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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.

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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):

Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention 2012: Ink Outside the Box

The Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention, one of the largest Tattoo related festivals in the country, was held over the weekend at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Presented by Villain Arts, it’s a three day extravaganza celebrating the holy union of ink and skin.

After fighting through insanely crowded conditions at the Sheraton Convention Center in 2010 and 2011, we were pleased that the three day festival of ink had been moved to a larger space with a more open floor plan. Although the crowds still packed into the convention on all three days (most noticeably on Saturday), there was still room to navigate down the rows of artists and vendors who had come from all over the region, country, and world to showcase their talents and wares.

The back corner of the space held the stage (used for demonstrations, tattoo contests, and shows), as well as tables where several charitable foundations were handing out information and speaking to patrons. There was also food, and of course, several bars.

While the Tattoo Arts Convention focuses mainly on the art of tattooing, there are also booths/artists featuring piercing, scarification, body modification, and yes, even tattoo removal.

Tattoo related reality shows are all the rage these days and there were stars on hand from NY Ink (Chris Torres & Megan), L.A. Ink (Amy Nicoletto), and several other programs. There were porn stars, at least one WWE superstar, and the best people-watching you could ever hope for.

Tattoo artists are some of the most talented people on the planet. The fact that their canvases are the bodies of other human beings, adds a whole other dimension to their art. Their drawings and sketches are impressive on paper but to see the works of art come to life on skin is magical, although not always for the faint of heart.

As we’d done in years past, we wanted to get a first person perspective on getting inked at the convention. We teamed up with Clay Smith of 717 Tattoos to get some fresh ink (an artistic tattoo of a compass) and a fresh perspective on the life of a tattoo artist.

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

Clay Smith: I’ve been working as a professional artist for around 5 years. I had an apprenticeship that lasted a little over a year before that.

Work of Clay Smith

IP: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve done for someone?

CS: I don’t really have what you would call a “favorite”. I guess I would say the ones I like best are the ones I’ve put on my girlfriend, and body piercer at our Mechanicsburg location, Skelly. I’ve done a gypsy head, an all seeing eye, and a concept lily deal on her hand. We are working on tying that into a half sleeve right now. I also really like the Ryan Dunn and Bob Ross portraits, as well as the crow and snake sleeve, the nun in the gas mask, and the realistic hummingbird.

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

CS: I’ve worked on a tattoo that was an entire half sleeve and chest plate that took over 25 hours to complete.

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IP: How many tattoos do you have yourself? What was your first? Most recent?

CS: I have a complete half sleeve on my right arm, a piece on the right side of my chest, 4 or 5 tattoos on each leg, and some letters on my right wrist that were done when i was 15 years old with a sewing needle and india ink (dumb i know, but i was 15)! That was my first tattoo. My latest one is a black flag with laurels on my ankle done by Stephan at the 717 location i work at in Highspire, PA.

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IP: Tell us a bit about 717 Tattoos…

CS: I work at the Highspire location for 717 Tattoos. It is one of 4 locations in the Central PA area. I work with some great artists, and a great body piercer, in a clean, professional, drama-free environment. I’m so happy to be working in such a place. So often artists have to sacrifice their morals/standards because of the shop they work in or the coworkers they work with. I am very lucky to not have to do that. my co workers (Stephan, Shelby, and Joe) are some really awesome artists, and i enjoy working with them while learning and growing off of each other. We are open 7 days a week 12pm-9pm. We are located at 313 2nd Street, Highspire PA 17034. The phone number is (717) 939-7717  “Helping you look better naked…”

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

CS: I’ve always been an artist, mainly working in oil paints, graphite, charcoal, and digital mediums. I went to Carver Center for Arts and Technology for visual arts in high school where I took college level AP fine art classes. My graduating class was number one in the world for the AP studio fine art exams for 2005. I scored a 5, which is the highest score given for that exam. When deciding on the answer to the good old question “what do you want to do with your life?”, I realized from looking at my father’s situation, where he has a bachelors in economics from Amherst university and a masters in business administration from Columbia, yet still gets laid off, has trouble finding work because he is “over qualified”, and generally doesn’t get to spend any time doing what he wants to do (or with family) because he works himself to death to pay for it all, that’s not what I wanted to do. The last thing I wanted was to join the rat race. I figured art was something that I do when I’m not getting paid for it, and would continue to do if I wasn’t getting paid for it. It’s something that I feel happy about when I think about it and I don’t dread going to work. I get to create something new that means something to people everyday; I wouldn’t be able to get that anywhere else. There is also a sense of independence as a tattoo artist that you don’t get from many jobs.

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IP: What would you say to someone who is strongly considering a tattoo but hasn’t pulled the trigger on getting it done?

CS: I would say to seriously think about what tattoo you are getting ready to get, and have a solid idea when walking in the door. Do some research and see what can be done in the world of tattoos nowadays, and look through portfolios until you find an artist whose style really appeals to you. Once you’ve done that, you can approach that artist with your idea and have faith that he/she will come out with something you really love. HAVE FAITH IN YOUR ARTIST. I would also say not to sacrifice your idea because of price or pain. Tattoos are on your body for the rest of your life. If you like your artist’s work, and trust him/her, pay what they ask. If you do, your tattoo will come out better and you will be more happy with it.

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IP: How did you enjoy this year’s Philadelphia Tattoo Convention? What was the craziest thing you saw?

CS: This was only my second convention (working), so for me it was very fun but also very stressful. I had a great time though, met some great artists and some great people, and did some fun tattoos, so it was a good experience. I’ve seen some pretty crazy stuff in my times so it’s relatively hard to shock me at this point. Some of the craziest things I saw were some of the tattoos being done by some really great artists.

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IP: When it comes to inking, what do you consider you specialties?

CS: I like to think I’m a relatively well rounded artist. I like to do things that have more of an artistic value like scenery and pseudo-realistic/surreal stuff. I’ve been getting into more of the color bomb type of stuff, I wouldn’t really call it “new school” but it leans in that direction. I just like to tattoo.

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IP: What’s the biggest tattoo myth you can dispel for us?

CS: I’d like to dispel the myth that people with tattoos are criminals, gangsters, trouble makers, scumbags etc. This myth leads to other myths, like tattoos affect how well you do your job, that people with tattoos are dirty etc., and other stereotypes that are unnecessary. In fact, most of the people I’ve met with a lot of tattoos, and those I’ve tattooed, are some the nicest, most outgoing, hardworking people I’ve ever met. This is an ugly, ancient stereotype that is as outdated as it is untrue. It’s insulting.

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IP: If you could tattoo any one living person, with any one tattoo, who and what would you choose?

CS: I would tattoo “criminal” across George W. Bush’s forehead and add a pig head on his cheek with dollar signs in its eye.

The finished COMPASS tattoo

The 2012 Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention was our favorite one yet. We can only imagine what the 2013 show will have in store for everyone. In the meantime, we highly suggest paying Clay a visit a 717 Tattoos (tell him Independent Philly sent you). He, or one of the other talented artists at their four locations, are professional, friendly, and easy to work with. We love the compass tattoo and promise that Clay won’t steer you in the wrong direction. If beauty is only skin deep, it’s best to have the most stunning artwork possible, just beneath your skin.

You can check out our gallery with photos from all three days of the 2012 convention below:

Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention 2011

Independent Philly enjoyed covering the Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention so much in 2010 that we had to go back again this year.

With hundreds of tattoo artists, piercers, and body modification specialists showcasing their talents for three full days, there is absolutely no shortage of things to see and do.

Beaver Tattoo (Woodhaven, NY)

Whether you attend to get some fresh ink or a new piercing, want to see the latest in tattoo technology and techniques, or just want to roam around and see what lengths others will go to transform their bodies, this is the place to see (and be seen).

Gamble Tattoo (Chris)

This year’s convention was PACKED with people. We’re not kidding. At one point on Saturday they had to stop selling any more bracelets (which allow entry for one or all three days) for several hours.

Old City Tattoo (Philadelphia, PA)

The two floors of the convention contain much more than just tattooing and piercing booths. There are artists, food vendors, alcohol, and shops selling clothing, sunglasses, jewelry, and much more.

Black 13 Tattoo (Nashville, TN)

There were tattoo artists and piercers from all over the country in attendance (including ones from TV shows like “Miami Ink” and “L.A. Ink”) that gave demonstrations.

Tattoo Artist Alex Harris

Our favorite announcement came on Saturday when a voice came over the loud-speaker with information about seeing a woman getting her vagina pierced on the Mezzinine level.

Flyer Tiger Tattoo (New Britain, CT)

Last year we sent our own D. Jacob Miller to the convention where he got inked by Gamble Tattoos in order to do a first person perspective (which you can view by CLICKING HERE and scrolling down).

Folk City Tattoo (Suffolk, VA)

This year, we were there mostly to observe but still had an amazing time.

 

Gamble Tattoo (Easton, PA)

If you got some work done at this year’s convention, we’d love to see it! You can email your photos to phillyindependent@gmail.com if you’d like to appear in our photo gallery!

Full photo slide show:

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