Busy, buzzy body business

The National Tattoo Association may bring its annual convention back to Reno in 2004.

The National Tattoo Association may bring its annual convention back to Reno in 2004.

Photo by David Robert

Bzz. Bzzzzz. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Walking into the Reno Hilton’s ballroom was like walking into a swarm of killer bees. The busy buzzing of dozens of tattoo needles and the wildly decorated, half-clothed bodies milling about combined for an audio-visual overload at the National Tattoo Association‘s 20th anniversary convention this weekend.

Guy Martynuik, owner of the preeminent Wells Avenue tattoo shop, Body Graphics, was the king bee of the hive, although after five nonstop days at the Hilton—seeing daylight for a scant 30 minutes during this stretch—Martynuik felt a bit more like a drone.

Over a couple of Budweisers and countless Marlboro Reds, Martynuik explained why tattoo artists and tattoo connoisseurs traveled from as far as Germany, Australia and Japan to attend the convention.

“Some of the best work in the world is done by these guys,” he said. “Everyone has their own unique style. You learn so much.”

Martynuik said tattoo artists come not only for the camaraderie, but to watch each other and share techniques. They also come for the competition, displaying body art that they’ve worked on all year. And believe it or not, tattoo artists have to attend seminars, too, with names like “Ethics in Tattooing” and “Tattoo Machine Maintenance.”

Martynuik said this year’s convention was the biggest ever for the NTA, and he estimated that 20,000 people passed through the ballroom doors Saturday. There were 50 booths, 44 of which involved actively tattooing the masses, and a total of 197 tattoo artists were registered. And amazingly, with all the tattooers and tattooees wandering about the Hilton, there were no disturbances.

“They drank, they gambled and they caused no problems,” Martynuik said.

Maybe they were all high off the pain-induced adrenaline. Or maybe it was Zinger-flinging Suzy Switchblade, who tossed the gooey pastries as she go-go danced to the comic rockabilly tunes of the Saddle Tramps. Not many bands provide eye candy or mouth candy, much less both, and the hip-shaking and the free sweets probably helped keep the crowd in a cheerful mood.

The success of the convention bodes well for the future of tattoo fests in the Reno/Sparks area, and the NTA is considering bringing its annual event back to the area in 2004.

Martynuik especially credits the work of the Washoe County Health Department in this success, calling the department “instrumental in putting this together.” Martynuik said he spent roughly 40-50 hours working with the health department to assure the strictest health and safety standards for the tattoo artists, and all artists passed the test.

And for those with a taste for a different type of body decoration, the work done by Martynuik and the health department also opens the door for related events, like body piercing conventions.

Same pain, less bzzzzzzz.