Thinking about getting a new tattoo? Maybe you’re a rookie getting inked for the first time — or a decorated vet adding to your collection. Either way, there will be a lot of skin art to survey this weekend when more than 150 tattoo artists from around the country and as far away as Japan converge to tempt curious onlookers at the Minneapolis Tattoo Arts Convention.
Brandon Heffron, owner of Beloved Studios in St. Paul, will be there. He’ll even be tattooing some of his regular clients right on the convention floor. But why would a person want to get inked in public?
“It’s a change of environment, with a little more excitement,” Heffron said. On the spectator side, conventions offer a good opportunity for the curious. “People can stop by and see the process and shoot out questions, like ‘How long does it take?’ and ‘Does that hurt?’ It’s more welcoming to the general public. People are welcome at a tattoo shop, but they feel less committed at a convention.”
Now in its fifth year, the convention, held at the Hyatt, has nearly doubled in size, from 60 booths the first year to 110 this year. “There’s a lot of good talent in Minneapolis,” said event organizer Troy Timpel of Villain Arts, which produces several tattoo conventions around the country.
Last year’s show drew 4,500 visitors.
Some artists will be available for tattoos on the spot, Timpel said, including reality TV celebrities Amy Nicoletto of “LA Ink,” Alli Baker of “Best Ink,” Kyle Dunbar of “Ink Master,” Billy Decola (formerly of “NY Ink”) and Philadelphia Eddie. “They are there for autographs and tattooing all weekend. It gives the public a chance to meet and talk or get tattooed by the people on the TV shows.”
Heffron, who specializes in custom work, plans to be inking pre-created designs onto his regular clientele, such as part of an intricate leg sleeve he’s creating for a longtime client, depicting the Biblical plagues.
“The theme we’ll be working on is flies,” Heffron said. “It’s the third installment. We’ve done locusts and frogs.”
The tattoo industry has evolved greatly in the 15 years since he got his start, Heffron said. Back then, “there was a stigma attached, a negative stereotype associated with the work and the artist.” But technical quality and public acceptance have evolved significantly in recent years, to the point that tattoo art is now “more mainstream,” he said. (So mainstream, in fact, that last week the New York Times Style section featured a story on the latest trend: the ear tattoo, a style inspired by singer Rihanna.)
“Trends start with celebrities, and hit the coasts first — we’re a little behind here,” said Heffron, who recalled doing only one ear tattoo — a little flower — years ago.
“We’re not necessarily the trendy shop,” he added. “We deal with serious collectors — people who have seen our work, and we create something unique and custom to that individual.”
Adding to the spectacle
If you’re just looking for some unusual entertainment, you’ll find that at the convention, too, according to Timpel. Sideshow performers include the Enigma: “His whole body is tattooed, including the whites of his eyes,” Timpel said. “He swallows lit neon swords, and cuts an apple with a live chain saw in his mouth. It’s quite the thing to see.”
There will be burlesque performers, including Black Hearts Burlesque troupe of Minneapolis, and “suspension shows — where people hang from the ceiling from hooks in their bodies.”
If that description makes you feel a little squeamish, you’re not the first, according to Timpel. “We’ve definitely had a person faint watching it.”