Back-to-back tattoo expos in W.Pa. underscore wider acceptance of inking

Tom Fontaine
| Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, 9:42 p.m.

Tim Azinger's secret was exposed at a company picnic in the 1990s.

After covering his growing number of tattoos with a suit at his former corporate job as a graphic designer, Azinger went to the picnic wearing a T-shirt and shorts.

“People were a little taken aback. Nobody ever knew I had any tattoos,” he said.

Today most people wouldn't bat an eye, said Azinger, 44, of Green Tree, who owns Pinnacle Tattoo in Mt. Lebanon. He organized the 21st annual Meeting of the Marked expo over the weekend in the Monroeville Convention Center.

Another large tattoo event, the Steel City Tattoo Convention, is scheduled for this coming weekend in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.

“I don't know if tattoos are mainstream, but it's certainly hedging that way,” he said.

Tattoos have become ubiquitous in popular culture, a staple among athletes and entertainers. Several reality TV shows focus on tattoo artists and shops.

They even have a place in politics. Democrat A.J. Richardson of Sheraden garnered as much attention for his facial tattoos as his unsuccessful Pittsburgh mayoral campaign last spring.

In Braddock, Mayor John Fetterman, a Harvard graduate, bears tattoos on his arms that list the borough's ZIP code and dates of homicides that occurred there since he took office in 2005.

“It is everywhere. It's almost at the point of being oversaturated,” Azinger said.

A Harris Interactive survey conducted last year showed more than one in five American adults has at least one tattoo. That was up from 14 percent in 2008.

About 38 percent of people ages 30 to 39 are inked, the highest percentage for any age group, said Harris Interactive, a Rochester, N.Y., market research firm.

Tattoo artists and enthusiasts have mixed feelings about the popularity.

“It's good to see people from so many different walks of life taking an interest in it, and it helps pay the bills for tattooers,” Azinger said. “But I think it also waters down the mystique and magic.”

Dave Nestler, 50, a pin-up artist who has designed thousands of tattoos for others but does not sport any, thinks it has diluted the artistic talent.

“A lot of people are getting into the business that probably have no business being in it,” Nestler said.

Perceptions about people with tattoos are changing. Last year, 24 percent of those surveyed said they thought tattooed people were more likely to do something they considered deviant, down from 29 percent in 2008. Three-quarters of people surveyed last year did not think being tattooed makes a difference when it came to behavior.

“Thirty years ago, a mom walking with her kids would probably cross the street if she saw a guy with tattoos coming her way. Now she's probably got a tramp stamp herself,” Nestler said.

“People are just more accepting these days,” said Nashville tattoo artist Mike Fite, 38

Karen Litzinger, owner of Regent Square-based Litzinger Career Consulting, urges people to think before they get inked.

“Most employers would not regard a tattoo on the neck as a positive. In some places, having a visible tattoo is OK, but it limits your employment opportunities,” Litzinger said.

Clothes mostly conceal the four large tattoos of Tom Romick, 32, an English teacher at John Marshall High School in Glen Dale, W.Va., but sometimes students get a peek if a short sleeve or pant leg creeps up.

“My employer could care less. Some people aren't as fortunate, which is too bad. I don't think a person's abilities should be measured or lessened because they have tattoos,” Romick said.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or

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