What Is A Tattoo Convention?

What are they all about and how do they work?

For someone who isn’t familiar with the tattoo world you could be forgiven for wondering what is a tattoo convention? For the uninitiated, they can be rather intimidating. 
Beth was supposed to be working her first convention this year. Coming down to Brighton with me, gage and Kerry. Sadly Covid-19 stopped that.
It should have been the first time I’d worked a show with both my kids and I was very excited about it. Because of that we got into a conversation in the shop about whether conventions are still worth doing now that there are so many of them.
For that reason, I’ve created this guide so you can better understand the ins and outs of a tattoo conventions. By the end of this auricle you will know everything you need, to pick, visit, get tattooed, be entertained and have an amazing experience at one of the many shows around the world.

Convention History

Tattoo Conventions have a long history going back to the year 1976. The first tattoo convention took place in the US. Over an unseasonably warm weekend in late January 1976, The city of Houston hosted the first recorded tattoo convention, kicking off a multi-million dollar industry in which famous artists show off their handiwork and compete for cash prizes in front of tattoo enthusiasts. Some 130 artists showed up to meet other artists and ply their craft.
Nowadays tattoo conventions have become a staple of the tattoo industry and there are more events happening than ever before in cities all over the world. Usually 2-3 day long events showcasing many different tattoo genres and artists from all over the world. All working alongside each other under one roof. Generally they are exhibition style events where each artist has their station located in their own booth.
first tattoo convention

Are Conventions Great For Clients?

For many tattoo fans and collectors, conventions are the only opportunity to get work done by their favourite artist. Tattoo conventions give you access to the most talented artists from around the world working today. For example, you can travel to a local convention and get tattooed by an artist from the New Zealand, Japan, USA etc.

Convention Etiquette

Tattoo conventions are very different to an artist’s shop. The calm of the studio is replaced by the madness of thousands of people walking around and hundreds of artists working side-by-side. Not to mention the noise and the smells of performances! I have worked a convention where my booth was only a few metres from 3 motocross bikes screaming around what can only be described as a giant hamster-ball!
If you are attending a convention as a client or spectator, please be conscious of an artist’s working space and be mindful that they are there to work. Most artists working conventions are happy to answer any questions you might have about their work or availability. But some find it very difficult to concentrate so headphones are quite often worn!

Be Selective

When visiting or working your first Convention

With there being so many conventions these days I think artists and visitors just have to be more selective about the shows that they visit or work. Find the kind of shows that fit with what you enjoy with the kind of artists you admire – organisers all have different ideas about what makes a good show but sometimes it not what we think makes a great show. Daily repeated content is a pain for artists –  are noisy, cavernous venues. Hotel or interesting venue shows tend to be better but not always.

Things can get weird

Over the years I’ve worked some truly bizarre events! I once worked in what could only be described as a converted garden centre, complete with a woman walking round serving tea off a trolley! Now, that was weird! One show had some bloke balancing glass balls on his head as entertainment! And of course quite a few of them have some very weird compares!
Do your research before you visit and you’ll have a great weekend with like-minded tattoo fans. Enjoy, see you there!

Never been to a tattoo convention?

Want to know what you can expect from this type of event?
Here’s a roundup of Tattoo events around the world

Are Conventions worth it for artists?

Personally having worked loads of conventions over the years I think they are. When I started doing them it was really important to help promote my work. no one really knew what those red and black tattoos were all about at the time. They weren’t even called Trash Polka back then. Some called them Avant Garde some called them Art Brut, some called them the Photoshop Style. Most artists weren’t sure if they were even tattoos! So the easiest way to show people what it was all about was to go to shows, show off my work and explain them to clients. And that’s exactly what I did! I travelled around the world show to show for years and had a blast promoting my work. It’s a very effective way of getting the message out there about the graphic style and I think the same is true these days too.

I really enjoy them

And I’ve met a lot of really good friends on the convention scene and a few dickheads of course – you know who you are.
These days I only work a few. Not because I don’t like them quite the opposite I really enjoy them and miss it but I’m just really busy at the shop and I can’t be out of the studio that much anymore

The really good shows generally get it right…

London has bands playing after the show because I love live music. Brighton has choppers on display and barbering because barbers are loads of fun – I spent a mad evening in Moscow with a bunch of them so I know!
I would visit a few, pick the ones you like the vibe of and apply to them. You’ll meet cool people have a load of laughs and promote yourself to people who are really serious about tattooing. After all they are spending their Saturday or Sunday or both visiting them. 
Honestly I think conventions remain a massive part of the tattoo world and that we should support them. A lot of us owe them – at least in part – our careers.