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    Sunday, May 19, 2024

    Tattoo Expo: The Illustrated Man and Woman

    Artist René Marie Fleming, of Rhode Island, works on a piece for Brooke Leone, of Coventry, during the New England Tattoo Expo at Mohegan Sun Sunday, April 14, 2024. The fourth annual event featured over 450 national and local artists over the three-day weekend. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Chris Castro, of Durham, chats with artist “Buktat2” Alberto Sierra, of Rkocky Hill, as he works on a piece on his arm during the New England Tattoo Expo at Mohegan Sun Sunday, April 14, 2024. The fourth annual event featured over 450 national and local artists over the three-day weekend. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Artist Fredd China, of Rhode Island, works on a leg tattoo for Liz Tong, of Massachusetts, during the New England Tattoo Expo at Mohegan Sun Sunday, April 14, 2024. Tong said she had admired China’s work and when she recently reached out to him he suggested coming to the festival. The fourth annual event featured over 450 national and local artists over the three-day weekend.(Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Artist Fredd China, of Rhode Island, works on a leg tattoo for Liz Tong, of Massachusetts, during the New England Tattoo Expo at Mohegan Sun Sunday, April 14, 2024. Tong said she had admired China’s work and when she recently reached out to him he suggested coming to the festival. The fourth annual event featured over 450 national and local artists over the three-day weekend.(Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Artist René Marie Fleming, of Rhode Island, works on a piece for Brooke Leone, of Coventry, during the New England Tattoo Expo at Mohegan Sun Sunday, April 14, 2024. The fourth annual event featured over 450 national and local artists over the three-day weekend. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Uncasville ― Rhode Island Coast Guard recruiter and recent divorcee Kayla England winced in her chair Sunday as Eddie Medina dipped his freshly-inked tattoo needle into the delicate skin over her wrist veins where there once was a couple’s tattoo.

    “That’s a soft spot right there,” she said.

    England, 39, said it had been the Greek symbol Beta that had adorned her wrist. Her husband had the Alpha. Together, it symbolized them “being a partnership.”

    On Sunday it was replaced by a new partnership of ink and flesh. In Medina’s booth at the fourth annual New England Tattoo Expo at Mohegan Sun, the artist for Hoodlumz Tat 2 in Blythe, Calif., acted the part of irreverent justice of the peace, with glasses at the tip of his nose, black latex gloves and face framed by a goatee.

    Hundreds of others guests at the convention made the same commitment as England on Sunday. Across 371 booths, nearly as many artists were tattooing as crowds of thousands watched. And other booths featured piercings, merchandise, food and drink.

    Tommy Ringwalt, one of the organizers of the annual convention, said 14,000 to 15,000 people came to this year’s convention, which spanned three days beginning April 12. That’s about 3,000 more than last year, he added.

    Per convention rules, the lowest amount of money convention-goers could pay for a tattoo was $100. More expensive tattoos were going in the $1,000 price range.

    After about two hours of England sitting patiently in Medina’s chair, her arm turned toward the convention center’s bright fluorescent lights, the artist had completed about one-third of England’s tattoo.

    “I’m actually getting myself (her image), if that doesn’t sound too conceited,” she laughed.

    England explained: She’s part of a Viking historical community that dresses in period-accurate clothing. She also works security at the King Richard’s Faire in Massachusetts.

    Her alter-ego for both is Freya, an spear-toting Viking goddess who symbolizes love, war, beauty and fertility. It was beginning to show its form, a likeness of herself, in Viking garb.

    “It’s ... fantastic,” she said after a third was done, adding she could not wait to see what the shading would look like.

    After having difficulty picking an artist with so many to choose from at the convention, England said she had ultimately settled on Medina because he was a “cool dude.”

    “I’m not going to get a tattoo with somebody I can’t have a conversation with,” she said.

    England said she had seen one of the many tattoos laid out across Hoodlumz Tat 2’s table, but wanted it to be more personal. So Medina took photos of her from multiple angles and combined them with photos of England in her viking clothing to create a unique masterpiece.

    Tattoo artist Ryn Cortina, of Black Velvet Ink in Stonington, explained that she was also mourning a past relationship, as she tattooed 35-year-old Kylie Brear.

    “I had a really hard best friend breakup, and we were friends for ten years,” she said.

    In the aftermath, Cortina, who has always been a spiritual person, said she felt “evil eye energy, which means someone is watching you.”

    Wanting to transfer that bad energy into something positive, Cortina sketched a tattoo as a form of catharsis.

    “It’s helped me kind of mourn the relationship,” she said.

    Brear, who was getting the same tattoo she sketched, but added her own personal flair with foxes, said she “didn’t know the whole story behind it, I just saw the design.” The foxes had been because she’d seen an unusual amount of the animals in the yard of her Norwich home.

    Cortina said “as an artist, I draw inspirations from my life and feelings,” but as a tattoo artist, she’s there to provide designs and service. She added she loves when her clients find their own meanings.

    Meanwhile Cortina said she had stood up from her $500 tattoo once to “stretch her legs.” She said getting tattooed in front of people is a much different environment than being in the shop. She’s received two other tattoos, and this time enjoyed the people watching as she got inked, especially after being a spectator at the convention in past years.

    Ringwalt and fellow convention organizer Steve Tefft, winner of season two of the popular tattooing reality show “Ink Master,” said it has been amazing to watch how it has grown year to year, adding more incredible artists. While there are numerous tattoo conventions across the country, they think theirs is the uncontested best.

    “It doesn’t matter how many conventions there are, we get the best of the best because of the family atmosphere,” Ringwalt said.

    d.drainville@theday.com

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