Crash: My first tattoo convention, San Diego,1993

I’ve been collecting tattoos since 1985, doing them since 1990, and publishing TAM since 2003.

This post is the story about my very first tattoo convention. It was (gasp) 1993 (I think; it could have been 1992); I was a fairly inexperienced, young tattooer and my new boss, “Painless” Paul Nelson (of Atlanta’s famous Ace Tattoo Studio), decided to attend the San Diego “Tattoo Tour”, (an early convention circuit put on by JD Crowe and his partner…both tattoo artists). Paul was scheduled to get his chest worked on by Gil Monte, a leading black and grey artist of the day who specialized in these awesome fineline, black and grey skulls with eyeballs…and, most importantly, Paul insisted I come with him and try to get tattooed while we were there. So COOL! Here I was– new job, new boss, first trip, and I was hungry to learn everything I could about tattooing. It was a big deal, my first convention…and most exciting was when I learned that all the superstars of 1990’s tattooing were going to be there. Now I wanted a tattoo. Not only that, but I wanted a GOOD TATTOO, from one of the artists who was inspiring me. It was great realizing that I could actually be getting a piece from one of my personal tattoo heroes! I saved money for a few months and began trying to figure out how to get an appointment, and who with, once I realized there were a lot of choices– Jack Rudy, Eddie Deutsche, Guy Aitchison, Aaron Cain, Marcus Pacheco, Paul Booth, Kari Barba, Gil Monte, and so many more…(I think Scott Sylvia and Timothy Hoyer were there, maybe Jeff Rassier, too, but I don’t recall if they were actually working conventions quite yet. It would be another year or two before their tattoos started to get recognition in magazines, with all the worldwide exposure that could bring, but it was my first introduction to them and so many others). So how was I to choose who to get a tattoo from?

Guy from an interview in Tattoo Revue magazine. 1993-ish.


Guy Aitchison was my first choice. His groundbreaking work was changing the way people viewed tattooing. From M. C. Escher to comics-styled originals and bio-mechanical tattoos, he took light, shadow and color to all new levels in tattooing, and every photo of his work I could find in any magazine was collected into a binder. That’s how we grew, back then, as artists…the only way to see what was on the cutting edge was to look at the magazines of the day. This is how tattooers got attention, obtained clients, and became ‘famous’. Legions of artists (including many of those I listed above) consider Guy and his work one of the pivotal reasons they decided to pursue careers in tattooing. I called to find out how to set an appointment with Guy, but he was booked for the whole show. (We did meet at the convention, btw- he was very open and friendly, and very, very busy; there was always a crowd around his booth. While at the convention I picked up some stickers and a cool “Guilty & Innocent” t-shirt, which was the name of his famous Chicago-land tattoo shop, (from whence would also soon come Kim Saigh, Jon Clue, Rob Koss, and a few other tattooers ready to make their mark). He looked at my book, (which was pathetic), and gave me some encouraging advice about not giving up, finding references beyond tattoo pictures, and drawing more to refine my skills. [Thanks, Guy!])

Next I tried Eddie Deutsche and was able to get a hold of him (surprisingly) with no problem. After a quick chat about budget and style, we were planning to start a sleeve on my left arm. What did I need to do next? He asked for a tracing of my arm and a deposit. I was getting a mfkn sleeve! Well, when we got to the show several hours late due to wintery weather in Atlanta, Eddie was completely booked up! He apologized and offered for me to come visit the shop at a later date to get it started. I was pretty bummed out, no lie. I didn’t know how it worked, that I needed to be there Friday at opening time to get my appointment confirmed. Live and learn. Now, what to do?

Jack Rudy flanked by Hardy and Bob Roberts.
Jack Rudy flanked by Hardy and Bob Roberts.


I had a thousand dollars saved and no appointment. Paul was booked. Jack was booked. Wait- there’s Marcus Pacheco and Aaron Cain’s booth! Can I get an appointment? “Sure, no problem”, I was told by the lovely gal working the booth, whom did I want to get tattooed by? Honestly, I didn’t know who was who at the time. haha. And it really didn’t matter because I was totally into what each of them were doing. Who was available first? Aaron was. I’ll take it! A quick chat to determine what I wanted and if he wanted to do it, and the appointment was set. Saturday I would be getting a bio-mech tattoo machine on my left forearm. $300.


Marcus Pacheco. Early 90s
Marcus Pacheco. Early 90s


I found out at that show that “Primal Urge”, the tattoo shop Marcus and Aaron started together (and which had just recently become so famous), was splitting in two. Marcus would keep the name and move locations, while Aaron kept the spot, renaming it Everlasting Tattoo. From these two branches would emerge the works of Jeff Rassier, Mike Davis, Timothy Hoyer, Scott Sylvia, Tim Lehi, Jef Whitehead, and others. Some of them would work for Aaron, some for Marcus, some would move to Eddie’s new shop, “222 Tattoo”, and others would become renowned working for Ed Hardy at Tattoo City, but each would make their own, unique contribution to tattoo…and to me. And to you.

I didn’t know it at the time, but capturing and preserving this type of history, the lives, lessons and biographies of these and other artists, their work and their inspirations, that’s what my project was one day going to be about- TAM (Tattoo Artist Magazine), so that this history wouldn’t be lost or forgotten, as so much of tattooing’s great history is. Were it not for the work of Ed, Burchette, Malone, Eldridge, Tuttle and a few others, we’d know virtually nothing at all about the men and women of tattooing’s early days (in the electric era, anyway.)

Kari Barba & patty kelly. Circa 1993. Two pioneering women of tattooing.
Kari Barba (on right) & patty kelly. Circa 1993. Two pioneering women of tattooing.

At the show I also met “Bloody” Bob Vessels, in full GWAR-like regalia, and I bought some flash from him. I had a drink with Gil Monte before he tattooed my boss. I talked to Kari Barba, met Marty Holcomb, and smuggled a switchblade back from Tijuana as a tip for Aaron Cain after he completed my sick new tattoo!

Gil Monte at work
Gil Monte at work

I met a lot of people that weekend but more importantly, I learned an immeasurable amount on my first tattoo road-trip to my first tattoo convention. It would be several years before I’d see or talk to most of those people again and when I did it would be to invite them to take part in my new project and to share their own story of how tattooing changed their lives in positive ways. Why? To inspire others, just like me.

That’s TAM. That’s what it’s about.



My tattoo from Aaron Cain, 22 years later.
My tattoo of a bio-mech tattoo machine from Aaron Cain, 22 years later.

 READ MORE about tattoo conventions:

Pros and Cons of Tattoo Conventions-

Are Tattoo Conventions Sanitary?



Tattoo Artist since 1990 and creator/publisher of Tattoo Artist Magazine since 2003

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