Tattoo community adjusts to COVID-19 safety measures at Golden State Tattoo Expo

Traditional+poke-n-stick+tattoo+done+by+Jess+Yen.+He+is+a+multi-awarded+artist+by+both+national+and+intervention+conventions%2C+global+fans+greeted+him+on+Instagram+live+on+Sunday+Sept.+19%2C+2021.+

Gustavo Olivares-Molina

Traditional poke-n-stick tattoo done by Jess Yen. He is a multi-awarded artist by both national and intervention conventions, global fans greeted him on Instagram live on Sunday Sept. 19, 2021.

Gustavo Olivares-Molina

Tattoo celebrities and industry experts gathered to showcase the best talent across the state of California. Influential, big-name artists like Carlos Torres and Nikko Hurtado made appearances along with various key figures in the tattoo community.

The Golden State Tattoo Expo 2021 was expected to return in January, however the mega event was delayed by almost two years due to COVID-19 restrictions. The new dates were held over the weekend Sept.17-19, at 300 E. Green St. Pasadena, California.

Entrance towards the Pasadena convention center. Located on 300 E. Green St. Pasadena, California the three day event took place on Sept. 17-19, photographed Sept. 17, 2021.
Entrance towards the Pasadena convention center. Located on 300 E. Green St. Pasadena, California the three day event took place on Sept. 17-19, photographed Sept. 17, 2021. Photo credit: Gustavo Olivares

Pasadena Convention Center required all artists, employees, vendors and attendees to either be fully vaccinated with visible documentation or show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours.

The new conditions for hosting large events complied with both state and local requirements. Artists, vendors, and attendees were required to wear a facemask at all times, regardless of vaccination status.

No smoking, vaping, or eating was allowed in the building while moving through the event. Only certain assigned areas for eating and drinking allowed individuals to temporarily remove their masks, along with few stationary tables for event members.

Designated areas for artists assigned for hygiene, hand sinks located around the perimeter and disposable trashcans were routinely picked up. These practices were already in place prior to COVID-19, as most tattoo artists work with close proximity to their clients.

Victor Sepulveda tattooing on his clients forearm. His career spans over 25 years in the tattoo industry taken on Sunday Sept.19, 2021.
Victor Sepulveda tattooing on his clients forearm. His career spans over 25 years in the tattoo industry taken on Sunday Sept.19, 2021. Photo credit: Gustavo Olivares

Facemasks are nothing new to the tattoo industry, “When I tattoo, I do it out of courtesy because we’re in such close proximity,” Said Victor Sepulveda, tattoo artist veteran of 25 years that specializes in Chicano art, “everyone is either vaccinated or they are getting COVID tested, so everyone that comes in is supposed to be negative.”

Rita Ashley-Battiste, audience coordinator for major events across SoCal reminded everyone, “Please put your masks on, the health inspectors are walking around!”

Battiste already worked for six major events prior to Golden State Expo, the first one being Born-Free, a motorcycle event held in Orange County where nobody wore masks. Battiste mentioned how some artists were not obeying the mask rules the entire weekend and pointed directly at them.

Booth for Sepulveda Tattoo Studio that specializes in custom original tattoos. Nina Lovecrow tattooing her client, her speciality is also fine line tattoos, photographed on Sept. 19, 2021.
Booth for Sepulveda Tattoo Studio that specializes in custom original tattoos. Nina Lovecrow tattooing her client, her speciality is also fine line tattoos, photographed on Sept. 19, 2021. Photo credit: Gustavo Olivares

“They put so much money into the event, into them, that they can’t kick them out.” Battiste said. Special privileges were visible, some artists, along with their entourage adamantly defiant towards the facemask requirement.

Battiste was overall happy that her source of income was returning along with more work opportunities, “Good. Good, more paychecks.”

Visitors had the opportunity to be tattooed at the convention, as well as compete across various tattoo categories such as best original design, cover-up, black-and-white, and Asian influence.

Back tattoo that won best asian influence, a collage of Japanese culture featuring tuna, sushi chef, and a shrine tower. Required the entire three-day event to finish up the back on Sept. 19, 2021.
Back tattoo that won best asian influence, a collage of Japanese culture featuring tuna, sushi chef, and a shrine tower. Required the entire three-day event to finish up the back on Sept. 19, 2021. Photo credit: Gustavo Olivares

Live entertainment was provided by Freakshow Deluxe, one of the performers from the crew, Dakota Cooke, known by her stage name, “The Bearded Lady,” got tattooed prior to her performance.

Cooke’s adrenal glandular disorder allows her to have a high pain tolerance, “I had two tattoos for the past two days, I’m fine.”

A self-described Elton John fan, Cooke’s forearm had the singer’s iconic heart-shaped sunglasses to commemorate her love for the English artist.

“I’m excited to come back. I missed performing, I really did… I was nervous,” Cooke said, “I’m really looking forward to being back on stage again.”

Cooke’s concerns were alleviated with the required COVID safety measurements put in place, “I work for the federal government in Nevada, everyone is vaccinated and I stand with that.”

Hallways lined up with vendors, and over 550 artists present. The 3 day event hosts the best talent in our CA state, photographed on Sept 17, 2021.
Hallways lined up with vendors, and over 550 artists present. The 3 day event hosts the best talent in our CA state, photographed on Sept 17, 2021. Photo credit: Gustavo Olivares

Reese Hilburn, tattoo artist and social media entrepreneur, said that she will be selective and reconsider future tattoo conventions. Her last tattoo convention prior to the pandemic was in Europe.

Vaccination passports are now common in the E.U., with harder travel restrictions such as testing or mandatory quarantining for those who are unvaccinated.

“I refuse to entertain anything like that because I know what’s good for my body,” Hilburn said, “I think everyone should have their own choice, we are Americans, we are America, it should be freedom of choice, whether or not what I do, it should be respected.”

Networking among artists and their peers, financial profits and representing their businesses are some reasons why patrons returned to the Golden State Expo this year.