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The Seattle Sketcher

An illustrated journal of life in the Puget Sound region by Times artist Gabriel Campanario.

August 5, 2011 at 8:00 PM

Nothing anti-social about these tattoo artists

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Sketched Aug. 3, 4:19 p.m.
Damon Conklin has so many tattoos -120 hours of work, he said- that he’s lost count. A light bulb showered with rain stands for bad ideas from his youth. A cheeseburger under his left arm is a tribute to his favorite food. A portrait of Jesus on his right arm states his beliefs. Add an eye-popping Afro and Conklin, 44, is a picture of coolness.
But as we talked, the owner of Capitol Hill’s SuperGenius Tattoo and founder of the Seattle Tattoo Expo struck me as a warm, self-deprecating “kid from Tacoma” excited to show me his tattooing needles and talk about the flower-themed oil paintings he creates after hours. Conklin didn’t fit my preconceived notion of the pretentious, antisocial tattoo artist. His only agenda: “The world needs more art.” Who could argue with that?
The Expo, now in its 10th year, opens Friday at Seattle Center with more than 100 tattoo shops represented. For the uninitiated like me, Conklin said the show offers an opportunity to browse through artists’ portfolios without the pressure of getting inked that you may have when walking into a shop.
I could relate to that feeling a little bit because I had visited another tattoo shop, Hidden Hand Tattoo in Fremont, just before meeting Conklin.
Hidden Hand was actually the first tattoo shop I had ever set my foot on in my life. It felt strange to be there to draw and look, not to get a tattoo like a regular client. But owners Jeff and April Cornell also gave me a warm welcome. My first question to them speaks of my gut reaction to the idea of getting a tattoo: How much does it hurt?
“It hurts,” said April, but “it’s tolerable. Otherwise, nobody would get a tattoo.”
Client Jerry Patty, who got a tattoo of a sail fish above his right ankle, said it feels as if a cat was scratching you slowly.
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Sketched Aug. 3, 1:20 p.m.
Patty has about a dozen tattoos, all inked by April, except for one done by her husband. It’s on his left arm and won third place on the “tattoo of the day” category during last year’s Tattoo Expo. Patty said it should have gotten first place.
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I’m still too chicken to get a tattoo, but I really enjoyed meeting these artists. They are far from the unapproachable cool types I had imagined tattoo artists to be. And their art and creativity blew me away. As I type this, I’m looking at the tattoo illustration on April’s business card, an anchor and rose design. There’s nothing sketchy about it, it’s just perfect!
Coming up: My once-a-month exploration of Seattle-area communities following your recommendations is coming up. Where should I go? Send me your suggestions via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Have a great weekend!

Comments | More in Portraits | Topics: Capitol Hill

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