19th Annual Motor City Convention : A brief history(from my perpective)


This year marked the 19th anniversary of the Motor City Tattoo Expo. and I was ecstatic to be part of the line up of artists. I have a sentimental attachment to the Motor City Expo. because it was the first convention I had attended even before I began tattooing. I’ve been at almost all of the Motor City Expos. for the last eighteen years(give or take a few). It’s been exciting for me watching the Eternal Tattoo empire grow and even more of a thrill this time, I could be a part of the show. I’ve such a love of this convention that I can’t assess it without being completely biased, so this particular entry is going to take a different turn. It’s my personal path and history with the Motor City Expo. and some of what I’ve learned from it.

First of all, I would like to give credit where credit is due. As far as I’m aware, Tramp (of Eternal Tattoo) and Brian Everett (Route 66 Tattoos) are the Motor City Convention’s founding fathers. I’m guessing Jack Rudy has something to do with it too, but I’m making an educated guess only because I see him there every year.

Tramp(A.K.A. Terry Welker) is truly an inspiration to me and someone whom I’ve looked up to for quite some time. He’s an exemplary business man who commands respect and seems to always make the right decisions. It’s encouraging beyond words to think this guy started out with just one little tattoo shop in Livonia, Michigan to becoming the king of an indestructible tattoo empire. He’s unequivocally one of my hometown heroes and gives tattooists such as myself hope for a brighter future. Tramp caters to my belief that with hard work, success is inevitable. One thing I often hear about the man is that he’s a good guy who treats people good. This I can personally account for. I live my life by the philosophy; I should treat others as I wish to be treated myself. In a world of corporate sociopaths who step on anyone as they climb the ladder to success, it’s refreshing to see someone get there without being a total dick.

The Motor City Expo. brings the world of tattooing to me every year. Hell, he brings the tattoo world to entire city of Detroit. It’s exciting to meet artists from all over the globe. It’s like Christmas for me but better, because I hate Christmas. I suppose at this point we could call Tramp a sort of tattooed Santa Claus.(I’m guessing he wouldn’t like anyone calling him that) For most of my career, I’ve been stuck here in Detroit raising four boys, half of the time alone. I rarely could travel out of town to attend conventions, let alone work at one. It’s been very difficult juggling a tattooers life and raising four boys. I know there’s plenty of tattooists who do conventions and have a family, but most of these are men. Let’s face it; dads get to play by a different set of rules than moms. I’ve often been discouraged; especially during the hard winters. Every year the Motor City Expo. motivates me and reminds me of the awesome community I’m part of. It once dreamed of tattooing at the Motor City convention and I’m proud to say that I’ve participated on three different occasions.

I’ve watched some stellar talent tattoo from behind tables over the years, from humble beginnings at the Royce Hotel near the Airport, to it’s current home at the Detroit Renascence Center. I’ve met tattooists at the very beginnings of their careers and watched them evolve into leading names in our industry. I’ve met a ton of amazing artists and have learned an infinite amount from them over the years. I’ve had just about every Guy Aitchison seminar he’s offered and was tattooed by his sister Hannah many, many years ago when she was new to this industry. I’ve hung out with Lyle Tuttle and a whole slew of other “old timers” who always have the best stories. I once had Jack Rudy stop in the middle of a tattoo and laugh at me(Sometimes, I can be funny). I remembered when Gunnar was just a kid in this business. I met Durb before he made Hell so much fun. I remember Paul Booth before he tattooed in color. I still have one of Jeff Zuck’s business cards back when he was a New School artist, of which he is no longer. I’ve met Phil Holt, Adam Bomb, Bugz, Aaron Cain, Cleen Rock One, John Clue and Sean Oz long ago. They’re names I don’t hear very often anymore,but I appreciate the time each one of these guys took to talk to me. There are obviously many artists whom I’ve talked to and learned from, but to mention them all would take hours.

In contrast, there have been a fair amount of egotistical tattooers who are not only talented at their craft, but perform flawlessly as self centered, ego maniacs. I would like to say that this particular list isn’t as long and I’ll keep it to myself, but through the unkindness of others I’ve also learned a few things. And I would like to make this statement; “Everybody is somebody to someone. Just because you don’t know who that someone is, doesn’t mean that they aren’t important. EVERYONE is important.” I know someone who needs to learn this lesson. It think we all know someone who needs to learn this lesson. Keeping that in mind, I took the time to answer every question I could from the wide eyed eager apprentices, to the stuffy condescending woman who works for the mayor. I gave everyone my time and mutual respect, even if they did accidentally dump beer on the only tattoo awards I’ve ever won in my career. Even if I could only give a smile and a hello, I did, because long ago they’re were a few tattooers that did that for me and I’ve never forgotten that.

As an artist who’s recently put myself out there actually tattooing at conventions, I can’t help but compare all others to Detroit. There are so many conventions available to work that it almost gets confusing. I can only attend a handful each year, so I must chose wisely. I’m not easily impressed with fancy websites promising stellar conventions. However, if I have a complaint about the Motor City Show, it’s their lack luster web site. The indisputable factor in my desire to participate in a convention are the other artists in attendance and Detroit continues to deliver the goods time and again. This year for example, Jimmy Litwalk, Joe Capobianco, Durb Morrison, Marshall Bennett, Timmy B, Josh Woods, Kystal Oreto, Kyle Dunbar, Russ Abbott, Kelly Doty, Tony Olivas and many many more artists filled the floor with incomparable talent. Every year, The Motor City Expo is packed full of people to the point where you can scarcely make it through the isles. I see some of the same faces and some new ones,but all weekend long I look through the isles to see artists busy and working.

This convention is one of the best events to grace Detroit next to the Auto Show and Autorama. Many of the locals literally wait all year for this event hoping to see, or get tattooed by their favorite artist. There’s a reason why the Motor City Tattoo Expo will be celebrating their 20th. anniversary next year and that’s because it’s done right. This convention has more experience than 90% of the tattoo conventions out there and nothing can replace experience. There’s a reason I see the same artists return time and again,because the artists are awesome, the money is good and so is the party. What more could you ask for?

In case you’re new to the business of tattooing, or perhaps you’ve been tattooing in Borneo for the last 19 years, here’s a link for more info: http://www.eternaltattoos.com/#!motor-city-tattoo-expo/c21jb. If you haven’t made your way to the Motor City convention yet, then you might want to ask yourself why not?


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