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Dubuque Ink & Art Expo

Dubuque Ink & Art Expo

Presented by Ink Tattoo Studio and Dubuque Tattoo Club

Friday, September 25 @ 4-10 PM
Saturday, September 26 @ 11 AM-10 PM
Sunday, September 27 @ 11 AM-6 PM
Grand River Center

Tattoo and art enthusiasts will converge at the Grand River Center in the Port of Dubuque for the third annual Dubuque Ink & Art Expo, the weekend of September 25–27. The convention and exhibition will feature a variety of talented tattoo artists, daily tattoo contests, an exhibition of artwork, entertainment, and an auction of artwork with the proceeds benefiting the Dubuque Area Art Collective.

To learn more about this year’s gathering, 365 checked in with Dubuque Ink & Art Expo founders and organizers Mark Weiland of Ink Tattoo Studio and Greg Howell of Dubuque Tattoo Club to learn more about this year’s Expo.

Most notable might be a new partnership with the Dubuque Area Art Collective. While the Ink & Art Expo has always designated a particular nonprofit organization as the beneficiary of any proceeds of the convention, partnering with DAAC works to further the goals of both organizations.

“They’re a nonprofit organization and they do art and we want to focus on art so it just makes sense to team up with those guys,” explains Weiland. “They can have activities for people who aren’t getting tattooed, that are too young to get tattooed.”

The Dubuque Area Art Collective will work with the Ink & Art Expo to solicit artwork from area artists to display in the Expo’s art gallery. Though the Expo has always solicited artwork for the exhibit that is not necessarily tattoo related, Howell and Weiland hope that working with the DAAC will expand the circle of exhibiting artists. Submissions are still open through mid-September for any artists interested in exhibiting work. (Details at

“We’re also doing a pinup contest this year,” continues Weiland. “It’s kind of a new thing. We figured we’d tie that in. Other tattoo conventions do that and then it’s also big in this area with the Retro Rewind and things like that so we figured that would be a cool thing to do.”

While open spots for the pinup contest were limited as of press time, potential pinup girls can register for the contest through the Ink & Art Facebook page or a page created specifically for the contest at The pinup contest will offer cash prizes and gift certificates to Abernathy’s vintage clothing in Davenport.

The Expo will host about 30 guest tattoo artists this year, both regionally and nationally known including Halo from Black Lotus Studio of Hanover, Maryland. Halo was featured on season 4 of Spike TV’s Ink Master reality TV tattoo competition. “(Halo) is our celebrity tattoo artist,” notes Howell. “He was here the first year but he wasn’t on Ink Master yet. So he’s coming back this year with that little bit of fame behind him.”

All featured guest artists are listed on the Ink and Art Expo web site with links to individual studios so fans can make appointments in advance if they would like to get tattooed at the Expo. While some artists might have time to accept walk-ins, it’s recommended to set up an appointment in advance.

Other popular features of the Expo will return this year including the glass-blowing demonstration, the 7 Sins Sideshow (with a whole new act!) and a variety of tattoo contests including Tattoo of the Day (created onsite), Color (in sizes small to extra large), Black and Gray (in sizes small to extra large), Traditional, Photo Realism, Best in Show, and for a bit of balance, Worst Tattoo.

“We’ll do worst tattoo again. That’s usually pretty popular,” notes Weiland. “If they have a crappy tattoo that they want covered up, bring it down, enter it in the contest. They could win.” Weiland gave last year’s Worst Tattoo winner an extensive cover-up tattoo. It should be noted that other than the Tattoo of the Day, other contest categories are open to previously existing work. (Click the Events tab at for days, times, and details.)

Admitting that organizing and implementing a tattoo convention on this scale is a work in progress, Howell and Weiland are learning from the experience and working to make each year better and more efficient. It seems to be working as attendance at last year’s Expo outpaced the inaugural event with many guest artists and attendees returning last year. “All the artists in the past have been really excited about the location,” relates Weiland about hosting the Expo in Dubuque’s Grand River Center, adjacent to the Riverwalk and the Art on the River public sculpture display. “Everybody loves the Riverwalk,” adds Howell. “They go out and they see the area and they just talk a lot about it.”

The proximity of the Grand River Center from Dubuque’s Main Street entertainment area is a bonus for Expo artists and attendees who can take advantage of nightlife in the evenings after the each day. The Lift will serve as the official Expo after party with live music on Friday and Saturday nights.

While the Ink & Art Expo obviously appeals to tattoo enthusiasts, Howell and Weiland ultimately hope to draw a wider audience interested in art and expression. “We want it as inclusive as possible,” explains Weiland. “We’re still trying to draw in people and let them know that tattooing is an art. I think the more acceptable it becomes in our city and in society as a whole, the more people are going to see that it is an art form. So every year we try to bring more art to the gallery. Teaming up with the DAAC this year, I think that that’s going to help.”

A lot has changed locally in the past six years since tattoo studios became legal in Dubuque. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a time when that was not the case. “I think with our community growing and the (popularity of) tattoos growing here that it’s becoming more acceptable and people are cool with it,” Weiland speculates. “Hopefully, employers are becoming more accepting of it. That’s always the goal. I know that I’ve been tattooing more and more police and sheriffs. It seems like as soon as you tattoo one of those guys, the next day or the day after their buddy’s in setting up an appointment for a tattoo.”

“I think it also has helped, just us putting on the show and then people starting to see the TV shows to realize the difference in a quality tattoo as opposed to a crappy jailhouse tattoo,” Howell adds. “Because there are a couple shops in town that are gone now that I don’t think should have been in business in the first place—my personal opinion—but I think that people realized there’s a difference in quality and they’re gone now because of that. And the rest of us are doing great. We’re busy as hell and kickin’ ass.”

As the local scene develops in the context of a broader acceptance and understanding of skin art in American culture, it seems tattoo enthusiast have come to understand that not only are all tattoos not created equal but that individual artists specialize in particular styles. People become walking art galleries, curating their own collection of work by their favorite artists.

“It’s really rewarding for us as artists that people come to us and say, ‘Hey, I want this tattoo from you. I really want you to do it,’” notes Weiland. “And they’ll wait a month or two to get tattooed by us. That’s really sweet.”