Picnic at Hanging Rock #6 - Craigy Lee

Published: 31 May, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 199, May, 2011

Well as the old saying goes, conventions over here seem to be like buses, you wait ages for one then they all come at once! This month I have two conventions  in two different cities in a week.

The Sydney tattoo expo is undoubtedly the highlight in a lot of peoples convention calendar, now in its third year, last years expo attracted some 20,000 people and this year they are expecting even more. Part of this is due to the exceptional advertising campaign that the organisers have plastered across the city as well as full page adverts in most of the national and a few international magazines over the last few months. Many buses in the city have billboards with the expo poster on and the local radio stations are running adverts and plugging the event, taking things to a new level and showing just how mainstream this event is.

Due to our schedule we are only in Sydney for a few days (yes I will be returning later in the year to explore the shops) I’m not working a guest spot either so it gives me the opportunity to actually relax, properly prepare for the show and take in the sights of the city. The venue for the expo is the Olympic park’s purpose built halls and centres for the 2008 Olympic games, a short drive out of the city. We arrive on Thursday afternoon to leisurely set up and get to know the layout, the hall is huge and to be honest pretty soulless but is already full of contractors finishing off last minute preparations and artists making their booths feel like home.

We turn up early on Friday ready for my first appointment, yes that’s right appointments! After the Melbourne show I have a lot of bookings to keep me busy over the weekend so I’m not stressing as much. The queue outside is already stretching down the street and once the doors open the show is very busy indeed. One of the nice things about this show is the booths are in little square blocks with a doorway through to a wash area in the back so all the booths are connected, in between tattoos I could poke my head into other artists booths have a chat and see what they were up to, luckily for me I had a great little block with the guys from Third Eye Tattoo, Luke and Mez from True Love Tattoo, Fingers from Swahili Bobs in Sweden and eak from Thailand. So throughout the weekend I got a decent chance to catch up and see what everyone else was up to. There was also a good sense of camaraderie with the fully booked local artists sending work to the international guys to do.

Mike Devries, Mick Squires and Jasmin Austin shared one of the busiest booths over the weekend, Ruthless from LA Ink also attracted a lot of attention, however it’s finding a new artist that excites me about shows. There was a lot of people I hadn’t met before doing some awesome work, Kat from Cherry Bomb was producing some very girlie new skool colour work, Jess from White Rabbit in New York was creating extremely painterly tattoos and Mitch 13 from Melbourne was turning out beautifully clean traditional pieces.

There was also a skate deck charity auction for Cure For Kids, 50 skateboard decks were painted by artists working the show and sold in a silent auction, the one that rose the most money was by from Rosco at Wicked Ink who sadly passed away a week before the show, but his work mates at the shop managed to bring his last piece of art to the show and raise some money for a
good cause.

After a very busy weekend at the Sydney Expo I have five days to recuperate and drive to Brisbane for the Logan tattoo show. Now a lot of the trip thus far has been planned around Australia’s conventions, the big and the small I tried to attend and work as many as I could while I was in the country, and unfortunately I got onto the Logan show a little late, but decided as I was in the Brisbane for a couple of months it would be a worthwhile endeavour to get a trade stall and sell some original watercolour paintings, sketchbooks, flash, prints and give out some of my cards and get to know the people and shops in the area.

Leaving Sydney behind, the 1000km trip to Brisbane really didn’t seem that daunting compared to the ridiculous driving we did earlier in the year. The nice thing about the eastern side of Australia is there are a lot more towns and places to stop off and as we get further north the climate becomes a lot more tropical and humid. I think we are escaping the cold! Escaping the cold yes, escaping the rain? Not quite.

We arrive in Brisbane and get to our apartment and unpack - the first time I have completely unpacked my suitcase this year, hanging clothes up in a cupboard seems amazing, but sadly this is the end of the road for my suitcase, a broken handle, missing wheel and a split side have pretty much rendered
it worthless.

Acacia Ridge Hotel is home to the show which is in its 9th year meaning it is well organised and running smoothly,with the hotel being split onto two levels, with the artists work upstairs. There are only 16 artists working but they are all in a competition in Australia’s only “ink off”, competing against each other they have five hours to complete a tattoo in the eight different categories. The Logan Tattoo Show is like no other convention I have ever been to and the main attraction is the tattoo competition with 28 categories. Anyone can enter and this is a big draw for tattoo enthusiasts wanting to show off their ink and it’s packed, I have never experienced anything like it, scores of people have entered each category and they literally queue to get on stage to show off their painted body parts. In some categories there are three lines of entrants who have to swap round on the stage to be seen. Totally insane. It kicks of at 3pm and as you can imagine goes on late into the evening with the working artists categories being judged midway through.

There is also an art gallery with tattoo art from all over Australia and this room has a booth housing Dr. Rev - the blood painter. Surrounded by four walls of glass with round air holes, he looks like Hannibal from Silence of the Lambs secluded in his enclosure and in a strange juxtaposition he shares his space with vintage clothing and book stalls as well as an outside seating area and a stage for the bands.  Downstairs is one larger room with the stage for the competitions, in the morning there is live art fusion which is great to watch, there are TV screens throughout the venue and a live feed is constant during the day so no matter if you’re in the bar upstairs, the artist area or watching the band outside you can always see what is going on in the main room downstairs. One of the nicer things about the conventions in Australia being within a few months of each other is you get to meet a lot of people and see them again at the different shows, and working almost every show this year its nice to see different tattooers again and again, it makes me feel less homesick.

Most of the working artists are from Queensland - all personally selected and invited by the event organisers. Mick Squires is up from Melbourne to take part, the guy gets around which is nice especially as a lot of bigger artists wouldn’t bother with the smaller one day shows. I think this is probably why he has gotten so well known over the past couple of years, as well as being a great artist he sure does work hard to get his name out and get people to see him.

While a lot smaller than the booming exhibition halls of the larger shows in Australia, the Logan show is extremely busy, people were very interested in buying my water colour paintings and prints and other local artists also had stalls selling original oils and acrylics. Having a stall and not tattooing is a bit of an unfamiliar luxury for me, not only can I enjoy a drink, I can also get around and see everything. There were a lot of heavily tattooed people at the show and the standard of work across the board was pretty exceptional, with work of this calibre on the large majority of the public I can’t wait to start work next week and see what the tattoo gods deliver!


Text & Photography: Craigy Lee