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Seattle tattoo expo shows it's hard to stop at one

Mallory Kaniss
A Good Karma Body Art artist adding on to previous upper back tattoo.

Around 5,000 tattoo enthusiasts gathered at the Seattle Tattoo Expo this weekend to celebrate the art of tattooing, and maybe even get inked themselves. Tattoo artists completed more than 1,500 new tattoos throughout the weekend.

We saw a lot of people with multiple tattoos and that made us wonder: Once you get one tattoo, is it hard to stop?

"There's certainly an addictive quality to the whole process,” said Jeff Cornell, a tattoo artist.

“I think some of that probably could be explained scientifically. Endorphins are released, and along with that comes dopamine. There is a sense of euphoria, a sense of accomplishment … Like anything else that somebody gets addicted to, it ends up being about that process, that environment, that thing that triggers this response … that makes you feel whole for that minute," Cornell said.

Cornell himself has multiple tattoos on every limb, and his entire right leg is covered in ink.

"It’s real solid, dense work in the Japanese traditional style," he said.

The tattoo on his right leg is an intricate design that weaves together purple and orange coy fish, blue flowers, and pink cherry blossoms. Cornell says this completely solid image actually covers up six or seven old tattoos that were already on his leg.  

Cornell owns a tattoo parlor in Fremont, so you might think he’s an extreme example. But tattoos like his seemed to be the norm at the Expo. There were probably a few first- or second-timers there, but it seemed like most of the attendees had at least five or six tattoos in prominent places.

Room for more, at work too

One Expo visitor, Andy McKillip, said he's noticed a trend toward acceptance, even at work.

"I’m a manager in large corporate food chain, and they have no problem with us showing our tattoos," he says. "When I started, we pretty much had to keep them fairly covered. But now, on the back of my hands or neck, it's fine. ... We don’t have to cover them up with our work attire at all."

McKillip, a self-described Star Wars geek, has a big Darth Vader mask on his bicep and a detailed, full-color scene from Star Wars tattooed on the back of his hand.

"That was actually a really good spot to get tattooed on," he says. "It doesn't hurt much there."

We'll take his word for it.

More art than rebellion 

Cornell believes more people now view tattoos as a fine art form, as opposed to just symbols or a form of rebellion.

"The [tattooists] have gotten better,” he says. “There's more artistry, there's more creativity, there's more pushing of the envelope. There’s more introduction of other styles of art into tattoo art, and people seeing, Where can realism can go in tattooing?"

Still, Cornell says that while tattoos may be growing more accepted as an art form, they are certainly not mainstream.

So, some employers may not be as accepting of visible tattoos as McKillip's. But tattoo artists like Cornell probably don't have to worry.

"A little saying that goes around in tattooing is, there's a whole bunch of people turning 18 every day," Cornell said, "So there's no shortage of supply of new clients."

Lindsay Lowe is an intern at KNKX. She attends the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York, and plans to pursue a career in public radio after graduation.
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