Tattoo convention draws thousands of visitors, showcases talent of artists

Ink flowed freely and camaraderie was in plentiful supply Sunday as artists from around the country wrapped up at the first annual Council Bluffs Tattoo Arts Convention promoted by Villain Arts of Philadelphia.

Promoter Troy Timpel of Philadelphia and emcee “Dr. Carl Blasphemy,” a former disc jockey from Baltimore, estimated that about 5,000 visitors attended the three-day convention at the Mid-America Center. The turnout on a holiday weekend was gratifying as was the talent of the nearly 200 artists, Timpel said.

“There is a lot of really good talent here, and that’s so great to see,” Timpel said. “The (tattoo contests) were so fierce that we had to pull the top five contestants back up to re-judge their work. We knew who the top five were, but we had trouble ranking them one through five.”

The convention featured sideshow performers Alakazam the Human Knot and the Enigma. It also included music groups, merchandise and a steady stream of skin illustrations guaranteed to heighten your people-watching skills.

Matt Allsman, one of the owners of Eternal Tattoo, with locations in Omaha, Columbus and Fremont, said the colorful parade passing his booth was worth the price of admission. Allsman, 34, learned the trade from his dad, Ken Allsman of Columbus, who died in 2015.

“The people-watching at tattoo conventions is great sport, and you can catch up with a lot of your friends from all over,” Allsman said. “I also enjoy the seminars because you need to keep up with things. Sometimes the most important thing that I learn is that I am on the right track.”

Allsman spoke on a range of subjects, including techniques, tools and the expansion of the tattoo market in recent years. He was impressed with the efforts Villain Arts took to advertise the show through billboards, media buys and pounding the streets.

“This whole place has been busy all weekend, and I think that’s quite a feat for a Memorial Day weekend,” Allsman said. “Carl and Troy clearly spent a lot of money on advertising, and that’s great from an artist’s standpoint because you know they are working to help us.”

Allsman spoke while working on a tattoo of a glass urn in the shape of a skull that he was inking onto the left arm of Anthony Patras, 35, of Columbus. The ashes of Ken Allsman rest in the same type of urn, Patras said.

“I met Matt in sixth grade, and so I met his dad at the same time,” Patras said. “His dad took me through a lot of big things growing up. Matt and I are like brothers.”

An aisle away, Lefty Colbert of Waco, Texas, led a dozen artists through a seminar for black and gray tattooing techniques. Colbert and his wife, Chonna, operate the Infamous Ink tattoo parlor in Texas that employs 10 artists.

“It’s a technique called ‘built-to-last,’ ” Chonna Colbert said. “Most tattoos lose 20% to 30% by the time they heal. He’s showing them how to up the (amount of ink used) so that when it heals, you have the picture you want and you don’t have a washed-out look.”

The Colberts came to town last week to attend a seminar designed to educate tattoo artists on steps they can take to combat sex trafficking. The event was followed by a fundraiser, with proceeds benefiting organizations like the Women’s Center for Advancement that assist trafficking survivors in receiving tattoo cover-ups or removal.

“Those seminars on sex trafficking are very important because it has to do with the entire United States, not just Omaha or Texas,” Chonna Colbert said. “It’s something we feel very strongly about.”

The Colberts’ first visit to the Omaha-Council Bluffs area was a pleasant surprise, she said. The couple will linger before going home to their four kids.

“You just never know what you’re going to find when you travel, and this trip has been great,” Chonna Colbert said. “We love it here, and the guys have put on a great show. We’ve had lots of walk-ups and a lot of people telling us how much they would love to have us come back.”