What happens at tattoo conventions?

Here is a small introduction about tattoo events for someone who has never visited one. Before I start to tell about more about my trips, I think it is wise to give some basic info first.

The floor map at London Tattoo Convention

I still remeber my first time. It was in the winter of 2008 in Budapest. I didn’t know anything about the topic and couldn’t even guess what could happen. I remember the feeling when I walked into a big hall. I was excited, little nervous and at the same time curious. My first visit at a tattoo convention.

The first thing I remember from the event is the sound. The noises of tattoo machines, people talking and music playing – all mixed together. Even though I had few small tattoos, I didn’t have much knowledge about the tattoo world. During the weekend I saw rock bands playing, circus-like freak shows performing and amazing artists tattooing. People were smiling and having a good time. Wherever I looked, I saw something new, peculiar and unusual. It felt like I was home.

So, some years have gone by now. My role at conventions as a visitor has changed to a working tattoo artist. There are hundreds of tattoo events organized around the world. You can check a list of some of the international conventions here. In Finland I have attented in tattoo events for example in Helsinki, Hämeenlinna, Jyväskylä, Oulu and Tornio. In addition to the national events I travel annually to conventions in Belgium and Germany.

For a visitor

From a visitor point of view, tattoo conventions are easy way to get familiar with tattooing. Usually events offer all kinds of entertainment from boxing shows to dance performances. I like to think that tattoo events are places for art of all kinds to gather together. There are food and drink, shopping opportunities and tattoo competitions.

Finding artists & styles

Tattoo artists are working in an assigned area, in their own booths. If you have never seen a tattoo actually done, the conventions are the way to go. Visitors can get quite close, actually, to see how tattoos are made. If there are any questions, just go and ask! Although, it is good to remember that tattooers are actually working and sometimes very concentrated on the tattooing.

Get inspired! Each artist has their own style. At tattoo events, artists want to show what they do best. There are portfolios, art prints and even introduction videos to bring the style out. I get very inspired seeing different approaches to tattooing. Depending on the size of the convention, one can easily spend hours just on looking different artists working.

@sambarbertattoo (London Tattoo Convention)

Getting tattooed

At the tattoo conventions there are tattoo artists who work by walk-in principle. This means that anyone can go and ask for a tattoo. Walk-in tattoos can be pre-drawn designs with the artist’s own style. They can also be drawn based on the customer’s idea on the spot. This depends on the tattooer.

The other way to get tattooed at conventions is to book an appointment in advance. Usually I work in this way. I do realistic style, quite big custom tattoos and just feel more comfortable to be able to make the design before hand. There is a list of attending tattoo artist on the page of the convention. So, if you already know who you would like to have as your artist, follow the booking instructions and get tattooed! 🙂

Conventions are perfect way to reach artists who work far away. For example, if you have favourite artist from Australia, there might be a chance to get tattooed somewhere in Europe’s events. Why not to combine a holiday with a tattoo convention? Also, if the artist has long waiting list, getting tattooed at events can be ”fast-lane” to get your dream tattoo. So, check out the convention line up before hand!

At first, the idea of getting a tattoo in front of a live audience might feel a bit intimidating. Happily, I have noticed that the viewers often give thumbs up and show their support for the person suffering. 🙂

@beva_tattoo getting tattooed by @hellomynamesjoe (London Tattoo Convention)

Check out the tattoo competitions

Almost each tattoo convention has different competitions during the weekend. The competition series are divided by tattoo style or the size of the tattoos. There are own categories for the best Japanese/Traditional/Blackwork/Realism etc. Some of the convention organizers accept only tattoos made on that event to take part in the contest, and others allow healed tattoos to join as well.

First, the person who actually has the tattoo, signs in the contest (artist can be there as well). When the jury – usually consisting of tattoo artists – is ready, the participants go and show their tattoos on the stage one by one. After one or more rounds, the jury makes the decision and gives the awards.

The procedure can be slightly different depending on the convention size and policy. In a big tattoo event with loads of participants there might be a pre-check before actually getting to sign in to the actual competition.

The quality in the tattoo competitions at London Tattoo Convention was amazing
Part of the jury contemplating tattoo on Jonne V by @mikkoinksanity.
Filip Leu, Titine Leu, Luke Atkinson, Mark Mahoney

Find art

It is not a ”tattoo-only” thing. Tattoos and art go hand-in-hand and more and more tattoo artists are focusing on educating themselves in order to create art in different forms. Many tattoo artist want to show their art works at the events. And many artists want to come to the tattoo conventions even though they aren’t tattooers.

There can be prints from the size of a business card to huge artworks and even original paintings. At many conventions, there are art exhibitions to see, sometimes even live drawing or painting by artists from all over the world.

Entertainment

As I mentioned before, visitors can find even surprising shows to see. Live bands, burlesque performances, fire shows, people hanging from hooks.. It feels that almost anything is possible. I have actually seen my colleague taking part in actual medival knight fighting!

Shopping

Tattoo history and art books, clothing, hand-made accessories, bags, animal skulls.. The range of items is huge. The best part in shopping at conventions is that one can never know what to find. Companies selling their products can have quite special variety and, for example, clothing lines are often small and unique.

Meeting people

Tattoo conventions are nice venues to meet up with old and new friends. Most conventions are totally ok with children so the whole family can join the event together. Events gather like-minded people and it is pretty easy to start a conversation with fellow visitors.

London Tattoo Convention
London Tattoo Convention

Let’s not forget the most important thing: food and drink! It is hard not to enjoy the time while sipping local beer and having some snack on the way. Note, that some tattoo conventions are very strict about letting food or drink near the tattoo booths.

So, what’s not to like? If you are even slightly into tattoos, you should definitely visit your local tattoo convention! My next one will be in Brussels 🙂