Explore the world of body art

Tamara Thorne of the Good Things Tattoo Company works on a rose tattoo at the convention.

What started out as a “guest spot” at a city centre tattoo parlour grew to become the very first tattoo convention in Cape Town.

The South African International Tattoo Convention was held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from Friday March 24 to Sunday March 25.

The convention provided an opportunity for people to get inked by a choice of 80 tattoo artists, local and international, as they showcased their expertise.

The event was the brainchild of Waldo del Rocca, the owner of Cape Electric Tattoos in the city centre, who has travelled extensively and built many relationships in the tattoo industry.

Romy van Tonder, the founding organiser of the event, said Cape Electric Tattoo is at the core of the convention. “Tattooing, like everything else, has evolved in other countries, and in South Africa, it takes more time. What prompoted Cape Electric Tattoos to grow as a business was a greater awareness of tattooing and it getting more accepted.”

She said in the past, the owners of Cape Electric Tattoo had received a lot of requests for guest tattooists. “We would host artists at the store and they would just be either friends or people that randomly found us and asked if they could come.

“We have hosted many individual guests at Cape Electric Tattoos and eventually we had to start declining (requests) because the shop could only accommodate so many people. Sticking 15 guys in the store didn’t make sense, but we needed to create more awareness, so we made it bigger and created an event.

“The more I was working on this event, the more I realised South Africans don’t actually know how many different styles of tattooing there is, and it’s such a pity, so we brought a selection of tattooists from 11 different continents to South Africa.”

Sonja Myburgh, who was part of the organising team of the South African International Tattoo Convention, said a tattooist’s approach to people getting tattooed was very important.

“You have to be friendly and welcoming, so we wanted to bring that comfortable feeling to people who get tattooed and create a bigger platform where people can come into a beautiful environment and get beautiful tattoos.”

She said artists exhibited a wide range of artistic mediums at the convention, from paintings and pins to T-shirts and all their drawn work. “People came expecting to see just tattooing, but there was a wider range of creative art forms.”

She said the internet and social media, sharing quality and improved standards of tattooing, had boosted the industry.

“People can actually see the quality improving and you can see the cultural boundaries of people getting tattooed is not the same anymore. Now it is literally everyone – you, me, your aunt, my dad – it’s everyone. It’s not just a select few anymore.

“Working at a tattoo parlour, you get to work with a lot of people. It’s never the same person, every personality is crazy different and you get to interact with them. All the tattooists are like personality experts because they get to interact with all these different people.

“And tattooists absorb people’s ideas into a good tattoo,” said Ms Van Tonder.

“They get a lot of terrible ideas, so their job is critical in advancing the industry. And I think that tattooists are becoming better at it.

“We’ve seen a wider acceptance of the art and a more liberal group of people – young and old. It’s really about the movement. There was always tattooing and people getting tattooed. There is a rich, long history and that’s what we are trying to focus on because we believe that is the true authenticity of it.”

She said generally, people who get tattooed have bold personalities. “People who have the guts to get a tattoo, I generally find that these people are really cool personalities and that adds another dimension to what we are doing. It’s what draws us to the culture of tattooing.”

Chris de Villiers of Good Things Tattoo Company, in Woodstock, said compared to when he became a tattooist almost six years ago, people are now taking more chances with their tattoos.

“People are moving away from the traditions of getting just one or two tattoos and trying new things. The equipment has also improved, but the basics have remained the same over time.”

Alex Steiger, who has been a tattooist for three years, said growing up, she had been captivated by all her dad’s tattoos and the stories they told.

“Tattoos back then were a lot more serious, like a lifetime commitment, but that doesn’t matter anymore. “Tattoos were criminalised to an extent as well, but now it is freedom of expression, it is celebrated as opposed to spoiled. It is being recognised as something beautiful.”

Andy Ryan Felty, a tattooist from Dallas, in Texas, said tattoos were more widely accepted and had become more popular across the world.

He said while people had the perception that tattooing was more advanced in some parts of the world, this was not necessarily the case.

“The style of tattooing is basically the same around the world. I can pick up something in Texas and bring it to South Africa and its almost streamlined. That’s the cool thing about tattooing.”

Ben McQueen, who owns a tattoo studio in Indianapolis, and works in Los Angeles in America, said there were a lot more people getting tattoos. “A lot of it has got to do with social media and mainstream TV.”

He said that travelling in the tattoo industry is huge, and at the convention, people were able to collect tattoos from all over the world.

“It gave people the opportunity to get inked from someone you don’t know, which is exciting.”

He said tattooing doesn’t change much as you visit different countries. “It’s untainted by technology and is all done manually. You can do it with a machine, which is the same machine used for many years, or you can do it by hand. In Japan, tebori, a practice of tattooing by hand, is a tradition.”