Award Winner

RI Tattoo Awards Recap

It is a Tuesday night, and the bar is crowded with a mix of event goers and after-workers. Outside, the sun begins to sink low in India Park, the wind whips white across the water; joggers and dog-walkers race home underneath the dark streetlights and the fading pink sky. A car thumping heavy bass music swerves through the parking lot of Narragansett Brewery, driven by a man donning a metallic facemask and a neck full of tattoos. The string lights on the patio of the brewery begin to flicker as a swarm of intricately dressed band members, with drums and beer-holders hanging from their necks, begin to line the railing. A woman runs around with a megaphone from which dangles a stout, swinging red tongue; there is a tall, long-haired cyclist in a bee costume clanging together two cymbals between his jumping knees.

On the opposite side of the room, a small line of tattoo artists sits behind a blank canvas: a long, paper-covered table and a pile of pens. A hand, with a tattooed crown on their finger, reaches across the empty white stretch for their beer. The crowd of artists and enthusiasts near the stage is quiet, subdued, in marked contrast to the madness of the Providence Drum Troupe; whose turquoise-sequined band member has just flung themselves atop a table.

Steve Tefft, winner of Ink Master Season Two and a staple in many following seasons as master, legend, coach and “Grudge Match” participant, and owner of 12 Tattoos in Groton, CT, leans against a pole, watching the audience with darting eyes; a still silhouette behind a moving crowd. “I’ll tell you one thing, once you’re famous, everyone around you changes, but you stay the same.” He juggles between Gatorade and water, tipping the bottle up in a salutatory “cheers.” He leans over to laugh with a slight woman whose tattoos wrap and twist up to ears that boast a large gauge, “I hurt myself this weekend.”


Burlesque dancer BettySioux Tailor, sits across from the laughing Tefft, balancing one slight leg off a stool on the corner of the table. She is slowly dipping tortilla chips in spinach and artichoke dip, “I was feeling a bit peckish.” She is wearing a long, tight, pink and blue cheetah print dress, and the shadows of her bat wing earrings flit across the side of her face as she talks. “They usually put me as the side announcer because I reel them in, you know, stop them from going on forever.” She laughs with a mouth rimmed in purple lipstick, “Exactly! Just like Little Bo’ Peep.”

The Troupe retreats, the chattering of small talk begins to hush, and a few nominated artists hurriedly order their beers. Tailor and Tefft rise from their corners, like boxers taking the ring, to stand on stage. Tefft turns to Tailor, and then waves his hand across the wide swath of the audience, “You guys need to drink more, get some more energy!” Tailor advocates for shots of beer. Tefft picks up the volume, in a final appeal, “Are you guys ready for the 2023 Motif Tattoo Awards?!” In the backroom, under the hum of a bright light, a tattooist digs a black curved “h” into an exposed ankle; beginning the first free “Hi Neighbor!” tattoo of the night.  

From Best Blackwork to Best Anime, Best Animal to Best Skull, the winners humbly sauntered up to the stage to accept awards from a grinning Tefft and Tailor. Many of the acceptance speeches were succinct, staying within the lines of a short, simple “thank you.” The impact these artists have on RI cannot be defined in something as ethereal as words; it is as permanent as the medium they’re known for. Their work allows for the external expression of the internal desire, the longing to express a story on the canvas of the skin, a complicated idea that these artists capture for their clients.

A woman who came to support her friend Tara D’Agostino, winner of the Black and Gray award, as well as consecutive winner of various past categories in Motif’s Tattoo Awards, showed me her work by D’Agostino. She lifted her pant leg to reveal a calf of swirling cosmic sky, the landscape laden with trees and hidden meanings. She explained that she lost her dad and her grandfather, and the tattoo was a tribute to the memories of the life she shared with them.

Good art is supposed to make you feel something, and what I felt from this piece on this woman’s calf was a myasma of confusion, a mirror of the mind when faced with various, unorganized waves of memory. It is here I felt like tattoos left the realm of the body and entered the true realm of artwork; I was suddenly no longer at the Tattoo Awards, but at an art gallery.

The night barreled on; the Troupe took the floor for another eclectic appearance, half-full pints of Narragansett’s sat forgotten, the once-blank paper table was now covered in a plethora of skulls from various people trying their lot in the drawing competition (you could quickly tell who was a tattoo artist and who wasn’t). The winner, Tina Lugo of Black Cherry Tattoo won a bottle of SmokeLab vodka, as Tailor quickly whispered, “don’t open it here!”

Joey Moreira, co-owner of Cloud 9 Tattoo Company, cleaned house, winning awards for Best Typography, Best Skull, and the Overall Winner for the most popular votes of any one artist. His shirt boasted embossed skulls, and he quickly scuttled to the stage and back to his supportive crowd every time his name was called. In a previous Motif interview, he told us his favorite thing about tattooing is “meeting all walks of life.”

If you’re looking for all walks of life, the finale of the Tattoo Modeling competition is where to go. Nineteen people took the stage, sporting numbered sheriff stars, to be judged by the now properly energized audience that Tefft and Taylor encouraged (although, I had yet to see anyone take any beer shots.) The brightly-designed nominees paraded around the bar, led by the Drum Troupe, returning to the judges, who then introduced each contestant. Judges and the crowd selected a few of their favorite collections of skin art.

After the winners had won, the crowd thinned, and the bartenders yawned. The bee-man cycled off to sell some honey (seriously), Moreira hopped in his limo to go after-party, and Tefft threw on his leather jacket and hopped off stage. The winners, the-next time winners, the fans and friends of the 2023 Motif Tattoo Awards all took off to their separate corners of the state; knowing that for at least one night, they can all come together and celebrate their well-earned perch in the vast, intricate web of PVD’s artistic community.

– Mara Hagen

Profiles by Bobby Forand, Trevor May, and Mike Ryan.

The Providence Drum Troupe poses with Scout Lyons at the 2023 RI Tattoo Awards (Eric Barao)


Joey Moreira – Typography, Skull, Overall Winner

This is the second year in a row that Joey Moreira has been the overall winner and picked up multiple trophies. A look at the Facebook page of Cloud 9 Tattoo Company, the shop he co-owns, shows that his accolades are warranted, with an abundance of treats for the eyes. 

For more about Joey, see On The Cover or, oddly enough, Kelly Currier’s beer article.

– Bobby Forand

Rachel WS – Overall Color

Rachel WS is on her 13th year of tattooing and 11th year of owning her own studio, Rachel WS Fine Arts Tattoos. Upon becoming a licensed tattoo artist, she took the risk of quitting her other three jobs, in hopes this endeavor would earn her enough money to support her two children after ending an abusive marriage. She turned nothing away, which helped her hone her craft. Tattooing helped her heal from her traumatic past, and the people she was helping to cope with scarring or memorial tattoos actually helped her more than she ever expected. 

Over time, she learned that her passion was creating classical fine art tattoos, harking back to her bachelor’s degree in fine arts. Her Photoshop skills improved to the point where she could put fine art pieces together for customers based on their descriptions of their ideas. She embraces the challenge of realism and wants to evoke an emotional response from those viewing her work. Her reputation has her booking years out, but she most enjoys taking on intriguing, unexpected projects.

– BF

Amie Connors – Line Work/Black Work

Amie Connors is a rare artist who does artistic tattooing and permanent makeup daily. She has over 20 years of experience as an elite tattoo professional and paramedical artist. When not working at her Beautiful Ink Permanent Makeup & Tattoos, the studio she owns, she is a master instructor at a local permanent makeup school and gives private lessons at her studio. She has traveled the United States and Canada to share her knowledge with both educators and advanced professionals. She is part of multiple tattoo industry Elite Artist Teams, has had her work and expertise showcased in multiple forums and websites and had her tattoo healing techniques featured in The Microblading Bible by Corinne Asch.

– BF

Tara D’Agostino – Overall Black and Grey

Tara D’Agostino has owned Iron Lion Tattoo since 2010, and has been a regular winning presence at the Tattoo Awards, taking the top spot in the past. She creates hand-drawn custom tattoos to suit the individual needs of each client. She also offers reiki. She uses her sense of humor and “work hard, play harder” ethic to make those in the tattoo chair immediately feel comfortable. The barrage of positive customer comments speaks for itself.

– BF

Corey Creamer – Black and Grey w/ Color, Judge’s Pick Traditional

Acme Ink owner Corey Creamer has a simple motto: “you pick it, we stick it.” This has helped him become a well-respected tattoo artist for the past 12 years. He doesn’t have a traditional style and works with customers to create an eye-catching tattoo and memorable experience.
“I’m constantly impressed with his dedication to his craft,” says friend, bandmate, and former co-worker Dennis Kelly. “His work ethic is solid. He puts in the hours and he’s able to get his clients in and keep them happy. He’s got his own style. He works fast and clean. And then there are the jars…”

– BF

Gabriel De Jesus – Geometric

Gabriel De Jesus works at Sin Alley Tattoo, a shop that prides itself on having friendly and talented staff. He works with customers to ensure they are getting the exact tattoo they are yearning for.
“He’s a perfectionist who gives extreme care to every piece he takes on,” says Sin Alley Tattoo owner Mike Fasulo. “Delivering a super clean, beautiful piece that his client can cherish and be proud of!”

– BF

Alyssa Cavallo – Traditional

Alyssa Cavallo is living proof that dreams can come true through dedication and hard work. She has only been a professional tattoo artist for a year and a half, but she has already won two awards. She connects with her clients at Red Elk Tattoo, making for a great experience ending with beautiful artwork.

Alyssa’s tastes run toward traditional style tattooing and bold use of color. Before taking up tattooing, she spent years refining her compositional skills as a graphic designer, including a couple of years as the lead designer (full disclosure) here at Motif, way back in the day.

– BF

Jay Blackburn – Anime

As quite the character himself, Jay is no stranger to Anime. As one of the artists at Powerline Tattoo, on Reservoir Ave in Cranston. “Although I’ve been creating visual designs since my days with Crayola crayons and macaroni art, it took me a while to find out that skin was the canvas,” Jay says on his website. “My professional focus is on illustrative and animated perspective point-of-view imagery. I love to take an object and twist it, creating an unusual and dynamic perspective with the illusion of space and depth … to create a completely original work of art. (And given some paste and construction paper, I can still make one bad-ass macaroni snowman.)”

– Mike Ryan

Kristen Lanctot – Cover Up

Kristen specializes in a specific sub-genre or tattooing: 3D nippletattooing. This is often an alternative to full reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy, using techniques to create the illusion of nipples, and help restore self-esteem and positive body image to survivors. Kristen works out of Beautiful Ink in Cumberland, with Amy Connors and past winner Kat Jones.

– MR

Angel Camacho – Judge’s Pick Black and Grey Angel

Angel has been tattooing since 2010 and works out of Troubled Soul Tattooing, where he especially enjoys focusing on realism and surrealistic, boundary-pushing designs. His delicate approach to an indelicate creature and surrealistic subject matter spoke to our judges.

– MR

Rodney St. Onge – Animal

Trevor May (Motif): How did you get into the profession?

Rodney St. Onge: When I lived in New Mexico I got tattooed in a shop in Albuquerque and couldn’t stop loitering in there afterwards. Ended up apprenticing there for a year before getting licensed, and that was around 1998.

TM: What has been your favorite project to work on in your career? 

RSO: Any larger piece that is Heavy Metal-themed, like Iron Maiden tattoos, are usually my favorite thing.

TM: What project has felt the most rewarding?

 RSO: Anything that the customer is fully stoked on upon completion is the most rewarding for me. That’s what we’re really setting out to do every day, helping others find their stoke.

TM: Most challenging project you have done?

RSO: Any facial tattoo that requires symmetry in the stencil placement is pretty challenging. They’re gonna look at that thing in the mirror every day, so you wanna get it dead on.

TM: What has been the oddest request for a tattoo you have heard?

RSO: At this point, I’ve tattooed everything from Darth Vader cutting off the head of Bin Laden to an iguana with a sombrero. I like to say there’s no weird tattoos, only weird people.

TM: Where has been the oddest place you have tattooed someone?

RSO: If you have skin there I’ve tattooed it. Genitals, taints, buttholes, the full undercarriage, male and female… it’s an occupational hazard, I’m afraid.

TM: What do you dislike about the profession?

RSO: I dislike the mainstream aspects of the tattoo industry: People watching “Ink Master,” or using Pinterest for ideas, conventions featuring motocross and Bret Michaels. MAKE TATTOOS SLEAZY AGAIN!

– Trevor May

India Vaughn Scott – Judge’s Pick Skull

Trevor May (Motif): How did you get into the profession?

India Vaughn Scott: I’ve been interested in art my entire life but never thought much about tattooing until college. My sister started getting tattooed a bunch at that time and when I saw some of the amazing work she had I knew I wanted to give it a try.

TM: What has been your favorite project to work on in your career?

IVS: I’ve worked on so many fun pieces it’s hard to choose. Most recently, I did a large Medusa piece with all different types of snakes in the hair. Lots of color and patterns.

TM: What project has felt the most rewarding?

IVS: Any tattoo that the customer is deeply attached to is always rewarding. Memorial pieces, cover ups, or tattoos that represent something powerful to the client. I feel like tattoos are very cathartic and can help people heal in a way. For example, I did a tattoo recently to commemorate becoming a doctor.

TM:  Most challenging project you have done?

IVS: I always like to challenge myself and tend to take on projects that will push me. The hardest style for me in general is probably large geometric work, though.

TM: What do you dislike about the profession? 

IVS: The worst thing about the job is when people don’t show up for appointments. We spend time drawing and talking to customers to perfect their design and we don’t get paid for that. So when people don’t show up, we’ve wasted time and money.

TM: What has been the oddest request for a tattoo you have heard?

IVS: You tattoo so many strange things as a tattoo artist that nothing surprises you after a while. Every body part you can think of and crazy imagery. I’m down for almost anything as long as it’s not hate symbols or something like that.

TM: Where has been the oddest place you have tattooed someone?

IVS: For me, the armpit has been the weirdest. The skin is strange and it’s not often a requested spot.

– TM

Nicole DeRoy – Judge’s Pick Black Work

Trevor May (Motif): How did you get into the profession?

Nicole DeRoy: Honestly it was a long process of self-searching! I first tried to make it in music and even ventured out to LA trying to do so, but quickly fell out of love with performing for a living. I moved back and tended bar until I was fed up with busting my butt for someone else’s dream. I wanted to put art back into focus and started seeking apprenticeship. It took me 3 years to do so, and starting in my 30s made it challenging for sure.

TM:  What has been your favorite project to work on in your career?

ND: Myself! (Plot twist). Honestly, tattooing has given me so much and requires a lot of inner work to overcome limiting beliefs and common struggles as an artist. Through mentorship and spiritual practices I’ve been able to grow immensely as both a person and an artist and I’m stoked for what else is to come.

TM: What project has felt the most rewarding? The most challenging?

ND: I have completed some pretty challenging coverups, which has transformed self-esteem for certain clients. It’s really rewarding to be able to give people the ability to step into their confidence again.

I did a realism pet portrait of an all black dog! It’s extra challenging to do realism, let alone create enough contrast to preserve facial features. It’s not usually in my wheelhouse but I’m super proud of how it came out considering the challenge.

TM: Where has been the oddest place you have tattooed someone?

ND: The inner lip. It’s so weird of a spot and I don’t usually do tattoos there. But I tattooed “raw meat” in comic sans as a joke with my partner.

TM: What has been the oddest request for a tattoo you have heard?

 ND: “Yes Daddy!?” With a pair of lips on the buttocks… Don’t worry, I totally tattooed it.

 TM: What do you dislike about the profession?

ND: So many artists see one another as competition or see the industry growing and see things as “too saturated,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. We all have something unique to offer and there’s more than enough for everyone, it’s about finding that soul family, and I think that’s beautiful.

– TM