Ashley Sorenson grimaced in pain as she lay on her side, exposing her abdomen to hundreds of passersby as she got her first tattoo.
“I’ve wanted one for a long time, but I didn’t know what I wanted done,” said Sorenson, 38, of Elk River.
Her boyfriend, Phil Buhay, bought her the tattoo as a Christmas gift and thought the Minneapolis Tattoo Arts Convention, which runs through Sunday, would be the place to do it. A movie gave Sorenson the inspiration for the wording being etched into her rib cage: “Make a choice to take a chance or life will never change.”
Now in its sixth year, the convention, held at the Hyatt Regency, drew squeamish first-timers and longtime collectors sporting more than 50 illustrations. Images ranged from inspirational messages to suns melting on acid — and everything in between.
Buzzing needles reverberated off the showroom walls as artists tattooed regulars and walk-ins, human portfolios for their work.
An abundance of talented older tattoo artists has created “a really high-quality scene here,” said event promoter Troy Timpel, of Villain Arts, which produces several tattoo conventions around the country.
More than 250 artists and vendors from around the world attended. Organizers expected about 5,000 visitors throughout the weekend.
Tattoos have become mainstream as a negative stereotype has started to diminish. More than one in five Americans have a tattoo, according to a Pew Research poll from 2010. And almost one-third of people ages 30 to 45 have at least one.
“I used to like to say that I tattoo everyone from the criminal to the cop that arrests him to the lawyer that gets him off,” Timpel said.
Even his 85-year-old grandmother has one: a small cross.
“It’s not just sailors and gangsters that have them — it’s everybody,” explained artist Matthew Sevig, of the Ink Well Tattoo in Anoka.
Sevig coaxed Sorenson through her tattoo Saturday morning.
“It’s really nerve-racking [for them] so you have to make sure they’re comfortable,” said Sevig, who has two sleeves himself; one he did on his own for practice.
Reality TV celebrities Alli Baker of “Best Ink,” Kyle Dunbar of “Ink Master,” and Shanghai Kate of the “Tattoo Nation” movie were offering autographs.
But the convention also hosted some unusual live entertainment.
Sideshow performers include the Enigma: a giant blue human puzzle whose whole body is tattooed, including the whites of his eyes. His act includes swallowing lit neon swords.
It’s hard to miss the suspension shows — people hanging from the ceiling from hooks in their skin.
“It’s an eyeful,” Timpel said. “You’ll see things you’ve never seen in your life.”