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rec.arts.bodyart: Tattoo FAQ 4/9--Conventions

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Top Document: rec.arts.bodyart: Tattoo FAQ 4/9--Conventions
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People go to tattoo conventions for various reasons. Enthusiasts may go
to visit with or meet out-of-town artists, get new tattoos, look at
other people's tattoos or show off their own. Artists may go to purchase
flash work from other artists, visit with old friends or to gain more
visibility in the field.

If you are interested in finding out what's going on in the tattoo
world, the convention is the way to go.

The one thing that I find marvelous, wonderful and so exciting about
tattoo conventions, is that you can meet excellent and well-known
artists "in the flesh" and see many of them work! What other kind of
convention can you go to, where fans can openly admire the artists? The
only one I can think of off-hand is Fan Fair in Nashville, for country
music fans (and then it's the STAR versus the FANS--still not quite the


Conventions range in size and length, from very small shop-sponsored
conventions that last a day or two, to international
organization-sponsored events that span four days.

Conventions are usually held over a weekend, and usually include
contests (closed to official registrants only) and exhibit floors, where
artists may be selling their merchandise or tattooing. The exhibit floor
is usually open to the public on a one-day admission fee, for those who
don't want to pay the extra fee of registering.

Most of the larger conventions are fairly well organized. While not in
the same caliber as an academic conference (that might have many
workshops, board meetings, poster sessions), convention organizers
usually have arrangements with travel agencies and hotels, to provide a
good deal for participants. This allows attendees to obtain a lower
"convention rate" for both hotel and airfare.

Convention rates vary: Registration for a national four-day convention
may run around $30-$40, less for a shorter convention. Daily admission
passes usually sell for about $10 per person and are only good for the

Official registrants are usually given a color-coded hospital-style
wristband, while those paying for just the day may get their hand


Have you ever wanted to get a tattoo from a certain artist who lives in
another country, or another part of the country? Have you ever wanted to
feel a sense of belonging with a group of people who understand your
desire for tattoos?

People attend conventions for different reasons--the main thing to
remember is that these conventions allow you the unique opportunity to
be immersed in the tattooing world, where staring at other people's
tattoos, or people staring at yours aren't meant as an insult or an

You might have read and perused through tattoo magazines and thought "No
way! These guys are way too radical for me!" Just remember that
everybody was born naked with no tattoos or extra holes in their body.
We're all the same, and there is no reason to feel intimidated by others
who have bodmods. Also, remember that the magazines will often publish
the most outlandish subjects. Otherwise, it's boring and not newsworthy!
So sure, you'll see somebody with very bizarro tattoos or with 100
pierces on their body. So what? This is your opportunity to chat with
them or otherwise find out what drives them!

You think bikers are too rough? Sure, they might be tough-looking; but
they are some of the sweetest, friendliest people I've ever met! Word
is, a lot of the convention and hotel staff come into these tattoo
conventions with some trepidation, then discover, much to their delight,
that the attendees are some of the most polite, fun-loving, nicest
people around! If you have an appreciation for motorcycles, you'll find
some fine examples in the parking lot. However, you'll discover that
convention attendees run an entire gamut and that you can't pigeonhole
them into any one classification.


A kind word of warning here. If you love tattoos or are very intrigued
by them, and you want to meet others of your ilk, the conventions are
very good places to go. However, these conventions are not for
everybody. For one thing, these conventions are mostly geared toward
adults. Unless you are a tattoo artist and your toddler has lived her
entire life among the heavily tattooed and pierced, this may be a very
upsetting place to go.

Those who are sensitive to smoke or asthmatic should know that the
convention floor often becomes one big ashtray.

Finally, if you are trying to convince your partner to accept tattooing,
and your partner gets very upset about the topic in the first place, the
convention may be a very shocking and frightening experience that causes
the opposite of what you want.


Conventions are always pretty congenial and relaxed during the sessions
that are open only to registrants. Welcome receptions usually allow time
for a lot of socializing, where friends can catch up on old news and
share their new tattoos with others. Quite a few people take their
cameras along, snapping shots of tattoos and people. This period is also
the time to see the real serious tattoo enthusiasts and artists, since
these are the ones who usually register for the entire convention. This
means that you are likely to see people with very serious pieces of
custom work on their bodies.

The exhibit floor, when it is still closed to the public (usually on
Fridays during a four-day convention) are not too crowded. If you want
to get some work done from an artist who has rented a booth, Fridays are
a good time to get it done. This would be a good opportunity to visit
various booths and actually talk to people.

Once the weekend hits and the doors are opened to the public, the
atmosphere will change greatly. You will see a lot of "gawkers" and
various curiosity-seekers, who may or may not have any tattoos (or if
they do, they might be some mediocre flash). The convention floor takes
on somewhat of a carnival environment.

Attendance seems to depend largely on where the convention is being
held. No tattoo convention is so large as to take up a city's major
convention center--most conventions occur in hotel ballrooms. Thus if
the hotel is in a rural section of town, or the convention is not
appropriately advertised, you will not get a very high local turnout. On
the other hand, well-advertised events will be so popular that they will
have to limit the number of bodies in the room.

Note that the National Tattoo Association has a policy (which some
regard as archaic) that bans facial and visible body piercings (outside
of the ears) because it believes that these promote the side-show-freak
atmosphere, which is not condusive to the mainstreaming of tattooing.

While I will not condone the purposeful breaking of any policy, I can
state that I have seen enough various body piercings at NTA conventions,
that it seems if you keep it low key they will not bother you. With the
current popularity of body piercing, I would like to counter that some
pierces (eyebrows, navel, nipple) have entered into the mainstream, and
are now actually used in advertisements. I don't know why NTA still
maintains this policy, when many tattooists have their own in-house
piercers and the tattooists themselves often sport body pierces


Contests are limited to registrants during the larger conventions, while
they may be open to everyone at the smaller ones.

Categories seem to differ greatly, however some of the more standard
ones you can expect include: best black & gray, most unusual, best
tribal, best portrait, best overall.

Judging is done either by popular vote, or by a panel of experts
(usually composed of veteran artists). Obviously those by popular vote
are often judged by the contestant's looks or personality, and not
necessarily just by their tattoo.

If you plan to attend a contest, I suggest you bring a pair of
binoculars. The contestants are usually herded around on stage, and it
is often difficult to see the tattoos well. This is especially pertinent
if the contest is audience-judged.

Some contests are better organized than others; however I have yet to
see a contest where everything runs on time. Many contests do not limit
the number of entrants in a category, or limit entrants to one category.
This can cause long waits and long lines.

If you wish to take photos of these contests, plan to bring a telephoto
lens. A tripod would not be a bad idea either.


One of the biggest advantages of attending a convention is that you can
book an appointment with a well-known artist who does not live near you.
One of the biggest *disadvantages* of booking an appointment for the
convention with a well-known artist who does not live near you is that
you might not get as good a deal as you would if you were to visit the
artist's studio. That is, the exhibit floor is noisy, full of smoke,
crowded, and generally hard for anyone to concentrate in.

In addition, some artists try to pay for their trips and booth fees by
the appointments they do during the convention--so the more tattoos they
do, the more money they make. It is possible that you may be overcharged
for a tattoo that is not up to the regular standards of the artist.

How to avoid this pitfall? Phone the artist WELL in advance. Explain
your interests and reserve your time for the convention beforehand--the
earlier the better. Give your artist enough time to do some rough
sketches as well, that can be drawn up before the convention.

If you have been dying to get a tattoo from someone great and famous,
why take the risks that the artist fills up that appointment book before
you can get to that booth? Reserve in advance and avoid the headache.

Should you decide to "wing it" and hope to find someone you like once
you're there, you will have a much better chance of securing a time slot
if you visit before the public is admitted (which means you have to
register for the convention). Chances are, they will want to get a
deposit from you immediately (some people make appointments during
conventions then fail to show without notifying the artist--very

You have been warned, though. Caveat emptor.


Even if you don't plan on getting any tattoos, there is still plenty to
do on the exhibit floor. Most booths sell merchandise; many booths give
away stickers, business cards, etc.

Chuck Eldridge from the Tattoo Archive in California usually has a booth
at the larger conventions. If you've ever wanted to pick up an
out-of-print publication on tattooing, visit his booth!

Ever wonder how people get their pictures into the tattoo magazines? In
addition to photos submitted by the artists themselves, many of the
photos are taken at the conventions! Keep an eye out for signs that
identify tattoo magazines. Most of them set up portable studios in
nearby rooms. You will be required to sign a standard model release
form, and will have to inform them who your artist was (that's actually
more important to them than your own name). How to tell if the photos
were taken at a convention? Take a look at the wrists of the models in
the magazines. Do you see a color-coded hospital wristband? Does the
background look like a professional backdrop, versus the inside of a
tattoo shop?

Unfortunately, the magazine people won't be able to tell you if or when
your photo will appear in publication. Most of the time, you just have
to look at the issues that appear about three to four months after the
convention. The only time they will phone you is when you get a major
spread/feature, or if you've made the cover. If this is the case,
payment usually comes in the form of extra copies. Ask for as many as
you feel comfortable asking for (a couple dozen would not be out of
line, although I wouldn't ask for 500 copies unless you had an
incredibly large family).

Sometimes, the magazines will issue a special issue dedicated to the
specific convention you were at. These often include candids and photos
of contestants, and may include a photo of you!

Many convention organizers also contract a video production group to
tape the show. These are usually sold at an on-site booth.

In recent years, seminars geared towards artists have been added at
larger conventions, with topics such as "Creative Coloring", Care and
Tuning your Machine", "Spit-Shading - Watercolor", "Tribal Tattooing",
"Preventing Disease Transmission in Tattooing." Unfortunately, these are
usually open only to professional artists. I would personally like to
one day see sessions geared towards tattoo enthusiasts. Sessions
focusing on disease transmission prevention from the customer's point of
view, or the history of Polynesian tattooing, are two such examples.

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