On any given weekend in most cities of a decent size, you can probably find a tattoo convention to attend if you are so inclined. What used to be a rare and rather specific event geared towards working tattoo artists and the people who wanted to get tattooed by them has shifted to an ever-growing list of elaborate lifestyle event shows with tons of bells and whistles. Hot rods, live music, pin-up girls and burlesque. Dozens of merchandise vendors of all stripes, even food trucks and beer on tap. There is even a little tattooing thrown in.
Now don’t get me wrong – events of this stripe – especially if they are well-organized and well run and give good artists a chance to showcase their work – can be a lot of fun to attend. But sometimes it feels like the actual tattooing – the sting of the alcohol wipes, the buzz of the machines (or not – you coil fans) can seem a little thin on the ground. As the world of tattooing has expanded to include thousands of new artists pushing the boundaries of what is possible with this ancient craft and tattoos themselves have cropped up on almost everyone – (looking at you, grandma) sometimes it is important to wind back around to the core principles of quality artists, quality work, and serious collectors. There is a convention for that. It is The Bay Area Tattoo Convention.
I’m relatively new to the world of tattoos and am in no way an expert or a voice of influence. I am just a burgeoning hardcore collector with a rabid interest in tattoo artists, history, and culture. I like to watch ladies with feather fans as much as anyone but what really gets me going is a convention floor stacked with some of the most well-respected and talented tattoo artists in the world working at their craft. The Bay Area Tattoo Convention is in its 14th year and is the type of show that attracts serious tattoo collectors and tattoo fans and offers a rare opportunity to see some rather elusive artists (books closed, hide in their shops working 24/7 and never come out kind of elusive) in action.
Founded by Taki Kitamura – State of Grace Tattoo in San Jose and Roman Enriquez- Strong Tattoo and 45s Forever Bike Shop – The BATC has set itself apart from the scrum by focusing exclusively on hand-selected artists that are there to tattoo and the collectors that want to get tattooed by them. 96 booths -many with multiple artists, maybe 10 vendors – all tattoo industry related. No live shows or distractions. I had the pleasure of chatting with Taki and he said something that I just have to quote, “The beautiful women in our shows aren’t swinging from poles – they are holding their own on the floor next to the male tattooers.” Both Taki and I agreed that women can do whatever the hell they like including swinging from poles, wearing skimpy outfits, riding live bobcats (my words, not his) – whatever. The point being made is that talent, skill, professionalism, and artistry is the focus of the show and a woman artist need not be anything other than a talented artist to be featured – nipple tassels are optional. (Please direct all angry comments directly to me and leave Taki alone, thanks). Taki and Roman take great care to make sure that every aspect of the BATC is tattoo related and set up to help artists and collectors connect. Check out their sponsors – all Tattoo folks (and a special thanks to TTTism for being a major sponsor this year – putting your money where your mouth is and helping small yet mighty events like BATC happen).
There are quite a few extremely talented female artists that are part of the rich cross-section of humanity and tattoo styles that make up this years convention. Artists from all over the country and the globe (check out the BATC Instagram and watch their stories to get some sneak peeks on who will be there – insider tip; they might not be listed on the artists attending page – you’re welcome) will be in attendance with the one thing binding them together – apart from the ring of power (sorry – nerd aside) is a passion for their craft and a reputation for excellence. So do you already need to have a spot secured to get tattooed at the convention this year? Hell no. Many of the artists pre-book but Taki assures me at least half of the artists are prepped for walk-ups. He also mentioned a cool trend he has been observing where very well-known and usually booked-for-life artists will attend a convention like BATC and ONLY do walk-ups based on flash they have ready to go. Talk about a convention exclusive!
Speaking of which – some convention exclusives include book releases, special merch by artists and vendors, and fantastic lectures.
The convention is at the SFO Hyatt Regency and it is easy to get to and comfortable to hang out in. Show up early enough and you might spot some of your favorite artists grabbing coffee in the lobby. Hang out late enough and maybe you will be lucky enough to watch those same artists chat and relax over a drink. Be a really low-key not weird collector (present company excluded) and maybe they will invite you to sit a spell. The tattoo world is a big, eclectic, multi-faceted community that ideally makes room for all types of artists, collectors, styles and people. The thing that really binds together the best of the tattoo community is a sense of pride in the craft, a spirit of openmindedness in regards to other artists and styles, a willingness to learn and improve, and an absolute dedication to artistic excellence. And that is why I’m spending the third weekend of October at The Bay Area Tattoo Convention. See you there.