Tattoo Freeze (2010)

Published: 19 August, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 183, March, 2010

Every now and then a new tattoo show appears on the UK calendar that changes the way conventions are run, giving some convention organisers a kick up the rear end as to how to improve their own shows. Tattoo Freeze was that show.

From pretty much the dawn of time in tattoo conventions, there was the Dunstable tattoo show. This was a groundbreaking convention that really did set the standard for tattoo shows pretty much world-wide, with its heady mix of international tattooists, stage shows, strippers, music and much more. Before the day of Dunstable, tattoo ‘meetings’, as they were called, were basically that; a small, smoky room filled with tattooists talking and showing off their work. Dunstable took these meetings to a new level and paved the way forward for the shows we now attend all over the world. Luckily, as Dunstable ended, other innovative show organisers (usually tattooists) decided that putting on shows that would be good for the industry. A few small shows popped up here and there giving the tattoo fans somewhere to go chat and show off their ink.

Then there was Mantra. Mantra was again an innovator on the tattoo scene. Mark and his team from Mantra Tattoos in Cheltenham realised there was something missing and went all-out to create a tattoo convention to rival all. By now we were getting used to seeing some big named foreign artists coming over to work the shows and Mark brought over guys like Paul Booth, Bob Tyrrell, and many other international faces that we would not have access to unless we jumped on a plane that flew to their respective countries. Held at the Cheltenham racecourse, Mark used the space wisely and added another dimension by giving the show attendees stilt walkers, graffiti displays and more, all in one huge venue. Sadly, Mantra moved on and the show scene seemed a little, erm, ‘flat’ after such a show. Okay, there have been many other conventions that have sprung up since, with lots being very well run and again, offering the public and wide choice of superb tattoo artists to the general public; to such an extent that the scene has almost reached saturation point, but nothing seemed to fill Dunstable’s and Mantra’s shoes.

There just seemed to be a small gap in the tattoo market that needed filling with more than just a venue with tattoo artists working in.

That’s the gap that Tattoo Freeze seems to be trying to fill.

The organisers of Tattoo Freeze also run the successful Tattoo Jam convention in Doncaster and are the publishing company that produces Skin Deep, Skin Shots International and Tattoo Master magazines.

The idea behind the ‘Freeze’ was to produce a one-day show (itself innovative, as most shows these days are held over two, sometimes three) and to give the show-going public more to see and do at a tattoo convention. We must have all been at a show where you wander around the booths, watch the work being done, maybe get a pint and a bite to eat, and then what? Do it all over again? There had to be a solution.

The organisers having run two successful Tattoo Jams realised that to keep folk occupied it was time to showcase other forms of art; all based around the tattoo industry and it peripheries.

The tattoo industry has grown beyond all expectations over the past fifteen years, seeing tattoo designs on clothing, in books, on skateboards, on the bodies of many a rock star and movie actor, so the highlight this, Tattoo Freeze was launched with its motto “It’s all about fantastic tattoo art”. And that’s what Tattoo Freeze was all about.

So on the Sunday 17th of January, the doors opened at the Telford International Centre to a very healthy crowd, all waiting to see what delights were available inside.

The Freeze organisers had spent a long, hard few months prior to the show to fill the vast space with not only top-notch tattooists but a plethora of custom cars, choppers, trikes, and a host of vendors selling everything from jewellery, clothing to paintings to vintage records.

The hall was split into various different areas, each one showcasing a different form of art and tattoo-related theme. In the main hall was of course - not forgetting this was a tattoo show - the artists. On the day there were close to sixty international tattooists working in spacious booths. Some of the artists had travelled a good distance to attend, many coming from America, others from New Zealand, Borneo and many European countries, and considering this was a one-day show, it was good to see them. Most who travelled from abroad had pre-arranged guest spots lined up for after the show, making the most of their trip over here.

Quite a few of the foreign artists has not previously set foot in the UK, so it was quite a coup that they should choose to make the trip to Telford. Amongst those breaking their UK cherry were the wonderful and incredibly talented Sweet Laraine, Tim Orth, and Darwin Enriquez. The list was based on the old adage ‘quality, not quantity’ and as such artists like Nate Beavers form the States, Lionel Fahy from France, Ernesto from the Borneo Headhunters, Sebo from Austria and others like Peter Bobek and Musa from the Czech Republic…the line-up was truly an international affair.

As well as the top international artists, the UK was well represented by this country’s top tattooing talent, with the likes of Lou Molloy, Rob Ratcliffe, Oddboy, Sean ‘Woody’ Wood, Tem Sosa, Nigel Kurt and many others, all handpicked by the Freeze team to represent the best in tattooing talent.

Most of the artists had either pre-booked work for the day or some were happy to work on a first come, first served basis, but all as I wandered around the booths were busy for the duration of the show.

I spent most of the day on the photographic plinth in the ‘Freeze lounge’, a dedicated area where folk could come into, chill out on the comfy sofas, read a magazine or just watch Alex and I taking photos. See, we do work for a living! This was quite odd being a ‘part’ of the attractions during the day, but I think we looked professional enough. Sort of...

Whilst in this prime photographic position, We got to see some incredible work, although due to the sub-zero temperatures we had been experiencing three weeks prior to the show and folk had just come in from a freezing fog-ridden Telford; it was a little difficult to get folk to disrobe so I could spot the tattoos, but the venue soon warmed up with the amount of bodies and the tattoos started to become more visible as the day went on.

Also with the judging stage directly behind the photo booth, I got to see all the entries for the competitions and boy, it must have been a mammoth task deciding who should win what. The quality was very impressive and as for the Best of Day category – blimey – all the entries deserved an award of their own, such was the skill and diversity of the work coming past my camera lens.

Elsewhere in the centre, there were, as previously stated, a plethora of other attractions to see, and in many cases, do. Those gods of graffiti, the Graffiti Kings were on hand to decorate a huge 48ft by 8ft wall with some stunning results. On the back of said wall, some of the ‘Kings’ were also on hand to give the public lessons in their chosen field.

The end result was very impressive and it was good to see the transitions in styles between each artist coming together to create a visually stunning piece of art.

Also to keep the public occupied was a large skateboard ramp/half pipe with live demonstrations of both skateboards and BMX taking place during the day. The crowds were also encouraged to have ago under the watchful eyes of some of the UK’s top exponents on both two and four wheels. I loved the guys on the BMXs doing their ‘thing’ and some of the tricks were amazing. I was tempted to have a go but old bones take a long time to heal so I thought better of it. The guys and girls had a good crowd cheering them on all day too.

If throwing yourself into the air wasn’t quite your thing then you could spend the day wandering about the ‘oh-so-cool’ custom cars and bikes on display. Sadly, some of the displays didn’t turn up but with the whole country enveloped in over a foot of snow prior to the day, I can’t say I blame them for not wanting to drive on the salt-covered roads. Having said that, some die-hards did make the journey to Telford with some eye-wateringly wonderful machines.

Phil Piper made it up with a selection of his creations from his bike shop, Choppershack, as did a wonderfully painted Custom Bill’s Triumph Rocket 3 motorcycle, which is going around the country to raise money for the Help for Heroes Campaign and hopes to raise £1m for the charity. This bike a had a music system on it that would put to shame many a ‘yoof’s’ Clio or Saxo hatchback, the sound was incredible!

There was an amazing pair of vans driven all the way over from Poland for the event and the paintwork on both was to die for. One had probably the best skull/flame paint job I had ever seen, whilst the other was an homage to the film Madagascar; again, the paintwork was stunning and a real testament to the airbrush artist.

Also on display was a very cool VW Bay window camper with exquisite paintwork inspired by the film the Matrix.

Talking of airbrush artists, there were also live demonstrations on this hard-to-grasp art form. My favourite car of the show had to be the blood red Pontiac, lowered to within an inch of its life (indeed, it can’t have been more than an inch or so off the ground!). This car and the others all drove up and the quality of the whole build was amazing to say the least.

To be honest I would have been proud to have any of the vehicles on display sat at home in my garage.

As Tattoo Freeze’s motto was ‘all about fantastic art’, I wandered over the very well put together art exhibition. This area was sponsored by, which is the UK’s biggest online tattoo community, hosting Skin Deep’s lively forum. The exhibition was run by Lisa and Paula, two active members of the forum, who both brought some of their wonderful works of art along to display, as did many other members to create a very healthy selection of diverse and individuals pieces, many of which were for sale. I have to say that I didn’t see a single piece of work that I would not have taken home, but sadly my bank balance would not allow me.

Alongside the art gallery was the 1st National Tattoo Photography awards. This is a great idea and there were some really nice photographs on display, giving those who like to take a position at the back of a lens a chance to showcase their talents. There were sadly not as many entries I thought there would be, but being the first year, sometimes good ideas like this can take a while to get going. I can imagine next year there will be a much larger response so get your cameras out and start shooting those tattoos!

As seems to be the norm at larger conventions, there were four canvases and paints set out for an ArtFusion project, but this seemed to descend into a kindergarten-style painting free for all, with many members of the public deciding to have a go and thus the canvases seemed to get defaced with not too much art going on them. This area needs proper supervision if it is to work again next year. I understand that the artists working the show are doing just that, working, but maybe with some better supervision and liaison between the artists, there could have been some really nice artwork produced.

As the day progressed I heard from the ticket office that they had run out of wristbands, such was the interest in the show, so a rubber stamp was quickly put into good use. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of folk that had turned up for the single day show, proving that the interest in not only tattoos and tattooing but in all other forms of art are alive and well. Sadly, the bar suffered and sold out of most of the alcohol early on but extra supplies were drafted in. This is quite often the case at many shows; the organisers tell the venue managers that tattooed folk are thirsty folk but they never quite believe this until it’s too late. Still, it did not detract from the great feeling atmosphere of the day too much.

After hanging up my ‘closed’ sign on the photo booth, I took the chance to have a wander around the artists’ booths to see what was taking place tattoo-wise.

As I mentioned earlier, all the artists were hard at work, even those that their clients cancel, they all picked up extra work during the day.

The Austrian artist, Sebo, was hard at it producing some incredible, almost surreal and Cubist style tattoo on chap’s thigh. Sweet Laraine was working on a great looking old-style telephone on another artist’s neck. Emma Kierzek from Aurora Tattoo in Lancaster was applying a lovely Gil Elvgren-style pin-up on a chap’s arm and this won Best Black and Grey in the competitions later that day.

Also Alex De Pasé from Italy had a good seven hour tattoo done on our Faye (Skin Deep’s girl) - she had an amazing Day of the Dead style girl’s head surrounded with probably the most realistic roses I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. The tattoo is even more amazing now it is healed.

There was the best Hellboy portrait I have seen to date done by John Anderton of Nemesis Tattoos, Again my picture just doesn’t do it any justice at all, I’m afraid. Lionel Fahy from Out of Step in France spent the entire day working on a guy’s arm with wondrous results: Lionel’s work is not to everyone’s taste but his use of large, sweeping lines, crosshatching and solid black work just seems to work perfectly every time.

Nate Beavers from the States was one of the first to create colour portraits that seem to be the norm in America at the moment and he produced a great portrait of the rapper Biggie Smalls that Mr Small’s mum would have been proud of.

My favourite tattoo of the weekend was from an artist called Musa from Tribo Tattoos in the Czech Republic, who tattooed a very colourful and abstract humming bird onto a lady’s back in bright reds and blues, the depth and movement he got from the lines is nothing short of amazing.

During the day, the organisers put on continuous heats of what has fast become a hit sport over here, roller derby. Having the room to host such and event, the TF team had invited several teams to battle it out for the title of roller derby winners of Tattoo Freeze. Now I know this is becoming a must-see event with many teams getting together from up and down the country, but I have to say I spent quite a long time watching and photographing the heats and at the end of the day; I still did not understand what the hell was going on! Still it looked good, noisy fun and the response from the crowds was great.

As the day wore on and the artists were mostly finishing up on their last tattoos of the day, it was tie for the Best of Day judging to take place. Again, this was hotly contested as obviously all tattoos done at the show were executed by the handpicked artists, so the quality was amazing. But at the end of the day there could only be one winner, and that was Emma Kierzek from Aurora Tattoo!

With the awards over, it was time to break down the show and as many of the artists went back to their respective hotels – both conveniently situated next to the venue - many reflected on what a great event Tattoo Freeze was.

This was a big gamble on the behalf of the organisers as one-day shows have a history of not really working in the UK but Tattoo Freeze may well have bucked the trend for this. The crowds were testament that a one-day show can work and with the organisers hoping to improve and expand on the activities taking place at Tattoo Freeze, 2011 promises to be an even bigger
and better event.

Watch this space!


I love irony; it’s one of the many things guaranteed to make tea come out of my nose (and within the opening sentence, I’ve given you, dear reader, a delightful mental image) and sure enough, Tattoo Freeze arrived in the midst of a two week-long exhalation of Boreas’s breath that would have made even the hardiest polar bear turn the thermostat up a smidgen.

So yes, it was far beyond frozen when we arrived in a fog-smothered Telford on Saturday afternoon to survey our home for the next 24 hours, and with just ten minutes spent in the venue, both Neil and I had our questions answered as to how Freeze would be so radically different from other conventions.

Graffiti, cars and bikes have been long-established elements (if only separately) of many UK shows and of course, the London convention was one of the pioneers of the ArtFusion movement, but the organisers intended to merge the amassed array of custom vehicles, roller girls, skateboarding and BMX displays, graffiti artists, and of course, the tattooists, between two open-plan areas and all under the same roof.

Ambitious? Of course, but to serve up something new to the UK tattoo scene, a few proverbial eggs necessitated breaking.

Timing was a crucial factor in arranging this show and being just two weeks after the festive season, turnout was certainly not assured. However, cometh the hour, cometh a sizeable crowd almost out of nowhere on Sunday morning, emerging from the fog in a manner akin to ghosts, making their way to the doors. And they just kept on arriving! The convention began at ten a.m. sharp and a mass of people flooded into the hall, yet there was no abatement to this and a queue for tickets steadily continued until well past three in the afternoon. For a one-day convention in early January, such a crowd is astounding, almost unbelievable, and Telford International Centre was soon reverberating with the sounds of chatter, machines spluttering into life, the roller girls contesting their early bouts, and the skateboarders and BMX riders warming up for some gravity-defying tricks to come later in the day.

As the crowds filtered and divided around the tattooists’ booths upon their first entry into the hall, they were met with the Gallery, featuring a fantastic selection of art in a smorgasbord of media and available to purchase there and then – even I couldn’t leave empty-handed. This provided an opportunity for a collective from the BTP community to bring together their amassed canvases and introduce themselves and their work to the wider tattooing family, which, for my money, is a wonderful means of casting deserved light and attention on artists who are creating purely for the love of it. The gallery was organised by Lisa and Paula from the BTP forum and I really hope it returns for another outing, such was the time and effort these ladies put into bringing it all together. The ArtFusion area sat nearby but sadly didn’t quite pan out as was hoped, and became something of a free-for-all amongst members of the public and a platoon of small children armed with paintbrushes and maniacal grins. Words like ‘abstract’ and ‘nouveau’ surge forth as means to describe the sight, but if it encourages people to pick up a paintbrush and try their hand at painting, more power to them; perhaps this could be integrated next year as a separate entity - a public ArtFusion project.

I was privileged to interview a handpicked selection of tattoo artists for to add a new dimension to Skin Deep’s convention coverage, and you can see the results on the website. I shot the breeze with Andy Engel, Galen McHatton, Sweet Laraine, and Ernesto Kalum for the benefit of the camera, and they all generously gave their time on a day when they were all very busy indeed. Keep your eyes on the website for these exclusive interviews.

The judging was a hotly contested affair that pitted some truly breathtaking pieces of work against one another, and the tattoo arbiters (Mick McCormack of Underground Tattoo, Brim of Nu Rose and Juliet of Studio 81) had an almost Sisyphean task before them in selecting the winners. The spoils were dished out with a stunning glass trophy and all of the winners deserved their plaudits in what were tough categories.

Pitched as a social event to promote the crossover between tattoo art and its many tributaries, Tattoo Freeze managed to bridge the often vast expanse between them and unite not just a cross-section of art forms, but also a cross-section of people. Being tattooed does not immediately mean that you share the same interests and pastimes as other tattoo collectors, and so by showcasing something for everyone, Tattoo Freeze unified people and perhaps even ignited their passion for a whole new world of previously undiscovered pursuits.


Our studio was on a stage; people would be watching us work; our secrets would be revealed; our mojo secreted away - not that we have any; we just like to pretend that we have Jedi-like powers. The photo booth/stage resided in an enormous lounge area, complete with sumptuous sofas and magazines galore for the convention punter to digest a few issues of Skin Deep or Skin Shots whilst watching us work. People did seem a little reluctant to step into the Freeze Lounge, perhaps perceiving it as a VIP area, so hopefully there will be more signage next time around to let all know that it’s open to everyone! The notion of allowing people to observe us at work was unique for us, showcasing exactly how we go about capturing footage for the magazines, which led to something of a crowd forming to watch our tattoo documentary - it therefore must have been interesting to a degree. There were a few problems caused by budding photographers’ flashes setting off our lights and us having to time our snaps perfectly. Speaking of which…it’s bloody hard to feel like a rock star when holding a camera and struggling to comprehend why the flash isn’t going off when you try to finally take the shot, only to discover you’ve pulled the lead out of the camera…  


Small Colour

Zoe by Sweet Laraine @ Element Tattoo, TX, USA

Large Colour

Jon by Mat Lapping @ Inkwerx, Hull

Small Black & Grey

Paul by Nigel Kurt @ Funhouse Tattoo, Barnsley

Large Black & Grey

Stephen by Lou Molloy @ Middleton Tattoo Studio, Manchester

Tribal & Celtic

Fred by Tommy @ No Regrets, Cheltenham


Hervey by Bit @ Ethno Tattoo, Lausanne, Switzerland


Jason by Andy Engel @ Andy’s Tattoo Studio, Kitzingen, Germany

Best of Convention

Ben by Emma Kierzek @ Aurora Tattoo, Lancaster


Text & PHOTOGRAPHY: Neil & Alex


Skin Deep 183 1 March 2010 183