Saba’s Survival Guide to Getting Tattooed at a Tattoo Convention

I consider myself relatively well-versed in tattoos at this point in my life. I have gotten tattoos abroad and in the United States. I’ve gotten tattoos in open layout shops, and ones with separate rooms. I have some that required uncomfortable angles, or for my tits to be out in the wind, but this was my first time getting tattooed at a convention.

This weekend I attended the Villain Arts Tattoo Convention in Minneapolis. I have wandered around the convention at least twice in the last handful of years. It is quite the experience to just wander if you haven’t. It’s not just tattoos, there’s artwork, taxidermy, piercers, and entertainment like burlesque dancers, and sideshow performers. There are also literally hundreds of people getting tattooed at the same time. Saw a woman getting her entire side tattooed and was laying naked on her side with a fuzzy blanket held in front of her body. It was badass.

Photo courtesy of Villain Arts Tattoo

Tattoo conventions are fucking packed. I mean like people crammed together in an unventilated area for hours on end. There’s barely any space to navigate, as the crowd just sort of flows in every direction. But it’s a fucking blast. As this was my first convention getting tattooed I have compiled an easy list of tips if you want to do the same.

How to get the artist you want

Stalk them. Not literally, but social media-wise I’m talking Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and watch all of their stories. If they know they’re going to be there, they let followers know, but you want to scoop those empty spots ASAP. I found out that that artist I wanted had openings because of their Instagram Story. I lucked out because basically they were doing walk-ups and posted that if you wanted to claim a spot to just shoot them an e-mail.

If the artist you want is famous, as there are always famous artists, they tend to be more difficult to get slots with. You should be aware that more popular artists will often times opt to only tattoo a select amount of premade pieces. They have popularity so having people to tattoo isn’t a problem, and they can be more selective. Other artists will do similar things, and have a book of flash that they’ll do the same day. Custom pieces require you to plan farther in advance, hence the social media stalking.

A preview of my tattoo posted on Nhia’s Instagram story

It costs a lot of money for tattoo artists to come to conventions, so some want to book all their time before getting there. Others leave their time open and do first-come-first-serve basis. But if you really want to get tattooed by someone, as I did, and wanted a custom piece, which I got, REACH OUT. The worst thing that will happen is you missed out this time around, but you can swing by and grab a hug.

What to wear

Getting a thigh tattoo? Don’t wear skinny jeans. Getting a chest tattoo? Don’t wear a tight top. Be smart. It’s super warm in there and you’re going to want to wear something comfortable so you don’t overheat. Normally I am cold so I wear wool socks and a warm top or bottom depending on where my tattoo is, but in this case, wear less.

Wear loose fitting t-shirts, bike shorts you can roll up, dresses that can be easily lifted, or just wear a tank-top. If you’re staying in the hotel the convention is being held in, it’s easier, you can wear some damn slippers if you want. You need to remember that you’re getting tattooed in front of hundreds of people, so if you’re shy, maybe don’t get that ass cheek tattoo this time around. Or if you’re feeling fit as hell this year, go ahead, get that underboob tattoo.

What to bring

Cash money. Bring it ahead of time because though there are ATMs at the convention, they’re a huge rip-off. I would suggest a couple of hundred depending on how large the piece is. The price of admission is not included in the cost of your tattoo, and bring enough for tip!

Water/Gatorade. You can buy it there, but scoop some up from a nearby convenience store to avoid inflation. For the most part if it’s smaller, you won’t get a break unless you ask for it, so have hydration handy.

Candy. Same things goes for snacks. This year they were cool and had a bunch of food vendors, which was smart. But if you can prepare with bringing your own it will save you some money. I had M&Ms and Starbursts in my purse.

Photo ID. If you’re getting a tattoo, or going in at all you have to had your ID. They give people who are underage a separate wristband to ensure they don’t get any tattoos, but you can get piercings in most cases.

Ear plugs/ Headphones. I personally didn’t bring these, but if you get anxious by noise, bring something along. It’s LOUD, and if you need to zone out and relax you’ll want either Ear plugs or headphones.

What to expect

I mentioned it briefly, but it’s going to be loud. The sound of hundreds of tattoo machines is weirdly comforting. On top of that there is music playing and you can hear announcers for the performances. There’s also tons of conversations of people walking around, who may even stop and chat with you about what you’re getting! It’s a very social and fun environment.

Photo courtesy of Twin Cities Daily

If you like tattoos in peace and quiet, this is not for you, and that’s totally fine! It can be overwhelming to be surrounded by so much going on and be expected to get a tattoo. I would recommend not getting tattooed at your first convention, and just scope it out and see if it’s something you really want to do.

I’m very used to chatting with my tattoo artist throughout, but in this case, they put on sound cancelling headphones and just went to work. I was also on my stomach, since I was getting the back of my arm done. It feels a bit more rushed, but not in a negative way.

Clean up

Now to get to these conventions, I’m sure a lot of you are coming from out of town, and don’t have access to all of your at home amenities for tattoo aftercare.

I would suggest bringing unscented soap, unscented lotion, and a roll of Saniderm. Oh and scissors! I definitely forgot scissors for cutting my Saniderm and we had to use a screwdriver.

Hotel soap is always trash, throwing a bar of soap into your luggage won’t take up much room and especially if you’re traveling, you want the new ink to be clean as possible. Unscented lotion again, you can get a travel size of Cetaphil or Aquaphor easily at Target, or fill your own smaller container. This is if you opt to not use Saniderm and let your new ink openly weep. Lastly, Saniderm, which is a clear bandage used to wrap large wounds. It is wonderful, I was running around all day after my tattoo and wrapping my fresh ink allowed me to wear long sleeves without rubbing or bleeding on my top.

All in all, I had a blast. I got to meet Nhia, who is amazing and wonderful and sweet. It was an opportunity to get inked by them, since they get booked pretty far out. It only took from 5:00-7:30 with placing the stencil, getting it placed, and about 90 minutes of actual tattooing, My friends who came along were able to explore the whole convention and pop by to check on me! I might not choose to do this again, but if an artist I admire is going to be there, all bets are off.

Not into getting a random tattoo? No problem, if you are able to meet an artist in person, I’ve found they are more willing to book at appointment right away. E-mails tend to get lost in inboxes. So chat up that artist you like, grab their business card and shoot them a e-mail the same day to schedule something later on. Don’t be shy! The artists want to meet new potential clients, and talk about their art. Head over to the Villian Arts website to see if there’s a convention coming near you.

2 Comment

  1. Great tips! I got my first ever tattoo at a convention with a fairly well known artist and was not prepared for how many people would just stop and watch needles get pushed into my skin for minutes at a time

    1. Oh man and for you first ever tattoo! That’s awesome. I’m glad I got to lay on my stomach and not see people watching me.

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