SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The sound of tattoo needles buzzing filled the Saratoga Springs City Center during the third and final day of the Saratoga Tattoo Expo on Sunday.
The expo featured an eclectic scene with more than 200 artists from all over the United States with their works on display, or they could be found in the middle of giving someone a fresh, new tattoo. You could walk all the way to the back near the stage and see the Halfmoon Tribal Belly Dancers putting on a performance, or browse the array of guitars being sold by Wolf Hill Guitars.
The expo, which ran from Friday through Sunday, saw approximately 5,000 attendees, according to Bill Lawyer, one of the expo’s organizers.
Lawyer, who is the president of Spaulding Rogers Manufacturing, said his company has organized the festival since it started seven years ago.
It’s something he has seen grown over the years, even after the first couple of them were not that well attended.
“Now, it’s evolved to where we’ve reached our full potential,” Lawyer said. “Now, we’re looking to expanding into other rooms.”
The acceptance of tattoo culture has evolved over the years, Lawyer said, to the point where a tattoo artist isn’t just a tattoo artist.
“They are artists, period,” Lawyer said. “They do better work on people than what you see hanging on the wall.”
With more acceptance of the art also comes a shift in trends.
For someone like Ronnie Dell’Aquia, who started as a tattoo artist in 1972 in Brooklyn, a lot has changed.
Customers would just come into the shop, look at the wall filled with different tattoo designs and pick which one they wanted. But now, customers will come in with a sketch or a concept of what they want. And sometimes, it isn’t something that would work as a tattoo. It could be the tattoo a person wants will be too complicated or something that has very tiny details.
“Some of it, in the skin, lasts,” Dell’Aquia said, “And some of it, after time… skin has elasticity, so it kind of smudges together.”
Dell’Aquia, who now runs his shop in Stroudsburg, Pennslvania, said he has no problem telling people that their concept or their sketch will not work as a tattoo. He does this knowing they’ll continue going to different shops to find someone who will try it for them.
“Some say they appreciate the honesty and all of that,” Dell’Aquia said. “In my mind, I think they’re just going to the next person and they’ll do what you want them to do and take your money. I’m not going to prostitute myself for the dollars.”
Jim Pardi, owner of State Street Tattoo in Schenectady and a friend of Dell’Aquia’s, tries to stick to the older style of tattoos. But he also understands it's a business, so he will try to do what the customer wants -- within reason. That’s when he follows suit with Dell’Aquia.
“The only time I say no is if I know it won’t be a good tattoo,” Pardi said.
Finger tattooing is something Pardi says he tries to stay away from. However, he said some artists are able to do it.
“They don’t stay well in the skin or the skin doesn't heal well,” Pardi said.
Pardi said he tries to do each tattoo “as perfect as I can.”
The one thing Pardi said he definitely won’t do is a tattoo of is something that relates to politics, religion or anything that’s racist. That’s because once he does a tattoo that leans in any political direction, it immediately gives his shop a label. Or if he were to give someone a swastika, then someone will think they’re comfortable with doing those.
“I think people can believe in anything they want,” Pardi said. “If you’re a racist and you want to believe that, that’s up to you. But I don’t want to put [a racist tattoo] on there.”
Seneca James, an artist with Unique Arts Studio, which has locations in Lake George, Glens Falls and Colonie, tries to go by a similar ethos. He stays away from any political tattoos because it could hurt his business.
“If you anger a certain group of people, they’ll go online and destroy your Facebook page,” James said. “I found it’s best to stay moderate and stay in the middle. I’m a tattoo artist, I’m the last person to judge a person by their cover.”
James said he wants to work with people to give them a tattoo they will be happy with. One that they will feel OK with being permanently on them. With some exceptions, though.
“If I can’t draw [a design] with a marker, I don’t do it,” James said.
Instead, James said he will work with a customer to try and get what they’ll be the happiest with.
“We’ll work together, figure out something we both love and draw it out with marker,” James said. “If we like what we have, we’ll roll with it. If you’re not happy with it, we’ll keep adjusting it until it’s perfect. Either way, you’re not leaving until you’re happy.”
Looking for inspiration
The expo also had a few people there who were looking to gather inspiration for their next tattoo, or even their first.
Chris Goodwin, 23, and Ian Mahoney, 24, both of Ballston Spa, said they were there to try and figure out what they would each want for a new tattoo.
Mahoney, who already has one tattoo, said he’s ready to get another. He has several ideas for what he wants his next one to be, but hasn’t settled on it yet. He also didn’t want to get into specifics.
“Not until I have a firm idea,” Mahoney said.
Mahoney said he wanted to find an artist who could take his idea and create it through their own style. He did say he found a vendor at the expo he thinks falls into that category.
Goodwin hasn’t gotten a tattoo before. But he knows he wants one that has to do with his interests, which would include exploring the outdoors, bears and his love of music.
“I’ve gotten a couple of ideas from seeing the artists and all their different booths,” Goodwin said. “I’m just trying to bring that to the front of my brain from all of the cluster going on up there.”