Tattoo artists come to Convention Center

Posted: February 12, 2012

The economy might not be doing well, but the tattoo industry is thriving.

Just look at Austin Spencer.

The 31-year-old tattoo artist from Las Vegas was at the Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention over the weekend, charging clients $150 an hour to emblazon his signature works on their bodies.

Considering that each of his tattoos takes four or five hours to apply with an electric needle, Spencer was doing pretty well handling two clients each day.

"Any form of making money off of illustration" is his goal, said the slim man with glasses, who began his career in high school, drawing tattoos for friends.

"It's so much more personal" than other kinds of art, he said.

Spencer was among 600 tattoo artists from around the country who packed the Convention Center Friday through Sunday for what the promoters billed as one of the world's biggest tattoo conventions.

The event coincided with the opening of an exhibit of tattoo art at the Independence Seaport Museum, and some patrons went back and forth.

On Saturday, people eager to get inked snaked several blocks from the Convention Center entrance at 11th and Arch Streets.

Sunday crowds were tame in comparison, with the wait to get through security about 20 minutes.

Inside, Denise Bishop of North Jersey was getting a geisha imprinted on her side because "it's different."

(New Jersey pride appeared in full force, judging by the man who got a tattoo map of the Garden State on his left side.)

Japanese-style tattoos were a fairly common request, according to Rich Meggison, a tattoo artist from York.

Tastes are different back home in central Pennsylvania, said Meggison's wife and partner, Cecily. Star patterns are what clients there want most often, she said.

She said she was weary of stars, which are easy work.

"I am completely over it," she said.

Business was brisk for the Meggisons, and they had "an absolutely absurd line" 11 people deep at one point Saturday, she said.

Some of the people strolling the convention hall - many in their 20s and 30s but spanning all ages and races - had only one or two tattoos.

Some, like Joe Maksin, had most of their bodies covered in ink.

With a chest covered in previous tattoo-work, he decided to drive from Tabernacle Township, Burlington County, to get a rooster and a hen tattooed under his left armpit - one of the few spots left on his torso.

"I'm just filling space now," Maksin said when asked what inspired the agricultural artistry.

Vivian Knight, 39, of Florence Township, Burlington County, was getting a tattoo on her left side depicting "sugar skulls" from the Mexican Day of the Dead.

She got her first tattoo when she turned 18, she said.

Knight said all tattoos hurt, some more than others. Some people can take it, some can't.

"It depends on your pain tolerance," she said, admitting that this particular spot on her body was more "touchy" than normal.

According to several artists, the annual convention, which started in 2004, owes its existence to a tattoo artist named Eddie from Philadelphia who was in attendance Sunday.

In a white suit, Eddie - who appeared to be in late middle age, with a shock of white hair - acknowledged a role in founding the event. But he declined to elaborate or give his last name.

To find out the complete story, he said, tattoo aficionados would have to buy the first volume of his memoir: Tattooing: The Life and Times of Crazy Philadelphia Eddie.

He just happened to have a few copies for sale.

Contact staff writer Anthony Campisi at 215-854-5015,, or @campisia on Twitter.

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