￼I consider myself a lucky girl. I get to do what I love for a living, which is to write about another thing I love dearly. . . tattoos. This weekend reminded me exactly how lucky I truly am, as I was able to attend the Orlando Tattoo Festival and call it ‘work.’ Okay, if I’m honest, I was going anyway, but being able to write about it in the process was really a high point.
The Festival was held at the Florida Hotel and Convention Center in Orlando, Florida and ran from July 22nd-24th. I decided to attend on the busiest day, Saturday, in order to catch the best events and the highest chance of seeing every artist in action. The event opened at 12 pm, but again, in order to make sure I caught every artist in the act of what they do best, I arrived slightly after 1 pm.
I was not disappointed.
When I set foot in the building, I had no intention of staying for the entire span of the day—but I was hooked from the second I entered. Even before crossing the threshold, the atmosphere of the event was spilling out from the inside, with a mass of tattooed individuals set up in the smoking area located off the front of the building. It was a stark contrast to the usual views of the elegant hotel, which was complete with valet parking attendants and a strew of stewardesses huddled outside waiting on their transport to the airport. The smoking section was abuzz with people comparing ink or discussing the practice with each other. Strangers were reaching out to one another, asking to see the ink popping out from under clothing or asking who the artist was. While a few were on their phones, it was mostly to show other’s photos of their work or pieces they had recently seen online. It was friendly, with everyone chatting amongst themselves instead of staring at a screen and ignoring the world, like is the norm today.
After stepping into the building and ascending the escalator to the top level, where the festival was being held, I was immediately greeted by a happy, smiling set of individuals at the ticket desk. Everyone gave off the impression that they were excited to be there—they were all chatty, friendly, and helpful. A welcome change from some event staff I’ve encountered in my time.
The festival itself was spread out throughout three rooms—each brimming with artists, vendors, and other eccentricities. Every booth was buzzing, with just about every artist busy at work. Despite being knuckle-deep into their work, every artist was friendly and accommodating, lifting their head briefly to tell people hello and see if they had any questions, while maintaining their focus on their client of the moment.
Even those being inked were happy to talk—discussing how pleased they were to snag time with such great artists and really enthralled with the festival in general.
The Emcee, so to speak, of the event, was Joey Tattoo from Spike TV’s Tattoo Rescue. Vendors included such big names as World Famous Tattoo Ink, Tattoo Goo, and the Inked Shop from Inked Magazine—and let me tell you, my wallet felt their presence (I may have walked away with a few more shirts than I had originally planned)!
Several major artists were in play—including a handful of InkMaster competitors such as Mark Longenecker and Chris Blinston—and the level of talent spinning throughout the room was enough to make you take pause. Each had their own unique stations, with their own vibes. Some played reggae music and seemed to have a much chiller environment, while others had heavy metal and a harder core feel to their own space. It was amazing to see so many different types of people lined up, side by side, especially as everyone seemed to be getting along and enjoying each other’s company.
While the artists were definitely a huge focus of the event, there were several other unique body art modifiers included with the event. One, in particular, caught my eye, a stunning young woman who had the neatest body piercing I had seen in a long time—beautiful, dark blue ribbon laced her back, with real-life peacock feathers protruding from each side, creating her very own raised peacock tail. In another room, former Skin Wars runner-up, Shannon Holt, was creating some spectacular, mind-blowing body paint designs on two ladies while—in the same room—Risen BMX performed stunts on the main stage throughout the day.
After spending the entire day chatting with artists, vendors, and customers alike, it was the late evening before I even knew it. At this point, I decided to stay and catch the shows and contests at the end of the event . . . and boy, am I glad I did. First up came the Miss Orlando Tattoo Pageant, hosted by Jordan Skye and Joey Tattoo. The hilarious commentary kept the show entertaining while the judges decided upon a winner, so there was never a dull moment.
Following the pageant was quite a treat—Kissa Von Addams, famed burlesque dancer. Dark, edgy, and interactive, Addams’ show kept the entire audience hooting and hollering—males and females alike. At the close, came one of the most interesting shows I’ve seen in some time—artist Tom Hill from the Carnival of Curiosity and Chaos. Hill’s blend of comedy and dark, twisty madness was entertainment at its purest sense. The entire audience ooh’d and ahh’d, scooting closer to the stage with every trick. I was able to experience Hill’s show first hand, as my oh-so-loving boyfriend decided to volunteer me to lend a helping hand. Before I knew what was going on, I was whisked onstage and handed a rose, while Hill cracked his bullwhip only inches from my fingertips—shredding the rose in one sick lick of sound and speed.
The evening closed with the tattoo contest awards in the following categories: Large Color, Small Color, Large Black & Grey, Small Black & Grey, Portrait, New School, Traditional, Realism, Arm Sleeve, Leg Sleeve, Back Piece, and Tattoo of the Day. Each was awarded by the colorful commentator Joey Tattoo, and each piece was even better than the last.
In my opinion, the event was an absolute success, but to make sure I didn’t see it differently, I spoke to several artists regarding the outcome . . . and each agreed. The show, while starting off a little slow on Friday, was a roaring achievement for each and every one of them and they all said they would definitely be back. I personally had an absolute blast and can’t wait for the next one!
Photos by Elisha Neubauer