BRYAN, TEXAS — The pandemic has revealed that tattooing may never be the same as it once was, but the industry continues to safely make its mark.
The 8th annual Bryan College Station Tattoo Expo hosted by Ink Masters Tattoo Show was held at the Brazos Center over the weekend.
In an event inviting some of the best tattoo artists from all over, artists were able to safely ink away through the popular event. Attendees and artists alike say the ink is healing to them all.
"We maintain sterile environments. The quality of a tattoo shop is not like the old biker days where it was rugged and ragged," Vincent Aguon, event coordinator of the tattoo expo said.
Following all state and city health guidelines, before entering the show, attendees had to wear a mask and sign a COVID-19 health questionnaire and waiver form. Sanitizer was readily available and tattoo booths were spaced 6-10 feet apart.
The ability to give someone a tattoo supports the livelihoods of many artists, including Texas tattoo artist Lee Soto. Remembering the shutdown from last year early on, Soto says he's grateful the industry found a way to carry on.
"It has changed a lot of artists mindsets maybe you know into thinking what's the future going to hold for us. Realizing this can be taken away from anybody any day. So we have to respect that," Soto added.
Soto, owner of Ink Master Studio in Arlington, has been tattooing for nearly 20 years and says inking is therapeutic for both the person permanently staining the skin and the one receiving the ink.
Soto specializes in portraits and sentimental images, personal and permanent marks he says he doesn't take for granted.
"From people to having children, losing children, losing loved ones, it's to me that's the part I love the most. To be able to put something on someone's body that they will look at and cherish forever and it's really going to touch them and that really touches me too," Soto added.
Soto says tattoos offer an escape for many seeking shelter and comfort in permanent reminders and if the industry hadn't survived the pandemic, he says some may have looked for help elsewhere.
"I think it is very important. There are a lot of people that sometimes maybe turn to other things that maybe they don't really want to do or they don't know how to cope with feelings," Soto added.
Bryan resident Tony Solis says he is fortunate the industry has survived and granted career tattoo artists like Lee Soto an avenue to express himself.
"It's really important because there are a lot of people, like myself, that want to get tattoos, but it's been really difficult lately, so it's really important (to have events like the Tattoo Expo). "If it weren't for Lee.... this has been a really nice chain of events. I am just happy I am able to finish off my sleeve and share to everybody what these tattoos mean to me," Tony Solis said.