“There are already a hundred people waiting to get in,” organiser Andrés Hallgrímsson tells me excitedly, as we sit down to talk. “We’re already booked out for next year.” He’s discussing, of course, the fourth annual Icelandic Tattoo Expo, which will, on September 4, 5, and 6, come to the Súlnasalur lounge at Hótel Saga in Reykjavík’s west side. With 55 international artists attending, tattoo competitions, a pin-up contest, and a performance by burlesque/freakshow artist Elegy Ellem, if anything will persuade you to finally get that backpiece, this’ll be it.
To most people outside of the tattoo bubble, the idea of a tattoo convention can be confusing. What’s the point? “Iceland is very isolated,” organiser Svanur Guðrúnarson tells me, “so we get people from around the world that do different styles but are really good at what they are doing in that style.” At tattoo conventions, a variety of artists gather in one location, where attendees can watch live tattooing or get some ink themselves.
“At the convention, Icelandic people witness more styles, and it comes back to us because then people want better work,” says Svanur. In his view, the convention has “upped the standard of tattooing in Iceland.” Sesselja Sigurðardóttir, a piercer who works at the convention, adds to this: “They go there, see something and are like, ‘Wow!’ Later, they come make an appointment.”
Miles and miles of style
The convention features a ton of styles you won’t normally see in Iceland. For instance, New Zealand’s Brent McCown specialises in hand-poked Ta Moko, which is the traditional style of tattooing of the Maori people. Ta Moko involves intricate and ornamented crescent designs, and Brent pokes each dot by hand. He’ll be at the convention, as will Richard Feodorow from Sweden, who creates picture-perfect black and grey realism.
From Iceland, most of the tattooers from Íslenska Húð- flúrstofan, Bleksmið- jan Húðflúr, Sweet Hell Tattoo, and Tattoo og Skart will be attending, so it’s the perfect place to scope out each artist if you’re considering getting some ink. Look at their portfolio, talk to them, buy a print, and most importantly, get a taste of their process up close and personal.
Nervous? Don’t be. Conventions aren’t just for tattoo vets. Sesse tells me they’ll be plenty of people there getting their first piece, and plenty getting their fifteenth. “It’s a good place to get ideas for later on. Decide if you like or want something,” she says.
So much tribal
The hallmark of all tattoo conventions, though, are the competitions. There’s one “Best of Day” category, which only includes tattoos done at the convention, but the others could be done at anytime, anywhere: “Best New School,” “Best Ornamental,” “Best Traditional,” etc. Svanur points to my half sleeve as he lists them, saying, “You could enter that if you want.”
Expect to see a lot of ornamental work and mandalas, which Svanur, Andrés, and Sesselja all agree are very popular now. When asked what used to be popular in Iceland, all immediately laugh. “Tribal,” Andrés says with a grin, “a whole lot of tribal, for a very long time.” Things have been changing though. Though all the artists agree that the Icelandic tattooing scene is usually five to ten years behind the rest of the world, customers have just began to get into larger pieces like full sleeves and backpieces. They are very pleased about this.
Tattoos are for the children
Sesselja and Andrés are particularly excited about the pin-up contest, which was a big success at last year’s convention. This is not a beauty pageant in the Miss USA sense—no, this one is about attitude. “You could be fifty kilos or ninety kilos, it doesn’t matter,” Sesselja explains. “If you’re sassy, you can win!” Andrés continues, “There’s no age limit, there’s nothing.”
Unsurprisingly, the convention is a very popular destination for overseas tattooers. “Everyone wants to come here,” Sesselja tells me. “But we’re trying to get the Icelandic tattoo community together— so any Icelandic artist can just call and ask for a booth—it would be best if that happened eight months before the convention, though.”
If you’re still worried—trust me, tattoo conventions are not just bikers and rock ’n’ roll. Svanur, André, and Sesselja continually stress that the convention is for families. “Entry is free for kids under the age of twelve!” Sesselja notes. So start thinking about what you want, ‘cause this only happens once a year.
The Iceland Tattoo Expo is happening at Hótel Saga from September 4 through September 6. Check out icelandictattooexpo.com for all the details!
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