Richmond’s Ink Explosion: Festival Showcases the Best of the Best

by | Sep 28, 2016 | TATTOO CULTURE

Tattoos are no longer a piece of art that are occasionally seen on someone’s body around Richmond. Everyone from VCU students to musicians, teachers to soccer moms, seem to have collected at least one tattoo on their body.

It’s become integrated into our culture and also landed us as the third most tattooed city in the country.

With our community having such a fascination with body art and with more than a handful of tattoo shops in the city alone to choose from, what better place to hold a festival for this unique painting of the flesh than Richmond. Serving as a hub for artists from all across world, Richmond is a prime location for styles from western, eastern, and every culture in between to come together.

The Richmond Tattoo and Arts Festival will make its mark for the 24th year in a row this weekend bringing over 100 local and internationally recognized tattoo artists together to show off their inking skills.

With all the varying styles, from vibrant colors to simple black and white, this year’s convention will provide fans and artists alike with a multitude of different artistic perspectives. And while people explore the festival there will be a number of entertainment options to view as well as competitions for adults and kids alike. And beyond that, some tattoo artists will teach seminars on acrylic, oil, and spray-based painting.

Jesse Smith, owner and tattoo artist at RVA’s Loose Screw Tattoo and Kenny Brown (Owner/Artist) of Jack Brown’s Tattoo Revival in Fredericksburg head up the event and encourage young artists who are looking to break into the tattoo industry to come out and meet some rising stars.

In an interview with RVA Mag, Smith said watching the event grow from a local event to something recognized around the world is one of his favorite parts of the event.

“This is a feature that only becomes better and better throughout the years,” he said. “allowing for new artists to build stronger relationships.”

But there is more to this event than just exploring the world of tattoo art. Whether it be learning how to paint on a canvas or wall, Smith’s diverse lineup outside of skin-art offers a number of options for guests.

”The mural scene has become a lot more popular in the last decade, and this year will feature several artists that are native to Richmond, like Emily Herr and Matt Lively, as well as muralists from neighbouring states,” he said.

Smith and Brown have worked vigorously to make this event one of a kind, including the first ever Miss Pin-up RVA competition hosted by Richmond’s Best Burlesque Performer, Deanna Danger.

“Deanna was someone who we knew would add a lot of excitement to this festival by being involved in something so close to her style,” Smith said. “We are hoping this is the start of a tradition people can become more and more engaged in.”

In collaborating on this festival, Smith and Brown have been hoped to broaden the effectiveness of the different artistic scenes that Richmond has to offer. Smith said the cities diverse artistic scenes helped navigate the creation of this year’s event.

“It is important to us that people have a platform to express themselves freely,” he said. “In previous years, we had focused solely on making this an event about tattoo art, but it has been remodeled into something much much more.”

And while Jesse has been able to expand from his Richmond based operations, Brown is familiar with a slightly different view of the tattoo world. The Fredericksburg native has developed a strong social networking acumen that has earned him and his colleagues the respect of the community and other artists. Even though Fredericksburg and Richmond are in relatively close proximity, they both have a inimitable perspective and interaction with the art world.

“Kenny and I have a different way of approaching things,” Smith said. “We each bring our talents to the table, and through organizing the festival we are able to strengthen the network of artists, not only here in Richmond but in thriving cities all across the world. We’ve done a lot this year to improve on what was already considered an iconic affair.”

The team has also melded several kid friendly activities to the three day long event, hoping to give younger tat-fans a chance to explore their own creative boundaries. There will be a competition specifically for children where they can compete in a flash design drawing contest to see who’s a young prodigy in the making.

The Richmond Tattoo and Arts Festival happens this weekend, September 30th to October 2nd, and will be held at the Koger Center in Midlothian, Virginia. Each day’s activities are listed on the site, and tickets can be purchased online for each day or all three days.

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner is the former editor of GayRVA and RVAMag from 2013 - 2017. He’s now the Richmond Bureau Chief for Radio IQ, a state-wide NPR outlet based in Roanoke. You can reach him at

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