This weekend was my first time judging a tattoo competition.
I was a nervous wreck going into it, as the sheer name recognition of the artists involved in the convention was enough to put any tattoo junkie in shock. One of my own personal idols in the industry, Shanghai Kate Hellenbrand, also known as America’s Tattoo Godmother, was there. Meeting her literally gave me chills and almost brought me to tears. The woman is a talent in her own right and her traditional work is, well, part of the original — and it’s hard to compete with that.
If you’re wondering how I wound up sitting on a judges’ panel for a tattoo competition featuring some of the best artists in the industry, let me give you a quick run-down of my background. I am one of the head writers for the internationally recognized e-zine Tattoo.com. I specialize in Tattoo History and Aftercare procedures. Over the past few years, I have been featured in documentaries for tattoo history used in universities in the United Kingdom, as well as being involved with creating industry-approved aftercare documents, pamphlets and more.
Oh, and I am also the co-owner of a tattoo studio right here in Citrus County: Twistid Ink located in Colonial Plaza in Inverness.
Tattooing is a practice that has been embedded in human culture for over 5,000 years, getting its early start as a form of acupuncture designed to ease ailments such as joint pain and fatigue. While tattooing has had its highs and lows over its lifespan, it has continued to adapt, shift and mutate into a force to be reckoned with. The industry is now one of the largest in the U.S., with over 45 million Americans taking part in the culture. What was once considered a nuisance business has now grown into a $1.6 billion industry.
The level of skill in the industry has also grown over its lifespan. With such a wide array of new inks, needles, and equipment available to artists, the resulting product has gone from small and simplified designs to incredible works of detailed art stretching across entire bodies.
This past weekend, Oct. 6-8, at the fourth annual Tampa Tattoo Arts Convention was a perfect display of the astonishing talent residing in the modern tattoo industry.
The event was riddled with an extensive assortment of tattoo artists, entertainment personalities and vendors. Some of the best of the best in the industry were present, including over 18 tattoo-related television stars from shows such as Spike TV’s “InkMaster,” “Tattoos After Dark,” “Tattoo Nightmares” and the “Black Ink Crew.”
Over the weekend, a range of tattoo competitions took place. There were 48 categories total, including Tattoo of the Day (for each consecutive day) and Best in Show. Other categories included Best Portrait, Best Traditional, Best Lettering and Most Unusual — among many, many others.
The judging went unbelievably fast, as we had so many tattoos to review. Each category had between 20-40 pieces entered, except for Best Script-work and Overall Female, which only had a handful. For the Tattoo of the Day (which occurred at the end of each day of the convention) and Best in Show (which took place at the close of the convention, on Sunday evening) I sat on the panel with an artist from the Helios Tattoo Supply Pro-Team and another artist from the Eternal Ink Pro-Team. For the remaining competitions, I sat with only one other judge — the founder of Villain Arts, the company hosting the convention.
Piece by piece, each tattoo had to be analyzed, inspected and rated by each individual judge. At the end of every category, we had a few brief moments to compare notes and rankings and discuss any flaws or perfections in each piece in order to determine the top-ranking pieces. Depending on the category, we selected either the top three or the top five and then moved on to the next grouping.
While I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into it, I felt as if I got the hang of it pretty quickly. I was able to get right into the pieces, ranking them comparatively with the other judges and, in many cases, even finding flaws they weren’t seeing (wonky lines and spotty shading are the bane of my existence in this line of work).
By the end of the weekend, I found myself completely and utterly mentally exhausted. Although my entire line of work revolves around the tattoo industry, judging and analyzing so many pieces in such a short period of time took its toll on me. But, I made some amazing new friends and some even better business connections and — even better — I was invited to return as a judge for the first annual Miami Tattoo Arts Convention next month,
Elisha Neubauer writes for a number of publications including the Citrus County Chronicle and e-zine Tattoo.com. She is the author of the children’s book “Mr. Edmund Goat and the Elusive Clover” and is co-owner of Twistid Ink in Inverness.