Hello again dear reader and welcome to another tale from the naughty step. This month I want to tug on your coat-tails about something thats been bugging me for a while now. Conventions…
Last year I finally did something that I’d wanted – and been hoping – to do for 5 years. I worked The London (tobacco dock, not the pretend one) convention for the first time and – I have to admit – I’m really proud to have been asked to. Why? Well, my inclusion was solely based on my work and nothing else. It had nothing to do with my standing in the world of tattoo and it had nothing to do with just having the cash for a booth. And it’s that that made me incredibly proud to been included. I had to work for it…hard. And when it finally happened it actually felt like an achievement.
But that got me thinking ‘when was the last time that I felt a real sense of achievement at being invited to work a show?’ The answer surprised me as it became instantly obvious that these were all the shows that we mark ‘definitely working that one’ on the year planner each year. But what makes a great convention great? And why are all the good ones (for the most part) long running affairs that artists return to year after year that are notoriously hard to get invited to work at? Well…
I set about looking at my ‘definitely doing’ list to try and figure out what it is about them that makes them (in my opinion) the best ones each year. And again the answer surprised me; they’re all in great venues, they’re all professionally organised, in each case every promotor is really involved with the artist list and takes the time to say hi to every artist and thank them for attending. All the shows are really busy because they’re properly advertised (we’re all their to promote our work after all) and they all have a great – and individual – vibe all of their own. Edinburgh is a brilliant, Irn Bru fueled party and I love going, Milan is mental, Brussels is the only convention like it and thank god because I couldn’t survive that craziness every weekend! And London? Well, it’s London baby! I could go on and list all my faves (Brighton, Nottingham, Tea Party) but you get the gist…
My point is that they all have the good stuff in common but they all have they’re own thing that makes them the individual experiences that they are. And they all do their best to keep the quality of the artists in attendance as high as possible whilst giving a few new faces a spot when they can.
Of course this makes the great shows hard to get into. If you’re one of the thousands of artists who apply each year it can be very frustrating as they seem – to the outsider – like elitist affairs. But is this a bad thing? Well, honestly I don’t think so it’s a good thing thats especially good for the visitors. Who wouldn’t want to visit a show that has 300+ of the best artist in the world turning out world class tattoos right before your eyes? And in turn its great for artists because if our clients are exposed to the very best of what’s possible in tattoo they’ll expect higher quality art when they finally start looking around for new tattoo.
But there is a downside…
The exclusive nature of great shows (and greatest doesn’t always equal biggest) creates a space for other conventions to exist that cater to artists that don’t want to wait for ‘the call’ and just want to get on the circuit as quickly as possible, anywhere on the circuit. Instead of being celebrations of the brightest and best in the scene these shows are – in some cases – simply a parade of vanilla mediocrity. On top of this these shows all have awards – so now just about everyone is an ‘award winning artist’ So, is the title worth anything anymore? Nope, not a thing.
Now don’t get me wrong here – my list isn’t definitive its just MY list. I still have shows that I haven’t worked yet that I’d love to do ( there are only so many weekends in a year and i’m already having to rotate shows year on year in order to work all the ones I want to now) . Consequently, I cant say whether or not they’re my favourites yet. But – as I’m sure you’re thinning – how can you decide which shows are worth attending or not? Well, thankfully, the answer to that is pretty simple. Check the artist list. A great show – big or small – will attract great artists. A great example of this would be the Robin Hood Show in Nottingham – it may only have 30 artists but they are some of the best in the UK and they attend because the show is fun, informal and well organised with a great party vibe. Remember, just because a show advertises itself as ‘the greatest’, ‘the biggest’ or ‘the best’ it may not be quite accurate (marketing and the truth are rarely the same thing) so the artist list will always be a pretty decent indicator of the quality of the show. As artists we want to work the shows that we have to be good enough to get into, the ones that feel like your getting an award just getting a booth! Because – believe it or not – it’s exciting for us to sit in a room full of amazing artists doing incredible, inspiring work that puts us under massive pressure to perform (we love it really, even though we say we don’t) And as a visitor we want you to spend your hard earned entry money seeing all the things that are possible in tattoo done by the best in the business so that when you decide on the artist for your next piece you’ll be choosing – and getting – real quality instead of some ‘have a go harry’ who calls himself an award winning artist because he won best tribal at the local tattoo convention down the road from his shop.
So before you decide which conventions to attend this year ask yourself ‘Is it all killer or all filler?’
until next time
Tales from the iPhone
I quite often wake up after a ‘convention sunday night’ (which is quite often like a cross between a St Trinians movie and the Banana Splits) with a camera roll full of randomness that I cant even remember – let alone explain. Here in all it’s gory, glory is the camera eye view from the naughty step…
You can see more of this nonsense between monthly columns on instagram – @thenaughtystep – you have been warned!