Each year in October, tattoo artists and enthusiasts flock to a convention center in North Idaho for a Halloween-themed celebration of all things body modification and macabre. The All Hallows Tattoo Expo in North Idaho this weekend is in its third year.
Previously at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, the three-day show now takes place at Greyhound Park and Event Center in Post Falls. The floor is filled to the brim with vendors, sponsors and, of course, tattoo artists from across the country. The convention is run by industry insiders.
Event organizer Lucky Barnard, owner of Artful Dodger Tattoo, has been tattooing for 21 years. After 10 years at his first shop in Seattle, Barnard and his family moved to the Inland Northwest three years ago, bought a shop in Coeur d’Alene and started All Hallows, which he calls “the last hurrah of the convention season for tattooers.”
“Tattoo season is spring through fall,” he said. “You can take a hiatus through the holidays, which is our slow season due to travel and holiday spending.” It’s a well-earned break for what he calls “a nomadic people.”
With more than 80 artists in attendance, the West Coast is well-represented. Dozens are here from Idaho and Washington, with a handful of tattooers traveling from Montana, Utah and California.
Special guest Jerrett, aka “Doomkitten” and who was featured in Season 9 of Spike TV’s reality-TV competition “Ink Master,” makes the journey from Baltimore. “I don’t have a spouse, any kids or responsibilities,” Jerrett said. “I’m just a man on the road.”
Jerrett and Barnard shared a booth at the Seattle Tattoo Convention in 2007, a last-minute arrangement made via Craigslist. A lifelong artist with less than a year of experience in the tattoo medium at the time, Jerrett admits that he was intimidated. “Barnard knew the Seattle area, and we hit it off,” he said. “He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.”
With 20 years of traveling in the tattoo industry, Barnard has no trouble attracting artists to All Hallows. “I’ve shaken a lot of hands across the country. It’s a room full of friends,” he said. “I have a personal relationship with pretty much every tattooer on the show floor.”
The expo grows in size and scope each year, which motivated the decision to move away from Worley. “Although very gracious, the casino did not have the capacity for us to grow,” Barnard said. “Even after the first year, we had a waiting list (of interested vendors and artists). After the second year, a double waiting list – the room doesn’t get any bigger, so what do we do?”
Barnard reached out to Greyhound Park and Event Center at the suggestion of his mother, who works as a bartender for the venue’s bingo events. The new location allowed Barnard and fellow expo organizers to book new amenities, including seven food trucks and entertainment such as local metal band Pontiff, burlesque show Rouge La Rue and sword-swallower Twisted Trystan, who was featured as a sideshow in Season 5 of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”
All Hallows hosts a variety of vendors such as Bright All Natural Tattoo Lotion, Morning After Grooming Co. and other artists such as taxidermist Darien Baysinger of Custom Cranium and jeweler Heather Loop of Swamp Swag Creations.
The correlation is anything but tenuous. “This is where all the money is,” Baysinger said. Her taxidermy artwork is used by tattoo artists and enthusiasts for reference and anatomical study. “Most tattoo artists are just nerds who went down a niche arts path, so most of them were already science, biology or gaming nerds.”
Loop’s jewelry display is comprised of pendants with tarot card etchings, bullet casings and other copper-coated items. “I make jewelry for people not afraid to make statements,” she said, noting that the tattoo scene is known for such an outlook.
The tattoo scene continues to grow in popularity. Spokane resident and tattoo enthusiast Dallas Way credits social media’s role in normalizing tattoos, “Bringing the underground out into the open,” she said. “It’s not just those 10 weirdos in town getting tats. Now it’s almost weird when people don’t have at least one.”
“Tattoos have gotten to the point where no one blinks an eye,” Baysinger said. “All of your dental assistants have piercings and (other body modifications).”
According to Jerrett, tattooing is a reliable means for artists to earn a living. “Tattooing and painting are all the same. I just consider myself an artist. But tattooing pays pretty regularly. There’s a commercial essence to it.”
The industry’s rapid expansion helps the community be more cooperative than competitive. “A lot of people joke about there being a tattoo shop on every corner in Coeur d’Alene,” said Christina Villagomez, a tattooer who graduated in March from her apprenticeship with Black Matter Tattoo. “It’s nice to have an event that actually celebrates that.”
Villagomez and industry veterans Jake Sifford and Jayme Goodson are opening a tattoo studio, Electric Age Tattoo, on Nov. 1 in the Exchange National Bank basement in Coeur d’Alene. The collective aims to host a gallery space and take part in the city’s Second Friday Artwalk.
Jerrett sees artist relationships as symbiotic, not competitive. “There’s millions of tattoo artists in the world. If you put quality artists in your circle, it boosts your quality, as well. You don’t settle for mediocrity.”
All Hallows Tattoo Expo continues today from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Day passes are $15, with $5 off military and student ID holders. Children ages 14 and younger are free with an accompanying adult.
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