Cheney Free Press -

Staff Reporter 

Local tattoo shops pass on nearby convention


Last updated 9/20/2018 at 7:30pm

The buzzing of tattoo machines from all directions, the smell of green soap and colorful, permanent ink decorating everyone you meet — the sights and sounds of a tattoo convention make for a singular experience. It’s one that Eastern Washington residents will have the opportunity to partake in this weekend at the ninth annual Three Rivers Tattoo Convention in Kennewick; however, many local tattoo shops are passing on the event, citing high expenses and extensive time commitments as reason for their absence.

Three Rivers is the only tattoo convention on this side of the state, and has been the closest thing the West Plains has to its own tattoo event since the short-lived Lilac City Tattoo Expo in Spokane petered out nearly 10 years ago. The All-Hallows Tattoo convention in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, is gaining ground, now in its second year and taking place in mid-October.

The Three Rivers convention will have classes for professional tattoo artists, contests for people to show off their work, and of course, lots of live tattooing.

Gary Short, owner of Body Language Tattoo in Cheney, has attended quite a few tattoo conventions over the course of his career but isn’t planning to make an appearance at this one. Short has been tattooing for 38 years, 21 of them in Cheney.

“It’s just a small thing,” Short said of the local convention. “For the cost and what you make, it isn’t really worth it for me. I’ve been to a lot of shows though the years, and it’s a lot of work, getting there, setting up.”

The benefits to attending a tattoo show for artists are networking with other artists, continued education in the form of seminars and lectures by some of the biggest names in the business and the opportunity to reach a new client base. Then there’s the money they can make to recoup their expenses and make a profit by tattooing during the event.

But attending conventions can also be extremely expensive. Artists pay for travel, lodging, booth rental, staff expenses and insurance, and a vendor booth at the Kennewick convention comes with a $450-$1,350 price tag. Add to that the significant time investment from artists as they prepare by drawing tattoo designs and creating new paintings and artwork in the weeks leading up to the convention, and it’s clear why some may choose to stay away.

An employee at No Surrender Tattoo in Airway Heights said that no artists from the business will be attending, but a shop representative could not be reached for further comment.

While nearby artists may be avoiding the convention, shops from all over the Pacific Northwest will be making an appearance. Tattoo artists from as close as Spokane and Kennewick and as far away as Olympia and Bellingham will be setting up shop and taking customers.

Tattoo artist Stephanie Nuzzolilo works at Coffin Birth Tattoo in Shelton on the peninsula, nearly six hours from the West Palins. Yet she and several of her Western Washington colleagues will be attending the Three Rivers convention, tattooing and selling paintings and prints.

“It’s worth going in my opinion because of the connections made and being able to spread my art further than just my local area,” Nuzzolilo said. “I like going to conventions to network with other tattooers, as well.”

Nuzzolilo has been in the tattoo industry since 2012 and regularly travels to conventions and other shops for guest spots. She attended the Three Rivers convention two years ago and said she had no problem staying busy.

“It’s really about marketing yourself and giving good product, just like any other successful business,” she said. “I guess the idea of it being ‘worth’ going to is up to each person. What might be worth something to me may not have any value to someone else.”

Nuzzolio admits she’s partial to shows that are slightly calmer and less crowded. But it sounds like the Kennewick convention will be plenty busy — Three Rivers Convention Center sales manager Heather Breymeyer is spearheading the event’s organization and estimates anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 people will attend this year.

“In the beginning, we started with 30 artists and it’s grown every year,” Breymeyer said. “This year will be the biggest we’ve had, and I don’t see it declining any.”

The convention will be welcoming about 200 artists and vendors this year, and attendees will range from young teenagers still awaiting their first tattoo to tattoo veterans aged 70 and older, Breymeyer said. Breymeyer’s father even got his first tattoo at the convention a few years ago, inking his grandchildren’s names onto his skin at the respectable age of 60.

While tattooing is the convention’s primary subject matter, it’s also a fun place to peruse art and watch contests, burlesque shows and other entertaining displays. Next year will be the convention’s 10th year, and organizers are planning on it being bigger and better than ever before, Breymeyer said.

“It’s an all-ages event,” Breymeyer said. “If you’ve got skin, it’s for you.”

Shannen Talbot can be reached at


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