"Mike Rubendall doing flash designs."
All it took was those five little words and we were ready to jump on a plane to Chicago to be a part of the 2nd Annual Walk Up Classic at Great Lakes Tattoo. There are a million reasons to visit the Windy City — the chance to scarf down properly made hot dogs, sitting in the bleachers of Wrigley Field on a hot summer day, experiencing the mindfuck that is Malört — but few are as compelling as those words out of Nick Colella's mouth. Mike Rubendall, yes, the Mike Rubendall, will be doing flash designs, alongside 21 other amazing tattoo artists, all weekend long.
In order to gear up for this weekend's event we spoke with Colella, owner of Great Lakes Tattoo and one of the masterminds behind the event, about what drove him to create the Walk Up Classic, the importance of knowing one's roots, and just how the hell they're going to fit so many tattooers into one shop.
Tattoodo: Why did you start the Walk Up Classic?
Nick Colella: The Walk Up Classic came to be when a bunch of friends of ours were sitting at a restaurant eating breakfast on the third and final day of a long convention weekend. We were talking about how we were all tired of the convention scene and how it's gotten so far away from being focused on tattooing and doing tattoos. We were talking about how cool it would be to just all hang out at each other's shops and go to dinner and catch up and do some tattoos. So my wife Sarah and I took that and, with the help of our shop manager Allison, thought — why don't we do a small gathering of friends and do just that? Do some tattoos and catch up and hang out. So we started planning and it resulted in the Walk Up Classic.
Tattoodo: In this day and age, a lot of artists tend to have super long waiting lists and tend to do more and more custom work only. Why is doing a flash event like this important?
Colella: This event was intended to bring the focus back to how we all started doing tattoos. Everyone who works the Walk Up started out in walk-in tattoo shops. Doing whatever came in the door from the flash that was on the walls. So we wanted to bring it back to simpler times, where we could work on one shot tattoos and let the people who can't schedule months out for an appointment or fly across the country for a sitting walk in and get tattooed.
Tattoodo: The list of artists that are coming out for this is insane, and some of the names are quite surprising to see on there. How exactly did you go about getting them all together?
Colella: Honestly, all of these guys I am fortunate enough to call my friends. I've watched them tattoo, learned from them, looked up to them, gotten advice from them and given all those things back to them. I am a very fortunate person in this tattoo thing.
Tattoodo: How exactly does it all work? I know that everyone has created their own flash sheet especially for the event, is that all they will be working with? Or will people be working off of each other’s sheets? Do clients have any say about who will tattoo them, or is it all just luck of the draw?
Colella: So everyone has painted a 11" by 14" sheet of flash that will be revealed at the opening party on March 17. Those 22 sheets along with the sheets from last year will be on display. On Saturday and Sunday, you walk in and pick your tattoo and your tattooer from any of those sheets or any other sheets that are hanging on the walls at the shop
It's pretty simple. You can queue up for the tattooer you want or take the next available one and they will tattoo whatever design you pick. So if you want to get a Scott Sylvia tattoo but Steve Byrne is up, if you don't want to wait for Scott then Steve will do it. That's not something that I had planned on, and last year it worked out pretty awesome. There were a few rad designs that were done four or five times but by different tattooers and they all looked great. Plus we have a bunch of original sheets from tattooers at the shop and also South State Street in Chicago circa 1950 that you can also choose from.
Tattoodo: The event sounds like it is going to be insanely hectic. Why would an artist want to be part of something like this?
Colella: It is insanely hectic, but not for the tattooers. You have to remember that tattooing is what we all love to do, balancing everything else is the hard part. My wife and business partner Sarah, along with our shop manager Allison, have taken all the stress out of the convention-style tattooing, they handle everything. All the tattooers have to do is set up and tattoo. The counter takes care of stencils, price quotes, sign-in sheets, and all of the other stuff. We have amazing friends who own tattoo supply companies that have sponsored this event as well. All the tattooers need when they come here are machines and power units, everything else is provided. We also bring in breakfast and lunch each day, snacks throughout the day and have dinner set up each night for us to all enjoy after the convention. Everything is taken care of.
Tattoodo: How in the world is everyone going to fit in Great Lakes? That’s a lot of tattooers!
Colella: Great Lakes has 8 permanent stations, 2 guest stations, and a gallery beneath it. We convert the gallery to another tattoo room and we all fit, no problem.
Tattoodo: What was your favorite thing about last year’s event? How are you hoping to improve upon it this year?
Colella: My favorite part was the amazing response we got from everyone who walked through the doors. It's was such a great feeling to get it all together and pull it off. I can't wait for this year’s event.
If that doesn't sound like an amazing experience to you, well, what are you even doing here? But allow us to try to sell you on the event one last time. Here is the full list of jaw dropping talent that will be tattooing at Great Lakes Tattoo this weekend: Dan Smith, Nick Colella, Mario Desa, Angelo Miller, Beau Brady, Jen Lawes, Brad Fink, Nikki Lugo, Steve Byrne, Mike Dalton, Chip Douglas, Erik Gillespie, Marina Inoue, Robert Ryan, Glenn Whittall, Mike "Beatdown" Ziolko, Scott Sylvia, Greg Christian, Tony Hundahl, Kevin Leary, Miles Maniaci, and Mike Rubendall.
Tattoodo will be on the scene at Great Lakes Tattoo for the 2nd Annual Walk Up Classic. Follow all of the action on our Instagram and Facebook Live if you live outside of the midwest. But, if you live within 300 miles of Chicago, you better get your ass to Great Lakes Tattoo this weekend. The kickoff party, where they will unveil all of the flash designs, is March 17 from 7pm - 10pm. And then the big event takes place Saturday and Sunday from 11am - 7pm.