When a Party Favor Is Permanent: Why Businesses Are Featuring Live Tattooing at Their Events

live tattooing at events and parties trend
Credit: Sarah Harvey

Last September, Brooklyn Boulders, a rock climbing gym in Gowanus, Brooklyn, hosted its ninth birthday party, known simply as “BKBDAY.” In addition to drinking, dancing, and a dynamic climbing competition that lasted into the night, another, completely different sort of activity was available to attendees. Amid the throng of chalked up climbers sat two tattoo artists from Three Kings Tattoo, doing pieces of climbing-themed designs for the attendees.

Kaylyn Ryan was one of these artists, and she tells us that, no, this wasn’t her average day at work. “There was definitely a lot going on,” she says. “We tried to barricade the tattoo area from the rest of the event.” Despite the buzz of activity around her workstation and the unavoidably chalky air, Ryan says that she was able to find a rhythm: “It tends to become muscle memory after a few tattoos.” In total, 10 people left BKBDAY with commemorative tattoos.

Ian Hickey, events coordinator at the Gowanus location of BKB, says it couldn’t have been easier to coordinate with Ryan and Three Kings. “They brought all their own equipment and everything they needed,” he explains. “I didn’t even have to give them a single paper towel.” The result was a unique offering that made an already pretty unique event all the more memorable. The main reaction from attendees, Hickey says, was one of pleasant surprise: “‘I can’t believe they’re giving tattoos here.'”

But BKB is hardly the lone company to start featuring tattoos as party favors at its community events. From crystal shops to jewelry boutiques, other businesses are turning their anniversary and holiday get-togethers into opportunities for artists to showcase their work — and for customers to leave with a lasting memento from the party.

At jewelry designer and retailer Catbird’s recent Valentine’s Day event, hand poke artist Rosa Bluestone Perr offered a wide variety of designs to those in attendance, for a fee ranging from $50 to $200, depending on the selected art.  “Quite a few of our customers happen to follow her work closely,” explains Catbird’s marketing manager, Sriya Karumanchi. “We felt like the experience we were providing was really special.” She adds that, when the doors opened for the party to begin, there was already a line of people waiting outside to be Perr’s first client.

party favor permanent
The offerings from Rosa Bluestone at Catbird’s Valentine’s Day event.

What remains is “why” of it all — why would businesses want to feature live, on-site, and, you know, permanent tattoos as part of their events? The first (and most simple) reason is that a tattoo is something cool for attendees to walk away with and, ideally, post on Instagram. In doing so, they’ll provide social media promo for both the event’s host and the artist.

Then, there’s a slightly more wholesome reason to consider. Party favors are meant to serve as lasting physical reminders of the event you attended and enjoyed — and the best ones can even make you feel closer to your fellow attendees. So, a tattoo that you got at a party with your friends is basically the most enduring, unifying party favor ever. If that tattoo happens to be done by a local artist who gets more exposure and, in turn, more clients from working the event, all the better. “I always like the idea of allowing an artist to share something in a memorable way whenever folks come together,” Hickey says. He also offers one more reason for featuring live ink at a party that, as far as we’re concerned, no one can deny: “It adds an overall badassery to the aesthetic of the event.”

Related: The Fascinating History Behind Getting a Partner’s Name Tattooed

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