15th Annual Tattoofest leaves a mark in Palmetto

15th annual Tattoofest celebrates art of inking in Palmetto

acastillo@bradenton.comMarch 29, 2014 

PALMETTO -- Jime Litwalk had the outline done on the woman's left calf -- a young cartoon-like girl holding a dead bird.

"She asked for something beautiful but creepy," the 39-year-old tattoo artist said about his design as the woman waited patiently before him on a massage table.

Litwalk, a seasoned artist who appeared on the third season of reality competition "Ink Master" on Spike, was just beginning a live tattoo job -- part of a much larger picture at the 15th Annual Tattoofest. The event and art show, which runs through Sunday at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto, features tattoo artists, enthusiasts and vendors from all over the country, as well as live entertainment.

On Friday afternoon, multiple aisles burst with color from countless tattoo designs -- some in open binders, most on peoples' flesh. On one display table were rings fashioned after Jason Voorhees from the "Friday the 13th" series. Knee-high heels made from black PVC leather laid side-by-side on another booth.

Tattoofest founder Bruce Ripley had a big goal in mind this year: To bring together the best of the best in the tattoo industry.

"Everybody specializes in something today," he said, adding that there are artists from as far away as Japan, Australia and India.

Ripley said he expects 4,000 to 5,000 people to attend the festival this year.

"The people who come to this show are collectors," he said. "They're looking for specific art that they want to put on their bodies by the best artist possible."

Ripley has seven tattoos -- six wolves and one werewolf. "I'm a big fan of Lon Chaney Jr., the original werewolf from the '50s," he said.

Nearby, Kelsey Darby walked slowly past the tattoo and vendor booths with her brother, Josh. The 25-year-old from Brandon heard about Tattoofest from Stuart McNish, tattoo artist and owner of SiC iNK Tattoos in Riverview.

Darby said she had no plans on getting a tattoo while at the festival; she has 17 already.

"I like that you have the ability to buy peoples' artwork that aren't just tattoos," she noted, referring to the array of canvas paintings dotting the center. Darby was drawn to one large painting of a raven.

"I have a thing for ravens and crows," she said with a laugh, later pulling up her left sleeve to reveal a tattoo of a multi-colored raven done by McNish.

At a far end of the festival sat Kelly Frazier and her boyfriend, Brandon Darling, both from Winter Haven. The table before them was filled with handmade jewelry, some of which is for people with gauged ear lobes. Frazier, whose artist name is Pinky Pierce, said it's really unique being around everyone at Tattoofest.

"We don't have quite the same feel whenever we're back home," she said.

Michael McKnight, a musician and co-owner of Vicious Angelz Tattoo in Ybor City, said Tattoofest has a great vibe.

"I love these kinds of events because they really hit home with what it's about. A lot of people get lost in the commercialism of the whole thing and a lot of reality shows that don't really communicate the art," he said.

"This is where you come to meet real artists and real people."

Amaris Castillo, Law Enforcement/Island Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.

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