Greensboro Ink: Tattoo artists drawn to city

By Jeri Rowe
Staff Columnist
Saturday, Sep. 8, 2007 3:00 am

Greensboro Ink
Tattoo artists drawn to city for networking, partying and self-expression at convention

They're hanging in downtown Greensboro this weekend, surrounded by insurance agents and memory-loving alumni from Page High, class of 1967.
But you can pick them out. Just look for their body art.

Like the can't-miss phrase "Trust No One" ringing a neck. Or the Old Testament story of a naked Eve and a menacing serpent spreading across a back.

Or the eight letters spanning the knuckles of two hands. Read it, and it's clear as a Scrabble phrase.
True Love. That's Dave Kruseman's thoughts on tattooing.

"I love it to death," Kruseman said minutes before seeing his first customer Friday afternoon. "I can't imagine doing anything else for a living because I don't have to answer to anyone. I'm my own boss."
It's a gypsy's life, with its own aches and pains.

For hours at a time, tattoo artists bend over someone's back or thigh and use a small-needle paintbrush that injects ink into someone's skin at lightening speed - 1,500 to 3,500 times a minute.
Several times a year - or more - they spend days on the road or hours in the air, bouncing from city to city to attend conventions and celebrate their industry.

They're in Greensboro through Sunday at the downtown Marriot. There are 72 of them from at least six states. They've come to network, party, make a little money and give clients self-expression that shouts.

And shout it does at the 13th annual NC Tattoo Convention.

Step into a huge room on the Marriott's second floor, and just below the buzz of conversation, you'll hear the drone of dozens of small-needle paintbrushes doing their thing.
Along one wall in the back, a man sees his right ankle turning into a skull.
Two booths down, a woman watches her right arm become a bandanna-headed gypsy grinning above a rose-draped coffin.  Across the aisle sits Pamela Francis. She's holding her son Robert Jr., 6 weeks old. Meanwhile, on her left foot, a skull with laurels slowly takes shape. It's a tribute to her husband, Robert.

He once served with the U.S. Army's storied 82nd Airborne. He's now a tattoo artist nicknamed "Pork Chop", with the phrase "Trust No One" around his neck.

On Friday afternoon - as his wife held his son and his 2-year-old daughter, Maris, slept in a blue stroller with a Dora the Explorer doll an arm's reach away - Robert inked his wife's foot.
 It's much better than swinging a hammer and hanging sheetrock. That's what Kruseman used to do.

On the next aisle, along what's known in convention lingo as the "Famous Front Row," there's Brandon Bond. He's the guy who's got Eve on his back.   He's created his own tattoo empire, propped by the talent he discovered 16 years ago.

 He runs three studios in Atlanta. He has 72 staff members, many of whom spend 38 weeks out of the year hitting various conventions nationwide.

 He runs his own book publishing company. He helped produce a documentary on himself, "See You in Hell." And he's an award-winning tattoo artist who has left his mark on filmmaker Rob Zombie and rap artist Nas among many other celebrities.

 Yeah he does pretty well. He is a sucess prodigy.  And he's only 32 in an industry that he sees heading into a renaissance.

 "Its dope man," said Bond, who runs All Or Nothing Tattoo. "You have art-school kids coming in, everyone is pushing one another, and with the Internet, you can see everyone's art in an instant. The bar has been raised."

 "And it's addictive. I'm an artist. It's all that I am. It's become me."

 It's become Kruseman, too. He's now in Atlanta. For 14 years, he's turned someone's skin into his personal canvas.   He'll do it again today. This time, he's tattooing his 91-year-old grandmother, Mert Erwin, from High Point.

 He's already given his grandmother four tattoos. Today, she'll get her fifth, between her shoulder blades.

 What is it? The word "Foxy."

 Shout it loud, Grandma.