By Allison Keyes, WTOP.com
ARLINGTON, Va. — There were tattoos everywhere you looked in the Crystal Gateway Marriott. They were on faces and feet, wrists, backs and hands.
The artwork? Dragons and soldiers, sunsets and birds, and oh so much merchandise.
“Anything tattoo related, we have here,” says organizer Greg Piper of Exposed Tattoo and Baller Inc.
There are 400 artists from around the world, as many as 55 vendors, and they’re expecting up to 20,000 people over the three-day event. There are live tattoo contests, with prizes on the spot, and after parties galore.
Piper says things have changed in the business since he starting as an artist in the 1980s.
“The clients,” he says, “want huge tattoos. They want sleeves.”
Retired Marine Henry Harper has one full sleeve, all in black in white, featuring the Grim Reaper. But today he’s sitting with artists Robert Vendemmia, getting some pink ink on his other arm, which will be in full color.
“It’s gonna be all ‘Looney Tunes’ characters,” says Harper. “I’ve always had a dark side. But you’ve got to have a balance.”
Piper and others at the expo say it is so popular, partly because tattoos are more mainstream now, and more acceptable both in society and in the workplace.
Mary Dillon got what she describes as a short-sleeve Japanese body suit, with waves on one arm, fire and a dragon on the other, and a huge dragon on her back. Dillon got her first tattoo 25 years ago in Scotland.
“It’s a butterfly on my bum!,” Dillon exclaims.
But she won’t be encouraging her 1-year-old, Rory, to get one. Dillon says if he decides to go that route, she’ll suggest that he think long and hard about it. “Because obviously, it’s everlasting.”
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