30 Years Strong Meeting of the Marked Tattoo Convention Celebrates Three Decades of Skin Art



A tattoo needle punctures the skin around 100 times per second, depositing the ink 1.5 millimetres to 2 millimetres below the surface. It bypasses the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin.

With the tool firmly in hand, the image that appears is more than ink injected into the skin — tattoos can tell a story, represent a moment in time, and forever embed a feeling in the flesh.

“We mark occasions on our body,” tattoo artist Tim Azinger said inside his shop, Pinnacle Tattoo in Dormont, on a recent Monday. “I can look at any of my tattoos and know who did it and during what part of my life it was done.”

Azinger of Bethel Park said the initial allure of tattoos came when he was 5 or 6 years old. He said he distinctly remembers being fascinated with an uncle who was a Navy veteran. “He had a mermaid on his forearm he could make dance when he wiggled his fingers,” said Azinger, 54, who got his first tattoo at 18.

Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review

Tattoo artist Tim Azinger is reflected in a mirror as he touches up a tattoo on the arm of client Judi Little of Castle Shannon inside his studio, Pinnacle Tattoo, in Dormont.

At that time, not many people had tattoos.

Tattoo shops were dark and mysterious. People with tattoos were labelled as “different” and were characterized as a little rough and tumble, Azinger said.

“Tattooing was very fringe back then — like punk rock and skateboarding, which I was also into and also influenced my decision to get tattooed,” he said.

Azinger focused on creating a safe space for this profession, which he calls a craft, a blend of art and technical application.

Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review

Tattoo artist Tim Azinger touches up a tattoo on the arm of client Judi Little of Castle Shannon inside his studio, Pinnacle Tattoo, in Dormont on Aug. 30.

Meeting of the Marked

Azinger founded the Meeting of the Marked, a three-day tattoo convention, 30 years ago. Over the years, it has grown from not being welcome in some venues to hosting artists from all over the U.S.

Azinger said he wanted to bring artists together so that people could learn about the art form. He said tattooing is still very misunderstood. He wants to overcome the stigma of tattooing, which he said now is “too acceptable.”

“It’s become watered down, almost commonplace,” Azinger said. “Many of us battle to keep it magical. I miss the days when it was rebellious and raw.”

According to a recent study by Pew Research Center, 32% of Americans have a tattoo, and 22% have more than one.

Tattooing has been around for thousands of years, he said.

The craft has ridden waves of popularity, often tied to significant world and social events, Azinger said, such as times of war, the roaring ’20s, the late ’60s and the hippy and free love era.

The early days

Tattooing in the late 1800s to early 1900s was more folk art. Many of the images were chosen from pre-made designs that clients chose from.

Today, there are more custom tattoos, Azinger said. Most tattoos are drawn on paper or an iPad. A stencil is created and transferred to the skin. He said the inks are better, and the colours were limited at once, but not anymore.

Azinger’s wife Pegi said tattoos were considered part of the “cool rock star life.” They’ve evolved, she said.

In Pennsylvania, you must be 18 to get a tattoo or have parental consent. The tattoo industry in this state is a self-regulated business — the state board of health does not require a certification to apply for tattoos.

A handful of cities have their requirements, including Philadelphia. Other than the age limit, Pittsburgh has no health department oversight, Azinger said.

Azinger estimates there are more than 200 shops in Western Pennsylvania alone.

Tattoos on site

People can get tattoos at the convention. That was one of the draws for Tony Bauza, of Waynesburg, Greene County, who works at Self Care Tattoo Co. in Uniontown, Fayette County. He first visited with his family on a trip from Chicago as a teenager. He said the convention means so much to the tattoo community — it’s about learning and making connections.

“Tim has stuck with it all these years, and he does it for us,” Bauza said. “He has poured his heart and soul into this convention. A tattoo is something no one can take from you.”

Judi Rosato, of Belvidere, N.J., concurs. She first attended the convention in its early years when she was 17. She and her late mother, Carol Evans, often travelled to Pittsburgh. Her mom got her first tattoo at Meeting of the Marked.

“I have always loved tattoos,” Rosato said. “I don’t think it’s as judged as it used to be. So many people have them now. I see tattoos in memory of family members, a person’s heritage, and military life. I wanted to be a tattoo artist, but you need a steady hand. I like to design tattoos. It’s a form of artistic expression I carry with me.”

“Tim has made Meeting of the Marked like a family reunion,” she said.

“I am proud of this convention,” Azinger said. “When I look back and think of all the talented tattoo artists who have been a part of this, it tears my eyes. I’ve met generations of families. The artists who have come before me have passed down that knowledge.”

Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review

Tattoo artist Fuz Brand inside True Image Tattoo in New Kensington.

Passing on knowledge

Learning from an experienced tattoo artist is how Fuz Brand, an artist at True Image Tattoo Studio in New Kensington, learned.

He attended the first Meeting of the Marked.

“I was intrigued and in awe of what was happening,” Brand said. “Seeing that big of a show and people tattooing right there inspired me to do this.”

Brand said everyone he knows has at least one tattoo.

“Meeting of the Marked is about history and learning the craft,” Brand said. “You meet many cool people and have many good conversations.”

6540356_web1_gtr-meetingmarked016Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review

Tattoo artist Duke Miller, 70, inside his Greensburg studio, Old Skool Tattooing Company.

One of the longest-working tattoo artists in Western Pennsylvania is Duke Miller of The Old Skool Tattooing Co. in Greensburg. He’s self-taught and has been tattooing since 1976.

He began as an artist with travelling carnivals. He said the tattoos today are beautiful. Being a tattoo artist takes patience, he said.

“I love doing tattoos because we give a person something they will have for the rest of their lives,” Miller said.

Miller said Azinger’s dedication to the convention is to be commended. He said he would ask the person about it; he imagined when he saw a tattoo he liked.

“Tim has continued to preserve the history of tattooing in Pittsburgh,” Miller said. “I have put my life into this profession, and to be at this convention surrounded by all the tattoo artists, you can feel the energy and love of tattooing.”

There is undoubtedly a connection between the artist and the client.

“There is a level of trust people relinquish to you to mark their body permanently,” Azinger said inside his shop next to one of the treatment tables. “We will never take that trust for granted.”

The 30th anniversary of Meeting of the Marked is Sept. 8-10 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Pittsburgh in Green Tree. Hours are 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday.

Admission is $20.Children under 14 are free. The anniversary special is $30 for a three-day VIP pass.

Details: tattoopgh.com

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