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Drawn to each other

Mike and Carlinda Atkinson share a passion for collecting drawings -- at one body art convention after another.

September 24, 2003|Adam Tschorn | Special to The Times

Newlyweds Mike and Carlinda Atkinson are art aficionados who have slowly built an impressive collection. Their tastes differ -- Mike prefers vivid depictions of sea life, Carlinda likes spiritual Native American scenes -- but they like to search out new pieces together and show off the work they always keep on hand -- well, more like on foot, thigh, back, arm and stomach.

"My favorite is the octopus," says Mike, a barrel-chested 56-year-old pointing to the multihued mollusk tattoo on his right bicep, shoulder and part of his back, its orange and red suckered tentacles wriggling against a deep-blue ocean background. "My favorite is the one of my grandbabies," says his petite 57-year-old wife as she pulls back her wraparound skirt and pats her right thigh, where the portraits of three smiling children are inked into her skin.

The Salinas, Calif., couple took time off work last week (he runs the truck department at Lamar Brothers Tire Service in Salinas, she does cooking demonstrations in supermarkets) to attend the 12th annual Inkslingers Ball, a three-day tattoo and piercing convention at the Hollywood Palladium that drew about 7,000 people, organizers say.

Shortly after the event got underway Friday, the pair began adding to their burgeoning collection, though it's become something of a tight squeeze. Mike's tattoos stretch from his collarbone to his feet; Carlinda's cover the length of her body as well, though she's got a little more canvas space available on her torso.

They sat side by side at the Electric Dragon Body Art Studio booth for a three-hour tattoo session, as artist Big Payaso inked a chrysanthemum into Carlinda's upper right arm and studio owner Rick Anthony tattooed a foo dog (a traditional Asian lion design) on the outside of Mike's left foot.

As he focused on the purple ink rat-a-tatting into his skin, Mike absently draped his hand over his wife's. By his reckoning, this was the 10th convention the two have attended together since they met at the Tattoos and Blues convention in Santa Rosa 2 1/2 years ago.

When he met her, he says, it wasn't scenes of Native American visions that made the first impression. Heck, she just had really nice legs, he says, an all-natural blush of color creeping across his face. "I noticed them first before the tattoos."

The rest is a colorful love story: They married in Reno five months ago (their colors were silver and black in honor of their favorite team -- the Oakland Raiders). A few years ago they got matching kanji (Japanese character) tattoos that translate as "best friends."

In addition to his sword-wielding samurai fighting a snake and the new foo dog, Mike sports a couple of different birds and a Sept. 11-inspired U.S. flag with the words "freedom isn't free" beneath it. But he tends toward all things nautical and bears enough brightly colored sea life to stock the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Among them are a red, purple and orange jellyfish on the right side of his rib cage, a squid, sea anemones and a sailing ship framed by a ship's wheel.

Mike estimates he's spent roughly $25,000 and 780 hours under the gun over the last decade. He sat for his first tattoo the day after he joined the military. He got a second tattoo a year later in boot camp, then didn't get another until 1993.

"My son got into skating and I had a big half-pipe in the yard. When the skaters started coming over I noticed the big bright colorful work they had. That's when I got a bird of paradise done." After that, he spent two years building his collection, took five years off and then started up again. He's now on his third year of weekly tattoo sessions.

Carlinda got her first tattoo about four years ago after working in a restaurant with several tattooed employees. "I was 53 years old, I got a Kilroy -- you know, the peeper 'Kilroy was here'? I got him peeking over my tan line," she says gesturing to her back. "I was in the shop two weeks later getting a giant piece that goes all the way up my leg."

"I'm half Indian, half Italian-German and my grandchildren are Cherokee," she says, explaining her preference for Native American imagery. Her collection includes Kokopelli, a flute-playing character from Native American mythology on her right shoulder, a warrior gazing into a pool that reflects the image of a cougar and a retro cowgirl.

Her legs are completely inked in with a variety of tiger, leopard and cheetah designs that evoke a warrior wrapped in animal furs. A handful of tiger lilies, gladiolas and a rose adorn the inside of her right leg. And there's a shaman on her back. "He came to me in a dream," she says. "And after I got the tattoo, he never came to me again, so I guess I fulfilled what I was supposed to fulfill."

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