On a Saturday morning, the Hartford Convention Center is awash in ink. Majestic lions, classic anchors, and the iconic “Mom” tribute swarm the ticket counters to purchase their tickets for the seventh annual Tommy’s Tattoo Convention. Inside the hall, the chatter swells and grows as vendors set up their booths: Flesh Stains Tattoo, Wyld Chyld Tattoo, and Octopus Ink are just a few of the one hundred shops manning booths at today’s convention. Soon the buzz of needles mingles with the hum of canvases waiting for their own designs, nearly drowning out the screaming of AC/DC through the speakers.
The ringleader behind the chaos is Enfield, Connecticut native Tom Ringwalt. A gold cross hangs from his neck, partially obscuring the “Tommy’s Tattoo” logo printed on his shirt. Ink peeks out of his shirtsleeves and winds down his arms. His watch glints in the overhead lights as he gestures to the room around him, where the bustling of activity shows no signs of slowing down.
“I started this [event] as a way to bring more artists together,” Ringwalt says. “We have artists—and people who come to see these artists—from all over the country.” Ringwalt is the owner of Tommy’s Supplies, a Somers-based wholesaler of everything from the intricate tattoo machines to the abundant shades of tattoo ink.
Children, years away from attaining their own ink, crowd around the ramps where BMX bikers perform stunts, hoping to catch a glimpse of a jump or flip up close. People gather around a stage where a man in a cowboy hat and a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt plays his guitar almost angrily. They’re waiting for the contests of the day to open up, with categories including Best Back Piece, Best Halloween Theme, and even Best Piercing.
Nestled among the aisles of dark tables and booths is a table covered in a turquoise cloth. Scattered along the table are differently shaped hollow pendants and miniature charms that fit inside. With charms that say “Mom”, a green and pink cartoon cactus, and even a poop emoji wearing a pink bow, brand ambassador Sandy Daly believes the brand has something for everyone.
“We do surprisingly well at these kinds of [events],” she says as the buzzing of needles continues around her. “A lot of people want charms in memory of someone, or to match their tattoos.”
Over the sound of the background music comes the dozens of symphonic tattoo machines breaking through skin. In the corner of the room, an artist leans over a man with more ink than bare skin. A few booths down, a woman squeezes her eyes shut as the artist touches the needle to her naked calf for the first time. Glossy reds, vibrant blues, and emerald greens mix together to form the designs dreamed up by the client.
Tommy’s Tattoo Convention is more than a typical trade show where vendors try to hawk their products onto shoppers; it’s a gathering place for New England tattoo enthusiasts to connect with others who have a passion for ink. The wave of blank skin that continues to swarm the hall, ready to be inked by one of the many available artists, speaks for itself. “I hope to expand even more in the future,” Ringwalt says. “Maybe one day we’ll go national, who knows?”
Headline Photo by Noah Hulton for Blue Muse Magazine