KENNEWICK -- Sarah Park of Issaquah walked away with best of show in the large color category on a pair of magnificently tattooed thighs.
Parks, who is a sociology major at the University of Washington, had to hike her skirt to reveal the award-winning image: a narwhal swimming amid aquatic plants on her left thigh.
A young woman, fatally bitten by a large snake, adorned her right thigh.
Tattoos filled the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick Friday and Saturday, and will continue to do so today with artists from throughout the West and as far away as Maine.
The event, which is in its second year, is expected to attract up to 6,000 people, said Heather Breymeyer, who is director of sales for the convention center.
Rattlesnake Mountain Harley-Davidson in Kennewick is the main sponsor, and Monarch Tattoo in downtown Kennewick is the technical adviser, Breymeyer said.
Artists not only displayed their art, but performed it on the spot for dozens of visitors who laid down both skin and upward of $100 an hour for the services.
"The most popular tattoo is something that revolves around the Day of the Dead," said Jodi Griffin, a 45-year-old tattooist from Amarillo, Texas, who was making his second trip to the Tri-City event in two years.
Much has changed in the past 30 years, Griffin said.
Tattoos used to be a lot smaller and art wasn't such a big deal.
Crisp and clean was the goal, and doing it under sterile conditions wasn't that important, Griffin said.
"It was the old sponge and bucket days, without gloves," he said.
Not so today, where tattooing has become a fine art and doing it with utmost care for cleanliness is paramount.
Luke Ray, an artist with Bragging Rights in Richland, said his customers often bring their own ideas for tattoos.
"A lot of them have milestones in their lives, such as children's names and event anniversaries," Ray said.
Some tattoos are cosmetic, both for the art of it and to cover skin blemishes, scars and other tattoos, Ray noted.
McKenzie Brown, whose husband Matt owns Bragging Rights, is fond of floral forms. A lotus blossom covers one of her feet and a four-inch diameter lily in full bloom adorns her neck.
"I'm into art and I like to have my body as a walking canvas," she said.
Breymeyer said she came up with the idea for a tattoo convention because the Tri-Cities has about a dozen shops and tattooing has become so mainstream.
Jimmy Knucles of Anvil Tattoo in Marysville, said there aren't any tattoos he won't do, if the customer insists.
"Hey, if a guy wants a swastika I'll do it. I got to pay my bills," he said.
But most of his customers want "script," which in tattoo parlance means names and words.
"Things like children's names and Bible verses," Knucles said.
Many other customers ask for tattoo cover-ups.
"As tattooing becomes more popular people are making more bad decisions," Knucles said. Hence the need for cover-ups.
He also has started doing cover-ups on gang-related tattoos, providing the service in Snohomish County when a judge recommends it to someone who is leaving the jail.
Park said she became interested in tattoos because they provide a way for self-expression and can indicate personal growth or spiritual meanings.
Her tattoo with the young woman with the fatal snake bites has a personal meaning to her childhood when she had a large snake.
The image is a reminder, she said, to "accept who I am," she said.
Ray said tattoos have become more acceptable in recent years, but they are not for everyone.
"I understand that they are not everyone's thing," Ray said.
Today's schedule runs from noon to 6 p.m. and includes a free talk about the history of tattoos by Jerrett Spaeth of Monarch Tattoos. There will be a slide show and discussion about why people get tattooed, along with "some jokes and occasional cussing," according to the convention program.
For more information, go to www.tattoo.threeriversconventioncenter.com. Admission is $10.