The once empty, open exhibition center was filled with the sound of hundreds of buzzing tattoo machines. Incredible art of all kinds, perfected with hours of sketching and pure skill could be seen at every turn–on the walls, in artists’ portfolios, and even on those covered in tattoos. It wasn’t possible to walk into the convention without being enveloped by a feeling of welcomeness and inclusivity after being greeted by a friendly, helpful artist at their stand.
The Milwaukee Tattoo Arts Convention, located at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee, is held every year from September 15-17. The convention was radiating with excitement and acceptance this year. Tattoo artists were ready to show off their skills and artwork to eager tattoo collectors of all kinds.
There were a plethora of stands occupied with welcoming artists at the convention, ready to show off their work. The tattooists specialized in a wide range of art, from traditional styled tattoos to drawings of cute animals.
“I specialize in cute animals,” said Andrea Thornton, tattoo artist of 11 years. “Like retro vintage ones on birthday and Valentine’s Day cards.”
Artists were ready to tattoo just about anything. They proudly had their own work on display, offering to tattoo their original pieces on willing customers, but they would also tattoo different artwork upon request.
“I tattooed a pickle on someone today,” Thornton said.
Tattoo artist Jordan Clough was also proud to show off his work. One of his pieces was able to be seen live on Amber Jetmund, who sported an intricate jellyfish tattooed on her head.
The artists have done it all. Not only were they proud to tattoo new artwork, but some also specialized in covering up regrettable tattoos. Ron Sailor, a cover-up specialist, could transform a mistake into a masterpiece.
“A girl had a playboy bunny right between her boobs,” Sailor said. “I covered it with a bouquet of flowers.”
Tattoo collectors were quick to sit down with artists. At nearly every stand, there was a tattoo artist hard at work. Victoria Chudy, a convention attendee, had her entire leg wrapped up in plastic. Ashley Neumann from Rockstar Tattoo had worked on Chudy’s leg for hours at the convention that day.
Tattoos hold a massive amount of meaning to some. Chudy proudly showed off her favorite tattoo – one that featured all of her children’s birth dates.
Stereotypes against tattoos were quick to be crushed at the convention. Jason Kobishop, founder of Bound by Blood, a clothing brand developed to spread a message of peace, equality and unity, was happy to squash negative connotations against tattoos. His clothing brand reaches those who are tattooed because they are used to being judged based on their appearances.
“A lot of my customers are tattooed,” Kobishop said. “Just because you’re fully tattooed doesn’t mean you fit in a stereotype.”
Eddy Bernotas, a tattoo artist of 10 years, was also happy to send a message to those who have made judgements against those who are tattooed.
“Everyone has something they like that someone doesn’t, whether it be food, religion or politics,” Bernotas said. “It doesn’t mean they’re different.”
If there was one thing convention-goers could take away from the convention, it was that they were welcome here.
“This is who we are,” said Nikki Kullman, who has helped tattoo artists at the convention for three years. “You only get to have one body.”