Nightmare at the tattoo expo

I was attending a tattoo expo a few years back, and I had an open spot for a large scale piece. I was offering a discounted rate to tattoo an original design by yours truly in hope to compete in the category of Traditional American.

Now, a friend found me a client who seemed really stoked on the design and placement and agreed to complete the tattoo in one sitting. She had other tattoos and a good amount of hours in the chair, so it sounded perfect.

So the day comes and here we are at the tattoo expo setting up the booth and waiting for the client. When they arrived, there was some confusion with the client and her boyfriend as they were under the impression I would be providing lunch. “WTF, who said that?”

“Your friend fucking did.”

Well I ask him, and he denies it, so I had to clear that up. By no means was that offer ever on the table, weird right? Anyway, let’s get to work! I set up my stuff, laid the stencil and dropped the needle. Let’s buzz!

I have a bad feeling about this

The needle had barely touched the skin for more than two seconds and the client screamed, “Shiiiiit, why does that hurt so much?”

My first thought was, “Damn, we’re looking at a 4-hour session, this better be a hiccup.” Unfortunately it wasn’t.

Even though my booth in the tattoo expo was up front and pretty close to the stage where the local talent was performing their live music, my neighbor artists could hear my client’s screams. A few people came to check on what the fuck was happening in my booth and make sure I wasn’t killing the poor girl. A little over halfway through the tattoo, the power for half the building goes out.

Obviously, I’m in the half with no electricity (I’m pretty sure to the client’s relief) and the contest time still remains the same. If something doesn’t give, I’m gonna finish this tattoo Japanese style and hand tap in the rest. Don’t think I’m kidding, lassie.

Things will get better, right?

Well, after two hours of beer breaks, lunch (self paid), thankfully the power came back on and left me in a rush to finish the tattoo. Jumping back in on that tattoo must not have felt too good this time. I could have sworn the client’s head did a 180, like in The Exorcist. Eyes wide, her limbs started to shake and she let out a bloodcurdling scream that I will never forget to this day.


This whole time her boyfriend had been at her side getting mauled by her for hours like a kitty scratching post. Now he decided to take a stand and started barking at me, “Stop it man, you’re fucking hurting her, she’s in pain bro, can’t we take another break?”

“Yeah dude I know she’s in pain, fuck, the whole expo knows she’s in pain, but we have an agreement and she’s gotta keep sitting until I’m finished.” Call me P-Diddy, playboy cause I can’t stop won’t stop. Uh huh uh huh.

Being under lots of time pressure and sick of holding down a screaming client, for hours I hurried the shit out of the last part of the tattoo and finished it up in time to snap a couple pics and rush the client to the stage for the judges to inspect. Truthfully, there was a lot of talent at the show, and despite my best efforts under the circumstances, the tattoo didn’t make the cut and didn’t win shit this time. Boo hoo. Time to pack it up for the day, whew.

The long way back home

So, after packing up the car I go to the booth to make sure I didn’t forget something and I’m greeted by my clients, “Hi, Dave. We are ready to go back to the hotel.”

“What hotel? I’m going home.”
“We were told you were providing a hotel.”

Wait, what the fuck? “Who the fuck told you that?”

“Your friend did.”

At this point I think they might be messing with me or they think I am the world’s biggest idiot and are trying to hustle me. “Look guys, I don’t know what you were told by ——, but there’s no hotel. I’m going home, ok? Ok cool, see ya later.”

“So where’s the car?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re not giving us a ride home?”

“What? You can’t be serious.”

“Yeah, we don’t have a car here nor money for the bus.”

Now, this tattoo expo is in a small town in central Mexico, about an hour away from my city and in a remote location and fairly dangerous. So, as if our 4 that turned into a 6-hour hellride of a tattoo session wasn’t enough time spent together I agreed to give them a ride if they can fit all my tattoo gear on their lap and anywhere else they can fit it in the car.

We arrived at an agreed drop point around midnight, I dropped ‘em off and put an end to this crazy trip.

Red Panther Tattoo | Tatuajes Queretaro

Final thoughts

Man, I still remember the feeling of relief finally getting home and lighting up a fat joint, knowing I would not have to relive that day for at least another year. Although I’m fairly happy with how the tattoo turned out. The client loves it, but is unlikely to get any more large-scale work done–at least from me in the near future.

What’s your worst tattoo experience? What would you have done in my situation? Write to me in the comments, maybe I’ll share your story.

If you’re keen, there’s a picture of this tattoo in my portfolio. Can you guess which one it is?

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