In a large, crowded room, more than thirty skilled artists were ready to produce their best work. As potential clients made their decisions on which professional to hire, they walked around the room and viewed photos of the work that the artists could produce.
The decision was a crucial one, because … this artwork is permanent.
Big Steve Lewis from Marysville’s Artistic Temple Social Club explains how ink can be turned into a needle while working alongside Camille Mundh in Oroville. This was Sunday, March 12, 2023. (Ed Booth/Enterprise-Record)
That was the theme at Sunday’s seventh annual Tattoo Expo at Feather Falls Casino in Oroville. The three-day event concluded with a festival that featured ink, pigment and dye, which was applied just below the skin’s surface using a special needle.
Chris Earl of Feather Falls Casino, the event’s organizer, gestured around the ballroom at many of the 40 artists on hand, rattling off their regular places of business.
Santa Cruz. Los Angeles. Texas. Utah. Oregon. One from Mexico. There were many tattoo artists in the room, some with elaborate displays of their past work.
“It’s a walk-in event — first-come, first-served,” Earl explained, adding that customers couldn’t make appointments. They come in, decide which artist they’d like to hire, negotiate a price, and bare the skin they want to be adorned. Then the work begins.
In 2017, the event began. Due to the COVID pandemic in 2017, it was discontinued. In 2020, however, it became a walk-in event.
Adam McFarland hails originally from Springfield, Mass. He is now a resident of Live Oak, and said he would be out with a brand new tattoo. However, he was sizing up artists’ skills before deciding which one he’d use.
“I’m checking out the artwork,” he said, pointing to a display at one table featuring designs that the artist was capable of producing. McFarland said he was ready to pay between $500 and $1,000 Sunday for a job, the pricing for which would depend “on the size and the design.”
“You get what you pay for,” he explained.
At a nearby booth, Camille Mundh of Live Oak lay face-down while tattoo artist “Big Steve” Lewis of Marysville-based Artistic Temple Social Club meticulously added to the artwork on Mundh’s left arm. She and Lewis have a solid professional relationship, with Mundh visiting him “every other Saturday,” she said.
“My husband goes to him every other week,” she said with a smile. Lewis nodded.
“I’ve been doing this for a while,” Mundh said when asked how long she has been a tattoo enthusiast. She described the tattoo as a “sleeve” because it runs most of the length of her arm, and said Lewis will finish it soon. The tattoo was completed in six sessions. Some sessions took only 1-2 hours while others took 3-4 depending on how complicated the work was.
When asked how painful the application process is, Mundh said “it feels like a bunch of bee stings.
“It probably hurts more around the bony part of my elbow, but I get into a ‘zone’ because I have a high tolerance for pain.”
Mundh, who’s a nurse practitioner, said “it took a long time to decide on doing my arms, due to my profession.” However, she wears a lab coat while working, most of the time, but sometimes her arms are on full display.
“If patients don’t like me because of my tattoos, that’s their problem,” she said with a laugh.
Meanwhile, Lewis was dipping his needle into a thimble-sized reservoir of pigment, preparing for the next delicate application on Mundh’s arm.
“It siphons the ink, then places it under the skin,” he said, adding that it remains in place and is permanent, immediately.
This expo draws well-known artists. The booth of Dallas-based Elm Street Tattoo, Oliver Peck was prominent. Except for one Feather Falls show that he missed because of scheduling conflicts, he attended all of them.
Peck has appeared on Paramount Television’s reality competition “Ink Master,” which ran from 2012 until 2020. He stated that Feather Falls is more appealing to him than large events with many artists in large convention centres.
“This is one of the small events,” Peck said. “It’s more intimate and has a smaller group of artists. They use a lot more care.”
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