I Ink, Therefore I Am

Evergreen Tattoo Expo showcases art and artists

Tattoo by Chris Jones

Gallons of ink will flow through Springfield this weekend, Feb. 21-23, as some of the finest tattoo artists from across the country and around the world etch beauty into flesh at the inaugural Evergreen Tattoo Expo at Willamalane Center.

Conceived by co-founders Riley Smith and Joshua Carlton as a celebration of the art of tattooing — by and for the artists — Evergreen will gather together more than 200 professionals from 30 states and four countries for three days of workshops, music, performances, hobnobbing and, yes, tattooing, to which the public is invited.

Evergreen organizer and Lifetime Tattoo co-owner Erin Smith.
Photo by Todd Cooper.

Some of the big names appearing at Evergreen include painters Sean Cheetham and Carl Dobsky, special-effects master Chet Zar, Joey Hamilton and Sarah Miller of Spike TV’s Ink Masters fame, Canadian painter and tattoo artist David Gluck, as well as Carlton and Smith and a slew of local and national artists.

Carlton, a founding member of Eugene’s Crimson Torch Tattoo Collective who is nationally recognized for his exquisite work, says that Evergreen is a dream come true. “This is a chance of a lifetime for me, so a little bit of it is selfish,” he says. “I’m like a kid watching a magic trick. I’m drooling over it. Even if I wasn’t putting it on, I would not miss it.”

Smith, who runs Lifetime School of Tattooing in Springfield, says the nature of the expo is unique, if not unprecedented. First, he points out, the weekend-long event is an invitational, meaning only the best artists were hand-selected; second, the focus is on art, which includes not just tattooing but work by figurative painters and illustrators as well; and, last but not least, although Evergreen offers a chance for anyone to get tatted by the world’s best, it’s also a chance for tatters to teach and learn from one another.

“The real scope of what we’re doing is so foreign to the environment here,” Smith says, noting that this is one of the only national conventions hosted by tattoo artists rather than corporations. “It’s off-the-scale infinity, the size and scope of what we’re doing. It’s never really been done,” he says.

“We want it to be an event that’s by artists, for artists,” says Erin, Smith’s wife, who’s played a key role in organizing the event over the past 10 months. “And not just tattoo artists but the community as a whole. We want to bring back a big Springfield event that the whole community can get behind.”

The idea of holding a tattoo expo of this magnitude was first sparked last year, when Smith took a painting class hosted by Carlton, whose Advanced Tattooing Techniques: A Guide to Realism is the best-selling how-to book written on the subject. Smith and Carlton struck up a conversation about tattoo conventions, and it wasn’t long before they realized they shared a similar vision. “We started brainstorming,” Smith says. “I talked to him a day or so after that and said, ‘Maybe we ought to do that.’ I went home and talked to Erin about it; we crunched numbers, and a week later we sat down and talked to Joshua and Nikki [Carlton’s wife] and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ The company was formed at midnight.”

Lifetime Tattoo co-owner and tattoo artist Riley Smith.
Photo by Trask Bedortha.

Ten months later — and with long days and countless hours served by everyone involved — Evergreen has become a reality. Carlton and Smith enlisted the aid of Damon Conklin, who organizes the annual Seattle Tattoo Expo and who provided invaluable advice. “There’s literally no how-to book on how to do this,” Smith says, “so we had to write it. It’s pretty amazing that we pulled it off. It’s kind of a dream for us to put it together. I also kind of felt like it was our responsibility.”

Carlton says he always “secretly fantasized” about organizing a convention that centers more strongly than most on the “art” in tattoo artist. “I was just like, ‘What if a tattoo artist put it on?’ and we didn’t necessarily have a freak show aspect about it,’” he says. “That struck a goal orientation in me. I want to leave my mark, no pun intended.”

Although Carlton and Smith say they appreciate other local and national conventions, they both agree that Evergreen offers a new look at the tattoo community — one that is family friendly and aesthetically intense. Along with a full slate of workshops hosted by the likes of Ian Robert McKown (“Light and Shadow”) and James Kern (“Tattooing the Impossible”), the public can enjoy live music, acrobatic performances, a rock climbing wall, food vendors and a beer garden, as well as a special appearance by Butch Patrick, who played Eddie Munster on the ’60s TV cult classic The Munsters (there’s a Munsters Ink tattoo ink line). Harley-Davidson, one of the expo’s sponsors, is shipping in 16 of its finest bikes from around the West Coast to put on display, and Habitat for Humanity will have an info booth as well. Smith says he’s hoping to involve more charities in years to come.

Left to right: tattoo by Sarah Miller, tattoo by Jason Butcher, tattoo by Chad Chase, painting by Joshua Carlton

Carlton points out that, of course, Evergreen also offers a chance for first-timers and veterans alike to get their skin inked by artists they’d otherwise have to hop a plane to visit. “They’re bringing their A-game,” Carlton says, adding that he’s looking forward to the healthy competition among tattoo artists working side-by-side this weekend. Each night will end with an awards ceremony, where a trophy — designed for the event by Carlton — will be awarded for the best tattoo of the day. “This is all about raising the bar,” he explains. “I, for one, am incredibly excited to see what’s going to happen at our show.”

Evergreen Tattoo Expo runs Friday through Sunday, Feb. 21-23, at Willamalane Center, 250 S. 32nd St., in Springfield; day passes $10 adv., $12 door, ages 10 and under free; $25/$30 adv. for weekend passes; must be 18 with ID to get tattooed; for more information and a complete schedule of events, visit evergreentattoo.com.