The inked-up lifestyle

Tattoo-covered artists and curious patrons shared their love of inked skin at the Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention. After taking a glance at her exterior, one would never guess Rose Banks has a fear of needles.

WALBERT YOUNG TTN (Above) “Baron” of The Freak Kings hangs an iron from his eyelids to keep attendees occupied. The Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention had more than 200 tables of tattoo artists and vendors with musical performances, suspension acts, slip-n- slide bikini bowling and body modification acts.

Tattoo-covered artists and curious patrons shared their love of inked skin at the Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention.

After taking a glance at her exterior, one would never guess Rose Banks has a fear of needles. The kennel technician from Binghamton, N.Y., has 58 total facial and body piercings, all of which were self-pierced, along with somewhere between 30 and 40 tattoos – she lost count.

Small silver hoops running down each of her ears lead to two, large lime-green gauges. Her matching cheek micro-dermal piercings move as she speaks along with her two lip rings, monroe piercing and labret.

“I don’t feel so weird here,” Banks said over the droning buzz of tattoo machines coming from inside the Sheraton Hotel in Center City last weekend.

Banks, along with her mother Pam Banks, who bears 15 tattoos of her own, drove three and a half hours to the Villain Arts’ Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention, held Feb. 4-6.

The two browsed more than 200 tables of tattoo artists and vendors alongside girls wearing backless-tops and studded-heels, guys who have made their faces living, breathing canvases for tattooers and the curious who have yet to commit fully to the permanent decision of getting “inked.”

“Philadelphia’s a big city with people who aren’t afraid to be different,” Pam Banks said. “A lot of people just want to follow the norm and don’t want to stand out. Tattoos set everyone apart from everyone else. They’re a form of individuality and expression.”

Hundreds of vendors and artists – some who traveled from as far as California – converged to temporarily set up shop in the Sheraton’s banquet halls to tattoo attendees on-site, show off their portfolios and sell various pieces of artwork and equipment, such as inks, after-care products, machines and needles.

The husband-and-wife team of Joe “Tattoo” and Kristel Oreto, who own the studio Crimson Anchor Tattoo in Holiday, Fla., were present at the convention. The two are big participants in the convention circuit and attend one or two events per month.

Tattoo walked the aisles of booths, carrying his hairless sphinx cat Fafi in a cloth around his body. His 10-year-old stepdaughter, Angel Oreto, sported pink streaks in her hair that matched those of her mother’s.

“We love Philly all together because it’s so centrally located,” Tattoo said. “The main thing with us is that when we travel we like to see eclectic things. Where we’re from in Florida, it’s really flat land and everything is manufactured. You don’t get that eclectic feel[ing] you have when you come here.”

Tattoo said he believes conventions such as this, represent how much tattooing has advanced and improved since he first picked up a tattoo machine in 2000. His specialty lies in black and grey spiritual or religious work that “has some kind of story behind it.”

“When I first started tattooing, I learned from a guy that could barely draw, so definitely the art of tattooing has come around and that’s what, I think, is making it more accepted,” Tattoo said. “People aren’t getting crappy tattoos anymore. They’re getting really nice ones.”

Although no tattoos have made their way onto Angel Oreto’s body just yet, she still involves herself in the tattoo world through her blog She started the blog in May 2010 to talk about tattoos and the lifestyles of the various artists she gets to interview at conventions and through e-mail. Her blog has been featured in this month’s issue of Tattoo Revue.

If she does decide to get tattoos one day, Angel said her mom will be the one to do it because “she’s an amazing tattoo artist.”

Kristel Oreto, who was tattooing at the convention, started in 1999 and specializes in a style she calls “bubble girlie.” It incorporates fun, bright colors and quirky designs.

“My wife has her own style,” Tattoo said. “She’s got a clientele of women that will travel from anywhere to get tattooed by her because nobody does what she does.”

The convention also offered outlandish entertainment spectacles for those seeking more than just body art.

Crash performed body modification suspension acts, where girls were suspended from hooks that have been put through temporary body piercings. The weekend-long event included performances by the Olde City Sideshow and Murphy’s Law, as well as slip-n-slide bikini bowling and bikini mechanical-bull riding.

Tattoo contests were offered with a $10 entrance fee in a slew of categories such as best portrait, best sleeve, best cover up and best overall for both men and women. Seminars on permanent cosmetics, Photoshop basics and micro-dermals were among some offered.

If artists weren’t working on clients or attending seminars, some added to their own tattoo collections.

Showtime Tattoo owner Joe Berutti from Allentown, Pa., was getting work done from his friend and fellow tattoo artist Neil England of Paradox Tattoo based out of North Dartmouth, Mass. Neil transferred a stencil onto Berutti’s side of his 3-year-old grandson, Eben – in monkey form.

“[Eben] just started laughing and looked at the picture and said, ‘I’m a monkey,’” Berutti said. “I have me in monkey form on my back.”

Berutti said he believes tattoos are becoming more widely accepted and appreciated in society, and the convention is a positive illustration of that.

“It’s finally out. No one has to hide it anymore,” he said. “You can look at a lot of people’s ink and get a story from them without having to ask questions. The only difference with [people with tattoos] is we don’t judge people with tattoos the way people without them judge the people that do.”

Cara Stefchak can be reached at

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