacy,” Smith said. “Everyone here isn’t here to compete but to do good pieces. I feel like Tucson is really overlooked, as far as talent goes. Tucson is a hidden treasure, and you see a lot of that here.” 

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With 40 booths inside, the expo showcased over 90 artists, each with something different to bring to the table. Most were tattooists specializing in various styles. Piercers also were at the event, as well as apparel vendors, selling t-shirts, pins, ink, art and other paraphernalia.

Chris Sanchez, a local 31-year old aircraft mechanic and greyscale tattoo enthusiast, said he was an expo regular and was pleased to acquire another shirt for his collection. 

Malik Shelp | The Daily Wildcat

The Fusion Tattoo Ink Booth showcases all of their inks at the Tucson Tattoo Expo at Hotel Tucson City Center on March 5. Various tattoo artists showcased their work at the expo.

“Every year is something different,” he said. “There’s always different people here. Different tattoos, different styles, and different everything.”

Jonathan Lewis, event organizer and a local tattoo artist at 4 Forty 4 Tattoo, helped with event advertising, calling and booking tattoo artists, announcing contests, setting up and offering his work for the charity auction. 

“I donate my own work,” Lewis said, referencing silicone tattooed arms donated for contest auctions. “I don’t like to ask others to do something that I’m not willing to do myself. I try to lead by example.” 

Last year, the expo raised over $1,200 for toys for Andrea’s Closet in Tucson Medical Center. This year, proceeds will be spent the same way to help kids in need.

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Nearly every booth at the expo was busy with someone getting inked. Some tattoos would take an hour while others, like those in contests, could take up to five hours or longer.

Amy Lyn, a 24-year-old attendee who has had tattoos since she was 14, was tattooed on her leg for seven hours and said her main form of entertainment was texting, talking and having attendees watch her leg be worked on. 

“[The decision for] it was spontaneous,” Lyn said. “The last minute of last week. The artist was doing a tattoo convention, and I was like ‘Great, let’s start my leg work.’ It was just something he designed.”

Malik Shelp | The Daily Wildcat

The Tucson Tattoo Expo in full swing on March 5 at Hotel Tucson City Center. The event lasted from March 3 to March 5.

This was tattoo artist Damon Kizer’s second time at the expo, Lyn’s first, and they agreed to meet at the event.

“This one is fairly small, and I like it like that,” Kizer said.  “At big ones, it’s more spread out, but here there’s more variety.”

Kizer’s favorite part was having enthusiasts pause to marvel at the process of the piece and placing her piece into one of the contests.

Doc Wells, a 36-year-old tattoo artist and a judge in Saturday’s contests, said he had to avoid bias when evaluating different works in contests and he typically doesn’t know the winners until after all three judges’ marks are evaluated. 

“Everyone is looking for something different, but we try to get the judges to get on the same page,” Wells said.  “We’re looking for technically well-done tattoos. As a tattooer, you should know what a technically well-done tattoo is, but sometimes you’re blind to your own stuff, and you have to be aware of that.”

Different contests throughout the convention included Best Aztec, Best Traditional, Best Color Realism, Best Sleeve and Best Large Color.

For the Kustom Kulture car show, street rods, hot rods, lowriders and vintage vehicles were showcased Saturday, competing for contests ranging from Best Sled to Best Lowrider.

A list of attending artists can be found on the expo’s website at www.tucsontattooexpo.com.


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