There once was a time when having a tattoo would make a person an outsider. Now in this day and age, it seems like everyone and their mother has a tattoo somewhere on their body.

In order to celebrate the growing tattoo lifestyle, the 13th annual AZ Tattoo Expo will take place from May 3-5 at the Mesa Convention Center.

The assistant coordinator of the event, known in the local body art community as “Gonzo,” explains that since the tattoo lifestyle has grown over the years, more and more people are attending the event.

“At first having a tattoo was a big no-no, but now almost everyone has them,” Gonzo said.

He said that what attracts people to tattoo is because artists are able to create perfect and unique art in creative styles.

Sage O’Connell, the expo’s founder and owner of the East Valley’s own Urban Art Tattoo Studio, wanted to create an expo for people to come and share their love for the tattoo lifestyle. People can hang out to talk about their passion and see how artists create tattoos.

More than 150 “world famous” tattoo artists and body piercers are expected to attend the event. The artists that attend the event are handpicked by the organizers because they are professionals and the best.

Celebrity artists in attendance include “Big Gus” from Spike TV’s "Tattoo Nightmares" and Tommy Montoya from TLC’s "NY Ink"; both will be tattooing as well as signing autographs.

Local East Valley artists such as Justin Hartman of Urban Art Tattoo Studio — Urban Art has two Mesa locations and one in Tempe — are also scheduled to showcase their craft.

Hartman, 29, has been a tattoo artist for seven years. He had an apprenticeship at the shop, and his boss would take him to the expo, which used to be held in Phoenix, but was moved to Mesa due to the need for a bigger venue.

One of the things Hartman likes about the expo is meeting other artists and seeing different talent and styles. Hartman said his interaction with other artists over the years has influenced his work and has helped him improve his skills.

“There’s a lot of good talent at the expo and a lot of great stuff to do for everyone,” Hartman said.

A misconception, according to Gonzo, is that people think since it’s a tattoo expo, it means that things might be a little wild or crazy.

Gonzo explains that’s hardly the case, adding that the event is actually welcoming to the entire family.

The event will feature contests, seminars, food and beverages, tattooing, henna art, apparel, jewelry and laser tattoo removal. Some of the contests include best black and gray, traditional and Aztec-style art.

Admission is $20 for a day and $45 for the weekend. Pre-sale tickets are $15 for a day and $35 for the weekend. Guests age 15 and younger are free if they are with someone with a paid adult admission.

For more information, visit

• Abel, a senior at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at (480) 898-6514 or

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