Dozens of bodies as artist canvas will walk around the 2004 TattooFest this weekend, featuring 85 booths filled with doodles and needles.
TAMPA - There he stood, all 5-foot-8, 250 pounds of him, bare butt bulging over the waistband of his gray Calvins and into the faces of a Japanese tattoo master and a throng of awed spectators.
"I'll be here for the next three days," said Stan Bible, a body piercer for Atomic Tattoos in Clearwater. "I'm doing a big dragon, a rising dragon, from the top of my head to the bottom of my - "
Okay, that's enough.
Anywhere else, Bible might be considered a crackpot for spending three days getting a full-back tattoo from a Japanese body artist named Horiryui. But here at TattooFest, Tampa's annual body art expo, the 23-year-old Bible is a hero - the ultimate living, breathing canvas hundreds of other conventioneers wished they could be.
"I love it," said Ron Morgan of Brooksville, himself an owner of 10 tattoos. "That's something I wouldn't get, but God, I admire it."
This weekend, several thousand body art aficionados will crowd into the Doubletree Hotel on Cypress Street for a look at 85 booths filled with doodles and needles. Hundreds will walk away freshly inked, many for the first time.
"I'm amazed at how many people are into this now," said Bradenton tattoo artist Pete Paylor, a.k.a. Dead Eye Pete. "I guess when these young kids grow old, there are going to be more old-timers with tattoos in nursing homes."
TattooFest is really more art show than freak show, with books on each table featuring each artists' favorite "tats." Some practice their craft on sketchpads between customers. The festival even features seminars on topics like portrait tattoos, permanent makeup and body piercing.
"I always tell people, I paint on skin," said Chet Adkins, a Denver body artist who calls himself Mr. Scary. "I don't just do lick 'em and stick 'em tattoos."
Mr. Scary's clientele over the weekend won't just include bikers, sailors and punks.
"It's not unusual for people to have a tattoo now," he said. "They're not going to beat you up. You're not going to have the Hell's Angels roll in and take over. It's pretty mellow."
Each night wraps with a "Tattoo of the Day" contest and a performance by Denver's Bag Lady Sue, an X-rated comedian whose stage show promises "a night you will never forget."
TattooFest is about having a good time with people who share an appreciation for the art of the tattoo. Conventions like this foster appreciation for rival artists and can even spawn cross-continental friendships.
"Didn't I see you at the national show?" asked tattooist Bob Tyrrell of Michigan.
"Yeah," said Ivan Breger of West Palm Beach. "But I was about 150 pounds lighter."
"Did you go on the Atkins Diet?"
Breger came by to add a portrait of Frank Sinatra to the Walk of Fame on his right thigh. He already had Marilyn Monroe, and he plans to add Sammy and Dean by 2006. The Sinatra portrait alone was expected to take up to seven hours to complete.
Tanya Cutajar of Bradenton was there to spruce up a shoulder butterfly tattoo acquired in Amsterdam.
"It's better than a flea market," the 36-year-old Cutajar said of the convention. "It's like going to a museum."
A museum with prizes. At 7 p.m. Sunday, judges will hand out the coveted crown for "Tattoo of Show" - the creme de la creme, the ink de la ink.
The title could go to someone like Jim Starek, a 34-year-old PTA president from Lockport, Ill., whose full-back tattoo features a pair of nude - and extremely affectionate - women.
Only at TattooFest could Starek walk around shirtless, toting a bottle of Miller Lite, posing for photos at booth after booth.
Starek gave a what-the-heck shrug. "It's only art," he said.
- Jay Cridlin can be reached at 813 661-2442 or email@example.comIF YOU GO
TattooFest runs from noon to midnight today and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday, with concerts, seminars and tattoo contests both days at the Doubletree Hotel, 4500 W Cypress St. The event's top prize, Tattoo of Show, will be awarded Sunday at 7 p.m. Admission $15.