Tattoos, technology converge at Baltimore body art convention

Not even getting stabbed repeatedly by a needle could get Danielle Cromb to put down her smartphone Saturday afternoon.

"I've been on Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest," said Cromb, of Charleston, S.C., who clutched her iPhone as she was having ink injected into the skin on the back of her neck. "Mostly it's helpful if I'm looking up a picture in the middle of a conversation with an artist. And it can definitely be a distraction."

It is a common sight this weekend inside the Baltimore Convention Center: Semi-dressed, prostrate people playing games, texting and listening to music on their cellphones as tattoo artists work.

Since the Baltimore Tattoo Arts Convention started five years ago, technology has changed how people behave while they are tattooed — and how artists go about doing business and creating designs, said attendees of the 2012 event, which ends Sunday.

People now use their phones "all the time" while getting tattooed, said Katrina Gafford, a tattoo artist from East Hartford, Conn., who was at work along Cromb's collar. "I don't mind. Whatever keeps them comfortable and happy is fine with me." Even the cords from earphones typically don't get in the way of the tattooing process, she said.

Mindi Crossan, of Edgewood, was playing an interactive word game as Joshua Johnson, of House of Poncho's tattoo parlor in Abingdon drew on her leg.

"I've got five or six games going," said Crossan. Larger tattoos can take a long time to complete — Crossan was going to be under the needle for at least two and a half hours — and having a smartphone can go a long way in keeping people preoccupied during the often-painful process, Johnson said.

As the cavernous convention hall hummed with the sound of tattoo machines Saturday, many of the padded tables in the 330 exhibition booths were occupied by a customer dragging a finger across a phone's touch screen.

Frankie Sanchez, who came down to Baltimore from the Poconos for the convention, was listening to hip-hop and playing poker while he reclined on a table as Mike Ruocco of Tannersville, Pa., inked his calf.

"It's great. This way, we don't have to entertain them," said Ruocco. Most of his convention customers use headsets and phones while being tattooed, he said, and even at the more intimate setting of his shop, half of his customers tune out with music.

Nick Chandler, who lives in Mount Vernon, was listening to a comedy show through the speakers of his phone even though Megan Niehaus, of Roland Park, was waiting with him as he had a ram's head drawn on his right pectoral.

"More people are on their phones than talking to someone," said Sarah Peca, the co-owner of Konkrete Jungle Custom Tattoo in Columbia. "They're texting people to say how much it hurts."

Mobile technology has also changed how artists go about their business, Peca said. She uses her iPad to take credit card payments, sketch tattoo designs and take pictures of her shop's work, she said. She was using WiFi at the Convention Center to print her sketches off so that they could be transferred on to skin.

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