The 12th Annual Baltimore Tattoo Arts Convention is held at the Convention Center. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)

Baltimore’s tattooing history runs more than skin-deep. Carl Murray points to Tattoo Charlie’s, downtown on Baltimore Street, which Charlie Geizer opened in 1938. The red-goateed Essex native began apprenticing under Dennis Watkins, who took over the shop after Geizer’s death in 1980, as a 17-year-old. Murray since became famous as a broadcaster and announcer — largely under versions of his moniker, Dr. Carl Blasphemy — as well as a respected authority on tattoo culture.

“Baltimore’s always been a tattoo town,” he says. “When I was 17, back in the ‘80s, tattooing was very big. Back then, about one in every 10 or 12 people you knew had a tattoo. We’ve seen it gradually increase, to about one in every eight people. Now, anywhere in the country, one in every three or four people you know have a tattoo of some sort. In Baltimore, it’s probably one of every two or three.”


That growth, bolstered by the proliferation of tattoo-focused reality shows like “Ink Master,” came full circle at the 12th Annual Baltimore Tattoo Arts Convention this weekend. This gathering of tattoo artists, enthusiasts, merchants and affiliated vendors is one of the largest put on by Villain Arts.

Blasphemy, who works as the Philadelphia-based company’s general manager and emcees conventions around North America, sees the Baltimore convention as a sort of homecoming in a city that loves its ink. It’s so much of a tattoo city that a special guest — none other than preeminent actor Jeff Goldblum — stopped by on Sunday, the convention’s last day — to shoot a documentary special on tattooing.

The Baltimore Sun couldn’t secure an interview with Goldblum, but it did speak to several tattoo artists about Charm City’s ink history and the quintessential Baltimore and Maryland tattoos they’ve put on people’s bodies. Some are vets who’ve been featured on the shows that brought tattooing into America’s living rooms. Others came into the profession relatively recently. All have their own views on the images, from sports logos to Edgar Allan Poe faces, that make up Baltimore’s tattoo signature. Here are some of their reflections:

“Probably the coolest tattoo I’ve seen here in the past few years was an older gentleman who came in here last year, and he got a beautiful Johnny Unitas portrait, based on a picture he had signed with Unitas’ autograph. That brought me back to my childhood. There’s a lot of Baltimore pride.” — Dr. Carl Blasphemy

“We do a lot of orioles and ravens. We’ve done the skyline, collages and sleeves of crabs, the Maryland flag, all of that. A lot people in Maryland are very proud of the state, and the flag is a huge part of people’s lives. They like to incorporate it into every tattoo, even if it has nothing to do with Maryland, they’ll find a way to put the flag’s colors in. It’s a very proud state. And I’ve seen more tattooed people in Baltimore than most places. The city’s character is very artistic and open-minded.” — Lydia Bruno of Black Lotus Tattoo Gallery in Hanover, and a contestant on fourth season of “Ink Master”

“Typically, in Baltimore, people want clouds, stars, names [of family] the skyline, the Ravens logo — most people gravitate towards simpler stuff.” — Destiny Harriston, founder of Black Lux Tattoo Studio in the Westfield neighborhood of Baltimore

Marylanders are partial to state-themed tattoos artists, say.
Marylanders are partial to state-themed tattoos artists, say. (Don Peddicord)

“I travel the country tattooing, and I don’t see many places where people get tattoos representing their states. In Maryland, we do a Maryland sleeve like once a week — full sleeves with Maryland motifs, from Natty Boh to the Orioles and Ravens, the Domino Sugar sign, Utz girl. The flag’s a huge one, and other states are never like that. I think it’s just because we have a cool looking flag, really. Yesterday, I did a tattoo of a crab holding an Old Bay can.” — Don Peddicord, owner of Tattoo Dynasty in Joppa, Harford County, and a contestant on fifth season of “Ink Master”

“Probably the most common tattoo I do is the black-eyed Susan. Other than that, we do the oriole and the outline of the state a lot. Some people want something a little unusual, like a can of Old Bay, or a Berger cookie, a bag of Otterbein cookies. I’ve done a tub of Thrasher’s fries on somebody. Those aren't common, but they’re pretty cool. We joke around that cover-ups are the most common style of tattoos in Baltimore. But you don’t have one specific style here.” — Lorena Grewe, artist at Tattoo Guru in Overlea/Nottingham/Parkville on Belair Road in Baltimore County