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The History and Future of Tattoo Conventions


Tattoo conventions are one way tattoo artists can get together to share tattoo techniques, ideas, and designs. They also allow tattoo enthusiasts the opportunity to see a wide variety of tattooing styles first hand and meet the tattooists that created them.

The tattoo convention scene exploded in the 1970's when tattooing had reached its peak of popularity as a result of the Vietnam war. Suddenly tattoo artists from all over the country were coming together to exchange ideas and techniques. Artists like Sailor Jerry, Don Nolan, and Norman "Sailor Dan" Keith held tattoo contests at these conventions where tattoo enthusiasts like Jack Rudy would be the guest judges. In 1969 Rudy wrote an article about his experience attending one of these tattoo contests for Skin & Ink magazine. Rudy says:

While the tattooing progressed, I found that I was enjoying myself tremendously. It was great to meet all of these people who share my interest in tattooing and to watch how various tattoo artists worked. Everyone got along together splendidly… No one seemed to be terribly concerned about his reputation so long as he helped everybody else out."

jack rudy tattooing

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

This was one of the first dominoes to fall, allowing the tattoo industry and community to become as intertwined and profitable as they are today, almost 50 years later in a more modernised world. "This was the incident that changed tattooing forever," Lyle Tuttle was quoted as saying.

Our collective culture would be born at this first conference, which brought together sailors, misfits, hippies, and bikers. It gave way to collective tattoo traditions that we all respect and carry out on a daily basis, with other customs and styles branching off of them. This first convention served as a meeting place for artists and outcasts alike, as well as a place for them to be acknowledged.

tattoo convention tattooing

(Image from Liverpool Echo)


Much like today, with the most recent crisis of the COVID-19 virus, many tattoo artists and conventions throughout time have faced dreadful global events as well. With the AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s, this led to a terrible and harmful stigma around the tattoo community and around the act of tattooing itself.

Ever since tattoo artists and conventions started, they have faced some tough global events. During the AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s, many people felt that it was immoral for them to get tattoos because of how dirty needles can be. This led to a terrible stigma around those who were already tattoed or wanted one.

The most recent crisis with COVID-19 has been no exception either: while there are still plenty of customers willing to undergo this procedure despite its risks fear looms over our society as we wait anxiously for more details on what will happen next during such an uncertain time when so little is known about this virus which could potentially wipe us all out if left unchecked!

tattooing in ppe

(Image from POPSUGAR UK)


Now that vaccines are available in the majority of countries, the world has begun to reopen with the addition of new rules and preventative measures, allowing the world to take larger strides toward normalcy.

Hopefully, tattoo shop owners, artists, and convention organisers may finally rejoice in an industry that is beginning to recover from an "unhealable" event. The tattoo community is expected to grow and flourish in new and exciting ways as advanced and rapid changes are introduced around the world.



What are you most looking forward to when tattoo conventions return? Let us know in the comments!



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  • Caitlin Moore