HERMON, Maine — The woman walked into a room Sunday at the Morgan Hill Event Center and rolled up the sleeve on her right arm to display a tattoo with an image of a man. Behind the woman, a group of four people got up from their chairs and walked over to peruse the body work, standing close to look at the lines and shading of the black-and-white image.
They sat back down and told the woman she could go.
The consensus among the judges of the tattoo contest at the Down East Tattoo Show? On a scale of 10, they gave the work mostly 3s and 4s. The scores were noted, and then it was on to the next tattoo.
Unlike most of the attendees at the tattoo show, none of the judges had any visible tattoos. But they all know one thing central to the event — they know good art when they see it, even if the art is delivered in a way to which the judges aren’t accustomed.
University of Maine professors Laurie Hicks, who teaches art. and Owen Smith, who teaches art and new media, are two longtime Down East Tattoo Show judges. They were joined by others from the local art community.
The rest of the judges, some of whom had judged before, were University of Maine Museum of Art curator George Kinghorn; professor Susan Groce, who is chairwoman of UMaine’s art department; UM graduate and Bangor High School art teacher Eric Hutchins; Jodi Clayton, who runs One Lupine Fiber Arts in Bangor; biology professor Farahad Dastoor, who has an interest in art; and UMaine’s Kirsten Jacobson, a philosophy professor who teaches aesthetics.
Hicks said there is no doubt of the appropriateness of having artists and art scholars as judges for a tattoo show.
“Tattoos are an art, and they are a highly practiced, evolving art with a long history,” Hicks said. “It’s something I’ve studied and given presentations on. We’ve seen lots of tattoos on campus, and everybody knows somebody with a tattoo. It’s really become part of mainstream culture.”
Al Cook of Howland, who is one of the show’s organizers, said the judges’ knowledge of art isn’t the only reason they’ve been asked back for many years.
“The judges don’t know any of the tattoo artists or the contestants, so they are completely unbiased,” he said. “The artists know the judging is strictly on the artwork itself and nothing else.”
The judges determined first, second and third places in 25 categories, some of which are divided into male and female groupings. The judges split into two groups to decide the gender-based categories, such as best back piece for women and men.
The entrants — known as collectors — first walked around the room quickly so the judges had an idea of the group as a whole. Then each collector stepped into the room alone, and the judges gave each piece more careful consideration. Although the collector is the one showing off the tattoo, it is the tattoo artists who are awarded the prizes.
Hicks and Smith, the two experienced judges, told the group to look for artistic elements including line, color and shading when considering a tattoo.
“Lines that are even and unbroken, or if the lines are thick and thin and it’s not an intentional design, that’s a control issue with the tattoo gun,” Smith said. “Those things are really important.”
Hicks and Smith said the size and placement of tattoos is also a consideration. Ultimately, however, technique is essential.
“I would put that before anything else,” Hicks said. “A well-designed but badly executed tattoo just doesn’t cut it.”