A long weekend is surely the best time for a tattoo convention, right? That extra day allows for recovering from the pain of being tattooed, pierced, or any other shenanigans one might get up to…
Thus the ‘let’s have a Monday off for the hell of it’ Bank Holiday at the end of May sees the Northern Ireland Tattoo Convention kick off once again in the stunning, recently refurbished Ulster Hall in Belfast. The convention, now in its fourth year, has been growing in stature and reputation since it began, as evidenced by the sterling lineup of around seventy local an international artists attending this time around. Tattooers from such far-flung places as Samoa (traditional hand-tattooing), Italy, America and all over the island of Ireland all made the trek to Belfast for what promised to be the most auspicious Northern Ireland Tattoo Convention to date.
Saturday the 24th dawned bright and, y’know, sort of ok-ish (it’s Belfast – what did you expect?) as the doors of the Ulster Hall opened promptly at 11am. It wasn’t long before the place started filling up nicely, and within no time at all the distinctive buzzing of tattoo machines was ringing out from every booth. ‘Spaces available’ signs were put out and gradually removed as the artists filled their spaces for the weekend. If a happy tattooist is a busy tattooist, then there were a lot of cheerful artists here!
For those with even more money to burn there were a few vendors dotted about selling tattoo and alternative lifestyle-related goodies to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over.
Convention regulars Bella Muerte Clothing were there (http://bellamuerteclothingaccessories.bigcartel.com/),
as well as a small section of wares from legendary Belfast shop Fresh Garbage (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fresh-Garbage/127908000584290).
Also tucked in beside the entrance door was a fascinating stall called ‘Skullart Designs’, selling some gorgeous artwork consisting of, you guessed it, skulls (https://www.facebook.com/skullartdesigns.paul/photos).
If you were feeling parched and/or footsore there was (of course) a bar upstairs, selling some much-needed beverages. There was also a full program of acoustic artists such as No Oil Paintings, Howlin’ Hank, Suzie Blue and Acoustic Dan. Punters could also enjoy one of several short films that were played throughout the weekend, such as ‘Stoney Knows How’, ‘Gypsy Gentlemen’ and ‘Ink Stories’ – a terrific idea.
Judging this year received two boosts, the first in the form of guest judge Mr. Perry Rule from Total Tattoo magazine – a real coup for the conventions organisers as it guarantees widespread press for the event. The second ‘plus’ was the welcome addition of a huge LED television screen above the stage which showed a live feed of all of the tattoos being judged; this was a big step up from the projection screens of previous years.
The result was crystal clear coverage no matter where you were in the hall. Judging for the ‘Best of Saturday’ tattoo was fierce, culminating in the trophy being awarded to Marco Galdo of Trafficanti D’Arte in Milan for his stunning geometric upper sleeve piece. With appetites firmly whetted for more to come, the convention closed for the day around 8pm.
The ‘work hard, play hard’ ethic of some of the artists (and punters!) was on show on Sunday morning, with many a bleary face dotted amongst the crowd. Today served up more of the same: busy artists, plenty of foot traffic, and a (literal and figurative) buzz in the air. This was the day to try and squeeze in that tattoo that you reeeaaallly wanted from artists that may work far from you, buy some cool trinkets/clothes, get some ideas for future ink, and – for some – mainline caffeine!
Today was also the day that the judging got serious. There were several categories up for grabs, including ‘Best of Show’, ‘Best Backpiece’, ‘Best Female Artist’, and so on. The impressive LED screen really paid off, as punters could clearly see the quality of the tattoos being judged.
The final judging segment of the show started on a rather sombre note, as organiser Rob Allen led a tribute to the late Paul Hayde, a much loved and respected member of the Irish tattoo community. A warm round of applause ensued when the big man’s picture appeared on the screen – a heartwarming moment indeed.
The results of the judging showed just how far Northern Ireland has come in terms of world class tattooing. White Dragon Tattoo Studio in Belfast won a total of seven awards (‘Best Sleeve’, ‘Best Portrait’/’Best of Show Sunday’ and ‘Best Small Black and Grey’ were won by Che Crooks, whilst ‘Best Backpiece’, ‘Best Sleeve’ and ‘Best Japanese’ went to studio owner Chris Crooks), and ‘Best Large Black and Grey’, a stunning skull backpiece, went to Willy Grattan of Nautica of Carrickfergus. ‘Best of Show’ was awarded to Saturday’s winner Marco Galdo.
And so, with a ‘thank you and see you all next year’ from the inimitable Mr. Allen, the Northern Ireland Tattoo Convention wrapped up for another year – undoubtedly its most successful to date. Time now for the weary yet contented tattoo artists to relax, celebrate, and let their hair down. Thank goodness for Bank Holiday Mondays, eh?
The Independent Voice had the opportunity to chat with convention organiser Robert Allen, as well as a few of the attending artists and sole piercer of the weekend, Baz Black.
Check out our interviews here:
Interview with Robert Allen, NI Tattoo Convention Organiser
Interview with Baz Black, Owner of Baz Black Piercing, Dundalk, Ireland
Interview with Chris Crooks, White Dragon Studio Belfast
Interview with Craig Kelly, India Street Tattoo Parlour Belfast
Interview with Karen Hogg, Zombie Bunny Ink Tattooing – Belfast