Here Come the Vikings - Copenhagen Ink Festival 2011

Published: 22 June, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 200, June, 2011

It’s 2:20 pm, and people in the line in front of the old brewery hall TAP1 are starting to get impatient. There are probably about a hundred people waiting to get into Copenhagen Ink Festival 2011, which was supposed to start 20 minutes ago..

The reaction is perhaps understandable, because some of the people in line have been waiting a lot longer than 20 minutes for a chance to go to a tattooing convention in Copenhagen. In fact it’s been ten years since the last tattooing convention was held in the Danish capital... after about five more minutes the doors finally open, and people start pouring in. Shortly after that, a faint buzzing signals that a few of the artists have already started to work on their first tattoos. There are a total of around 150 tattoo artists at the convention, which makes it the biggest tattoo convention in Scandinavia. Every artist has been personally invited by the mastermind of the convention, Alex, owner of the Danish tattoo studio Rites of Passage.

“I was so tired of other artists asking me, why there was no convention in Copenhagen. So I decided to invite all my friends here, and they just happen to be some of the best artists in the business,” he says with a grin.

And there definitely are a lot of notables present at the convention. One of them is Bob Tyrell. Curious people swamp his booth, and he seems to be constantly answering questions and talking to people, but he’s only planning to do one tattoo on each of the convention’s three days. There are a lot of distractions, so it takes longer to do the tattoos, he tells us.

“And actually I mostly come here to see my friends. I love travelling and I’ve got friends all over the world, but it’s kind of getting harder and harder to do these conventions. I’d rather work at my shop,” he says, adding: “But I really like it here so far. Everybody’s cool and we can work late, and there are so many great artists.”

The first award of the convention is for the best small tattoo, and it goes to Electric Linda from Attitude Tattoo in Norway for a palm-sized colour tattoo of two red roses. She also gets a trophy for a second place in the contest for best new school tattoo. But despite the awards it’s pretty much business as usual afterwards in the Attitude Tattoo booth, although the trophies are lined up side by side.

“On one side these awards mean nothing but on the other side they mean everything, because it’s a symbol of doing something, that I’m proud of. Also it makes people feel safer, when they can see, that I’m good at what I do. So you could say, that it mostly matters for the people. It’s good PR,” Electric Linda says.

She was also at the last tattoo convention in Copenhagen ten years ago, and according to her, Copenhagen Ink Festival is something completely different.

“There’s a huge difference, also compared to today’s conventions in the rest of Scandinavia. This is more like the big conventions like Tattoo Jam,” she says.

The Danish tattoo artists are especially thrilled that there’s finally a tattoo convention in Copenhagen again. According to Henning Jorgensen from Royal Tattoo it’s great to finally be able to show some more quality tattoos to the Danish public.

“A lot of the Danes don’t even know about the diversity of different tattooing styles, so this is really good for them. It gives them a chance to try something new,” he says.

That’s why he’s devoted most of his time on the convention to talk to the visitors. Not because Royal Tattoo needs more customers, but because he feels that it’s important to get a dialog going with people to eliminate fears and prejudice, though he thinks that the Internet has already to some extent helped to accomplish this:

“At the last convention here ten years ago, a lot of the foreign artists were just sitting in their booth playing chess, because they had nothing to do. The Danish people simply didn’t know, what they were missing. This has changed during the last ten years, and the foreign artists seem really happy to be here.”

Looking around the convention, it looks like Henning is right. The non-Danish artists certainly don’t suffer from a lack of interest from the visitors. Especially during Saturday and Sunday the aisles are filled with curious people and customers deciding on their new tattoo. 

But in one corner of the convention, there is no buzzing. This is the corner of the tattoo artists working manually without a machine. One of the artists here is Lawrence Ah Ching from Le Segaula Tattoos. Together with his colleague Kasala Sanele he’s making tattoos in the traditional Samoan way: a stick with a needle in the end and another stick to repeatedly tap the needle into the skin. He’s in Copenhagen on a mission:

“Traditional Samoan tattooing has become very popular in the UK, and we hope to make it more known in Denmark. There are very few of us, that are doing the traditional Samoan tattooing, so it’s important that we come here and show of our stuff,” he says.

In this corner of the convention we also find Colin Dale from Skin and Bone. He’s doing tattoos the traditional Viking way with a single needle on a handle made from animal bone. Although he’s doing all the tattoos at the convention this way, he’s still doing some of his tattooing in his shop with a machine. But he feels that this way of tattooing offers people something more.

“When you include culture in the process itself, the tattoo becomes something more profound. It forms a stronger bond. Sometimes when you get older, you’ll find that you have outgrown some of your tattoos, but when the tattoo is part of your culture, it continues to be part of you,” he says.

Colin Dale took both first and second place in the contest for best tribal/Celtic tattoo, but he actually mostly sees it as a duty for him to participate in the contests in order to make people aware of the diversity in tribal tattoos. He thinks that most people have a far too narrow conception of tribal tattoos. Therefore he has also invited one of his customers to come to the convention and participate in the contest for the weirdest tattoo. His name is Chris Hansen. He’s 24 years old, and he’s drunk. He started the day by drinking white Russians to be ready for what he’s about to do, because according to him, there’s only one way to fully do his tattoo justice, and that is to be completely naked on stage. But he’s determined to do this for Colin Dale.

“He’s given me so much with this tattoo, so I really want to do this for him,” he tells us.

His tattoo is a red line starting on his left wrist and then moving up his arm and around most of his body. Along the line are small symbols like a Viking ship and cave men. The tattoo was his own idea, and he was certain, that he wanted Colin Dale to do it.

“I’m really fascinated by his method, and I like that it’s the traditional way of doing it. And Colin is really a perfectionist. He’s passionate about every prick with the needle,” he says.

Chris, staying true to his word, does the walk past the judges butt naked, and it’s nearly enough, but Chris and Colin have to settle for a second place. It’s hard to win the award for weirdest tattoo, when one of your competitors is a girl with a giant penis tattooed on her thigh with the text "cock sucker" underneath. 

In the opposite end of the hall and far away from the stage Emil Edge from Fish Eye Ink is making the most of a quiet period by doing a custom paint job on a skateboard with acrylic paint. By doing this he hopes to evolve his skills as an artist.

“If I do a tattoo I can make it look exactly like I want it to, but there’s just something about brushes, that don’t make sense to me,” he says.

It’s his first time painting a skateboard, and he’s having a hard time, but he keeps at it.

So it looks like everyone is happy, but no one is as happy as Alex, who has taken the entire convention from idea to realisation. All through the weekend he seems to be everywhere, constantly giving out orders through his walkie-talkie, greeting people or handing out awards. We manage to catch him between two of the last contests to get his evaluation of the convention.

“It’s kind of weird to take a step back and look at everything. It’s taken years of hard work to get here, so it really is a dream come true,” he tells us while smoking a cigarette.

While talking to us, a guy arrives with the official Copenhagen Ink Festival beers for the after party. Keeping in mind that this is his first time hosting a tattooing convention, it’s very much the amount of attention given to small details like this, that impresses the artists at the convention. And that is also the intention, Alex tells us.  

He has done hundreds of conventions himself and he thinks that as an artist, you often find yourself very much alone when attending conventions in other countries. Therefore he has made an effort to make the artists from other countries feel welcome from the minute they arrived in Denmark. There were people picking up the artists at the airport and driving them to their hotel, and right after the convention he’s hosting a massive pig roast for everyone at the after party. So he’s very happy to hear, that the artists appreciate his efforts.

“The response from both artists and customers has been amazing. This is the first time we’re doing this, so a lot of the customers haven’t seen anything like this before, and it completely blew them away. People are already saying that we got to do it again next year.”

But does that mean Copenhagen Ink Festival is here to stay? Alex hesitates and smiles, taking a long drag from his cigarette.

“I’ve nearly lost my voice and my feet are bloody stumps. Right now I just want to sleep. There’s no words for how tired I am,” he says, laughing.

“I need a week, then ask me again.”

At the stage the time has come to give out the Best of Show award. This time the judges really appears to have a hard time deciding and five of the contestants have to get back up on stage to give the judges a second look. But in the end it’s a unanimous decision. Bob Tyrell takes the award for a portrait of a grandfather on the contestant's arm.

A lot of the artists have gathered around the scene, and Alex uses the opportunity to grab the microphone and struggle through an emotional speech. There’s no doubt that this convention means the world to him, and the thunderous applause from the crowd shows that they certainly approve of the result. Today Alex is king and the old brewery hall is his castle.


The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek – founded by Carlsberg tycoon-philanthropist, Carl Jacobsen – built around his personal collections with the main focus being classical Egyptian, Roman and Greek sculptures and a collection of Rodin sculptures that is the largest outside France.  The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek also holds a comprehensive collection of paintings of impressionist and post-impressionist painters such as Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec as well as Danish Golden Age painters.

The Killing

Not normally noted for its contribution to the world of TV and film, this year, the BBC screened the original Danish crime drama, The Killing or Forbrydelsen to give it its original title. Buried in the back of beyond on BBC4, the show soon found itself swamped with viewers as word of mouth spread faster than a bush-fire. It’s success means a return with The Killing 2 on our screens in the Autumn, and has opened some very big doors for the Danes to show the world more of their highly original offerings.

The Winners

Best Small Tattoo: Electric Linda from Attitude Tattoo

Best Black and White Tattoo: Johan from Evil Twin

Best Tattoo on Friday: Victor Portugal from 9th Circle

Best New School Tattoo: Ulrich Krammer from Face the Fact

Best Tribal/Celtic Tattoo: Colin Dale from Skin and Bone

Best Oriental Tattoo: Henning Jorgensen from Royal Tattoo

Best Tattoo on Saturday: Jason Butcher from Immortal Ink

Weirdest Tattoo: Martin from Baby Lou

Best Large Tattoo: Dennis Wehler from Spektrum Art

Best Old School Tattoo: Demon from Bring It On

Best Colour Tattoo: Johan Finne from Evil Twins

Best Realistic Tattoo: Robert Hernandez from Vitamin Tattoo

Best of Show: Bob Tyrell from Night Gallery


Text: Michael Tornsberg; Photography: Jens Thorsen