Richmonders get inked at annual tattoo festival

The 26th Annual Richmond Tattoo and Arts Festival was held September 28-30 at the Richmond Double Tree Hotel. Photo by Jon Mirador.

Ada Romano
Contributing Writer

Hosted by tattoo artists Jesse Smith and Kenny Brown, the 26th annual Richmond Tattoo & Arts Festival rounded up artists and vendors from all over the world Sept. 28-30 — as well as some local favorites — for three days of entertainment, competition and a charity auction.

The convention also gave attendees the opportunity to get acquainted with local artists.

Smith — who tattoos at Loose Screw Tattoo in Carytown — has been practicing since 1998. He competed on the tattoo competition show “Ink Master” and runs the Richmond Tattoo & Arts Festival every year.

Smith attended VCU after serving in the army. While he was always interested in art, he wasn’t sure what career path he wanted to follow. He pursued tattooing after meeting gifted caricaturist Biff Marshall while working as a caricature artist himself at Busch Gardens.

“Tattooing came to me,” Smith said. “Everything always comes to me. I just put out positive energy and it comes to me. I just push really hard in all directions and eventually things start coming to me.”

As Richmond’s tattoo scene continues to grow, Smith’s passion for tattooing has allowed him to make a name for himself.

Chris Jenkins works alongside Smith at Loose Screw Tattoo and has attended the festival since Smith and Brown took it over three years ago.

Tattoo Festival 2018

The 26th Annual Richmond Tattoo and Arts Festival was held September 28-30 at the Richmond Double Tree Hotel. Photo by Jon Mirador.
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Before becoming a tattoo artist, Jenkins was a high school physical education teacher. He started as a client at Smith’s shop and has since grown to become a flourishing “new school” tattoo artist.

Originating in the 1970s, new school tattoos feature vivid colors and large outlines.

“When I was first getting into tattooing, Loose Screw [Tattoo] was the epitome of new school tattooing for me,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins has been invited to international festivals and hopes to keep growing in the industry.

Duffy Fortner, a tattoo artist from Prince Frederick, Maryland, was one of the most successful artists to come from the tattoo competition show “Ink Master.” She has regularly attended the Richmond event since 2006.

“Conventions are nice because it’s a change of pace and it puts you with so many other artists that you don’t really have the opportunity to be with otherwise,” Fortner said.

Growing up around a tattoo shop owned by her family, Fortner followed in her mother’s footsteps and started tattooing at age 16.

Mitchell Canter, an artist at Heroes and Ghosts Tattoo, has been tattooing for 10 years. He has attended between 15 and 20 conventions in his career and enjoys the fast-paced environment of the Richmond festival.

Canter’s style stands out in the Richmond community because of his focus on photorealism.

“I like the Richmond scene because I stick out like a sore thumb,” he said. “For the people who aren’t looking for traditional stuff, I get to swoop in. For ten years now, it’s been really good to me so I’ve stayed in Richmond.”

The festival didn’t only feature tattoo artists — local flash artist Jared Gaines exhibited his work at the event. Gaines has recently turned to flash art to commemorate some of the most iconic punk and hardcore bands such as Descendents, Social Distortion and Misfits. Fans of his work turn his drawings into tattoos, and his collection has expanded to include prints, t-shirts and pins for those who share his musical interests.

For future tattoo festivals, Smith said he and his team have several exciting, fresh plans — but they aren’t plausible without funding. In order to facilitate some of these projects, Smith started a nonprofit called Giving Arts Foundation. The festival also hosts a live charity auction to raise funds for ART 180, a local nonprofit that creates and provides art-related programs for young people living in troubling situations.

More information on the Richmond Tattoo & Arts Festival can be found at

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