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Tattoo artists managing stricter sanitation, capacity restrictions to remain open during pandemic

Limitations at this weekend’s annual Ink Masters Tattoo Show at the Brazos Center illustrate some of the hurdles the industry has been forced to overcome
Published: Jan. 24, 2021 at 10:01 PM CST
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - The Ink Masters Tattoo Show made its annual stop in Bryan-College Station over the weekend, but the event looked a little different than usual due to COVID-19 restrictions, serving as a reminder that tattoo artists are overcoming similar challenges to make a living during the pandemic.

The event showcases some of the industry’s greatest talents from around the globe each year. Not only do the artists have the chance to earn some extra recognition with design and artwork competitions, but the show also provides an opportunity for customers to get a new tattoo from some of the best who are based outside of the area. This year, that selection was scaled down to meet health and safety precautions.

“Due to the COVID restrictions, we minimized the show to meet that requirement,” Event Coordinator Vincent Aguon said. “We actually have 25 to 30 artists in attendance. Some of them are award-winning artists.”

On top of adhering to the same restrictions everyone has become so accustomed to nearly a year into the pandemic, like masking and social distancing requirements, booths were limited to one vendor and one customer at a time.

It’s restrictions similar to that, like capacity limits in order to keep tattoo shops open, which have caused hardships for artists who make their living tattooing.

“We’re doing as few as maybe two tattoos a month. It’s going really slow,” tattoo artist Felipe Carrillo, who owns Por Vida Tattoo Studio in Houston, said. “We have to work on appointments only, and it’s really hard to keep on going with all these restrictions going on. The place has to be immaculate clean in everything that we do. I’ve actually had to hire other people to come in and clean for me.”

Despite those difficulties, some tattoo artists are encouraged by the fact they survived the shutdown when things hit their low point.

“I think we closed up for two months if I’m not mistaken,” Carrillo said. “We got permission to open up, but I don’t allow any more than four people in the shop at a time.”

“There was a big push to reopen and a lot of things going on politically, especially in the state of Texas, to make the government see that this is a livelihood and a means for most artists to provide for their families,” Aguon said.

For some like Chris Resnink, who is based in Fort Worth and been a tattoo artist for roughly 15 years, things have been getting better. He says there’s been a learning curve managing and overcoming the difficulties.

“We’ve been having to wear arm sleeves, aprons, the whole nine, but it’s good for everybody,” Resnink said. “There’s nothing constant but change, so it’s expected.”

Resnink, who took home second place in Friday’s lettering competition and will be joining Ink Masters when they open in Fort Worth, also attributes the uptick in business to a loyal customer base that finds escape from the harsh realities of the pandemic in the form of getting a new tattoo.

“People are getting tired of sitting at home,” Resnink said. “In a tattoo shop, you’re not really out and about, but you’re mingling, you’re conversating, you’re letting off some relief of being stuck in the house. They are out getting tattooed and doing what they want to do.”

Despite capacity restrictions and extra costs tied to maintaining even stricter sanitation standards in their shops, both Resnink and Carrillo believe they’ll make it to the other side of the pandemic, and even stronger at that.

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