Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention 2012: Ink Outside the Box
The Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention, one of the largest Tattoo related festivals in the country, was held over the weekend at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Presented by Villain Arts, it’s a three day extravaganza celebrating the holy union of ink and skin.
After fighting through insanely crowded conditions at the Sheraton Convention Center in 2010 and 2011, we were pleased that the three day festival of ink had been moved to a larger space with a more open floor plan. Although the crowds still packed into the convention on all three days (most noticeably on Saturday), there was still room to navigate down the rows of artists and vendors who had come from all over the region, country, and world to showcase their talents and wares.
The back corner of the space held the stage (used for demonstrations, tattoo contests, and shows), as well as tables where several charitable foundations were handing out information and speaking to patrons. There was also food, and of course, several bars.
While the Tattoo Arts Convention focuses mainly on the art of tattooing, there are also booths/artists featuring piercing, scarification, body modification, and yes, even tattoo removal.
Tattoo related reality shows are all the rage these days and there were stars on hand from NY Ink (Chris Torres & Megan), L.A. Ink (Amy Nicoletto), and several other programs. There were porn stars, at least one WWE superstar, and the best people-watching you could ever hope for.
Tattoo artists are some of the most talented people on the planet. The fact that their canvases are the bodies of other human beings, adds a whole other dimension to their art. Their drawings and sketches are impressive on paper but to see the works of art come to life on skin is magical, although not always for the faint of heart.
As we’d done in years past, we wanted to get a first person perspective on getting inked at the convention. We teamed up with Clay Smith of 717 Tattoos to get some fresh ink (an artistic tattoo of a compass) and a fresh perspective on the life of a tattoo artist.
Independent Philly: How long have you been working as a tattoo artist?
Clay Smith: I’ve been working as a professional artist for around 5 years. I had an apprenticeship that lasted a little over a year before that.
IP: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve done for someone?
CS: I don’t really have what you would call a “favorite”. I guess I would say the ones I like best are the ones I’ve put on my girlfriend, and body piercer at our Mechanicsburg location, Skelly. I’ve done a gypsy head, an all seeing eye, and a concept lily deal on her hand. We are working on tying that into a half sleeve right now. I also really like the Ryan Dunn and Bob Ross portraits, as well as the crow and snake sleeve, the nun in the gas mask, and the realistic hummingbird.
IP: What is the longest you’ve ever worked on a single tattoo (total ink time)?
CS: I’ve worked on a tattoo that was an entire half sleeve and chest plate that took over 25 hours to complete.
IP: How many tattoos do you have yourself? What was your first? Most recent?
CS: I have a complete half sleeve on my right arm, a piece on the right side of my chest, 4 or 5 tattoos on each leg, and some letters on my right wrist that were done when i was 15 years old with a sewing needle and india ink (dumb i know, but i was 15)! That was my first tattoo. My latest one is a black flag with laurels on my ankle done by Stephan at the 717 location i work at in Highspire, PA.
IP: Tell us a bit about 717 Tattoos…
CS: I work at the Highspire location for 717 Tattoos. It is one of 4 locations in the Central PA area. I work with some great artists, and a great body piercer, in a clean, professional, drama-free environment. I’m so happy to be working in such a place. So often artists have to sacrifice their morals/standards because of the shop they work in or the coworkers they work with. I am very lucky to not have to do that. my co workers (Stephan, Shelby, and Joe) are some really awesome artists, and i enjoy working with them while learning and growing off of each other. We are open 7 days a week 12pm-9pm. We are located at 313 2nd Street, Highspire PA 17034. The phone number is (717) 939-7717 “Helping you look better naked…”
IP: What made you decide to become a tattoo artist?
CS: I’ve always been an artist, mainly working in oil paints, graphite, charcoal, and digital mediums. I went to Carver Center for Arts and Technology for visual arts in high school where I took college level AP fine art classes. My graduating class was number one in the world for the AP studio fine art exams for 2005. I scored a 5, which is the highest score given for that exam. When deciding on the answer to the good old question “what do you want to do with your life?”, I realized from looking at my father’s situation, where he has a bachelors in economics from Amherst university and a masters in business administration from Columbia, yet still gets laid off, has trouble finding work because he is “over qualified”, and generally doesn’t get to spend any time doing what he wants to do (or with family) because he works himself to death to pay for it all, that’s not what I wanted to do. The last thing I wanted was to join the rat race. I figured art was something that I do when I’m not getting paid for it, and would continue to do if I wasn’t getting paid for it. It’s something that I feel happy about when I think about it and I don’t dread going to work. I get to create something new that means something to people everyday; I wouldn’t be able to get that anywhere else. There is also a sense of independence as a tattoo artist that you don’t get from many jobs.
IP: What would you say to someone who is strongly considering a tattoo but hasn’t pulled the trigger on getting it done?
CS: I would say to seriously think about what tattoo you are getting ready to get, and have a solid idea when walking in the door. Do some research and see what can be done in the world of tattoos nowadays, and look through portfolios until you find an artist whose style really appeals to you. Once you’ve done that, you can approach that artist with your idea and have faith that he/she will come out with something you really love. HAVE FAITH IN YOUR ARTIST. I would also say not to sacrifice your idea because of price or pain. Tattoos are on your body for the rest of your life. If you like your artist’s work, and trust him/her, pay what they ask. If you do, your tattoo will come out better and you will be more happy with it.
IP: How did you enjoy this year’s Philadelphia Tattoo Convention? What was the craziest thing you saw?
CS: This was only my second convention (working), so for me it was very fun but also very stressful. I had a great time though, met some great artists and some great people, and did some fun tattoos, so it was a good experience. I’ve seen some pretty crazy stuff in my times so it’s relatively hard to shock me at this point. Some of the craziest things I saw were some of the tattoos being done by some really great artists.
IP: When it comes to inking, what do you consider you specialties?
CS: I like to think I’m a relatively well rounded artist. I like to do things that have more of an artistic value like scenery and pseudo-realistic/surreal stuff. I’ve been getting into more of the color bomb type of stuff, I wouldn’t really call it “new school” but it leans in that direction. I just like to tattoo.
IP: What’s the biggest tattoo myth you can dispel for us?
CS: I’d like to dispel the myth that people with tattoos are criminals, gangsters, trouble makers, scumbags etc. This myth leads to other myths, like tattoos affect how well you do your job, that people with tattoos are dirty etc., and other stereotypes that are unnecessary. In fact, most of the people I’ve met with a lot of tattoos, and those I’ve tattooed, are some the nicest, most outgoing, hardworking people I’ve ever met. This is an ugly, ancient stereotype that is as outdated as it is untrue. It’s insulting.
IP: If you could tattoo any one living person, with any one tattoo, who and what would you choose?
CS: I would tattoo “criminal” across George W. Bush’s forehead and add a pig head on his cheek with dollar signs in its eye.
The 2012 Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention was our favorite one yet. We can only imagine what the 2013 show will have in store for everyone. In the meantime, we highly suggest paying Clay a visit a 717 Tattoos (tell him Independent Philly sent you). He, or one of the other talented artists at their four locations, are professional, friendly, and easy to work with. We love the compass tattoo and promise that Clay won’t steer you in the wrong direction. If beauty is only skin deep, it’s best to have the most stunning artwork possible, just beneath your skin.
You can check out our gallery with photos from all three days of the 2012 convention below: