A woman on stilts, letting her nipple tassles swing through the air, walking to the powerful beat of a full band of over 20 percussionists. A fire dancer, spinning, twirling and throwing orange flames like she could control the element itself. A contest to win free tattoos on the spot — with over 75 eager entrants. Cupcakes with tramp stamps on them.
What is this strange place? Ringling Bros? Cirque du Soleil? Nope, it’s the 2022 RI Tattoo Awards, hosted by Motif at Narragansett Brewing in PVD on Apr 12.
“Ink Master” regulars Steven Tefft (of 12 Tattoos in Groton, Conn) and Dani Ryan (of 1001 Troubles in Warren) emceed the energetic evening. The art of tattooing was on full display both visually and physically, as tattoo models moved through the space earning votes on their ink and contest entrants were projected on the screens and walls.
Over 600 of you voted online, and another 100 or so in person. It was an honor to present some of these local artists with awards for their work in recent years. So, a special shout-out to the big winners of the evening- thanks to everyone who made the evening an awesome success!
Tara D’Agostino (Iron Lion Tattoo)
Winner: Animal, 2020 Best Character, past winner in Black & Gray
Tara D’Agostino founded Iron Lion Tattoo in Cranston in September 2010. She pushes herself to improve her craft with each new tattoo she gives. Her drive has earned her a strong reputation and dedicated clientele, who motivate her to keep going.
“Winning an award means everything,” she says. “I put everything into what I do and this is proof. I appreciate being here.”
Her niche is in producing black and gray tattoos. She likes the challenge and excels at what she does.
“It’s all I do. I don’t do any color at all. I book out a long time in advance for black and gray, so I don’t have to do color anymore,” she says happily.
Alyssa Cavallo (Red Elk Tattoo)
Winner: American Traditional
Alyssa Cavallo is just starting her career as a tattoo artist as an apprentice at Red Elk Tattoo in Abington, MA. She has been tattooing for six months, after starting her career in graphic design and social media, and she enjoys the different ways she can connect with her clients.
“I can connect with people on a different level. Not only through art, but on a spiritual level. I’m literally touching their skin,” Cavallo says. “I’ve done a lot of memorial pieces. Giving someone a piece of their loved one that they can look at every day is one of the most rewarding things.”
She enjoys the lessons that she is learning from the experienced staff at Red Elk Tattoo, especially mentors Frede Cugno and Jeff Hardiman.
“It’s the hugest honor to me,” Cavallo says of winning a Motif Award. “I’m just starting out in my career and having support from the people in this community is a huge deal. I’m literally just getting my bearings and to have people recognize that my work is comparable is cool.”
Rob Gwozdz (Cloud 9 Tattoo Company)
Winner: Overall Black and Gray
Rob Gwozdz has been a tattoo artist for approximately 12 years and is a co-owner at Cloud 9 Tattoo Company in Harrisville. Being a tattoo artist has taught him to stay humble.
“I’m surrounded by great artists,” Gwozdz says of his peers. He uses his vast experience in the needle arts to offer general advice to the rest of the community whenever an artist gets blocked.
“It’s nice to be the best at something,” Gwozdz says when describing the excitement of winning a Motif Award.
Jay Blackburn (Powerline Tattoo)
Winner: Overall Color, Fastest Character
Jay Blackburn has been a visual designer since he was a child when he used crayons and macaroni to create his artwork. He experimented with various other artistic mediums before discovering that tattooing was the best way to express his artistic visions.
“I’m super humbled by what I do. I love what I do,” Blackburn says of his profession. “It’s great to have clients tell me their ideas and trust me with the work I do. That’s what it’s all about. I do it and it puts a smile on their face.”
Joey Moreira (Cloud 9 Tattoo Company)
Winner: Linework, Character, Overall Winner
Joey Moreira is a co-owner at Cloud 9 Tattoo Company and a big winner of the night at this year’s awards. Cloud 9 is an appointment-only shop that does custom tattoos exclusively. Moreira takes the time to discuss custom pieces with clients, reviewing all ideas before prepping the needle, to ensure that all parties are happy and comfortable with the design and process.
“Linework makes the tattoo. You’ve got to have good linework to have a good tattoo,” Moreira says when discussing the importance of the first award he received.
“My clients are the best,” Moreira said proudly. “They trust me. 90% of my clients will come to me and let me do whatever I need to do for them. I appreciate all of them; their honesty, their trust.”
Bert Russo (Cloud 9 Tattoo Company)
Winner: Judges’ Pick Favorite Anime Mashup
Bert Russo has been a tattoo artist for four years and has learned about the amount of hard work that goes into each tattoo to ensure that the artist is proud of their work and the client walks away with something they love.
Russo’s artistic accomplishments are on full display within the ink on all of his clients. He appreciates the opportunity to express his creativity in their pieces. Russo looks fondly upon his coworkers at Cloud 9 Tattoo Company. He says that they guided him and have set him up for success.
“This award is just the beginning to a fulfilling tattoo career,” Russo excitedly says when asked about his award.
Rodney St.Onge (Altered Images)
Winner: Judges’ Pick Favorite Demonic Goat
Rodney St.Onge has been tattooing for 23 years, working at several tattoo shops during that time. The art has helped keep him focused and out of trouble.
“Being an artist has helped keep me out of jail for the last two decades,” St.Onge says.
He has had the privilege of working with many talented artists throughout the years. His peers have guided him along the way, helped build up his drawing ability and influenced the way he tattoos.
Corey Creamer (Acme Ink Tattoo)
Winner: Judges’ Pick Favorite Compass
Corey Creamer has owned Acme Ink Tattoo in Coventry for 14 years, which he gladly advertises as skater owned and operated. He specializes in giving any style of tattoo the client wants, from black and gray to traditional. Being a tattoo artist has taught him to stay in his lane.
“Build your own style and everything else will follow,” Creamer advises.
Michael Johnston (Empyreal Ink)
Winner: Portrait, Blackwork, Judges’ Pick Photorealism, Judges’ Pick Favorite Eyeball
Michael Johnston has been a tattoo artist for the past 16 years, currently working at Empyreal Ink in Pawtucket. He was a body piercer for approximately five years before transitioning to tattoo. His craft has taught him patience and his peers have brought out the best in him.
“The local art community has some amazing artists inside and outside the tattoo area,” Johnston says when describing the influence local tattoo artists have had on him. “That keeps me wanting to bring the ‘A’ game!”
Johnston says the awards are a cool achievement and he appreciates receiving local recognition.
“Always walk towards your dreams, even if there is no clear destination,” Johnston advises. “You’ll be surprised at what will unfold.”
Luke Taylor (Anchor Steam Tattoo Company)
Winner: Judges’ Pick Geometric
Luke Taylor will be celebrating his 20th year as a tattoo artist this summer. A former owner of Hope St Tattoo, he now works at Anchor Steam Tattoo Company in Newport. Being a tattoo artist has been his career and only grown-up job to this point. The craft has taught him how to be an adult.
“It has taught me how to pay bills, how to live as a grown-up and have a career,” Taylor says.
Taylor learned a lot from his peers as well.
“The tattoo community was the first place where I felt like I could thrive and exist. I was able to find a place for myself in that community.”
Taylor takes a friendly and neighborly approach to tattooing, open to all different styles and genres.
Panda (Ruthless Ink)
Winner: Judges’ Pick Favorite Slay
Panda is a self-taught tattoo artist that has been professionally tattooing for about three years, though he has been dabbling in the craft since 2014.
Panda’s high school art teacher, Mike Ledoux of Powerline Tattoo, taught him to pursue his goal. Panda saw Ledoux switch careers while still working in the art field that he loves.
“He showed me that there can be a career in art,” Panda boasts of Ledoux, one of the many tattoo artists that influenced him.
Panda is thrilled to win his first Motif Award.
“I’ve never won anything in my life, so this is a big thing,” Panda states with excitement. “This has been a year of firsts: I’ve done my first convention and won my first award. This Motif Award is gonna keep me going harder.”
Thanks to all the sponsors who made this event possible: R1 Indoor Karting, Narragansett Brewery, Tattoo Medics, Jerry’s Artarama and Cakes by Eboni, Amanda Salemi and the ever effervescent PVD Drum Troupe.