Ink Spot

Tattoo enthusiasts gather in Memphis for national convention

By Bill Dries

Kyle Payne remembers a recent tattoo convention in Memphis. It wasn’t just tattoos. It was a convention that included a healthy dose of biker culture.

And Payne, the co-owner of Studio 42 near Bartlett, thought it took some of the focus off the art of tattooing.

Kyle Payne, the owner of Studio 42 near Bartlett, tattoos J.D. Marchbanks. Payne will be participating in the three-day Memphis Tattoo Arts Convention this weekend. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“People are still afraid of bikers, obviously,” Payne said.

Payne, who has been in the business for 10 years – six with his own business – will be among the tattoo artists at the three-day Memphis Tattoo Arts Convention that opens Friday, Oct. 18, at the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

The convention this weekend is the latest venue for Villain Arts, a Philadelphia-based events company that also supplies tattoo businesses and organizes six such events across the country with Memphis the newest city.

“I’ve always liked Memphis,” said Troy Timpel of Villain Arts, who organizes the expos. “Tattooing has never hit popular culture more successfully than it has today with having so many different TV shows that have tattooing featured on them.”

The Memphis gathering will feature reality television stars, including tattoo artists from "L.A. Ink" and "Ink Master."

Seminars include topics like “How Tattooing Used to Be” with tattoo artist Philadelphia Eddie, a sponsor of the convention, leading the discussion. There is also a session on dankbuilt machine tuning and microdermals.

Payne gives the reality shows credit for showing the public what is possible with tattoos.

“They watch these shows every week and it kind of translates into a better customer base for us,” he said.

Timpel and Payne each say the tattoo business is expanding with more acceptance of tattoos that have expanded in what they express and what the possibilities are. The audience is also broader.

“More people are getting tattooed from every facet of life than they ever had,” Timpel said. “The TV shows have shown where tattooing is right now and what the art form is really capable of.”

That also means the designs are becoming more elaborate and more personal, which calls for more than pointing at one of dozens of standard designs on a wall.

“They’ll get something that it’s not just a stock symbol that represents their mom dying; it’s something that shows what their mom meant to them,” Payne said. “It becomes a much more symbiotic relationship between artist and customer to where you have to really get into their brain and decide what’s going to be the best thing that speaks to them about whatever moment they are trying to memorialize forever.”

And the artist is more than a technician, Payne adds.

“Before it was always more of a technical thing. If you were a tattoer, all people cared about was whether or not you could do straight lines,” he said. “Now you have to be the designer. You have to be the illustrator and you also have to be, above everything else, a salesman. You have to convince someone that the abstract idea you bring in for them and illustrate for them is something worth having on their body.”

Their opinions on how acceptable tattoos have become is nuanced. It depends on what kind of tattoo and where it is.

“My wish is for people that have neck and hand tattoos – really visible tattoos – not be stigmatized, which is how they are now still,” Payne said. “It’s 2013. What you have tattooed on you shouldn’t make any bearing whatsoever on how people judge you in public. Unfortunately it is still that way.”

Timpel is more optimistic, citing the celebrity factor.

“I think it’s definitely more socially acceptable now than it was five years ago to have nice big tattoos,” he said. “You see magazine models sporting tattoos. You see all of the professional athletes and musicians sporting tattoos now. Those are the people that really run the essence and influence of our culture.”

Payne said a bad tattoo remains a bad tattoo even if people accept tattoos that are done well.

“It used to be no matter what your tattoo looked like, if it showed in public there was that stigma,” he added. “Now it’s not so much. … If it’s a bad tattoo, you are still going to be a little ostracized if you have something very poorly done, very visible on your body.”