At tattoo show, a community bound by ink and the Web

Ravens wide receiver LaQuan Williams sat calmly at the Baltimore Convention Center on Saturday as a tattoo artist buzzed at his shoulder, sketching out the latest design on the already well-inked torso.

Williams and the artist, who goes by the name Jonny Metropolis, have totaled at least a day together in a similar fashion after getting connected through the photo-sharing service Instagram. On Saturday, Metropolis was working on theatrical masks to represent the good times and the bad times in Williams' life.


"This is my guy," Williams said. "He does some good work."

For Williams, discovering the Queens, N.Y., tattoo artist brought him in contact with someone whose work he admired; for Metropolis, the overture from a pro athlete was "dope" and evidence that his online hustle was paying off.


"Without this self-promotion, I would never have had him notice me," he said.

Almost 500 artists from across the country descended on the convention center for the sixth annual Tattoo Arts Convention, the hum of their needles a testament to how popular getting ink has become. That popularity has fostered a spirit of community and competition among tattoo artists, they say, and Instagram has become a forum for sharing their work.

Organizers said thousands of people had shown up Saturday, and a crowd of men and women of all ages packed the aisles between the booths. Most already had ink of their own, but the odd teenager dragged along a parent on what might have been a scouting and lobbying mission for a first tattoo.

Many of the artists in town for the weekend-long show posted their Instagram usernames on the banners displayed at their booths.


Don Peddicord, who works at the Stone House Tattoo Studio in Joppa, said stars can be born online.

"Every tattooer has Instagram now. It's like a whole other culture," he said. The social-media site gives talented artists in a crowded field a chance to build a following and helps trends emerge at lightning speed, he added.

Not everyone at the show thought the booming popularity of tattoos has been for the good, though. One veteran artist from San Clemente, Calif., who goes by the name Brother Greg, said he liked the days when only a few had tattoos and the people applying them had a real passion for it.

On a more practical level, he said, the demand for ink is now so great that it can be hard to guarantee quality.

"Thing is, you don't have to be a good tattooer to tattoo," he said. "You don't get good right away."

But the online community, as well as a profusion of books, has made it easier to learn, he said, and pieces are subject to close scrutiny by the keen eyes of fellow artists.

"Now you see the best people in the world on your phone," he added. "If you're good, you're good."

Of course, if you're bad, you're bad, and Peddicord said he has a lot of customers who come to him looking to fix up previously botched or subpar work.

"It's always, 'My buddy will do it for $20 and a case of beer,' " he said. "Then they have to come to us and spend the real money."

That was how Williams' relationship with Jonny Metropolis got started. The Raven was not satisfied with a barely legible tattoo that was supposed to read "fortunate and blessed" around his upper chest, and Metropolis was able to salvage it.

Williams also wants to get a Super Bowl ring tattooed on his leg to commemorate the Ravens' championship game in February, but he is on a deadline. He has to have any new tattoos finished by July so they will be healed before he has to start training for the next football season.

So at the convention center, Williams settled in for another hour or so of needle work. It hurts, he said, but that's not a problem.

"Pain is temporary. You get used to it after a while," he said.


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