Richmond Tattoo Fest: Not Just For Sailors and Bikers


The Richmond Tattoo and Arts Festival of 2018 is the oldest tattoo expo in the United States, and the 26th annual edition is set to kick off this weekend. The convention will celebrate getting kicked off its parents’ health insurance in one of the most tatted-up cities in the country, and will feature a myriad of artists from across the state of Virginia and around the country.

Not only will local shops like Loose Screw Tattoo, Heroes & Ghosts, and Black Rabbit Tattoo be on hand, some big names are also expected to attend, including artist Christian Buckingham from Spike’s TV series Ink Master, along with Gia Rose from Ink Master Angels multiple artists from Tattoo Nightmares Miami, and Big Island Mike, straight from South Park and the tummy of Jackass cast members. Click this link to request an appointment from any of the artists before the festival.

Events begin Friday, September 28th at 3 PM and carry over the whole weekend, offering live music, seminars on artistry and design, fire dancing,  tattoo competitions, and of course, air sex championships. The festival will also feature several presentations  on the artistic process, spanning from advanced drawing techniques to a 3D-referencing workshop.

With attendance  expected to hit 4,000-5,000, the convention is sure to fill the DoubleTree this year with street art, live painting, and over 30 vendors including Kulture, Velocity Comics, 3d Central Printing, Eternal Ink, and Goatocado.

All told, the festival will showcase over 150 artists. RVA Mag spoke with a few of our favorites to get a closer look at their work and find out what to expect of this weekend’s festivities.

PHOTO: @bigislandmiketattoos on Instagram

Big Island Mike (Los Angeles)

Big Island Mike Castillo started tattooing in 2001 and has since built a reputation for tattooing many from the action sports community, including Travis Pastrana of Nitro Circus, Weeman from the Jackass crew, and legendary skateboarder Christian Hosoi. When he is not tattooing, Big Island Mike rides BMX; he has been a BMX judge for the X-Games for the past 24 years. He was even featured as a South Park character. His favorite style of tattooing is fineline pieces and pieces with black and gray coloring, but he is capable of all styles of tattoos. His tattoo work can be found on Instagram at @bigislandmike and @bigislandmiketattoos.

PHOTO: @jelenawolves on Instagram

Jelena Wolves (Black Rabbit Tattoo, RVA)

Jelena Wolves started tattooing out in Long Island, NY 10 years ago, and no, the inspiration for her nickname was not a fascination with wolves, but traditional sailor imagery and the impact of travel. “I loved the bold lines, bright colors and heavy black shading of traditional tattoos,” she said. “The idea of being able to travel and tattoo simultaneously is something that also appealed to me.” According to Wolves, this travel-based inspiration in her work also drew her towards Richmond, after years of bouncing between coasts and conventions across the country.

Currently at RVA’s own Black Rabbit Tattoo, Wolves enjoys making traditional tattoos, from Mickey Mouse to scorpions and skeletons. Nowadays, though, she says she experiments more, juxtaposing tough imagery with beautiful elements such as flowers. These experiments are an extension of the constant inspiration from her travels. “Traveling, everywhere from Iceland to Thailand and Japan, has been a constant source of inspiration to me,” she said, “as well as a reminder to always go be grateful to tattooing for giving me everything I have today.”

PHOTO: @lil_matt_tattoos on Instagram

Matt Grosso (True Tattoo, RVA)

Richmond based artist Matt Grosso’s art is influenced by R. Crumb’s Zap Comix and hot rod artists Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and Von Dutch, as well as his dad’s race car shop, where they build and paint race cars. “[The shop] gave me a huge outlet to be creative in,” he said. “Through this i got to meet my awesome friend Tracy, who eventually would get me into tattooing.” While Matt still designs for race cars, he has been an artist making a living in body art since 2010. He utilizes a hot rod aesthetic, big bold color work, neo-traditional, and new school niches: “bright and bold with a bit of a new school twist.”

PHOTO: @sabrinaelliotte on Instagram

Sabrina Elliotte (Loose Screw Tattoo, RVA)

Sabrina Elliotte is a Richmond based artist from Loose Screw Tattoo, where she works with her husband and fellow artist Gwooki. “We really compliment each other since we tattoo similar. He likes tattooing more dark masculine imagery and I like tattooing more soft and feminine,” Elliotte said. “Sometimes we end up tattooing couples, which is a lot of fun — it’s like a double date.”

Elliotte states her style of choice to be black and grey realism as well as fine line blackwork, or “anything feminine that flows well with the body, like filigree or flowers.” Elliotte and her husband also work on non-related art projects when not under the gun, and currently live in a haunted house. “It feels very natural since we are both so inspired by dark art, and are creative in different mediums.” she said. Creative across numerous forms of media, Elliotte is the kind of artist that, even when a piece may look perfect to most, finds it almost always deserves another shade of black.

PHOTO: @giarosetattoo on Instagram

Gia Rose (West Chester, PA)

Gia Rose is most well known from being an Ink Master (season 8) and an Ink Master Angel (season 1). She’s been tattooing for 15 years, and is a favorite at RVA’s annual tattoo festival for her unique shade of “Neo Traditional-ish” work. “[My style] is rooted in traditional tattooing with bold lines and flat colors, but also [incorporates] illustration in imagery and design,” she said.

PHOTO: @abbyhumeart on Instagram

Abby Hume (Seattle, WA)

Washington state resident Abby Hume began doing tattoo work in Rochester, New York around 2001, apprenticing under renowned artist Tom Sherman. But she made her reputation in Virginia Beach at Studio Evolve, using a distinctive style of watercolor-based tattoos. “I found my niche in watercolor tattoo about five years in, as people just started finding me for the work, raving on about the results,” she said. Hume keeps her work distinct from typical watercolor art; her palette of vibrant saturation and color scheme is all her own.

John Donegan

John Donegan

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