The Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention filled the Pennsylvania Convention center Valentine’s Day weekend. The sound of tattoo guns echoed through the room as artists showcased their work.
Tattoo shops traveled to the convention from all over the country. Klika Tattoo, based out of Herperia, California is a tattoo studio made up of a group of guys that come from all different directions. It’s “a group of guys that love to have fun,” according to Frank Rubalcava, who’s cousin is the owner of the shop. They meet artists from the conventions they attend and ask them to join their team. “Big Joel” has owned the shop for eight years and he’s been in the industry for over twelve. Rubalcava explained how this was the fifth state they’ve traveled to this week.
FaceBook: Klika Tattoo
Not only were there tattoo artists at this convention, but other types of artists and businesses were there to promote their work.
Looking for something a little less permanent? Black Bird SPFX has you covered, literally. They specialize in special effects makeup, props, mask making, horror photography, and have other merchandise. The company is owned by Graham Groff, aka Spookenstien and Christina Puff, aka Puffenstien and they are based out of Philadelphia.
Facebook: Black Bird SPFX
Rude Chix is a clothing brand based out of California that has been working at tattoo conventions since 2005. They first appeared at swap meets and got started “purely by accident,” according to Sherry Mattson aka Queen Rude. They sell tattoo, “honky tonk”, and roller derby apparel for women and children. Sherry’s motto for the convention and getting tattooed was, “Just jump in. Seriously, Happy Valentine’s Day to you!”
Facebook: Rude Chix
As visitors walked down the isles of the convention, seeing a woman getting tattooed as if she were almost modeling was something very common. Chelsea Esperance was lying so photogenically, making the pain seem almost non existent.
Shop: North East Pennsylvania Tattoo Club
Artist: Nick Malasto, owner of NEPA Tattoo Club
Thousands of tattoos and thousands of artists, but two tattoos stood out for me as I walked through the crowed isles. First, arm piece that had absolutely stunning colors and detail. Water color pieces always intrigue me. Liccketto said she received the tattoo the first day of the convention by Skin Stories Tattoo, based out of Spring, Texas.
Shop: Skin Stories Tattoo
My other favorite was this amazing back piece. It’s as if a bunch of pictures were taken and merely glued to this man’s back. The man didn’t have time for questions about the tattoo, but suggested contacting him via instagram for any questions.
Artist: Doe Boy
Alexandra Fische returned back to her hometown for this tattoo convention. She grew up in the Philadelphia area and has been tattooing professionally for four years. Her work is very colorful and when asked what she specializes in, “freaky stuff” was used to describe it. She works at multiple shops around the world and travels, working at many of the tattoo conventions. If you’re looking for something with a darker subject but colorful as the same time, she’s your girl.
Facebook: Alexandra Fische
Bale Sisneros is the founder of Por Vida Tattoo based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Thirteen years prior, Sisneros said he merely just, “Fell into” the tattooing industry. As for conventions, a friend convinced him to come out and show off his work. According to Sisneros, he does about six conventions a year. Conventions are all day events and he explained that some of his tattoos can last the entire day of the convention. His longest was an eight-hour piece.
Facebook: Bale Sisneros
The Semi-Full Experience
In order to get the full experience at the tattoo convention I thought getting a tattoo would do the job. Well, my lack of funds I brought to the convention put that idea to rest. So, I got the next best thing. A good friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, got tattooed instead. We wondered the convention looking at other people’s work and something that really stood out to her was the henna-like line work tattoos. After scrolling through Pinterest, standing awkwardly in the way of thousands of people walking around, she got an idea. Now, to find an artist. Another girl was getting a very similar piece done during the entire time we were there… hours. We passed the same booth about fifteen times, waiting for the artist to finish. Finally, she was done. We turned our backs for a second and the artist was gone! Another girl took her place, but told us that the same artist was booked all day. On to the next one. That’s when we met Kike Castillo. Looking through his work, he had the line work she was looking for and he even had an opening. She showed him her ideas and he took them and ran with it. The piece he came up with was perfect.
The final product was the right size, fit, and style for my friend. Castillo made the stencil and it was go time. My friend was shaking in her skin every time Castillo reminded her of the upcoming pain. Practically a chest/under boob piece, she took the risk. It needed to be hidden when she wanted but able to show it off occasionally. She did ask a few times how bad it was going to be, but regardless, she was terrified.
The time flew by for me, but my friend was feeling the pain. I’m not going to lie, I was cringing for her. She impressed me and handled it like a champ. Castillo explained to me that when he tattoos he loves to talk, perfect time for a mini interview.
Originally from Columbia, Castillo did his first tattoo at age 11. He did a rose on his sister’s hand and, “then after that it was done,” he said. He’s been professionally tattooing now for the last 12 years. He realized at age 20 that he could actually make tattooing a full time job and make some money from something he did as a hobby. As the years went by, Castillo said he “lost the romance” in tattooing. “I get to see my friends… Meet some cool people,” explained Castillo as he talked about why he still tattoos. He won many awards like Best Large Back Piece and Best Color, but doesn’t enter competitions anymore. This is Castillo’s eighth year doing the Philadelphia Tattoo Convention.
My friend got choked up as she saw the finished product. It wasn’t the design she initially had in mind. It was better. “It was the most painful thing that’s ever happened to me,” my friend shared. When I asked about how she felt about all the people watching her get tattooed she said, “I wasn’t even thinking about it.” It seemed like the pain took her mind off of everything going on around her, but it was completely worth the pain.