Aren't they pretty in ink?

Tattoberfest sends a message that the body is the best canvas for artwork.

Published October 14, 2006

INGLIS — This Levy County town, which once officially banned Satan, celebrated the tattoo Saturday.

“Finally it’s becoming something that’s honorable and respectable,” said Paulina Whitney, who helped organize this year’s Tattoberfest.

“We’re trying to use tattoo art as a catalyst for change,” said Roger “Ranger” Green, who drove up from Fort Lauderdale to assist with the festival.

More than 1,000 people from all around the state showed up at Bubba’s Fin and Feather Campground for the event, which raised money for the South Levy County Fire Department.

Visitors shelled out money for a raffle — a grand prize of $3,000 worth of tattoos — and ushered their kids over to the face-painting table.

While there was no shortage of leather and chains, organizers emphasized that Tattoberfest was a family event.

Eight-year-old Paul Clayton, grinning through a painted clown face, sat at a picnic table bragging to friends about his extensive collection of stick-on tattoos.

“He knows his parents have them, so he just thinks it’s natural,” said his dad, Peter Clayton of Dunnellon.

“The only problem,” he said, “is that they’re really hard to get off. I tried scrubbing and scrubbing one before school, and it still didn’t get rid of it.”

While father and son bonded over tattoos outside, a mother and son shared a body art moment in the event’s makeshift studio.

“It’s a family affair,” joked Wendy “Pebbles” Whitney, as her son, Josh, tattooed the astrological symbol for Sagittarius on her neck.

Whitney drove up from Fort Lauderdale to see Josh’s work as an apprentice for White Buffalo Custom Tattooing, the Crystal River shop sponsoring the event. She ended up with a new body decoration.

“I can tell he’s learning; he’s going deep right on the spine,” she said.

“Mom — that doesn’t sound good,” Josh protested. “'He’s sticking needles in my spine!’”

“No, that’s good. It means it will stay,” she insisted.

Josh Whitney has always been artistic, his mother continued. She was thrilled when he decided to become a body ink artist.

“It is truly an art form,” she said. “And you know, all tattoos have a reason behind them.”

Martin Bravek, the mastermind behind Tattoberfest, has known that for a long time.

After opening White Buffalo around four years ago, he decided to use the ancient art form for good and raise money for the community.

The last three Tattoberfests have been so successful, Bravek now plans to expand. Under the name Inkstock, he hopes to bring similar tattoo fundraisers to other communities.

Normal tattoo gatherings are bland affairs, held in hotels and banquet halls like any other convention.

“If you combine an outdoor event with a circus atmosphere with a rock concert with a tattoo convention,” Bravek said, “that gives you Inkstock.”

For many people, tattoos have sentimental value. Others appreciate them as a purely aesthetic statement.Billy Anderson of DeLand was tubing in the area Saturday when he happened upon Tattoberfest.

Before long, young tattoo artists were flocking to him, admiring his legs, which were completely covered in bright, swirling creations.

“That is my goal in life,” Paulina Whitney announced, inspecting the designs.

Anderson began decorating himself a couple of years ago, when he was living in England. He’d heard about a renowned tattoo artist and decided he’d try it.

“I started going twice a week, four hours a day,” he said. “It’s addictive. You see an empty spot and you just want to fill it in.”

On the other end of the spectrum, clear-skinned Tiffany Coffman of Brandon was considering a small tattoo.

She had come to Tattoberfest to assist Jesse the Human Bomb — he suspends himself across two bar stools and sets off an explosive underneath him — but was inspired when she saw all the art. She picked out a boy fairy tattoo, to commemorate her deceased son.

“It’s great that families and kids are invited,” she said. Tattoo art “is a beautiful thing. Sometimes it’s a life lesson. Sometimes it’s a way to keep a memory alive.”