This past weekend, ink lovers and wielders from all over the Midwest and beyond congregated in Plainfield, Indiana for the 2022 Indy Tattoo Expo. Only in its second year of running, the expo spans over three days and allows anyone to come be inked or appreciate the craft. Featuring over 160 artists this year, the expo is invite only, prompting for the best of the best in artistic quality.
Spending less than half an hour at the expo, there are a few things you will notice immediately. Primarily, the abundance of fruit and snacks provided at almost every table. Bowls of apples, oranges, bananas, packages of muffins, and chewy candies scattered the rows of artist tables. While the promise of free food might be reason enough to lure in potential clients, it is also extremely important to keep blood sugars high while getting tattooed to prevent feelings of illness or faintness. Safety measures such as this have solidified the sense of community and general empathy the artists present diffused.
Another thing one might notice, in tandem with their free food and candy, was the sense of familiarity you were guaranteed to be greeted with at any table you might stop by. “Hi, how are you?” “Take a sticker!” “How are you enjoying the expo so far?” It might have just been my blank skin that clued the artists into my naiveness of tattoo conventions, but I noticed interactions between most attendees and artists were the same as mine.
It is quite easy to get lost within the rows of artists. Featuring such a large diversity of artistic style spanning from American Traditional, New School, to watercolor, heavy saturation, photorealism, and more, flipping through books of flash will make hours feel like minutes and minutes feel like nanoseconds. As an artist myself, it was quite inspiring to see no two styles exactly alike. At the Indy Tattoo Expo, there truly is an artist for everyone.
One of my favorite moments from the expo was my time spent with Mike Skiver. A tattooed man himself, who made sure I knew that he was pushing 80, told me some great jokes and sprinkled in some great advice about life and tattoos. Having tattoos on your body, you have to have some tough skin. And if anyone questions why you got a piece, just let them know… “because I wanted it! Having a tattoo is the one thing you can spend money on that will last you your entire life. Your entire life… So make them good. If you want it, do it.” We finished our conversation with a little history lesson of tattoo guns he slacks around to conventions such as this. In three large cases, he carries tools from the early 1900’s to modern day. It was interesting to see the minimal changes to the pieces. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
I was able to sit down with Trina Sanders-Sowers, who told me all about the backstory of the Indy Tattoo Expo, what she loves most about it, and the legacy of her late father she hopes to keep alive in running the event. “My dad, Jim Sanders (nicknamed Rabbit), was a tattoo artist in the early 80’s. Chris started an apprenticeship under him when he was fifteen. As Chris began to do work on and for me, he started mentioning the idea of running an expo in honor of Jim. We visited Hell City together, which is another expo. After walking around, I looked at him and said ‘yep, let’s do it!’” The expo is now in its second year of running (originally supposed to begin in 2020, but postponed due to Covid-19), and has grown from 123 artists in its first year to now 167 in total. When asked about what her favorite part of the expo is, she was quick to reply to the sense of family all artists and attendees feel. “Well, most people have a lot of preconceived notions of what they’re walking into!” And people here truly are so nice. They would do anything for each other, it truly is a family. For example, one of our returning tattoo artists that was supposed to attend actually passed away suddenly and so we have organized a silent auction where the proceeds will go to his family.” Finally, she showed me some of her pieces, done by a few different artists. A rabbit with a tattoo gun placed inside its outline in memory of her father, and sugar skulls (calaveras) with beautiful bright colors and intricate lines show she is no rookie to getting ink.
The Indy Tattoo Expo is an incredibly well-run and organized event that features a myriad of artists and inked attendees. Anyone is welcome to attend, no matter what experience you may have with tattoos. It is a wonderful place to learn and experience the industry. You are guaranteed to be surrounded by familiarity and great energy. I highly encourage anyone to attend in the following years, whether you leave with some fresh ink or not.