WILKES-BARRE — Whether it’s in the name of artistic expression, commemoration or impulse, hundreds of folks are marking themselves up this weekend at the NEPA Tattoo Arts Festival.
Inside Genetti Hotel & Conference Center, Donna Gibbs of Hamlin sat stoically still as Rob Castaldo of House of Ink in Exeter applied ink to her skin.
Castaldo, a 14-year veteran tattoo artist, wiped a little blood and ink from Gibbs’ right shoulder to reveal a compass and three old-fashioned keys set against a map.
The keys represent her husband and her two kids, she explained. “Because they’re the only ones who can open my heart.”
The festival, a collaboration between 570 Tattooing Co. and Marc’s Tattooing now in its second year, continues today with 50 tattooers from around the country. Nationally known artists include Dan Henk, Megan Massacre and Jon Mesa. Last year the festival brought more than 1,000 people to peruse the artists’ and vendors’ stands at Genetti’s.
Tattoo artist Sarah Miller, known for her appearance on Spike TV’s series Ink Master in 2012, was taking her first client of the day Saturday. On a piece of stencil paper, she outlined the likeness of a child that would soon become a back tattoo.
Miller’s portfolio includes strikingly realistic portraiture, but also whimsical fantasy.
She owns Wyld Chyld Tattoo in Pittsburgh, the home shop of five other artists. But since her appearance on Spike, she’s spent most of the last year and a half on the road hitting festivals, she said.
“I didn’t go on the show because I wanted to be famous,” Miller said. “I just wanted to see how far I could go.”
Miller, 29, never aspired to become a tattoo artist. She studied fine art in college and hoped to one day illustrate comic books. Tattooing has been a means, at times, to pay the bills, but also a way to advance artistically, Miller said.
Her fascination with portraits grew in college while studying Renaissance-era greats.
She reveled that the old masters had an uncanny way to capture human expression with their medium, sometimes spending years to complete a single work. She wanted to reproduce that expression with a tattoo.
She wanted to try tattooing a portrait, but she was nervous to throw herself out there for the first time, at least until a friend volunteered as a test dummy.
What resulted was incredible, she said. “It was the same feeling I felt when I first picked up the tattoo machine,” Miller said.
Since then, her tattoos have been featured in magazines and earned awards across the country.
Tattoo artists stand to make a good deal of money, charging a few hundred bucks for three or four hours worth of work. But Castaldo described his profession as a lifestyle, one accompanied by great responsibility (there’s no magic eraser for tattoo ink), but also great reward.
“There’s nothing more gratifying than somebody letting you put your art on them forever,” Castaldo said.