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2013 Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention: Ink All About It!

Joe Matisa in action
Joe Matisa in action

The Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention once again returned to the Pennsylvania Convention Center in 2013. The three day extravaganza, presented by Villain Arts, showcased everything from the world of tattooing (and beyond) over three days, February 8-10.

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Crowds of people packed into the convention on all three days (most noticeably on Saturday) to view the latest tattoo gadgets, watch presentations, buy an assortment of wares, and of course, get a new tattoo or piercing.

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In addition to the multitude of tattoo artists on hand, including celebrities from several tattoo TV shows, there were also a slew of charitable foundations, vendors, food, and alcohol.

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The Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention focuses mainly on the art of tattooing but there were also booths/artists showcasing piercing, scarification, body modification, and even tattoo removal.

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The convention also features some of the best people watching around. Not always for the faint of heart, seeing beautiful works on art come to life on skin is a magical experience. The buzz of tattoo machines is constant as you move up and down the aisles and it’s hard to not pause at almost every booth to see what the artists are working on. Those that aren’t tattooing are often working on some amazing new sketches on paper.

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For the third year in a row, we wanted to get a first person perspective on getting inked at the convention. We teamed up with tattoo prodigy Joe Matisa from New Jersey to get some fresh ink (an imprint of a pair of feet) and some insight on the life of a tattoo artist and tattoo culture.

Foot Tattoo
Foot Tattoo

Independent Philly: How long have you been a tattoo artist?

Joe Matisa: Collectively about ten years. I started when I was 13 years old apprenticing, and started full time at 17 years old. I’m 23 years old now.

IP: How old were you when you did you first tattoo?

JM: Thirteen.

Work of Joe Matisa
Work of Joe Matisa

IP: What made you want to become a tattoo artist?

JM: My father is a tattoo artist and he has three shops in Virginia and now I have two shops in Jersey, and it’s always been a thing for me to wanna do what he was doing… of course I didn’t want to work with him, but you know, I wanted to do his thing on my own terms.

IP: Tell us a little bit about your two shops in New Jersey.

JM: My one shop is in Trenton, NJ and used to be my father’s shop. It’s been open now about twenty years and I took over there about six years ago. That’s a really high volume, high traffic shop, right in the middle of Trenton, right next to the high school and Saint Francis hospital. So there’s crazy stuff going on all the time, we get a lot of high traffic from all the kids and stuff like that. My Flemington shop is the complete opposite, it’s real mellow. It’s in a small part of town next to some outlet shops and stuff, a really kind of cookie-cutter place. It’s real small and quiet.

Work of Joe Matisa
Work of Joe Matisa

IP: What are the names of the two shops?

JM: The shop in Trenton is “Kiss of Ink“, it used to be called “Il Bacio” which means “The Kiss” in Italian. I just changed it to English because of people not knowing Italian. “Ink Junction” is my Flemington shop because we’re in an area called “Turntable Junction” which is like a big old-school railroad crossing.

IP: What’s the longest you’ve ever worked on a single tattoo (in terms of total ink time)?

JM: I’ve got a guy now I’ve been working on since I was 17, and I think we’ve probably put about 80-90 hours of work into him already. But we’ve been tattooing steadily at least once a month on him usually. Even if it just takes an hour for something small we still do it.

Work of Joe Matisa
Work of Joe Matisa

IP: What’s the longest you’ve ever worked on a tattoo in one sitting?

JM: I’ll usually only work at the most for 5-8 hours, 8 hours is usually the max I go to, and then I stop after that.

IP: How many tattoos do you have yourself, and is there any one in particular that is your favorite?

JM: I have about 21 or 22 tattoos now. I don’t have as many as I thought I’d have by now, just because I’ve been so busy. I’d say my favorite tattoo honestly would probably be (on my) throat. Either my throat or my face tattoo. My face tattoo is the only one with any sentimental value, my father and me have the same one. When I did my first convention I was 18 and I won first place for “Small Black & Grey” (tattoo) and at the end of the show we were really excited and he wanted to tattoo me and I think that might over take it (throat). I think that’s my big time favorite.

Work of Joe Matisa
Work of Joe Matisa

IP: Tell us a little bit about your experience here at the 2013 Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention and what’s the craziest thing you’ve seen over the past three days.

JM: I’ve loved it so far, it’s been really great, really packed, lots of people. I really like all of the freak-show stuff. I like the burlesque stuff, the dancing, and the suspensions, and all that. I remember coming here when I was younger and watching it and wanting to try all that stuff, and I was like “Man, that is so cool”, and it always gets me amped to be here and see stuff like that.

IP: What advice would you give to someone who’s looking to break into the (tattoo) business and become a successful artist?

JM: I would say the most important thing, that I’ve stuck to no matter what, is that I never slow myself down. I make myself a schedule, and I never say to myself “I wanna make a flat rate of money” or “I wanna do one type of thing or accomplish one type of thing”. I literally just work everyday as if it might be my last day tattooing. I just want to pick up as much stuff and do as much as I can every day that I work. That’s the most important because you don’t ever wanna slow down and say to yourself “You know what? I’m gonna mellow out on this stuff for a little bit, focus more on this and then I’ll go back to it”. If you’re young and you want to get into this, you gotta be non-stop, 24/7, you gotta really drive for it. You gotta work every day.

Work of Joe Matisa
Work of Joe Matisa

IP: What do you consider your areas of expertise as far as the different styles of tattooing?

JM: I would say majorly it’s realism and cover-ups. I do a lot of cover-ups.

IP: What do you find people regret the most in terms of what they are trying to cover up?

JM: Names, it’s always names.

IP: What’s the biggest rumor about tattooing or tattoo culture that you’d like to dispel?

JM: One thing major, that has been bothering me a lot more lately, is all the people coming in that just think that tattooing is one of those things that, they’re just gonna come in and it’s gonna be like they’re buying a pair of shoes. They’re just gonna walk in and say “Tat me up”, and they’re just going to go for it and get what they magically want in their head, and you know, it’s there. It’s not like that and everybody comes in and they’re just like “I’m gonna get something, I don’t know what I want, I just want something”. I want people to just sit down and realize that just because you see it on TV a certain way and it seems so easy, there’s so much more involved. There’s so many more steps to take and so much more to think about that everybody just ignores because they only show you (on TV) what they want you to see.

Joe Matisa
Joe Matisa

IP: If you could tattoo any living person with any one tattoo, who would it be and what would you give them?

JM: That’s tough. I would honestly pick Oprah because last year here (at the Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention) I did an Oprah with the fireworks shooting out of her crotch like on South Park, and it won, it won first place. I always said to myself “A Gaylezilla would be really cool…Oprah needs a Gaylezilla tattoo”! I always wanted to do an Oprah tattoo and I got to do one and I was like “How cool would it be if Oprah, the richest woman in the world, had a tattoo”? And I think a “Gaylezilla” tattoo would be a hype thing to do.

IP: What award did the Oprah tattoo win?

JM: It was first place “Most Unusual” at the show. I always go for the weird stuff because I feel like everyone else always goes for the typical shit. You know like “I’m gonna do a big-ass portrait today” or “I’m gonna do some big traditional half-sleeve” and I’m always like “Nah, fuck that I’m gonna do something weird that nobody is gonna look for here, and that was like, really cool. I had all kinds of people throwing weird ideas at me and I was like “Oooh I like that, oooh I like that”, and you don’t get that from the typical stuff so it was awesome to try that here instead of at home.

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IP: Are there other awards that you’ve won as a tattoo artist?

JM: Yeah I’ve won, in the state of Virginia I did a convention in Lynchburg that I got first place for “Small Black & Grey” in (I think) 2007. In 2008 I did it again, at the same convention but in Richmond (they moved it). And then I did first place here last year for “Most Unusual”.

IP: Awesome! Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself as an artist or about your tattoo shops that we haven’t covered?

JM: The only thing I would say is that I’m young, I’m now 23 years old, and I’m officially the youngest award winning artist (I believe) on the east coast right now. The one thing I would say is that there are I lot of young artists that fall into what the old artists are doing. Never fall into what everybody else is doing. I spent a lot of time as a kid straying away from what my father did to be my own artist because I knew I wouldn’t grow to my full potential without it, and I don’t want anybody else to do that, to miss out and not do the same thing (as I did). One other thing, for tattoos, would be to never draw the same style. Don’t ever strive to be an artist that’s a traditional artist or a realistic artist or anything like that. Because, what’s the point, you know? You switch up your styles and everybody will complain but who looks the same and who doesn’t? Everybody should strive to do something off-the-wall, over-the-top, and always do something different every day… a different style, a different form, anything. Even if your line work changes every day slightly, just do it, just be flexible.

We had a blast at the 2013 Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention! It only seems to get bigger and better with each passing year. We can’t wait to see what the 2014 show has in store. If you’re looking to get some ink yourself, we highly suggest working with Joe Matisa or one of the other amazing artists at Kiss of Ink or Ink Junction (tell them Independent Philly sent you). Joe was a breeze to work with. He is friendly, professional, and above all else, extremely talented. If beauty is only skin deep, it’s best to have the most stunning artwork possible, just beneath your skin.


Kiss of Ink:

515 Hamilton Ave. Trenton, NJ.

Open 7 days a week from 12pm-10pm

609 393-5000

Ink Junction:

24 Turntable Junction Flemington, NJ 08822

(609) 891- INKD (4653)


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You can view an expanded photo gallery below (click thumbnails to enlarge):