Tattoo expo showcases some of San Antonio’s original artists

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By Jason B. Hogan

Convention planners say the event will draw more than 100 of the best tattoo artists in the country

The 2008 Slinging Ink Tattoo Expo debuts today at Freeman Coliseum from 2 p.m.-10 p.m., hosting more than 100 artists from all over the country — new and old school.
Tattoo conventions are not just a site for artists to exhibit their talents; they also offer a slew of guest bands.
Over the three-day event, the coliseum has invited more than 10 bands, some of which are locally based, such as Slick Dickens, Papa Wood, Man of Sorrows and Nancy Silva Project. The event gives attendees a chance to see something new and different from the industry’s leading tattoo experts.
Among the participants for this year’s expo are two native studios, Custom Ink Tattoos and Mr. Lucky’s Tattoo.
Both shops pride themselves on originality, never repeating a tattoo.
Weldon Lewis, owner of Mr. Lucky’s Tattoo, said their tattoos are 100 percent custom.
“Everything on the walls are pretty much decoration,” Lewis said.
The expo offers both studios an opportunity to look forward to new ideas and opens their doors to new customers every year.
Abel Quiñones, an artist from Custom Ink, has been with the studio for nearly a year and said he welcomes the expo because it gives him the chance to build a list of new customers. “They’re (expos) good for business and learning other techniques from other artists,” Quiñones said. “You get the chance to showcase your work.”
Quiñones has been a professional tattoo artist for five years, but, like most artists in the industry, his first calling was not tattoo artistry.
Prior to breaking into the business, he was an art director and graphic designer; tattooing was a way out of the corporate industry. “I found I didn’t like wearing a suit everyday, and I traded it in for a baseball cap and tennis shoes,” Quiñones said. “I started off drawing portraits of people. My friends said, ‘Man, you should tattoo.’”
Quiñones’ favorite artistic styles are portraits and pin-ups; anything that looks real.
Now, he has fashioned himself as a specialist from everything to Japanese art to traditional styles.
Making an imprint with a tattoo business is not always the same; sometimes, you have to know the right person.
Joaquin Benites, an apprentice at Custom Ink, kick-started his career with an introduction of Quiñones.
Last year, Benites was working in a junk yard when he met Quiñones and found out he was a tattoo artist.
Benites began drawing at 10 and was an editorial and calendar artist for The Ranger in spring 1996.
Strangers to tattoo expos should be aware of the variations of tattoos they can receive.
The four tattoo artists at Custom Ink shift their styles once in a while: big and bold; graffitti; pin-up; traditional; and black and gray.
But artists have become interchangeable, never limited to a style, in particular.
“Big” Jesse Garcia honed his talent as a premiere black-and gray-artist.
“I like doing black-and-gray pieces, almost what people consider prison tats,” Garcia said.
He said he can trace his work from here to the West Coast, places like Washington, California and Las Vegas, through people he has given tattoos.
“I’ve either been there for conventions, or just stopped through to talk to people and given them tattoos in hotel rooms,” Garcia said.
Taking tattooing equipment everywhere is like having a wallet in your back pocket, Garcia said.
Whatever location a customer receives a tattoo, studio or otherwise, it is a business in acceptance of gratuity; although tips are not required.
Quiñones said it is not a matter of the tips being a primary source of income, but it is an industry accustomed to receiving them based on the quality of the work.
“They are not mandatory, but there are a lot of artists out there I wouldn’t tip,” Quiñones said. “But, this is a service industry … and the artists make the shop.”
Weldon Lewis, owner of Mr. Lucky’s Tattoo, detailed business pricings during the tattoo event.
Lewis said the purpose of the event is self-promotion, selling shirts, passing out cards and selling yourself.
“It’s more of getting the word out, drumming up the business,” Lewis said.
Lewis said pricing at the expo for tattoos is usually a standard rate, depending on size and detail of the piece.
“It’d pretty much be the same price or maybe more because you have to haul a lot over there,” Lewis said. “It’s more troublesome.”
The event runs throughout the weekend. The doors open from 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and noon-8 p.m. Sunday.
Ticket prices vary depending on the day of attendance; today, $15; Saturday, $20; Sunday, $15.

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