For many, the thought of meticulously stabbing someone with a needle infused with permanent ink with the aim of branding that person forever may sound like a gut-clenching, hand-shaking, sweat-inducing task. For Mike Siderio, owner of Rio Grande’s Rebel Image Tattoo, it’s just another day at the office.
Siderio has been in the tattoo business for 34 years and, for the past eight, has been one of the organizers of the Wildwood Tattoo Beach Bash, a venture he started up in 2010 with his wife Cynthia and a friend. The convention, taking place this year Friday to Sunday, Aug. 11 to 13, at the Wildwoods Convention Center, will bring together other tattoo artists and vendors for three days of all-things ink.
Participating vendors include Razorblade Pro, Villain Arts and Eternal Tattoo Supply. Guests can expect artists like Alli Baker, from Season 2 of “Best Ink,” Gian Karle, from Season 8 of “Ink Master,” Tattoo Tony, from “Under My Skin Studio,” and Kyle Dunbar, from “Ink Master,” to be there, as well.
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Before Siderio brings these and other artists together under the Convention Center roof, he spoke to At the Shore about the pressures and pleasures of being an artist whose medium of choice is skin.
At the Shore: Were you a more conventional artist before you were a tattoo artist?
Mike Siderio: All my life I was into doing something creative, using my hands, drawing, coloring, carving, building clay models … Shortly after high school I got my first tattoo and was totally intrigued by the whole concept of it, and I had to learn how to do it. That was 1980. Back in that day there were hardly any tattoo studios around. It was very close circuited — they were all family-owned and it was very hard to get involved with. It took me about three years to get my hands on some equipment. I started tattooing in ’83, so I have 34 years in the business.
ATS: What was the first tattoo you got?
MS: I got a cross with my name in it.
ATS: What was the first tattoo you did?
MS: I did a cover up, believe it or not. I had someone who had a little hand-poked cross on their arm, that was done with just needle and thread and Indian ink. They wanted to cover it up, so I did an eagle over it.
ATS: What are the biggest differences between doing art on a more traditional canvas, as opposed to doing art on skin? Do you get nervous when you do a tattoo?
MS: After all these years I don’t feel nervous anymore. I do recall getting nervous early on, because of the permanency of it and that it’s on someone’s skin. There’s a lot of things to consider, like them moving or breathing, even. Everybody’s skin different, too. You may be using the same machine, same equipment and it could be great. With other people, their skin may be harder or calloused, so it’s hard to get the same effect. You have to learn people’s skin types and what colors work with different skin colors. There are so many things to consider, so after 34 years I’m still learning.
ATS: What about tattoo artistry interests you?
MS: That it’s permanent and on a living canvas is one of the biggest fascinations for me. It’s an art and it’s applied to skin, so you have that relationship with your client. You can communicate with your canvas and get feedback. That’s nothing like any other type of art form. Nothing else you can work on talks back to you. I’ve made an awful lot of friendships through it … you spend a lot of time with your clients.
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ATS: How have you seen tattoo trends change over the years?
MS: They (trends) are always changing, from the location to the image. You can probably just recall when the tribal was very popular and arm bands ... Before that I did a lot of eagles and roses. Today is so different. We don’t really use the flash designs, which was the artwork on the wall. When I first got into tattoos, you went to the wall and found a piece of art that appealed to you and you got it. If you wanted something different about it, you couldn’t get it. Now everything is custom, drawn one of a kind … With the flash designs being at thing of the past, it’s all about the individual. You don’t see people with the same tattoos. You used to bump into people who would say, “Oh, I got that same tattoo.” That doesn’t happen anymore.
ATS: What was your interest in starting up the Wildwood Tattoo Beach Bash in 2010?
MS: In the area that we’re in, there hadn’t been any tattoo conventions. It’s kind of like hosting a big party, and you’re bringing in artists from all over the world. Today someone contacted us from Brazil and we’ve had somebody come from Norway. When you get a bunch of artists together you see the diversity in their work. They feed off each other, and it helps the industry develop. Some say it’s a good thing and some say it’s a bad thing … I think it’s a good thing because I’ve become a better artist by seeing what other artists are doing.
ATS: This is an event for both tattoo artist and tattoo enthusiasts, right?
MS: The whole purpose of that tattoo convention is that there’s live tattooing going on. You’re bringing all these artists from all over the world, and people can get tattoos by them, which they may not have been able to do before. It gives the artists the opportunity to see the work being done in areas that they might not get to.
ATS: What are you most looking forward to about this event?
MS: It’s kind of like a reunion because I get to see people that I haven’t seen since the last show. I like seeing the styles and how they’ve changed in a year. It’s like a party.