- Associated Press - Saturday, August 19, 2017

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) - Tattoos were the point, but a lot more swirled around the edges of the Virginia Beach Tattoo Festival.

Once thought to be the purview of sailors and bikers, nearly 40 percent of adults under 40 have at least one tattoo, according to the Pew Research Center.

Festival organizer John Cann expected between 11,000 and 12,000 attendees and said many came out as much for the aesthetic that goes with getting inked as they did for the tattoos themselves.

American tattoo culture is deeply rooted in Americana and harkens back to tattooing’s outlaw past, Cann said.

Case in point: Igor’s Custom Signs and Stripes, hand-painted signs that wouldn’t look out of place advertising 5-cent floats at the corner drug store or a brand of motor oil at a service station. The artist, who goes only by Igor, spent Aug. 11 and Aug. 12 painting below a sign that read “No soulless computers are used to make any of this art.”

“My dad and uncle were into race cars and I used to get dragged to car shows,” he said. “My mom and uncle were into different kinds of art, so it all just sort of came together.”

Amid the buzz of the tattoo guns, hot rods lined the aisles at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. Booths housed old-school barbers giving high-and-tight rockabilly haircuts while plenty of women behind the tables and wandering the aisles wore denim shirts with their hair tied up in bandanas.

Karen Newberry stood out as one of the few adults without a tattoo. She was there selling ‘50s-style aprons she hand-sews with a friend and said she loves everything about the community.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” Newberry said.

Every once in a while, someone cruised along the aisles on a skateboard. Skate-punk styles were common - another one-time outsider subculture pulled into the fold.

T.J. Linkous of Hampton had a whole booth dedicated to his taxidermy and other assorted oddities - a stuffed armadillo drinking a beer, a skeletal human hand, a rabbit head on a Pee-Wee Herman doll’s body.

The oddities were complemented with circus acts in the style of the turn-of-the-century sideshows.

Linkous said some of the interest is definitely for the shock value, but there’s no denying that many of the artists love decorating their shops with the stuffed critters and creepy collectibles.

Virginia Beach tattoo artist A.J. Gavin has a stuffed mascot at his booth. With a pheasant body, a rabbit head and antelope antlers, he calls it “the pheasalope” and says it’s sort of emblematic of tattooing and the tattoo community.

“I take the best parts of this and that,” Gavin said. “It’s just a big, jumbled aesthetic.”

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