Tattoo and art enthusiasts — including a couple VCU alumni — ready for annual festival

A smiling person seated at a table holds a microphone to a speaking child.
Co-organizer Jesse Smith talks with a young tattoo and art enthusiast at the 2018 Richmond Tattoo, Arts and Music Festival. (Photo courtesy Jesse Smith)

Looking to be part of something a little different than a typical festival? You don’t have to look far.

Thousands of art and tattoo enthusiasts are expected to attend the 27th annual Richmond Tattoo, Art and Music Festival, which kicks off Thursday, Sept. 12, with the 2019 Richmond Tattoo and Arts Academy. The academy features presentations from internationally acclaimed tattoo artists as well as professional artists who will share the knowledge, experience and techniques they have honed during their successful careers. 

“The purpose the academy is to try and bridge the gap between tattoo art and other art forms,” said co-organizer Jesse Smith, a 2004 Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts graduate. “We have tattoo industry leaders teaching alongside industry leaders from other disciplines in hopes to give various perspectives on art as a whole. … The majority of what is taught [at the academy] revolves around teaching art. I want this academy to be fruitful for artists from all different backgrounds, not just tattooing.”  


27th Richmond Tattoo, Arts and Music Festival

Where: DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Richmond – Midlothian, 1021 Koger Center Blvd., Richmond

When: Friday, Sept. 13: 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. / Saturday, Sept. 14: noon to 2 a.m. / Sunday, Sept. 15: noon to 6 p.m.

Richmond Tattoo and Arts Academy: Thursday, Sept. 12 and Monday, Sept. 16.

The group of professional artists includes Sterling Hundley, a nationally recognized illustrator and painter. The VCU alumnus and professor doesn’t want to come off as pretentious, but he thinks he can teach the tattoo artists a thing or two.

Specifically, the tattoo-less Hundley plans to share “10 things that change your art.”

“I'm very mindful of the people [who will be] there that are into tattooing, that love tattooing,” said Hundley, who teaches communication arts. “I'm hoping to relate to that and share a different perspective from their trade.” 

Smith, who took over the festival with Kenny Brown in 2015, had long wanted to add the academy to its lineup. 

“It wasn't until last year that I felt as though we had a stable enough foundation to jump off of,” Smith said. “Each element that we add to the convention takes a ton of mental energy and planning and I want to make sure that anything we add will maintain the same level of quality that the overall festival does.”

The academy is just one of the additions the pair has implemented since 2015. An entire area of the festival is dedicated to children, with a bouncy house, a caricature artist, a face painter and a lil’ tat shack where the kids can “tattoo” their parents, siblings and friends, and compete in a Kids Tattoo Competition.

Portrait of Sterling Hundley.
Sterling Hundley, professor of communication arts at VCU, will share 10 things that change your art at the 2019 Richmond Tattoo and Arts Academy. (Photo courtesy Jesse Smith)

Then there is a special tattoo booth, open Friday, Sept. 13, that requires extra bravery from participants: They won’t know anything about their new tattoo until the artist is finished.   

“We will have a set sheet of designs revolving around the Friday the 13th theme,” Smith said. “You walk up to the booth, put your arm in the hole, get tattooed and then pull it out. You won't know what you're getting until you've got it.”

Other entertainment will include live music as well as 10 artists creating works during the weekend that will be auctioned for charity. In addition, attendees can get a small, free tattoo from a large selection of designs. 

“We hand pick all the artists, vendors, food trucks and entertainment so the whole festival is curated around our tastes, which sit on the fringe of what most people would consider normal,” Smith said. “Anyone who loves art or finds comfort in things that are a little different will love our festival.”

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