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Tattoo Convention Tips and Etiquette

Lyle Tuttle, Houston Tattoo Convention 1976Do you remember the first "official" tattoo convention? The first tattoo convention was held in Houston, Texas in 1976, and convention goers would have been greeted by a serious scene dedicated to tattooing and not much else.  Nowawdays tattoo conventions are as ubiquitous as craft fairs and gun shows, and you could practically go to a tattoo convention every weekend somewhere in the country if you were so inclined. Of course like tattoo artists, some conventions are better than others, but that is a topic for another day. Today let's talk about how to get tattooed at a really good tattoo convention.

In theory, getting a tattoo at a convention dedicated to tattooing should be no more complicated than buying a sandwich, but it really depends on a lot of different factors. Yes, the attending artists are there to tattoo and many convention attendees get tattooed, but before you sail through the door with your entry wristband and make a beeline for your favorite artist's table, there are a few things to consider.


1.  Many artists are already booked for the convention.

I know that seems like a cheat, but it makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Attending conventions is VERY expensive for artists. They have travel and lodging expenses, booth fees (which are often very high), staff expenses (if they bring people from the shop with them), as well as work permits and possibly work visas if they are out of the country. All of this makes attending a convention an expensive prospect for many artists. Due to the expenses, many artists will try to pre-book the show so that they are guaranteed work while they are attending.

Teresa Sharpe, Evian Tattoo Show

What this means for you as a convention attendee is that some of the artists you are there to see will not be able to tattoo you. So what do you do? Plan ahead. Follow your favorite artist's Instagram or Facebook, as most artists will alert their followers when they are attending shows. This gives you a chance to email them to grab a spot and it's a great way to work with an artist that is otherwise not taking new clients. This happened to me and now I am living my tattoo dream as a new client of Teresa Sharpe!


2.  Many artists have minimums for conventions and/or pre-drawn flash.

Okay, so what does that mean? It means that if you are at a notable show with notable artists, you should not be looking for a "deal" for your tattoo. If you walk in with a set idea and start price shopping from booth to booth, you will not be well received. Why? Tattoo artists generally don't go to shows to crank out cheap tattoos. Conventions give artists a chance to get their names out there, showcase their work, and hobnob with colleagues and clients alike. There is little benefit in a serious artist taking time to crank out a cheap, quick tattoo.

Before you attend a convention, take a glance at the attending artists list and check out their portfolios. If you see a few you really like, email them before the show to find out if they are interested in working with you and what they charge.  This will save you looking like a tire-kicker and will hopefully put you in touch with the right artists.


3. Tattoos at conventions (usually) cost more than tattoos in shops.

Yes, it's true. For the same reasons laid out above, many artists charge either more per hour OR charge a flat day rate for convention work. So if price is your main component, a convention is not your best bet. If you care more about quality than cost, conventions are a tattoo lover's dream!

Cleen Rock One, tattoo convention, recovery aftercare


4. That famous artist that you saw on TV will be busy tattooing and can't talk to you about your idea.

This also goes for non-TV artists, of course. If you are a major tattoo nerd like me, then walking a convention floor can make you swoon with awe. A good show will hopefully have at least a handful of well-known artists with big reputations. When approaching a working artist, remember - they are working. You can say hi and make some small chit chat depending on the artist, but it is poor etiquette to try to wrangle them into tattooing you next or at some future date. It is all about the email and that is what they will tell you to do: "Email me your idea."


5. Walk-ups can happen and they can happen to you!

One of the cool things about conventions is that sometimes, well-known artists will have room for walk-ups! People cancel at the last minute and sometimes artists that are otherwise booked solid might have a spot after all! If this happens to you, some things to consider are the price and type of tattoo you will get. Remember the points mentioned above and keep in mind that the tattoo may be more expensive than at a shop. Try not to haggle.

It's also possible that you'll have settle for a small and/or a pre-drawn tattoo. Many artists bring small pieces of flash that they have drawn and that is what they are willing to tattoo. Not all artists of course - but some. Ask them what they are available to tattoo that day.

If you really want a sleeve or a back piece, the artist may not be willing to start that at the show - even if they have an opening. Outlining a large piece that cannot be finished in a day means that the artist has just taken on a new client. That is not always possible with some of the busier artists. Be respectful and enjoy your small convention tattoo. Maybe if you sit like a champ and throw in a tip, they might be interested in working with you in the future.


6. Convention floors are crowded and booth spaces are small.

Don't have a bunch of friends come and hang out while you are being tattooed. It's lame in the shop and it's lame at the show. One tattoo wingman only, and even they should make themselves scarce on occasion.


Paris Tattoo Convention 2016, Mondial de Tatouage 2016, tattoo conventions


With all that in mind, have a blast at your next tattoo convention!