I absolutely adore tattoo conventions. Tattoo collectors and tattoo artists gathered together under one roof. It's sort of like a bubble. Everyone is there because they are passionate about tattoos. I love that feeling.
But I also remember how nerve-racking it was before I attended my first tattoo convention. They can feel like intimidating places for the uninitiated.
So we've compiled a beginner's guide to tattoo conventions – what to expect, how to get tattooed and what else is on offer. Plus a list of some of our faves in the UK this year...
Image: Stories & Ink at Leeds Tattoo Expo '22
So, what exactly is a tattoo convention?
A tattoo convention is basically an event for tattoo lovers. Usually it lasts from one to three days over the course of a weekend. Hundreds of tattooists, collectors and those who are intrigued but have never been tattooed before gather in one place, maybe a convention centre or a hotel or some other sort of big space that's turned into a tattoo wonderland. Temporary stands are set up like tiny little studios for artists to tattoo from.
Tattoo conventions pop up all over the world. So they're fun places to travel to, but they are also an amazing place to get tattooed by an artist from another country who's travelled over to tattoo.
For example, maybe you've had your eyes on the work of a tattooist from Australia, and discover they are coming over to tattoo at a UK convention – this is your chance to get a piece of their work without travelling.
How can I get tattooed at a convention?
If you have a specific artist in mind, make sure you check if they are taking bookings for the convention or whether they are open to walk-ups – usually this would mean the tattooist has an array of flash (tattoo designs) they've drawn up to tattoo on a first come, fist served basis.
Some tattooists decide to offer longer appointments to do bigger pieces, and some only offer one appointment per day. So make sure that once you know a tattooist is tattooing at a convention you want to attend, you message them asap to avoid disappointment. Usually a tattooist will post updates on their Instagram page or website.
Image: Stories & Ink team members after getting tattooed at Leeds Tattoo Expo '22
What's it like to get tattooed at a convention?
Remember that it will feel very different to get tattooed at a convention over an artist's tattoo studio. There won't be any privacy, so it's important to think about whether you're happy to be on display while you're getting tattooed. And are you happy to have the part of your body that you want tattooed on show? Convention attendees are able to wander up and down the aisles and look at you as you get tattooed.
And if you're someone who just wants to watch? Be polite. Watch but don't get too close, physically. Try not to knock anything over. You can talk to the artist and the person who's getting tattooed, but be mindful of what else is going on – does the person getting tattooed look like they are in pain? Does it look like the artist is at a crucial point in the tattoo? Pause and talk when it looks like a good moment for that.
What else is there to do at a tattoo convention?
You don't have to get tattooed to enjoy a convention, you can also shop – alongside the stalls housing tattooists, there's usually an array of other brands on offer. From jewellery, clothing, candles and trinkets to tattoo supplies, including ink and needles, and tattoo skincare – Stories & Ink will set up shop at a number of UK conventions this year, so keep a look out over on our Instagram to see which conventions we will be at.
Often, there will also be talks about tattooing, exhibitions, bands playing and even after-show parties. Brighton Tattoo Convention on 25-25 February 2023, for example, will have an exhibition of the work of photographer Continuous Portrait Project, who's been photographing tattooists, including Grace Neutral (who will also be tattooing there).
There's also tattoo competitions, which let both tattooists and collectors show off their work for the chance to win an award. You can enter a tattoo that has already been done, for already-completed tattoos categories usually have titles like 'best black-and-grey' or 'best small colour.'
The most interesting are the titles given to tattoos created at the convention you're at and often there's a reward for 'best tattoo of the day' and the prestigious 'best tattoo in show.' The contests are judged by tattoo artists and experts. The tattoos are often displayed like a tattoo catwalk, with the judges and the audience taking in the artwork on display.
Is a tattoo convention a place for someone who isn't tattooed?
Of course. They are the most amazing places to seek inspiration, chat to artists and simply look on in wonder at the tattooed skin on show. When else is there going to be so much tattooed skin on display?
A selection of tattoo conventions in the UK this year
- Telford: Tattoo Freeze, 4-5 February, Telford International Centre
- Brighton: Brighton Tattoo Convention, 25-26 February, The Brighton Centre
- Edinburgh: Scottish Tattoo Convention, 25-26 March, Edinburgh O2 Academy
- Carlisle: North Lakes Tattoo Show, 31 March-2 April, The Old Fire Station
- Manchester: Tattoo Tea Party, 8-9 April, Manchester Central
- Newcastle: Big North Tattoo Show, 29-30 April, Utilita Arena
- Leeds: Leeds Tattoo Expo, 10-11 June, First Direct Arena
- Bristol: Bristol Tattoo Convention, 8-9 July, Ashton Gate Stadium
- Blackpool: Tatcon Blackpool, 8-9 August, Norbreck Castle Hotel
- London: Big London Tattoo Show, 26-27 August, Excel London
- Wolverhampton: Halloween Tattoo Bash, 14-15 October, The Holiday Inn Garden Court Wolverhampton
We will keep our eyes peeled for conventions popping up and please let us know which ones you'll be at by commenting over on our Instagram, @storiesandinkskincare.