The Ninth Annual Alberta Bound Tattoo & Arts Festival—Words and Pictures
ANOTHER GREAT ONE IN CALGARY
I have written numerous articles praising Steve and Linday Peace’s Alberta Bound Tattoo & Arts Festival. From the first day it was held, back when the Peace family had versions in both Calgary and Edmonton, I saw how they treated the artists and the vast array of entertainment they provided the paying customers, and half-jokingly stated, “The Alberta Bound show was not only the best show in Canada, it’s the best one in the U.S.” And the same was true this time. Not only was there an array of high-profile artists like reality TV’s Joe Capobianco and Megan Massacre, but established tattooists like Paul Jeffries, Uncle Tim Heitkotter and Cory Ferguson were on hand as well. Even graphic artist Tyson McAdoo was there, selling out, as usual, of his trademark pinup posters.
Held at Calgary’s cavernous Stampede BMO Centre, Friday evening was pretty dicey getting from the airport to the busy event. Not only was there a five-car accident on the freeway, but a couple of events were unfolding just across the street, namely a Justin Bieber concert, a sporting event and, in the parking lot, a herd of cows for an upcoming rodeo. Needless to say, the aroma of manure was in the air.
To be honest, I thought I had arrived on the wrong night, because the Friday crowd, usually sparse at these gatherings, was wall-to-wall with looky-loos, and practically every artist was hard at work pushing ink. Sponsored by the much-respected tattoo supply company Eikon, each artist was provided with a free convention pack consisting of ink caps, drapes, aprons, bibs, petroleum jelly, stencil stuff, razors, tongue depressors, tape, bandages, grommets and step bushings, free Griffin tubes, disposable needles and black nitrile gloves, not to mention all of the ink (this year, featuring Eternal, Dermaglo and Silverback… as well as samples from TatuDerm and PurKlenz).
While the only contest on Friday and Saturday was Best Tattoo of the Day, Sunday was chockablock with contestants participating in numerous matchups (Best Backpiece, Best Sleeve, etc.), all vying for groovy Alberta Bound logo skateboard “trophies.” The rest of the time the stage was the venue for a raft of sexy female fire eaters, contortionists and intermittent dance numbers by the famous tattoo model Masuimi Max, who (she told me) was this month’s cover girl for four different international tattoo publications. Ms. Max clearly has affirmed her legendary status among the tattoo literati, as she waited for her next dance number in a fuzzy pajama outfit with built-in booties.
Each time I have attended this show over the last nine years, I was especially struck by the high quality of the artwork represented at the hundred or so booths. The artists whose work caught my eye this time included David Corden, Liz Cook, Benoit Delongchamp, Dinnie at D&M, Chris Moniz, Dan Page, Andrew Stortz, Austin Spencer, Rob Hoskins (newly arrived from England at Edmonton’s Atomic Zombie), Peppermint Hippo, Dave Green, Dave Maier, Jessie Grant, Christina Christie from Black Rabbit in Port Moody, Clint Danroth, Danny Gordey, Dan Cameron, David Bruehl, Spencer Evans, Troy Semkiw, Ryan Gagne, Andrew Little, Evan Dowdell, Dave Fried and James Tex. Aside from Rob Hoskins, Clint Danjroth, David Bruehl and James Tex, many of these names were new to me, although their work truly stood out from the crowd.
Perhaps the biggest highlight was my uniting with photographer Bernard Clark from Kingston, Ontario. Bernard and I have been on the road together for over fifteen years, including nearly fifty tattoo events and an unforgettable visit to Samoa (at the invitation of the Sulu’ape family), for which we co-authored a book,“Tattoo Road Trip—Two Weeks in Samoa.” It’s Bernard’s photos that decorate this article.
On the subject of photographs, when I visit a convention, I make it a point to check out the portfolios that await inspection at every tattoo booth. That’s where I discovered the artists listed above and also where I affirmed my belief that ninety percent of tattoo artists can’t take a decent picture of their work. As you we all know, the only way a tattoo artist can hold onto his tattooing is to take a photo of the finished image before it walks out the door. These photos, or at least the “best” of them, are collected in a binder or portfolio of large-size images representing the tattooists’ best work. Well, to be honest, the actual tattoos aren’t bad (in fact, some are quite good), but the photographs themselves are mostly inferior. I leafed through book after book of out-of-focus, fuzzy images desperately in need of Photoshopping. But even then, most all of them were beyond repair. Many of the artists, in fact, told me point blank that they were terrible photographers. But how can this be? A portfolio is how potential customers judge whether or not they want to hire a particular artist to tattoo them. The images should literally jump off the page and showcase the talent of the person who did the work. It was after viewing book after book after book at booth after booth that I decided it’s definitely time to do something about it.
Starting soon, Tattoo Road Trip will present a new feature, “How to Photograph—For Tattoo Artists,” in which experienced, professional photographers will share their tricks of the trade via easy, step-by-step lessons that will quickly improve the quality of the photos taken by tattoo artists, collectors and just about anyone who wants their body art to look as good as it does in real life. We will be also teaming up with a professional camera supply house in order to provide specific equipment solutions to typical problems. We will even be supply a Q&A section for critiquing actual photos and answering your most off-the-wall questions.
All that said, the Alberta Bound Tattoo & Arts Festival is still my favorite show and, if you missed it, not to worry. The tenth anniversary event will be held next year, October 18th—20th, 2013, at the BMO complex. Knowing Steve and Lindsay, it will be, just like the last nine, an experience you will never forget.
For lots more photos, CLICK HERE
And now a few words from one the of the artists in attendance, Uncle Tim Heitkotter.
Did you ever have one of those trips where it seems like almost everything is going wrong and you try extra hard not let it all annoy you? This Calgary trip was like that from the start. Right off the bat I get a call at home in Kauai from the hosting Delta Bow Valley Hotel informing me that the Canadian government hit me with a $109 tariff on my show banner that I shipped off a week earlier. When I arrived at the Calgary airport, it never fails, the Customs officer has to “have a talk” with the tattooed guy (me). Officer Attitude tried his best to find me in the criminal database but came up with nothing, so he hassled me over my work permit for a while. After about an hour he sent me on my way with a smile. I bought a shuttle ticket to the hotel and waited patiently for its arrival in a nice cushy chair provided by a very clean Calgary airport.
Honestly, I expected that Canada would be somewhat like the U.S., but I was definitely in another country. I saw 24-hour clocks, the metric system and slippery, plastic money. It seemed that everywhere I went around town the women had knee-high leather boots. It had snowed on Thursday.
As I unpacked, I noticed that my lamp had broken into three pieces. I would need to find a Home Depot or a Loweʼs somewhere to replace it. But for now, I needed to find a market to supply the fridge in my hotel room. Luckily, I found a super-clean grocery store only a fifteen minute walk away from the Delta hotel.
Things were looking up. The rooms were clean and roomy with a big-screen TV, a plump, cushy bed with five big fluffy pillows and a big air purifier. I had an excellent view of the Calgary skyline complete with road construction that continued through the night. The room was well insulated, so I didnʼt hear a thing. The hotel staff was friendly and very professional. In fact, the concierges went out their way to help me with every little request.
On Friday, I bummed a ride from one of the local artists I met at the hotel and walked through the rear entrance to the registration booth. Steve Peace greeted me by name, with a smile and a handshake. Steve told me he would find me a lamp. Their staff also located a massage table for me later the next day.
All the artists had to attend one of the “health talks” before getting their hall passes. Dave Idra gave the talk to about fifty artists. I knew Dave from a course I took from him at an APP (Association of Professional Piercers) conference in Vegas a few years back. Dave and his assistant basically drove home the point that we had to use only the products supplied by Eikon, including sterile rinse water and sterile water infused with soap for our tattoo procedures (no green soap). Dave also emphasized that health board officers would also be in attendance, so it was important that we comply or we would not be allowed to tattoo, if we violated any of their rules. Some of the attendees were complaining about an approved ointment product that had given them some nasty reactions and they refused to use it. That aside, we were only in the meeting for about fifteen minutes.
I have never attended this show, so I only knew what to expect from the instructions emailed to us by Steve and the talk given by Idra. My old pal Bob Baxter and other artist friends have told me great things about the show, and Steve agreed to save me a booth free of charge. He didnʼt do this because Iʼm somebody special, I might add. He also “comps” booths to long distance travelers to help with their expenses. Thatʼs the kind of guy Steve is.
As I began to set up, I noticed my power supply had also become damaged beyond repair, as loose parts were rattling around in it. Steve brought me a brand new Eikon Power supply and a lamp. The show was held in a huge warehouse-like room with plenty of large overhead halogen lights and a hard, cold concrete floor. The booths were more than ample size with large tables to work off of. I was to share a booth with a wonderful man from Tahiti named Tautu. It was a good pairing, as we worked very well with each other. I learned a little more about Marquesian tattooing from him. We had fun watching each other work, and there was plenty of teasing . Tautu, his wife and I made fast friends and Sunday I even tattooed a little dragonfly on her foot. There was a huge stage constructed off to one side with plenty of bizarre acts that I never got to see. I just stayed busy and the only time I really had to walk around was before the show started or going back and forth to get the free supplies I needed from Eikon. Believe me when I say that they really worked hard at making things run like a well-oiled machine. Itʼs obvious that theyʼve been putting on this show for a long time. Of course, there are always the usual unexpected problems, but they were handled swiftly. More that I can say about many shows Iʼve been to.
Fridayʼs attendance was much busier than the usual mediocre crowd you normally see on the first day of a three-day show. It was packed. Right out of the gate I did a sexy hula girl on a guy Iʼd tattooed back in Hanalei. I didnʼt take appointments for this show, as I have several customers in the Calgary area. I did plenty of walk-ins on Saturday and Sunday. Most of them were small, but interesting themes. The crowd was upbeat and excited to be there. One of my regular customers that Iʼve tattooed back on Kauai brought me a “fatty” and a CD with about 900 songs to add to my already eclectic music program at the shop. What an awesome tip. I also ran into several artists that I hadnʼt seen in years. The weekend went by really fast. I must admit that I had a hard time with most of the supplies they handed out in these big plastic bags. Each of the supplies, themselves, were wrapped in little white plastic bags and they all looked the same. Setting up and finding what you needed was like finding a Chiclet in a bowl of teeth, especially since I donʼt use many of the products that they handed out nor did I recognize any of the brand names. Because of the plastic wrapping, when you set them on your table, they kept sliding off onto the floor. Next time I come Iʼm going to bring some kind of organizer box to sort everything.
The Health Board official assigned to my area was a very sweet young woman, who was polite and very helpful. She informed me that there were plenty of things I could have brought myself as long as they fit the criteria. I could have used my own disposable needles, tubes and inks, as long as they were bought from a manufacturer, had expiration dates and lot numbers on them. I think Iʼll bring most of my own supplies next time. It takes plenty of precious time walking back and forth to get needles, ink colors and other supplies that I could have brought myself. I know Steve wanted to make it easier for us by having us pack light, but there are certain things that make it easier by having right in front of you. One of the highlights is having hand-washing sinks scattered about the hall. EVERY show needs these. I understand the motivation behind the current system and what the health board is trying to accomplish and I applaud their efforts. Iʼm sure Steve was doing his best to satisfy them and keep everybody safe.
Another problem I had is the same complaint many of us tattoo artists have which is common at most tattoo conventions. All we had at the show to eat was stadium food. Burgers, hot dogs and fries. They did have a greasy veggie burger that was so-so and a tiny veggie dip, but when I brought this up to Steveʼs wife, Lindsay, she mentioned that the BMO Centre would not allow them to provide or bring in any foodstuff at all. Itʼs part of the contract to secure a space. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, like me, youʼre screwed. I had to eat before the show at 10 a.m. and tough it out on Friday and Saturday until 1 a.m., when I got back to my hotel room refrigerator, which I had stocked the previous day. The hotel restaurant was closed by then so, if you werenʼt into bar food, you would have to take a cab into town and try to find a restaurant that was open that late. That is, if you didnʼt stock your fridge, like me. Even if the show is located at a hotel, the hours run late and the hotel restaurants are usually closed by the time you get done tattooing.
I am delighted that the Health Board in Calgary is taking such an interest in the safety of tattooing. However, it is ultra-important to have the tattoo artists involved in the construction of these laws, because we all know what happens if we let the government do it unassisted. Our own laws in Hawaii are in serious need of an upgrade, and this Calgary show could be used as a model. Shows that need a shuttle to their facility instead of having the event right at the hotel are a pain, too. It was explained to me, by Lindsay, that the Calgary show is so big that no local hotel facility can handle the demands of such a large crowd, so that possibility is out of the question. At least, for now. Yes, it was a very busy show. The Alberta Bound Tattoo Arts Festival is a great show with TONS of talented tattoo artists from around the globe, a huge enthusiastic crowd and lots of activities. It was an honor to be included. I made several new friends, saw some old ones and I felt like I was treated with dignity and respect. Despite some small glitches here and there, I feel the show went smoothly. When the shuttle was finally up and running, it ran like clockwork by cheerful volunteers. Steve and Lindsay Peace were more than gracious and went out of their way to make sure everybody got what they needed.
When I had the chance, I got to see some excellent tattoo art, especially from my new friend, Tautu. Happily, my old pals, Bob Baxter and photographer Bernard Clark were there covering the show and keept me company. Another highlight was finally eating at the hotel restaurant Sunday night and having a five bean ragout fagioli. One of the best meals Iʼve ever had. Altogether, it was a good trip and I would definitely like to come back next year (better prepared), if Steve will have me. Thank you, Calgary, for showing me a good time.
Faithful servant to the trade,
—Uncle Tim Heitkotter
P.S. I shot a 92, with crappy rental clubs at the Fox Valley Golf Course on Monday afternoon. I lost three balls, but, found four brand new ones. Sometimes when it rains, you get waterfalls.