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Under the gun

The pros and cons for artists at tattoo expos

Tattoo guns were whirring and the Blue Lake Casino was jam packed with tattoo artists from around the country attending the 10th annual Inked Hearts tattoo expo. This past weekend they opened up their doors to roughly 50 artists who all specialize in various styles and techniques of their art.

Riley Smith is the owner of two tattoo shops, Lifetime Tattoo and Queen Bee, both located in Oregon. He is no stranger to expos, attending an average of 20 expos per year as well as being the founder of three expos himself. These expos are the Evergreen Tattoo Invitational, Evergreen Tattoo Champions and the 208 Boise Tattoo Fest.

“Actually it was a bit of a fluke, me and my business partner Josh McCarlton, he’s the master of realism tattoos, got together and decided we wanted to make tattoo shows better,” Smith said.

CAUDILLO.TATT (18).EXPO20190208.jpg Being tattooed by Jared Glassburn from Vancouver, WA. | Photo by Cassaundra Caudillo

“Of all the shows I do around the world this is my favorite show.”

Riley Smith

Having a long history with expos, he said that the best part of these expos is being able to see artists do what they’re best at, but did mention that expos aren’t the most ideal place to tattoo a person. However, he does have a high appreciation for Inked Hearts.

“I’m honored to be here,” Smith said. “Of all the shows I do around the world this is my favorite show.”

Nico Herring, an artist at Inkfatuation located in Port Hueneme, California, shared a lengthy list of both pros and cons, in which he agrees with Smith on some. Having attended expos in the past and specifically Inked Hearts twice, he had a few things to share.

“You get new clientele, you get to meet new artists from around the world, you get to see artists tattoo that you’ve been wanting to see,” Herring said. “Cons…traveling and having to fish for appointments, but normally there’s a lot of people that come so it’s not too big of a deal.”

CAUDILLO.TATT (17).EXPO20190208.jpg Michael Bales, artist from Texas, is tattooing a large quail and flowers in his original style. | Photo by Cassaundra Caudillo

Artists who attend these shows can make anywhere from $1,000 to $12,000 per expo weekend. There are some artists who find that despite making those few thousand it is difficult to break even when you take into consideration the traveling costs. These artists do agree that coming to these expos is worth the hours long drive or various flights.

First timer Ceka Kitami, from Faces in the Dark tattoo shop in Kyle, Texas, said that for her the most grueling part of an expo is the traveling. Her team and her had to fly to Humboldt with all of their supplies and then haul it to Blue Lake via car.

“I always learn something new every expo I go to, but the traveling and having to lug all of your stuff all around the world isn’t very fun,” Kitami said.

CAUDILLO.TATT (12).EXPO20190208.jpg Woman gets artwork done on her arm at the expo.

Joe Elliott, who owns Tattoo Joe’s out of Vacaville, California, mentions that he has been coming to Inked Hearts for nine straight years. He only does three shows a year and Inked Hearts is always one of them. He enjoys being able to catch up with old artist friends and see new talent.

“It’s like a working vacation,” Elliott said.

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