How do we, as tattooers, define a “good tattoo convention”? For a lot of us, the definition of a good convention is one where we make a bunch of money, and if we don’t then the whole thing is considered a failure. I used to think this way myself, In fact I would get pretty stressed out about it, I wanted to make back my booth fee, cover the hotel, then there was the cost of food and gas for the weekend, in short I used to figure out how much it was costing me to attend the convention and get really really tense until I had made more money than my “investment”. It was like playing the stock market or gambling (and they are basically the same thing only its easier to cheat at the stock market. . .) where I started at a loss and struggled to make my initial money back plus more.
This weekend my wife Cara and I attended Pittsburgh’s Meeting of the Marked convention for what must be the 10th time and I barely made a dime (mostly by choice, but ill get to that later) . Yet it was, without a doubt, the Best Convention I have ever attended. The gentleman who puts it on, Tim Azinger is one of the friendliest and most genuine people one could hope to deal with in a business filled with shysters, thieves, and scumbags who usually are the ones to run conventions. For 19 years Tim has put on a show that feels like a family reunion and Cara and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Like many people I was very motivated by money for most of my life and when money wasn’t there I got upset by it and fearful. It made conventions very stressful. Some years ago I began meditating because all the stress I was going through, it was killing me,( both metaphorically and literally). I wasnt looking for “enlightenment” or an “end to delusion”, I was looking for an end to acid reflux, hypertension, and suicidal thoughts. Worry about money (and a lot of other things) had driven me to look for any means to find refuge from my stress.
Once I had a little while with meditation under my belt, I began to notice that my greed had a way of never being satiated. Ever. Greed had a way of rising to meet whatever I had and saying “not enough”. When I was living on $120 per week working at a camera store it said “not enough” and when I was living on double that amount working in a kitchen it said “not enough’ and no matter how well I have done since then the voice of greed has always said “not enough”, only these days I don’t listen to it so much. I finally realised that if I did the right thing, If I tried my best at whatever job I had and kept treating other people as if I was dealing with myself that I would have enough. In fact what I realized was that it was easier to consider whatever I was making “enough” than to always worry about what I didn’t have.
So at this weekends Meeting of the Marked I deliberately did not set up any appointments, instead I tattooed my friends (for free) and a couple regular customers I like for cheap. I turned down work that would have made some money and sent a couple of my regular customers who wanted me to tattoo them to other tattooers I am friends with. In short, I had fun. This was the most relaxed I have ever been at a convention and I got to talk to more of my peers, to look at really talented people working, to learn some technical tricks, and to just bask in the glow of 100 artists in a room doing what they do best. There is a lot of inspiring energy when you get that many tattooers together and as long as you aren’t obscuring that energy with worry about money you can find yourself recharged and ready to create like a motherfucker!
I gave away more flash and T- shirts than I sold and yet somehow Cara and I ended up with 2 new tattoo machines each , a new painting, and a bunch of new people who want to get tattooed by us (and I still made money). Tattooing as a business, can be a battle or an art. If you see it as a battle then you will have no end of adversaries, struggles, and like any war, everyone comes out damaged, even the “winner”. If you see it as an art then you will have no end of inspiration, co-creators, and everyone comes out uplifted.
Do I sound sappy? Good. Being grateful often sounds sentimental, and I’m tremendously grateful for my life, my work, the people I am inspired by and the chance to try to give back as much as I am given. Some people sat in their booth and struggled to make money this weekend, I joked around with Tim’s son who I first met as a 7-year-old and is now 15, I watched a good friend get a portrait of Kelly Clarkson on his thigh (and he was serious about that shit), I watched an adorable 2 1/2-year-old do the hustle at an Indian restaurant, and I got to watch the love of my life tattoo like she was an old pro and not someone who has only been doing it for 3 or so years. I sat in a room full of friends and realized just how lucky I am to have been born into this life.
This was a very good convention.