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Tim Stone, of Medford, holds up his hands in victory for the tattoo convention and competition held at Howie's in Medford Saturday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

I ink, therefore I am

After 400 hours spent under the needle, Tim Stone's journey to decorate most of his body in tattoos is nearly complete.

Stone got his first tattoo when he was 17 and never looked back.

"I knew when I got that first one that I wanted my entire body tattooed," he said.

To prove his point, Stone pulled up his shirt to show a small area on his upper chest yet to be inked.

"This and a small place on my thigh are the last places I have without tattoos," Stone said.

Stone, 37, took home the "Best Male Tattoo" trophy in the Fourth Annual Hot August Ink tattoo contest held at Howie's on Front Street in Medford.

The contest pits tattoo enthusiasts against each other in categories such as "Best Sleeve," "Sexiest Tattoo" and "Best Black and Gray Tattoo."

To be sure, he doesn't have any ink on his face, not that he would be against someone going that far in their tattooing.

"I don't believe in the stereotypes of people with tattoos," Stone said. "I have a business and a family. I'm not a druggie or anything like that."

Stone, the owner of Jackson Creek Pizza in Medford, does not judge a potential employee based on physical appearance.

"I hire people with tattoos who have had trouble getting jobs because they have ink on their skin," Stone said. "They are excellent workers. I think a lot of businesses are missing out on opportunities by not hiring people with tattoos."

Among the other winners was Bethany Johnson, 30, of Grants Pass, who was awarded the "Sexiest Tattoo" prize.

Johnson is finishing up a large back piece that will show a waterfall and several animals basking near a pool.

"I go for tattoos that I think are classy and sexy," she said. "But I do have to keep them covered sometimes because I work at a hospital."

The worst part of tattooing for Johnson is not the needle, but the itchiness that lasts for days after being inked.

"The needle is more of an annoying feeling," she said. "I hate when the itchy sets in, though."

Nearly 100 people, many of them with heavily decorated arms, legs and backs, filled the alley behind Howie's. Local rockers Bloody Mess & The Hollowbodys provided the tunes.

A panel of judges with tattoo and body modification experience poured over the contestants, looking for subtleties of color, contrast, flow and other features in body art.

Apryl Allen, who does body piercing at Epic Ink in Medford, was among the judges. She said tattoos remain popular despite the lagging economy of recent years.

"People realize they still need to do things for themselves to be happy," she said.

Allen said tattooing trends change over time, much like tastes in music and film.

"We don't see as much tribal tattoos anymore," she said. "A lot of what we see now is neo-traditional tattooing, portraits and script."

For Robert Cole, a winner for the black and grey figure of the Norse god Odin in full battle regalia on his leg, tattoo is the way he chooses to express his heritage.

"I'm Norwegian and I wanted to honor that," Cole said. "I'm going to get Loki on the back of my leg as soon as I get the $800."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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