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Getting inked at Bike Week in Hagerstown

July 15, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER |
  • Tattoo artist Michael Whittington of Cherokee Tattoo Studios puts a new tattoo on Lauri Hill of Finksburg, Md., during Hagerstown Bike Week at Hager Hall Conference and Event Center Friday.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

There are two kinds of people. Those with tattoos, and those without.

If you ask Michael "Crazy Mike" Whittington, a tattoo artist from Winchester, Va., those with ink get it.

Those without it, well, they weren't sitting in a cushy chair Friday during Hagerstown Bike Week, allowing "Crazy Mike" to mark them for life.

Whittington paused to blacken another line on Laila McNett's arm. With a moistened paper towel, he wiped the excess ink to reveal the petal of a rose.

As he spoke, his words rang with the wisdom of a tattoo philosopher, a wizened sage whose years and inches of personally inked epidermis gave him an unparalleled view into the tattoo culture.

"Each tattoo has a special meaning, it has a story," he said. "This could be the outlet for somebody that they needed.

"Once you have a tattoo, you have a tattoo," he said. "It's done, it's over with, it's a story, an experience. And if it was that bad, then maybe you need to leave it there as a reminder ... don't make that mistake again."

Tattoos were once believed to signal that someone had been to prison, Cindy Kilmer, owner of Cherokee Tattoo Studio in Winchester said.

Not so much today.

"We've tattooed cancer patients; that was on their bucket list," she said. "We've broken through some taboos."

Especially the taboo of who has a tattoo.

Take Kristle Larmore, who sat with her head buried in a cushion Friday, the skin on her back finally numb from the tattoo needle.

A nursing student at Hagerstown Community College and a mother, this was not the first tattoo for Larmore of Greencastle, Pa.

But she didn't start her day Friday planning to have Kevin Wilson of Winchester ink a butterfly on her back — even though Whittington said butterflies are a symbol of new beginnings.

Rather, Larmore's day started with final exams at HCC. Wanting to celebrate afterward, she and her friend and fellow nursing student, Brittany Trotta, of Hagerstown — who has two tattoos of her own — headed for Barefoot Bernies.

Curiosity led them to explore the vendors at Bike Week. A bit of impulse put Larmore in Wilson's chair.

Sure, she had been planning to have an old tattoo on her back upgraded one day, but after talking with the artists at the event and seeing Kilmer's design, Friday became that day, she said.

Travis Lowery, one of the owners of Wise Guys Tattoo in Hagerstown said most of the people who get a tattoo at an event or convention do so on impulse.

It might be a rush of spontaneity that plops a client in Lowery's, Wilson's, Whittington's or Kilmer's chair this weekend, but most often, the idea to get a tattoo has been brewing in the client's mind for sometime, Kilmer said.

It took McNett, a truck driver from California, Md., two years to contemplate the design Whittington drew on her right arm Friday, she said.

Ink might be seeping its way into the mainstream, but Whittington said it will always be taboo.

"It might be more acceptable, but it will always be bad," he said. "It has to be wrong. The same reason other things have to be right. There will always be someone who gets a tattoo because mom and dad said no."

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