Not only does the Richmond Tattoo, Art and Music Festival return after a two-year hiatus, but the weekend-long event will also feature Black Ink’s Melody Mitchell, the convention’s first black headliner.
A lifelong practitioner of drawing and painting, Mitchell was in high school when she saw a magazine featuring Mr. Cartoon, aka Mark Machado, a Los Angeles-based tattoo and graffiti artist. The article made her realize that she wanted to learn how to tattoo. Despite being a black woman stepping into a male-dominated white field, Mitchell had no qualms. “Being from Florida, I learned from some Puerto Rican guys and they were taught by their mom, so I guess it was a softer entry into the game,” she laughs. “I really felt like an outsider back then, but that never put me off. I was very committed and confident from the start. »
Mitchell is known for her creative approach to color on all skin tones, as well as her nature themes with underlying tones of mysticism. She doesn’t find black and brown skin tattooing difficult, just different. It is also one of his specialties.
“Under the umbrella of brown and black skin, there are hundreds of shades, so it’s really an individual approach every time,” she explains. “A true artist can work with the canvas given to him to create something beautiful. There are very few people in this world who I would say shouldn’t waste their time getting colored ink and all the brown and black shades outside of that glorious little group have different combinations that work for them. »
Although Mitchell lives in Colombia, most of her tattoos are done in New York and Tampa. But she brings her machines everywhere she goes, which has meant that she has worked in more than a dozen countries. “There is no cage for this bird. I love traveling and tattooing because it’s a great way to meet people,” says Mitchell. “Also, I think tattooing is sacred, so it’s really special to leave marks of you walking in this world.”
The Richmond Tattoo, Art & Music Festival was conceived in 1993 but has changed hands three times. Dessert screw tattoo artist Jesse Smith took over in 2016 with partner Kenny Brown. Both were active in the tattoo and art communities and determined to ensure that the festival constantly reflected what was happening around them. “As the world of tattooing and art evolves, so do we,” says Smith. “One of the new things we are introducing this year is NFT [non-fungible token] space. There are tons of amazing artists making their way into the NFT space and I feel like the festival is a great place for them to showcase their talents. »
Smith’s goal is to bring to the festival celebrities that people really want to reach and may not have any other way to do it other than this festival. The headliner’s international fame was a factor in bringing him to Richmond, but so was his skill level and personality. “Richmond is a richly diverse city and we wanted to amplify that with the selection of artists in attendance, including who we chose for a headliner,” says Smith. “She’s talented, hungry and frankly, just awesome. I think people will be extremely excited for the chance to meet her and/or get tattooed by her. »
Kenny Brown, Smith’s co-host since 2016, recently passed away. It was a sudden and devastating loss for Smith, the festival team and the national tattoo community. This year’s festival will be a memorial to Brown and another tattoo legend gone too soon, Tony Olivas. Festival patrons can get Flash tattoos to honor Tony and/or Kenny. A separate memorial room from the festival will be created for artists, friends, family, volunteers and staff to pause and reflect. Brown’s and Olivas’ tattoo booths will stand vacant in their honor with a guest book for people to sign.
The festival also features a range of musical acts, including southern rockers Damien Lugo and the Halo of the Vultures, burlesque performer Cervena Fox and Ska band The Sneaky Heat Missiles, among others. The Giving Arts Foundation will raise funds through the live mural and exhibitors will display their wares for sale. This part of the event speaks to Mitchell. “I love shopping at tattoo festivals. They have the best merchandise: dope clothes, really cool jewelry, great art prints and books,” she enthuses. “The vendors are probably my favorite part and this one in particular always has amazing food vendors.”
And while Mitchell feels no weight or pressure to innovate at Richmond, she does feel a lot of pride. “I offer my services to all communities equally, as long as the respect is mutual,” she says. “I’m actually a little surprised that I’m the first black star. But someone has to do it and I’m down!
Richmond Tattoo, Art and Music Festival takes place Friday, October 21 from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Saturday, October 22 from 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday, October 23 from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Doubletree Midlothian, 1021 Koger Center Blvd., RichmondTattooconverntion .com