Spring is synonymous with renewal and in 2022, the sentiment could not be truer as an influx of events return from a two-year pandemic hibernation. For tattoo artists and enthusiasts in the DMV, the DC Tattoo Expo, slated for March 25 to 27, is a long-awaited return.
“This will actually be my second time going,” Maryland-based tattoo artist Nina Sun from Damascus Tattoo Company says. “I’ve been tattooing for around three years and when I went to DC Expo last time, I was just getting started. It will be interesting for me to see how I’ve grown as an artist.”
Starting her tattoo apprenticeship in March 2019 before Covid-19 hit, Sun’s detailed realist and surrealist work earned her a spot at the Expo — and being completely booked every day of the event.
Similarly, local tattoo artist Chelsea Darling from Mister Finster’s Tattoo Studio — who specializes in high contrast black and grey line work — is excited to use the Expo to learn and reflect on her journey as an artist since the last one.
“I attended the DC Tattoo Expo a couple times as an apprentice in 2018 and 2019,” Darling says. “They are always a good time. This will be my first time tattooing [at the Expo], which I’m actually a bit nervous about. I’m looking forward to being able to check out all the other artists now that I have a different perspective and understanding on tattooing.”
Located at the Sheraton Pentagon Hotel in Arlington, the Expo will host more than 200 artists and is expected to have 15,000 people attend. When selecting which artists to invite like Sun and Darling, organizer and owner of Northern Virginia’s Exposed Tattoo Greg Piper curated a group based on established and up-and-coming talent.
“Being a tattooer for 34 years now, I still keep up with the best artists in the business,” Piper says. “And as our business and the art continues to evolve, I continue to seek out the best new artists and of course the best old-time artists for the show.”
Piper also made a point to emphasize, “I always want to showcase the best artists in the D.C. area. After all, it is our show.”
Along with scheduled onsite tattoos, the Expo will host a myriad of contests for people to enter prior to the show, like Best Sleeve, Neo-Traditional and Overall, as well as Tattoo of the Day for attendees who receive tattoos at the convention. There is a category dedicated just for artists to enter and the Miss DC Pinup Contest where the winner will receive a $300 cash prize, trophy and a photoshoot with Capitol Bombshell Photography.
Each day there will also be a performance from the vaudeville duo Captain & Maybelle who are best known for their appearance on “America’s Got Talent” and a burlesque show from Cervena Fox. Both performances will take place on the main stage and will provide a chance for attendees to collectively gather and mingle, which is a large point of the Expo.
Unanimously, all three tattoo artists cited they were eager to reconnect with friends and meet new acquaintances while there.
“I’m significantly more connected and secure,” Sun says, reflecting on where she is now compared to her first Expo. “I’m looking forward to seeing all my friends again and networking with more people in the DMV area.”
Piper adds, “I have so many friends that make up the artists who will be attending, so it will be amazing to see all of them again after two years.”
And whether a first-time visitor or a veteran, the DC Tattoo Expo promises to meet its high expectations of previous years with the set schedule.
“[Visitors] can expect to see amazing art and entertainment,” Piper says. “Clothing, supplies and everything tattoo will be featured and brought together for the fine residents of the D.C. area, all while watching the best artists in the world lay down some killer ink.”
Tattoo Pro Tips
Chelsea Darling: Really pay attention to the tattoo the first couple days after getting the tattoo. Keep it clean and listen to your body. Don’t overdo it with the ointment.
Nina Sun: Every artist recommends something slightly different. I tell my clients don’t be lazy but keep it simple. There’s a million aftercare products out there but I love the old antibacterial hand soap, and then Aquaphor because that’s the most gentle. And then just don’t f—k with it and keep it moisturized.
Biggest current tattoo trend
Sun: Micro realism tattoos, but I use that term loosely because it’s no longer small. The micro realism aesthetic is a fine, single needle, super detailed design that used to only be an inch in size. Now, it can be any size. It’s really popular because celebrities get them.
Advice for people choosing their next tattoo
Darling: I think it’s really important to find an artist who matches the style you are looking for and allow them to have some creative freedom with your idea. When clients ask for too many specifics in one tattoo, I think they tend to end up with something that might not necessarily work as a tattoo. Trust your artist. If you’re unsure about what you want, I think the Expo is a great place for inspiration. There are a ton of different artists with different styles.
The DC Tattoo Expo will start on Friday, March 25 and end on Sunday, March 27. To see each day’s hours and event schedule, visit here.
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