Finally came the weekend when an international tattoo show was arraged in my hometown of Umeå. I remember vividly when about 8-9 years ago a meager attempt was made to organize a small tattoo convention at a place called Scharinska. The disappointment was massive when I walked in and was hit by a heavy stench of urine and vomit. After about 10 minutes I turned around and walked out. I thought at that moment that the hope for a real professional tattoo convention here in Umeå was lost, never to be found again. But I was dead wrong!
This year Anders Wahlström from Port Royal and Oscar Hägglund has pulled their strength together to make another attempt to launch a convention with international standards and great artists. When I first heard about the show I thought …’oh please, do not make the same mistakes again, because then it’s over and out for all eternity in this city! It’s hard for outsiders to understand that statement, but I can shortly say that this little town in north of Swden is high strung on fine culture and for some reason….tattoos don’t fall in that category for those who call the shots. But it sure does for a lot of other people. That’s why this Ume Tattoo Fest was the perfect attempt to put a cultural wedge in that heavy town door.
I got in touch with Anders on FB through one of my friends had told him I ran my project TAP, and that he thought we should talk a little and create a first contact. When I first talked to Anders, and started to get a little feel for their approach and attitude, I knew instantly that this was a very serious attempt to organize a good and moderately large convention. We talked a bit about the tattoo artists from other countries, and I contacted a few. I knew it was not the easiest thing to attract famous names from other countries to an unknown smaller convention in Northern Sweden staged for the first time. Especially when it was at the same exact weekend as the London Tattoo Convention. But I promised that I would get the message out and promote it to get the ball rolling, and create a little curiosity buzz.
After a while I realized that these guys had a good network among the Swedish tattoo artists and was fully capable to invite kick ass tattoo artists themselves. As they began to gradually updated its IG flow with awesome tattoo artist who were attending, I realized that this conventions had great potential to be a success, as long as all the logistics and practical things worked smoothly.
As some of you have understood and read on FB , my life this spring, summer and fall consisted 98% of working as a handyman madman to build and fix on our new house. There are not many hours I have been free from all the different building projects. But I had long since decided that I should at least rip loose and visit the convention for a couple of hours on Friday. I wanted to see how the whole arrangement was put together. But I also of course wanted to meet and talk with some of the tattoo artists that were attending.
As usual, I spent a number of hours of friday afternoon with the house projects. Then suddenly I got a Facebook PM from Jens Bergström who was wondering if I was interested in getting a cool piece on Sunday! I was a little chocked because I was totally bombproof that Jens would be fully booked all weekend long. I had never even thought about the idea of trying to book him. There was no doubt…I just had to make time for this! After a brief reconciliation with my partner, Sofia, we worked around our schedule to make it happen. I confirmed to Jens that it was possible, I could come on Sunday to get tattooed.
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I’m definitely not the type who just drops in and grabs a tattoo flash from the wall. Nope, my tattoo sessions are always preceded by months of preparation, research, reference images and making of Photoshop compositions, as well as a variety of messages and mail to the tattoo artist to reconcile that we are on the same “wavelength”. But suddenly I find myself having to design a basig reference of a tattoo over a night! For me, it’s almost as if someone gives me a 5000 bit puzzles and says; “- There you go, you now have 30 minutes to complete it!”.
But because my brain always has a latent memory bank and a background tattoo design process going on of potential tattoo motifs, it didn’t take too long before my brain popped up two three potential concepts and designs that would suit Jens own style. I became more or less consumed by the countdown project to design a nice looking tattoo reference that I could send to Jens for consultation and approval.
(It’s probably best that I say it right now, that I can not reveal the motif I chose, because we never managed to take a photo of the finished tattoo. I will explain later on why …)
The first subject that I started design was a theme based on a -90s movie. In my head it seemed like the perfect concept, but it turned out to be completely useless when I tried to put it together as a tattoo design. Everything about it felt wrong … so I dropped that idea. Then I picked up another of my tattoo concepts that I’ve had even longer in the tattoo memory bank. I liked the basic idea, but I found it very hard to determine choose how the perfect design would look like.
I slowly began to design and layer a composition in PS. I stuck to it for a few hours to fine adjust, and I believed I had a really good peice taht I could send to Jens. When I then sent the proposal to Jens, he replied that it was good, but maybe it would have had more of “….” in it. I wasn’t really sure I understood what he meant, so I stood my ground and said I was happy with my choice. He said it was a good design, and that we’d run with it.
For some reason, my brain could not stop thinking about what Jens said that it would have been a little more ‘…. “. So in the middle of the night, I started Googling around for some various other reference images. When I woke up early on Saturday morning, it was crystal clear … Jens had been absolutely right. It sure needed more of “….” in it! I threw myself over the computer immediately and began designing a new design. It had made total sense what Jens said, and along with the photos that I have acquired during the middle of the night Google frenzy, I had the vision for a completely new design. When I was finished, and looked at the design from a distance, I felt it was just right. This design was much better. It had a lot more “….” and I felt that it would fit Jens’ signature style better. It was a great relief when I sent the image and was answered by Jens it was a very good design, and that it would fit better as a tattoo!
On Saturday we decided that I would print the tattoo in a variety of convenient sizes and bring them to the exhibition so that Jens could look at them and have a little short consultation whether it would work in practice or not. In that way we would save a lot of time.
Said and done, I went to Ume Tattoo Fest and I met up with Jens. We checked out the tattoo design first to see that there was an adequate size and how it would be placed. We agreed on a larger size, and Jens took the print to study the motif in the evening and prepare for the Sunday before the convention opened, and to prepare the stencil.
We talked for a while about TAP, Jens background and history, as well as some surrounding mass design. For those of you who have not met him so Jens is otherwise a very nice and funny man, and above all very professional tattoo artist in every detail! We said goodby, and Jens went back to the hotel where he was staying.
I stayed at the show an hour extra to go around and meet some tattoo artists and see how the whole exhibition was arranged. My first impression was that it felt very orderly and I got the feeling it was a fair which nevertheless had been able for several years previously. There will be enough when the tattoo artist behind the arrangement course there are details that organizers should look to improve next year, but I am completely convinced that they have sent out follow-up and evaluation of the tattoo artists and visitors who have been . (If not … Anders and Oscar … do it soon, you have won an incredible amount of preparations for next year).
I looked at the Best of Old School competition, and in fact I think that the emcee Robin Wrede did a good job of trying to keep up the pace with a quite conservative audience and contestants. Northern Sweden perhaps doesn’t have the world’s most active convention audience … yet at least 🙂 The jury consisted of three very talented and very experienced tattoo artist. Peppe from Left Hand Tattoo in Pitea, Isaac, from East Street Tattoo in Stockholm and Zooki from The Sailor’s Grave in Copenhagen. If you have not checked out these tattoo artists before… do it!
Sunday started out as it often does, working on the house projects! I spent a few hours of cutting and laying stone. Perhaps I should have taken it a bit easier, resting and filling up with carbohydrates and proteins before the convention. But … nope, I can’t rest knowing I have so much work to do. I shaved my leg to save a bit of time in preparation, packed some comfortable change of clothes, pillows, nuts, bananas and energy drinks to have in my bag as an energy reserve .
I know from experience that it is not the pain of the tattoo that is the problem, but lack of movement for the rest of the body. I also know that I have problems eating heavier meals during a session, because I easily get nauseous. But to avoid letting my blood sugar plunging to the bottom, I fill up with carbohydrates and proteins in the days before, and only eat quick energy stuff during the time of the tattoo. I actually bake my own special power bars to have with me, but this time I had no time to prepare that.
Once I arrived at the convention I found myself standing in a relatively long ticket line. I already knew that the convention arrangement was a success and that there have been many satisfied visitors on both Friday and Saturday. Good thing the people standing in at the ticket counter was fast and efficient, because I didn’t have time to let any valuable time go to waste.
When I finally arrived at the Heavenly Ink’s booth, Jens met up with me and straight away began to prepare the stencil and attach it to my leg. The motif size was already decided the day before, and now it was mostly about getting it placed in a good way so that it had a harmonious line to follows the calf without it wrapping and distorting the important parts.
Jens is undoubtedly professional in all aspects, and very focused on his task. I personally am the sort of customer who does not want to see on the tattoo until it is completely finished. It may sound strange to some people, to do so, but it’s a trust thing I do every time I hand over the control to the tattoo artist. However, I had time to observe how Jens worked with the machine and how he systematically worked my skin. I don’t think I’ve ever got tattooed by someone who have been so soft and flexible in the movements of the machine. It was so to speak, an appropriate amount of pain and high satisfaction safety factor throughout the entire session.
We agreed to compete in the Best of Show with our tattoo, but that also meant a little extra concentration and performance from Jens’s side to make it in time. I had just enough time to run and grab a number from the office, and then Jens added the last white in the tattoo just as they started advertising the contest from the scene. We didn’t have time to cool the tattoo or lubricate it properly, so we cleaned it quickly and I grabbed a paper towel to wipe away the blood that pressed on some parts of the tattoo. Waiting for the jury to call all the contenders to the stage, I padded the tattoo with the paper towel. It stopped bleeding, but the tattoo was obvious red and swollen. Even though I looked at the tattoo upside down, I realized that it didn’t look optimal like this. But I didn’t really care, I was super happy, and I knew it was going be covered and creamed later, and that the aftercare healing process would do wonders with it. We did not win the competition, but that didn’t bother me. It was fun anyway to be in the contest, and go up on stage to show the judges and the audience my new awesome tattoo. The judges Peppe, Isaac, and Zooki and the emcee Anders once again did a very good job and everything felt serious and well planned. And the woman who won the Best Of Show actually had a very nice little color dragon. Congrats to her and the tattoo artist who did it.
When you have been tattooed for about five hours, with short breaks, the body have been given a hefty workout. The adrenaline has been pumping, and the brain handles both the pain and all the impressions around. Anyone who says that they are totally unaffected after a full day’s session, that is BS. However, there is a powerful feeling of satisfaction flowing through your tired body. All of you who been there, know what I’m talking about. All of you who have not done it yet …go ahead and do it!
Jens and I talked shortly after the contest and we put on the Tegaderm to let the tattoo heal in a good way. We quickly to some photos before we shook hands and parted. Jens was going to spend some after convention time with his colleagues and friends.
I jumped into the car and went straight home to show off my tattoo for the family, and make it in time to reading bedtime fairy tales to my daughters.
Life goes on as usual, but now artistic enriched with an amazing tattoo on my leg from master Jens Bergström.
PS. The healed photo will be posted on social media later … DS