Pittsburgh tattoo expo returns for third year

Written By Dara Collins, Editor-Elect

Photo by Dara Collins
Junior criminal justice major Jared Ross attended the third annual Pittsburgh Bleed Black and Gold Tattoo Expo and received a Pittsburgh-themed bicep tattoo.

Walking down an aisle of booths with tattoo artists from Pennsylvania to California, a woman laying on a table caught the attention of passers-by with her extended leg covered in bright blue ink from the top of her foot to her hip.

In another aisle, an artist sat two inches from a man’s chest while tattooing a black and grey portrait on his right pectoral.

The Bleed Black and Gold Pittsburgh Tattoo Expo returned to the Sheraton Hotel in Station Square last weekend to boast the best of the best tattoo artists locally, nationally and internationally.

“We have a really diverse crowd here of artists [and] of clients that come through and that’s really what we’re trying to push,” Greg Piper said. “We want to show that diversity, we want to show that kind of love and I just want [the public] to come in and enjoy it. Get different perspectives and spend some time with some of these artists, and kind of change these people’s minds because tattooing has changed so significantly in the last 20 years, and it’s cool. I dig it.”

Hosted by Piper and Baller Inc., the expo invited artists, local venders and tattoo enthusiasts alike to the Sheraton’s extensive showcase on March 8-10.

Guests could purchase tickets for $25 per day or $50 for a three-day pass, a $5 increase from last year. Students could snag a day pass for $20 by presenting their student ID.

Junior criminal justice student Jared Ross took advantage of the discounted pass and walked out of the convention with a new tattoo.

“It was a good experience, and it’s cool to see a lot of the other tattoo artists’ work,” Ross said. “I went there knowing I was going to get one, so I was examining a lot of people’s stuff to get an idea of what I like, and I was talking to a few artists.”

Mike Salazar from Knuckle Heads Tattoo in California caught Ross’s attention, and a recommendation from a previous artist solidified his choice in Salazar. Ross sat for two hours and received a Pittsburgh-themed bicep piece.

Ross found himself in just one of 125 booths.

“This is as big as I want to make it, so it’s a comfortable 125 booths,” Piper said.

While the amount of artists lined up in the Sheraton’s ballroom remained the same as last year, the amount of guests and clients increased.

“We were busy,” Piper said. You should have been here [Saturday], you couldn’t move. It was crazy packed in here…It’s just been slammed busy. Our contests had a record number of entries [Saturday].

Piper said more people are discovering the expo as their advertising changes and word of mouth increases, and his team is really focused on growing the show, showcasing Pittsburgh culture and keeping tattoos as the heart of the show.

“The artists, which is what it’s for, want to keep it about tattooing,” Piper said. “I don’t want it to turn into a flea market, I want it to be an actual tattoo expo.”

Photo by Dara Collins

Nonetheless, Piper, a McKeesport native, enjoys inviting a smaller amount of local vendors to his show.

“I want real artists and stuff at our show, and that’s what we get, so I think the people appreciate that as well,” Piper said. “People would much rather spend their money on someone who’s an artist and someone who’s local.”

Piper is passionate about serving the public a family-style, cultured event. When asked why he refuses to upgrade the venue of his show, his answer is simple.

“It doesn’t feel like Pittsburgh when you’re in the Convention Center,” Piper said, gesturing to the  massive windows in the Sheraton’s lobby with a view of the city. “You’re stuck in there, you don’t have a view of the city, you just feel like you’re in a big ass building. I don’t want that feeling. I want more of a family-type feel when these artists come.”

Piper’s views must align with the artists and guests, as the expo has already secured the same weekend in March of 2020 to return for a fourth year.

“I want the quality of art to stay high, and I want the artists to be able to have the opportunity to come in and make a living as well,” Piper said.