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The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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President Joe Biden speaks on Friday at Carnegie Mellon University’s Mill 19 to tout his administration’s investment in infrastructure.
President Biden set to visit Pittsburgh this afternoon
By Brian Sherry, Contributing Editor • April 17, 2024
SGB hosts last meeting of the school year 
By Emma Hannan, Staff Writer  • April 17, 2024
Satire | A better use for editorial space
By Anna Ehlers, Contributing Editor • April 17, 2024

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President Joe Biden speaks on Friday at Carnegie Mellon University’s Mill 19 to tout his administration’s investment in infrastructure.
President Biden set to visit Pittsburgh this afternoon
By Brian Sherry, Contributing Editor • April 17, 2024
SGB hosts last meeting of the school year 
By Emma Hannan, Staff Writer  • April 17, 2024
Satire | A better use for editorial space
By Anna Ehlers, Contributing Editor • April 17, 2024

‘Ink-curious’: Pittsburgh Tattoo Expo creates crossroads for the country’s tattoo enthusiasts

An+artist+works+on+a+tattoo+for+a+customer+at+the+Pittsburgh+Tattoo+Expo+on+Saturday+at+the+David+L.+Lawrence+Convention+Center.
Liam Sullivan | Staff Photographer
An artist works on a tattoo for a customer at the Pittsburgh Tattoo Expo on Saturday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

The Pittsburgh Tattoo Expo hosted tattoo artists, parlors and shops in the Wyndham Grand Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh last weekend. Live performances from Alakazam, Captain & Maybelle and Camille Zamboni entertained guests throughout the expo. 

The expo presented an opportunity for artists to showcase their talents in a competition. The final tattoo contest was an accumulation of all the hard work that each of the artists had put into their craft, with the three judges giving out awards for multiple different categories, including “large color,” “back piece” and “traditional.” Anna Carswell, the director of the Pittsburgh Tattoo Expo for the past six years, explained the importance of creating a space to celebrate and garner exposure for local artists.

“It had been a while since there was [a tattoo convention] here that really captured the essence of the City. And [my fiance] is a tattoo artist, and has been for about 30 years now. And so we sort of joined forces and brought something to Pittsburgh that we’re super proud of,” Carswell said. “There’s a new idea about tattooing where there’s really not as much of a stigma like it used to be, where it was just sort of correlated with bikers and things like that. And so we really wanted to help the revival of its reputation with events like this.”

Carswell explained the importance in capturing the essence of Pittsburgh, describing the black and gold Pittsburgh-themed decorations that adorned the ballrooms of the Wyndham Grand. Many different local artists, vendors and small businesses got exposure at the event. Carswell believes that the convention is a great way to open attendees up to the world of tattooing.

“I like to describe it in a way to expose yourself to not only different tattoo artists, but different styles of tattooing, different types of mediums, even just art here. If you love tattoos, it’s for you because you are going to meet a million different artists from all over the world you would never have a chance to meet,” Carswell said. “If you’re just what we like to call ‘ink-curious,’ you get to see it happening live in front of you. And it almost creates an ease of like, ‘Oh, okay, that’s the process, that’s not too scary.’”

Expo attendees raise their hands while listening to a speaker at the Pittsburgh Tattoo Expo on Saturday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. (Liam Sullivan | Staff Photographer)

Carswell wanted the convention to be welcoming to all, whether attendees are getting their hundredth tattoo, their first tattoo or even if they have no interest in getting one. The convention helped tattoo artists gain exposure, hone their craft and gain recognition by winning awards. Christian Flores, an apprentice artist working with Grand Avenue Tattoo & Piercings in Phoenix, Arizona, and Body Temple Tattoo in Dickinson, North Dakota, said his tattoo skills have allowed him to pursue a career he never thought possible after his incarceration.

“My apprenticeship started after I couldn’t get hired because of my felonies. I did another prison term, and I really focused on my art and my drawing and my tattooing, but I couldn’t do art or tattoos the way I wanted to in prison. Tattooing has been in my life since the very early ages, along with art,” Flores said. “I started my apprenticeship as a last resort, which should have been my first option. To be honest, I just never thought of the career that it could be. I didn’t know anything about conventions. I didn’t know anything about working in a shop. I was a street artist. And yeah, Joel opened the doors for me.”

Stalls of tattoo artists show off their designs and talk with customers at the Pittsburgh Tattoo Expo on Saturday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. (Liam Sullivan | Staff Photographer)

Joel is Flores’s tattoo mentor and owner of the two shops where Flores works. Flores said he travels with him to different conventions year round, and all of the artists associated with his shops work together and learn from each other, sharing each artist’s styles by comparing work and sharing tips or techniques. The styles on display showed blends of different cultures, old and new styles and unorthodox uses of the medium. 

Another artist who attended the Pittsburgh Tattoo Expo was Oscar González, an artist from Los Angeles working for a tattoo shop called Black Orchid Tattoo Collective in Lancaster, California. González flew out to the East Coast after hearing about the convention on social media. He has been honing a stippling style, and the convention allowed the professional artist of 12 years to show off his craft.

“Right now I’m focused on dotwork, and I’m focused on that style because I started with a homemade machine. And stippling is kind of like the only way that I could get my shading down. So this style just takes me back to my roots,” González said. “I do black and gray, I do script, I worked the Hollywood strip for a few years. I took whatever walked in, and because of that, I’m pretty versatile. I can do a little bit of everything.”

González reflects on how far he’s come and how happy he is to have a career in doing what he loves.

“I’ve always been into art. I started out in South/Central LA. I started with a homemade machine,” González said. “I never thought I could make a career out of it, but things just fell into place that way.”

About the Contributor
Quinn Cilea, Staff Writer
Quinn Cilea is a junior English fiction writing and film and media studies major with a minor in Italian. He loves watching Chelsea, playing soccer and rock climbing. If he’s not out doing one of these things, he’s probably working through his long TV and movie watchlist or working on a music playlist.