Eye of the needle: Northern Arizona Tattoofest returns

Jun 1, 18 • 5enses, FeatureNo Comments

Tattoo image by Ed Slocum, Tattoo Artistry, Tucson. Courtesy image.

By James Dungeon

[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and festival founders and organizers Tony and Adrienne Carey. The Northern Arizona Tattoofest is June 29-July 1 at Prescott Resort & Conference Center, 1500 AZ 69. Find out more and purchase tickets at NorthernAZTattooFest.Com.]

Let’s start with the basics: What exactly is a tattoo convention?

Tony: It’s a gathering of tattoo artists and there’s live tattooing on-site. There are some live tattoo contests and performances, too. Ideally we’re looking to attract people who want to get tattooed, but it’s for anyone with an interest in tattoos, even if they’re just curious. One of the things we get is that someone will come who’s thought about getting a tattoo, will look at some art or actual tattoos and get inspired to get tattooed on the spot.

How does the festival work?

Tony: You can buy tickets online in advance, or you can just purchase them at the door. Once you’re inside the venue, you can look at people’s work and negotiate with individual tattooers. Some of them take appointments, but there are plenty of walk-ups, as well. It’s a chance to walk around and see if you vibe with any of the artists more than others. There’s a buzz to events like this and you may end up surprised by how exciting it is. There’s a mix of people who plan for this and of people who decide to get something on the spot. It’s really up to the individual. For small tattoos it can be a matter of minutes. For big tattoos, you’ll probably be there all day.

Adrienne: We have people who plan to come to the show and get these specific, gigantic pieces. There’s one girl that comes every year who gets tattooed by Sirris who sits all day, like 10 hours, which is brutal. She collects horror tattoos. Last year she got the “Jeepers Creepers” guy.

Tony: We’ve seen people sitting multiple days working on a sleeve. You really see a range of people from all different walks of life.

Who are some of the artists at the festival?

Tony: There are some names people might recognize — not just tattoo-heads. Tommy Montoya has been on some of the TV shows. There’s Aaron Coleman from Immaculate Tattoo in Mesa. And all the guys from Hold Fast, of course.

What do people need to know before they go to the festival?

Tony: Very small tattoos usually start around $100, but every artist has their own prices. It’s up to you to negotiate with them.

Adrienne: For tickets, it’s $17 a day or $45 for the whole weekend if you buy in advance. At the door that’s $20 a day or $50 for the whole weekend. We try to keep the entry price low so you can save your money for getting a tattoo.

Tony: The resort has all the amenities you’d expect. This is a holiday for some people, and we get a lot of people traveling for this, so we want you to be comfortable.

Adrienne: Saturday is usually our busiest day with 400-600 people. The afterparty on Friday and Saturday is at Lyzzard’s and on Sunday it’s at Rose’s.

Tony: There’s an opening party Thursday at The Raven, which is having its annual Hold Fast art show. That’s a great place to go before the first day of the festival and meet a bunch of the people who’ll be there.

How did the Northern Arizona Tattoofest get started?

Tony: We’d probably had the idea five years before we started. It didn’t feel like the timing was right. Once it made sense, we just went for it. We spent about two and a half years planning the first one, dropping the deposit on the venue, and just getting everything together. … We knew from the beginning that it was going to be a relatively small show, as far as the amount of artists participating goes. We fill up at probably 120, which is 60 tattoo booths, 10-15 vendor booths, and related things. The bar’s set really high, though. It’s a quality over quantity thing. Word started getting around, and we’d sold out the booths before we actually announced the convention. And, from the beginning, we’ve had artists coming from all over the country — even internationally, including an artist from Japan, England, Australia, Holland, and Northern Ireland. Some of them are fairly mainstream, well-known people from some of the TV shows. A lot of them have their own following. Tattoo collectors know them and go back to them again and again.

What are your own backgrounds?

Adrienne: I’m kind of a native, or at least as close as it usually gets around here. I’m moved to Prescott when I was 4 and stayed here. I was going to move, but then I met him (Tony) and I stuck around. I’m a teacher at Northpoint (Expeditionary learning Academy) and I own Dark Mountain Yoga. I’ve got two master’s degrees. What can I say? I like school.

Tony: I’ve ben here 15 years and worked at Hold Fast Tattoo for the past 13 of those. … Actually, a lot of people associate Hold Fast with the festival, but it’s not associated in that way. Adrienne and I organize the whole thing. I don’t always correct people when they get that wrong, though.

What does Prescott tattoo culture look like, let alone Arizona at large?

Tony: As far as Arizona in general goes, it’s a pretty tattooed place. My frame of reference is downtown at Hold Fast, where I’m working six days a week, so I see the same pool of regular clients. Word of mouth is golden and it means the world to me, but it’s hard for me to see the bigger picture. It’s a little surprising how many people are getting big, major pieces done.

Do you do any tattooing during the festival?

Tony: I do not. I’m running around making sure everyone’s happy. I’d love to that, but I have to be on the floor. I’ve worked during conventions, and it’s great, but you can’t do that when you’re running the show.

Adrienne: He does all the talking at the show. I’m not the most social person in the world, so I do all the behind the scenes stuff.

Tony: It’s our job to get people through the door and keep the artists busy.

What’s some of the additional entertainment during the festival?

Adrienne: There are contests throughout the day. We do a pin-up contest on Saturday. They create the stage around 3 p.m., we announce the winner around 5 p.m., and there are several performances in the evening. It’s our first year having the burlesque show.

Tony: We wanted to add something new. We already have a great draw of people who are tattoo nerds and people who want to see or get work done. We thought this would be a great way to get more people through the door who might discover they have an interest in tattoos, too.

Adrienne: We tried music before, but it doesn’t really do that well. No one wants to leave the ballroom. And there are so many different types of music, in general, that it’s hard to get something everyone’s excited about.

How do the tattoo contests work?

Adrienne: There are different categories, different genres of tattoos. Most are healed tattoos, but there’s also a best-of-day category. At the end there’s a best-of-show award, too. Categories are things like portraits, black and white, color, traditional, Japanese. We try to represent all different kinds of tattoos. We have a reputation of being a traditional show, but we do have people who specialize in geometric designs, stipple, and other things, too.

What’s the range of people who attend?

Tony: There’re a lot of people from Prescott and then some from Phoenix and Tucson. Other people are traveling from further away. One year we had a guy who flew out from Chicago for one of the international artists. … It’s a wide age range, not just younger people.

Adrienne: That was a surprise the first year.

Tony: Well, not as much for me, but I knew that from working other festivals.

Adrienne: Certainly for Prescott, though.

Tony: Yeah.

Adrienne: It’s cool to think about how many people come back every year. There’s a family vibe to it, and people are really excited to see each other and hang out.

Tony: It’s like summer camp for tattoo artists and tattoo collectors.

What should someone do if they want to find out more about the Northern Arizona Tattoofest?

Tony: Well, a good place to start is the website, NorthernArizonaTattooFest.Com, and on our social media. You can look at individual artists’ sites, too. If there’s someone there who catches your eye, you may want to reach out and schedule a time. Some of the artists book up before the doors open. Anyway, that’ll give you a good idea of what you’re going to see. And come ready to get tattooed.


The Northern Arizona Tattoofest is 2-11 p.m. June 29, noon-11 p.m. June 30, and noon-8 p.m. July 1 at Prescott Resort & Conference Center, 1500 AZ 69. Find out more and purchase tickets at NorthernAZTattooFest.Com.

James Dungeon is a figment of his own imagination. And he likes cats. Contact him at JamesDungeonCats@Gmail.Com.

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