PICTURED: Gabriel Tenneson from Transformation Gallery & Tattoo in Springfield, MO will return to this year’s Seaside Tattoo Show. Photo Submitted

by Alex Wilson

Christina Diaz was a 16-year-old student at Oxnard High School when she got her first tattoo.

“I walked into a shop and my mom gave me parental consent and I got a tattoo in Oxnard. And I mean, it was just kind of an instant love affair with tattoos and body art,” said Diaz, who now has tattoos covering nearly 70% of her body.

While her youngest childhood memories of tattoos did not have the most positive connotations, Diaz said, her outlook changed when she started seeing more women with tattoos and other types of body modifications.

“And then I just sort of became enamored, and thought it was so beautiful that a woman could set herself apart and use her own self-expression to identify herself. Whether it be changing her hair color, or getting an eyebrow piercing or body building. There are so many types of body modifications,” Diaz said.

As for why Diaz has gotten so many tattoos? 

“I feel like the more tattoos I get and I collect, the more comfortable I am in my skin,” she said. “I feel like I’m covered in beautiful art.”

Body art fest

The Seaside Tattoo Show will feature tattoos by Jessica Warren (in pink hat) and piercings by Chari Weatherford. They both work at Indigo Skin Design in Antioch CA. Photo submitted

Diaz loves tattoos and the culture surrounding body modification so much that she’s organized numerous tattoo events, including this weekend’s three-day Seaside Tattoo Show at the Ventura County Fairgrounds.  

“I’m the host. I’m the event organizer, you know, the head honcho,” she said.

Diaz has worked as a freelance writer for about a dozen years and early on started covering tattoo conventions, attending as many as two or three a month. Once she knew how they worked inside and out, Diaz decided to put them on herself, starting off with events in Santa Barbara.

Diaz knew Ventura would be a great place for a tattoo show because there was already a strong tattoo culture. She launched the Seaside Tattoo Show in 2017 and staged the event the following two years. Then COVID shut down the tattoo industry since it requires such close contact, causing her to call off the event in 2020 and 2021.  

Diaz is excited to be back this year.

“Oh, it feels fantastic. I’m so pumped up. The momentum behind the show this year has been incredible,” she said. “People are just elated to get back into the swing of things, and they miss seeing everybody.” 

Over 100 tattoo artists will be at the show, traveling from as far as Chicago, New York and Atlanta. Dozens of vendors will also set up displays. Henna artists will also be there for people who want to decorate their skin but in a less permanent way.

Aside from watching the artists in action, spectators will also enjoy other kinds of entertainment including DJs and nightly burlesque performances.

Diaz said it’s an all-ages event and a kid’s corner will include ocean-themed art projects.

“I’m a mom, so I like to keep things family friendly,” she said.

Another draw will be tattoo enthusiast and clown Richie the Barber who has appeared on numerous TV shows including America’s Got Talent. He will be serving as emcee and perform his own circus sideshow each day.

Tattoo contests also play a big role in the show. These create opportunities for people to show off their elaborate designs that took many hours and considerable expense to complete, as well as honor the artists who created them.  

“They want to enter these contests. Go on stage. Show it off. Give the artist some love,” Diaz said.

 “Ventura already loves tattooing”

One of the best things about attending a tattoo show is the wide variety of styles on display, according to Diaz. Artists who work quickly will be able to complete small tattoos at the show, while people seeking more elaborate ones can set up future appointments.

Diaz said it’s a great opportunity to meet the artists and find the best personal fit. Her advice for someone getting a first tattoo is to find a connection by getting to know the artists and their styles.

Uriel Leon owns De La Luz Genuine Tattoos in Ventura. Photo by Alex Wilson

“Talk about the tattoo experience and what to expect. You have to be 110% in love with their artwork and their style, because it’s going to be on your body forever. So I would say, take your time, go to the show and look at 20 or 30 portfolios. Just skim through the books because you’ll see a piece of art or a type of art and you’ll connect with it if it’s meant to be.”

Uriel Leon is a Ventura tattoo artist whose work will be featured at the show. He opened his own studio on Telegraph Road near Pacific View Mall last October called De La Luz Genuine Tattoo, which means “of the light” in Spanish. 

“To me what it means is carrying your own light through a dark tunnel,” he said. 

Tattoo by Uriel Leon. Photo submitted

Leon grew up in Carpinteria and studied art at Santa Barbara City College. He started his own graphic design business at Ventura’s Bell Arts Factory, which is where he made a connection that changed the course of his artistic career. He met a tattoo artist, who agreed to take him on as an apprentice at the Ink House in Ventura. Leon parlayed that experience into a job at a busy tattoo shop in Los Angeles around 2013, where he sometimes inked as many as 10 tattoos a day.

Leon was staying busy as a tattoo artist in L.A. when COVID hit. The disruption to the industry motivated Leon to open his own shop in Ventura, which has an upscale, sophisticated décor and is open by appointment only, giving it a private, luxurious vibe. 

“I feel like it couldn’t be better. It’s just been great feedback,” he said.

Leon is known for black and gray hyper-realistic designs, but can create any style people desire. During the show, Leon will be finishing up a full-leg sleeve on a local musician that he’s been working on for years, he said, as well as a tattoo featuring Johnny Cash for another customer.

Uriel Leon pays homage to Ventura with this tattoo. Photo submitted

Leon said there was already a strong tattoo culture in Ventura before the Seaside Tattoo Show, and Ventura’s reputation as a tattoo destination has only grown thanks to the popular event. “I feel like Ventura already loves tattooing. When you walk around town, people are tattooed. That has become part of the culture here, so just having something like this just broadens the horizon for what can be tattooed. And bringing artists in from out of the state to really open the minds of the local tattoo artists and the people who will come to visit, I think is really neat.”

One of Leon’s favorite things about tattoo shows is finding inspiration from the other artists and seeing how they do things differently, as well as the opportunity to share his knowledge with others.

“I’m excited for everybody else sort of being open to the tattoo industry and really realizing that it’s an art form. And that tattoos are not easy to do. They look much easier to do than they actually are. But I think the more people realize that, then the more there can be a respect for it,” he explained. “There’s been so much said about trying to break the mold of what tattoo artists really are. You get to see that in real life. You get to see it in its raw form at the show.”

Body piercing

Amanda Robone works at Clear Vision Tattoo in Moorpark. Photo by Alex Wilson

Amanda Robone of Thousand Oaks is a piercing artist who works at Clear Vision Tattoo in Moorpark.

Robone started piercing herself in middle school, which she would definitely not recommend today, and said anyone who knew her in high school would not be surprised that she became a professional piercer. 

“Just the idea of being able to adorn your body with sparkly jewelry was really appealing to me. And it’s different and it’s kind of edgy, so I always liked that aspect of it, too,” she said.

Robone now has around 20 piercings as well as numerous tattoos.    She said there are several reasons people choose to get pierced. 

“For a lot of people it’s a form of taking your body back after something traumatic might have happened to them,” she explained. “It could be a form of rebellion. It can also be a celebratory thing. I get a lot of kids in here that their parents allowed them to get a piercing for getting good grades. Graduations are a big one. So there’s a lot of different reasons, and it’s really cool to be able to do that with people.”

Piercing by Amanda Robone. Photo submitted

Robone has taken part in the show in past years and said its return has her so excited she’s having trouble sleeping at night because of the anticipation. She plans to have a display case full of jewelry to sell and will also be doing piercings for new customers.

While she works in a private booth at the shop in Moorpark, she said it’s fun to perform piercings in public. “If it’s not something you’re familiar with, it’s really cool to go and see, and get an idea of what getting a tattoo or a piercing entails. Because you get to see it happen right in front of you, which you don’t necessarily get to see walking into a shop. You won’t ever see me doing piercings in here because I’m always doing it in the back, so it will be kind of cool to see it happen live.”

Robone said people always ask her if getting a piercing done is painful, but it usually hurts less than expected.

“It depends on where you are getting it, but I always tell people it’s definitely nothing you won’t be able to handle,” she notes. “I tell people you probably stub your toe harder than this is going to hurt. Most piercings are no more than a 5 on a scale of 1-10. Ninety percent of my clients who come in here are very pleasantly surprised when we’re done. The anticipation is always the worst part.”   

Clowning around

Richie the Barber will emcee the show. Photo by Jon Dixon

Few people have taken tattoos and body modifications to the extreme as much as Richie the Barber. 

The show’s emcee cuts hair in Los Angeles but his true calling is as a clown. He loves being a clown so much that he had his entire face tattooed to look like clown makeup. Diaz describes him as the “world’s most entertaining haircutter.” 

“He’s a personality in the tattoo community,” Diaz explained. “He’s been on tons of different TV shows. He’s very well known and he’s just a likable guy. He has a great positive attitude. I think people just sort of gravitate towards him. When I hang out with him, people literally follow him around. It’s crazy to see.”

Richie loved clowns and dressing up as characters since he was a kid. 

“My grandpa took me to the circus and I was fascinated by the fact that clowns can just be silly, don’t care, make people laugh,” he said.

When he started his career as a barber in Hollywood, he already had lots of tattoos on his body but none on his face. As he perfected his juggling, clowning and unicycle skills, Richie the Barber decided to take his act up a notch with facial tattoos. His first clown tattoo was a red nose and then he had a smile tattooed on. He also had silicone implanted into his eyebrows to make the ridges stand out, and got a split tongue, resembling a snake’s.  

“I just got the obsession,” he recalls. “More and more, I just wanted tattoos on my face, and so then I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I’m like, a real life clown forever.’ I don’t regret it because I’m already clowning all the time anyway.”

While some people look shocked when they see him in public, he typically gets a lot of laughs as well.

Richie the Barber will be working at the show, but he’s also looking forward to taking it all in and enjoying the experience like other visitors. “For me it’s amazing and fun. I get to see all different types of artists and tattoo people. Get to connect with all different types of people. It’s amazing. It’s a big arts fest. It’s pretty cool.”

The Seaside Tattoo Show takes place June 10-12 at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura. For tickets, full schedule and more information, visit www.seasidetattooshow.com