” Ok, so I must admit that in attending this event, I was going in with a certain bias. Was this event only a weekend of debauchery and sin? Would the arena be filled with screams of people getting tattoos?”

review and photos by Corrinna Massey

The Edmonton Tattoo & Arts Festival, held at the Edmonton EXPO Centre from September 10 to 12, 2021, continues to be regarded as the largest gathering of tattoo artists from Edmonton and the surrounding area, with over 200 of the best local artists participating. The weekend entertainment included a performance by the crew from Sinners Burlesque, contests for best tattoo, retail exhibits, and patron tattooing.

Ok, so I must admit that in attending this event, I was going in with a certain bias. Was this event only a weekend of debauchery and sin? Would the arena be filled with screams of people getting tattoos? How would it feel to give into the “dark side” and get my first tattoo?  I was ready to experience what I believed was the forbidden and exciting underworld of the tattoo parlors and burlesque shows.

“This event provides the opportunity for shops to interact with the people and acquire new clientele.”
Ashley Gray, co-owner of Tiger Heart Tattoos

Unfortunately, however, I had a prior commitment, so the burlesque show was out for that weekend’s adventure. Still, however, there was more to see. I wanted to bask in the ambiance of the familiar film noir scene where the unsavory character walked the dark, smoke-filled hallways – a lit cigarette hanging from his lip. The streets (or hallways in this case) would be lined with burlesque joints and tattoo parlors. This was what I believed was the world of the tattoo artists.

When I entered the facility there were no dark, smoke-filled hallways and I didn’t hear screams in the distance as people got tattoos. There was only a long line of patrons waiting to purchase tickets. Thankfully, I had purchased mine earlier and online, so I was able to proceed right into the pavilion. No long line up for this cool cat!

The pavilion hallways were lined with colourful booths, vendors, and professionals.

The air was buzzing with the sounds of tattooing machines and artists conversing with their patrons. In the distance I heard the loud voice of the MC calling out winners of various tattoo competitions. On centre stage people stand showing off their new tattoos. They were proud of the artwork adorning their arms, legs, and backs.

One patron had a tattoo of praying hands, another, a puppy, but my favorite was a tattoo of a little girl blowing a dandelion creating petals that turned into birds. Curious, I approached her and asked why this tattoo? She told me it was in memory of her family – the one child she lost and the other three who survived.

Wow, this type of story made me think maybe I should get a tattoo to commemorate something in my life – not sure what that would be.

Now for the tattoo booths – will I or will I not get a tattoo. The first booth looked very enticing because on the walls were images of demons and angels intertwined, and of vixens with blood dripping down their face. There were wolves and spirit animals. One tattoo was of a woman wearing a wolf headdress and another was the “Big Eyes” girl. Nope, not for me though.

Finally, I found one more to my taste. The booth was filled with images of flowers, rose petals, starts, and the moon.

A young girl covered in piercings and tattoos and standing behind the counter smiled at me. She asked if she could be of assistance, and turned out to be so helpful and well informed about the art of tattooing. I do regret not getting her name or the name of the shop. I was just so captivated by what she had to say.

She told me there was a huge a cross section of artists whose talents included traditional, realism, script, black and grey, new school, and even old school. She showed me samples of what she referred to as “flash drawings” – drawings that were for sale as a tattoo without modification. She let me know if I wanted something different or even more personal, that could arrange in a private session.

It was her final comment that impacted me the most when she said tattooing has become more accepted in everyday society.

For artists like Ashley Gray, co-owner of Tiger Heart Tattoo, whom I reached out to after the event, “Tattooing has become more and more mainstream, and critics, employers and patrons have begun to accept it as an art form rather than deviant behaviour. Events like this provided the tattooing profession a way to shake off a lot of the cultural stigma.”

Still, however, I had my doubts. I was excited for the opportunity to attend this event and from a personal point of view, I found the event a huge success. It defiantly changed my view of the world of tattooing. Where once I saw it as deviant and even a little scarry, I now could see it is an art form and maybe someday I will take the plunge and get my first tattoo.

But for this weekend’s adventure, I ended up just buying a cute crop jacket with the words “Plastic Bitch” on the back from Daddissues Clothing, a ball cap from Death Defined and a skull-and-cross bone pet tag from euphoria.needful.things. Maybe next year, I’ll get that tattoo.

Related post:
Chaylene Ribbonleg’s Introduction to Edmonton’s Tattoo Parlors