PLEASANTON — Anthony Morris stripped off his shirt and waited patiently while Japanese artist Hori Ryu prepped him for the tattoo.

After cleaning the area, Ryu carefully applied the custom hand-drawn stencil on the entire length of Morris' back. He began outlining the massive tiger and cherry blossom tree with a buzzing needle, pausing to inspect along the way.

"This will be my third," said Morris, a San Francisco resident, of the tattoo he was receiving at the InkFest Urban Tattoo Expo at the Alameda County Fairgrounds Friday evening. "I love the artwork. It's definitely not for the pain. It's like an investment for me."

InkFest, a festival that wraps up today, features numerous tattoo artists, disc jockey battles, graffiti art, break dancing competitions and BMX biking, among other entertainment.

The Bay Area is the second of four stops for the nationwide tour celebrating the culture popularized by athletes, reality television shows set in tattoo shops and Ed Hardy products.

With fences creating barriers between booths, souped-up cars on display and hip-hop music blaring in the background, InkFest is designed to recreate an urban, inner-city environment, said marketing director Ragen St. Peter.

"It has a little more exciting a vibe than a typical tattoo expo," he said. "It's more entertaining."


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For attendees seeking tattoos, InkFest afforded ample opportunity to flip through sketchbooks and picture portfolios to help spark inspiration.

"A lot of people don't know what they're looking for until they see something they really like," said Dean Dennis, a San Francisco-based artist who began learning the trade in 1971 and counts many rock 'n' roll artists among his clientele.

Others already have their mind set on a design — such as Davina Joy, of Fremont, who sought a tattoo of a singer with a vintage microphone on her forearm.

While getting an all-black tattoo from Freddy Robles of the Southern California-based Ink Shop Tattoo Parlor, Joy said she wanted the new tattoo to pay homage to her profession. But she doubts it will be her last.

"They say when you get one that they're addicting — when you get one you're never done," she said.

Indeed, numerous attendees sported visible tattoos from necks to ankles, many "sleeved-out," as the lingo goes, with brightly-hued tattoos running from their shoulders to wrists.

"It's a lot more accepted now than it used to be," said Scott Chapman, who owns Dos Changos Locos Tattoo in Modesto and also works as a high school English teacher.

While there have been numerous changes in the business over the years — FDA-approved ink with expiration dates, practice "skin" and more technologically advanced equipment — many still ask for a traditional cross, heart or eagle, some artists said.

"You've got that group of tattoos that stand the test of time," said George Galindo, who owns House of Pain Tattoo Studio in El Paso, Texas and specializes in photo-realism.

Morris, who chose a tiger because it was the symbol of the year he was born, will now have a complement to the koi fish on one arm and the phoenix on another. His new tattoo will require follow-up sessions he has already scheduled with the artist.

"When it's all finished and done, it will be worth it," he said.

if you go
  • What: InkFest Urban Tattoo Expo
  • When: 1 to 7 p.m. today
  • Where: Alameda County Fairgrounds, 4501 Pleasanton Ave., Pleasanton
  • cost: $15
  • DETAILS: www.inkfestlive.com