Flames exploded from the back of Matt Smith’s head and wrapped around his neck.
A pair of colorful Asian dragons circled Leah Sussman’s hips in a permanent belt.
They were just two of about 6,000 tattoo enthusiasts from around the country to show off their body art at the fifth annual Valley of the Sun Tattoo and Piercing Show in Mesa this weekend.
"I came to look at all the art," said Sussman, 23, of Prescott. "It’s all a bunch of tattooed freaks!"
The crowd was a true mix of cultures and generations, from bikers in leather and punks with Mohawks to preppy college students and parents pushing strollers.
An estimated 1,000 people got new tattoos or piercings from the 83 tattoo shops that set up booths at the convention.
Dozens of people at a time squirmed in their chairs as they lay for hours in contorted positions. Tattoo artists hunched over various body parts as they put ink to skin.
Dave Ingle, 40, of Scottsdale sat for three hours while a Flagstaff tattoo artist created an evil head on his forearm. This was Ingle’s first convention and fourth tattoo.
Carlos Ponce, 30, of Los Angeles County walked around shirtless to show off a mural of Mexican culture that wrapped around his torso. He pointed out black and gray portraits of Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa and La Patricia.
"It’s personal for everybody. You have to be proud of where you came from," Ponce said.
Perhaps the quietest booth was the one featuring laser tattoo removal, but it still drew customers. One woman had the name of her exhusband removed.
The show continues 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. today at Mesa Centennial Center, 201 N. Center St. Cost is $15.