The New York Tattoo Convention

We entered an unlit hallway made of cardboard and panels, with the first visible thing being a T-shirt stand selling NYC Tattoo Convention T’s. The buzzing of needles was pervasive and soon became white noise. What attracted our attention was the sound of a whip snapping and someone screaming.

The New York Tattoo (and Piercing) Convention occurs every year at the Roseland Ballroom, sometime in May. Despite the mere four annual T-shirts their website sells, they are now in their 10th year. Tattoo and piercing artists and people with general body modification needs father round and take over Roseland for three days.

face tattoo

Look closely for the guy whose features are hard to discern under ink

They set up stands over two floors and a back area is dedicated to catered food and alcohol. Members of various freak shows, such as the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, occupy the stage and people like the drunken Bearded Lady flaunt what they got. Other times the stage is reserved for the freshly tattooed who travel slowly across the scaffold to pose for sudden and adoring fans and finally make it to the judges.

Below are a number of men who hardly need pants to cover up.

look ma, no pants


doesn’t need pants

This one is my favorite because we share similar art attachments

Dali leg tattoo

And this one is obviously a Bruce Campbell aficionado Bruce Campbell Aficionado

A winner is declared in various categories such as best black and white, best portrait, etc, but we didn’t stick around for the results to the contest. I’m sure we missed out and are therefore jerks.

The whip hit the stage with authority as a white haired and bearded man in full cowboy get-up placed a straw in his mouth and proceeded to whip it off one tiny piece at a time. He was one of the “freaks” who take over entertainment when the stage is free of the inked and sometimes still bleeding tattoo enthusiasts. The whip left his hands and while I watched where it fell a lasso appeared. A volunteer was procured from the audience, a cute girl was positioned to hold her arms just so and was promptly lassoed. After a few more commands she was completely tied up which I’m sure satisfied the audience on more than just one level.

Sorry about all the blurry, the camera didn’t last long after this

Lassoing the girl Whipping

The lasso master did various tricks I don’t have the proper lasso terminology to describe, but it appeared that he really should have tripped himself up and broken one of his elderly bones while falling offstage. This didn’t occur, however, because he is a master.

D42, the newest and brightest of all chemical elements, and I, your faithful reporter, Eat The Lemons, wandered through the crowds and watched as in the darkened interior lamps illuminated limbs and other body parts being attacked with needles. The buzzing emanated from every stand; no tattoo artist was idle. Upstairs we walked past folks otherwise occupied. A man was leaning across a table full of gothy merchandize and loudly lecturing to a 10-year old or possibly his mother about the sins of excess. His features were difficult to discern through the tattoos covering his face. The many gages worth of earring no longer in his ear left his ear lobe huge and floppy. The little boy looked fascinated, his mother looked like this happens all the time.

A small fence separated a man lying prone on the floor and a tattoo artist surrounded by pots of ink with a pointed bamboo stick in his hands. The tattooist stabbed lightly at the body in front of him, occasionally wiping away blood and dipping in for more ink. The artist was Japanese, and came down from Osaka to perform at this convention. Not too many pictures I’m sorry to say, because, of course, my batteries died almost right away.

After that petting-zoo like experience (without the petting) we moved on to the only available piercing stand. I was familiar with the Pure Body Arts studio from a few years back when I got a sternum piercing from Brian Decker, the piercer in situ. The piercing didn’t fare well because I was an idiot and after much touching of it (NO!!! NEVER DO THIS!!!) finally tore out a part of it with a necklace. Healing was really out of the question and I had to take it out only 6 months after getting it because the pain was getting pretty bad and the pus was completely unattractive.

Completely in awe of this man, I decided to strike up a conversation anyway. I fingered my keloids and asked if it was possible to repeirce. I’ve been using Mederma to soften them up and all that. Brian took a look and explained that it doesn’t matter about the keloids; he’ll just “punch through them.” When presented with that visualization I found I needed to take a walk around and consider my options.

I walked past merchandize like onesies with skulls and crossbones and tiny booties in red and black stripes. The Convention was in part a family affair. As children were born, they were born into the lifestyle. I saw a hugely tall androgynous person walk past wearing naught more than silver tape and enormous boots. A halo of spikes rose around his or her head and tattoos covered the parts of body bare of tape. The face sparkled with metal. The 10-year old boy at the booth nearby watched her/him walk by and thoughtfully ate candy.

The decision was made. We returned to Brian’s booth and flipped through the books of photos on the table while I waited my turn. One of the books featured fairly mild surface piercings and then more and more elaborate ones. Thin bars were places around and into wrists to look like bracelets, holes of various size were punched through ears. Eventually, the photos entered the realm of plastic surgery. A photo of an ear was presented with the tip sown up into a shape of triangle. A photo underneath it, with all the stitching taken out, showed the ear ending in a point and slick with scar tissue. The overall effect was of a burn victim whose ear was now shaped like that of a pig. A tongue was presented, split in half as far as we could see with the two halves stitched up. Eventually, the same tongue with stitches taken out, the two forks wiggling in opposite sides.

A girl chatted to the folks guarding the photo albums and peddling odd jewelry. On her back was a corset piecing with a ribbon prettily woven through the rings. “How pretty!” I told her as I watched a bead of blood start making its way down from one of the rings. “I just got it done! She did it for me, actually,” the corset wearer pointed to a gaunt girl next to her. I mentioned the blood and they made off to the bathroom for cleanup.

The next album was of suspensions: men and women hung up on hooks and floating in the air. Brian was in some of these. He hung from hooks extending through his back in one and suspended upside down from his knees in another. Everyone looked peaceful. There were scores of pictures of scarification and subdermal implants laid out in patterns or made to look like horns ready to burst through. Pure Body Arts practices body modification in no uncertain terms.

Finally, after a bathroom break and once the instruments went through 20 minutes of sterilization by fire I laid down on the same table I was on 2 years ago and D42 positioned herself nearby where she could watch everything I couldn’t see and allow me to squeeze her hand.

“So I don’t even have to mark them this time?” Brian was pleased.
“Nope, the scars are pretty much right there” I was pleased too—to finally be rid of the scars as well as by this second chance to be good to a piercing I really liked. I mentioned that I was glad to be rid of the keloids and Brian gave me a funny look. Right… scars is something people actually pay to get in his world.

Brian did something painful, then something else that was painful and then more pain followed. In about 5 minutes he was finished. D42 told me that he punched a hole through each of the keloids in my chest, and then inserted a tiny metal tube with a little foot that went under the skin and then screwed a ball on while squeezing my skin which now went around the tube. She swears I didn’t break her hand and I believe her; although painful, the procedure wasn’t awful and after a few seconds the pain became something else and I floated away on it and was able to relax my grip.

piercing merged

Actually, this is a pic 3 months post and the redness is due to me wearing my messenger bag. That’s another don’t.

The piercing seemed to be the climax of the day and with my waning surge of adrenaline and now utter lack of funds I couldn’t think of what else I could possibly do at the convention. D42 remained unconvinced about the wonders of piercing her nape.

While we loitered around the exit a family walked in carting a baby carriage and walking a toddler. Mom wore a red vinyl dress and huge boots that are the staple of every gothy/cyberpunk outfit at the convention. Both mom and dad sported subdermal implants that gave the appearance of horns. The toddler was dressed in fatigues and her hair was braided and bound in two little bumps at her forehead. The baby wore a skull and crossbones onesie.

“I would kill to be at that PTA meeting,” said D42 and we went off to get dinner.

Copyright © 2007 Eat The Lemons


  1. I am collecting stories about the New York City convention for Skin Art Magazine’s New York special issue. If you would like to contribute, please contact me as soon as possible.

    • eatthelemons
    • July 11th, 2007

    BTW, the new sternum piercing has been doing really well and is healing a lot easier and a lot faster thanks to the difference in both procedure and quality of metal. Thanks, Brian.

  2. I bet there was a lot of great ink at the tattoo convention. Not sure I want to see a bunch of bums sticking out as they flaunt what they got though.

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