Behind the Scenes: Tattoo Convention Season
by Tobi Vehrs on Feb 09, 2018
Tattoo conventions are one of the greatest things about being in the tattoo community. The opportunity to get tattooed by artists from around the world is not to be missed. Collectors, vendors, and artists all get a chance to visit new places and see people they haven’t seen since, well, the last convention. While it might appear from the outside that tattoo conventions are all fun and games, there’s a lot of work that goes into working a booth at a convention that most attendee’s don’t see. Here at InkAddict, we have a lot of convention experience, so we’re coming at you with a behind-the-scenes look at what really goes on at tattoo convention booths.
If you’ve stopped by the InkAddict booth in recent years, you’ve probably met Corey. Corey works the booth at most of the conventions we attend, all around the country. At the time of this writing, he’s making the 10-hour drive from Detroit to Philadelphia for the 20th annual Villain Arts Philadelphia Tattoo Expo, one of the largest tattoo conventions in the country.
During peak convention season, Corey, as well as many traveling tattooers, typically spend more time packing, driving to and working at conventions than he does at home. Tattoo Conventions usually run Friday-Sunday with long hours each day, so travel, check-in, and set-up must be done the day before.
While tattoo convention attendees might think that working a convention in a big party, there’s a ton of work that goes into them before and during the convention.
Months before a convention, vendors and artists must book a booth and room, and complete all appropriate paperwork. For artists, this usually includes temporary work permits, applications, and/or bloodborne pathogen training certificates, though it differs from state to state and convention to convention.
In the days prior to leaving for a convention, Corey and our production team must decide which items from our collection will likely sell best at that specific convention, and in what quantities. Banners, tablecloths and other branded material, as well as the apparel, is packed up into the van. During this time, most convention tattooers are packing up essential implements like their machines, needles, ink, armrests, etc.
Working in a new town every weekend can be thrilling, but most conventions run from 10/11am to 10/11pm, so there’s little time (and energy) left over for festivities and city exploring - in fact, you rarely see any part of the city but the convention center. A normal convention day for Corey at the InkAddict booth is spent on his feet, answering questions about the clothing line, networking with potential and past collaborating artists, finding sizes and making sales.
Convention tattooers are all different - some prefer to book their appointments ahead of time, announcing their schedules via social media and conducting consultations via phone or email. Others prefer to take walk-ups and have ready-made designs people can choose from available to tattoo. Either way, tattoo artists are typically busy sketching designs, making stencils and tattooing (obviously), in much smaller spaces than they’re used to, with limited resources and a steady stream of spectators.
At the end of the day, you've got an hour or so to find food (from the few remaining places that stay open that late) before you find your way back to your hotel or air bnb and turn in for the night, just to wake up early the next morning to do it all again. At the end of the weekend, tattooers and vendors pack up, clean their booths, and start the trek back to their hometowns, often late at night or early the next morning, where many of them will unpack, do laundry, sleep in their own bed for a few nights before packing up and heading to a different city to do it all again.
Working conventions isn't for the faint of heart, but it's a part of being an InkAddict we wouldn't trade for anything! What are some of your convention memories? What conventions will you be attending this year? Let us know in the comments, and if you see us at a convention, make sure to stop by and say hi!