Tattoo art convention attracts thousands to Kennewick

Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 28, 2013 

Most tattoo artists are grateful to Thomas Edison for more than his inventions of the light bulb and motion picture camera.

Edison also invented a device called the electric pen in 1876, which was later modified into a tattoo inking machine by Samuel O'Reilly in 1891.

There will be plenty of those more updated tattoo machines in use today at the Three Rivers Tattoo Convention, going on at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.

Hundreds have turned out each day of the convention, which started Friday. Admission is $15. Hours today are from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Even if the idea of permanently marking the body with a tattoo might not sound very appealing to some, the outrageously beautiful art being created definitely is worth viewing.

Emilie Hallman, 26, of Richland, lay quietly Saturday on her side while artist Lloyd Woodrome inked a design on her right thigh.

"I like the pain," Hallman joked when asked why she had 14 tattoos. "I got my first one when I was 17. You get used to (the pain) after a while."

Hallman, a bartender at the Uptown Tavern in Richland, figures she'll add a few more designs to her body before she's done.

Crystal Constant, 40, also has several tattoos, and will soon add a seventh to her tattoo menagerie.

"My next one will be an owl in honor of my 8-month-old goddaughter who died last year from SIDS," Constant said.

Constant's tattoos include a special one on the back of her neck -- a Celtic trinity knot with the names of her two children on each side.

While most tattoos tell some kind of story about its wearer, Duane Worden, 44, of Walla Walla, brings his family and love or horror movies into the inking process.

Both his arms sport realistic portraits of his family members, from his grandma to parents to siblings, and his chest is covered with motifs from his favorite horror movies. He plans to cover his entire torso with other scenes from horror movies.

April Merrin, 42, of Seattle, has a plethora of tats on her body. Seattle tattoo artist Chani Murat recently finished a portrait of Sabre, one of Merrin's three cats. Sabre, a beautiful black-and-white tuxedo, is dying of cancer and she wanted a daily reminder of the joy Sabre brought into her life.

Merrin's husband Anthony was having a giant owl etched across his shoulders by Murat at the convention. "We both love animals," she said.

So why do all these people continue to decorate their skin with tattoos despite the often-times negative looks they get from strangers?

Worden, who operates the Tatmandu tattoo parlor in Walla Walla, says people with tattoos are sometimes looked upon as odd, weird or unattractive.

"Life really shouldn't always be about what you look like, who you are," he said. "Tattoos hold different meanings to different people, but the artistry is beautiful."

Merrin agrees and believes finding the right artist who understands a person's philosophy behind the art they want inked is the key.

"I have an incredible artist (Murat) who has created these beautiful expressions of who I am," Merrin said.

Constant, a bank teller by trade, said her husband isn't wild about her tattoos but he doesn't give her a hard time about having them, either.

"I pay for my tattoos so it's not like he has to pay for them," she quipped. "But people do treat you differently if they see you with a tat. And that kind of judgment has been a good tool in teaching my kids not to judge people."

The convention also features a few non-inking artists, like 41-year-old Dutch Bihary and Paul Reynolds, who demonstrate their art using paint and paintbrush instead of ink.

Reynolds, 44, creates custom culture artwork and is sharing a booth with Kennewick tattoo artist Lloyd Woodrome. Custom culture is an art form driven by the hot rod car and tattoo cultures.

Many of his paintings are similar to the elaborate tattoos found on more than a few bodies at the convention.

At first glance during Saturday's session, passers-by had no idea Christa Fransen, 25, of Richland, was sitting naked, wearing only a bikini bottom, as Bihary put finishing touches on her back with a paintbrush.

Fransen also didn't appear to be the least bit embarrassed by her lack of clothing. Bihary's body art made her body look like a swirling stream of light from the cosmos. The paint washes off in the shower, she said.

"It's taken me a long time to get comfortable with my body, so this is nothing," Fransen said. "When I joined the Modified Dolls they helped build my confidence about how I looked.

Modified Dolls is an organization of women whose purpose is to change the public's perception of tattooed women.

Bihary, who was born in Richland, used a special body paint as he swirled bright shades of purple yellow, black, and pink paint over Fransen's body.

"I started out as a comic book illustrator," he said. The artist in him eventually manifested into face painting, then body art. Today he travels the world providing the body art for music videos, magazine advertising, and competitions.

"I thought it would be fun to be a comic book illustrator but it turned out to be horrible," Bihary said. "Then I got into fitness training. My wife volunteered me to do the face painting at a pumpkin patch (event) and I loved doing it so much I just kept going."

And what tattoo convention would be complete without a King Pin representative on hand with all the latest techno gadgets for tattooing.

Brian Slusher, a former body piercing technician from California, said professional tattoo machines can cost from $200 to $500.

But you'll need a license to purchase one, he added.

-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @dorioneal

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