From the very second that you walk through the doors of the Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention, you are overwhelmed by the sound of thousands of humming tattoo machines blending with the stereo systems of just as many tattooers. Looking around, hundreds of prints and flash sheets compete for your attention. When you add in the crush (and smell) of scores of eager people fighting to secure a tattoo with their favorite artist, it really makes you wonder why this was an event that you had been anticipating for months. By their very nature tattoo conventions are a blitz on the senses. Now imagine having to do your job in the dead center of all of that action.
The Work Space
Almost universally, the tattooers we chatted with complained about the space in which they had to tattoo. Whether it was the lack of room to maneuver, the horrific lighting from fluorescent bulbs 70 feet above, or uncomfortable chairs, there are a ton of things that a tattooer has to adapt to in order to get the job done at a convention.
Clockwise from the top — Kate Collins, Shanghai Kate, Ivan Antonyshev and Chad Lenjer tattooing at the Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention.
It should go without saying, but the obvious difference between working in the shop and a convention is the audience of thousands milling around and gawking for three straight days. “It’s massive, it’s crazy,” Ivan Antonyshev says. “There were just so many people here, I was tattooing all day, and every time I’d look up, I’d see somebody. Not somebody, but many people, and it would just multiply.”
The Silver Lining
Even though most artists were willing to list a myriad of reasons why tattooing at a convention can be a clusterfuck of stress, there had to be a reason for them to show up in the first place.
The one-and-only Shanghai Kate.
Insight from a Legend
When you care so much about your craft, when tattooing is far more than just a job, conventions are something that you can’t help but be drawn to. It’s not the best way to do your work, but the energy and adulation from the crowd more than make up for that. The legendary Shanghai Kate has been in the business for close to a half century, and despite the exhaustion, she hits shows like Philly whenever she can.