By Arianne Young: Contributor
I attended my first ever tattoo convention over the weekend; I was so stoked to walk the floor. To finally put a comprehensive list together of artists I’d love to work with in my own hometown.
I bought a day pass knowing I’d only be able to attend on Friday, the opening day, after I got out of work. I was dressed in all black (like the omen), coincidentally the uniform of most guests at this convention. My new forearm piece is at the stage of healing that doesn’t give off the effect of a contagion. I felt good. I felt badass. Like most events in my life, I was one of the few black people in attendance (at least of the darker variety, I saw a few fairer-skinned men walking around), so I also felt like I was representing.
I figured the best place to start was at the beginning. My knowledge of the tattoo scene in Toronto is incredibly limited to the shops I’ve been to and the artists I’ve heard about second-hand from friends. I had one VERY specific goal in my mind: to find the artists in town who have experience doing colored tattoos on dark skin. My research online hasn’t been successful but now I’d be able to chat with shop owners and ink specialists face-to-face and plan this detailed piece once and for all.
Immediately I realized this would be a challenge for a couple reasons:
- Many of the visiting artists/shops were not located in Toronto.
- There were few portfolios with pieces done on dark skin.
While I knew this would be the case, I wasn’t prepared for the abundance of shops from outside of the city. Like a line at a new amusement park ride, I walked up and down aisles, taking note of the stalls to return to with local artists.
I looked at quite a few portfolios – there were few tattoos done on black skin that I could decipher. Maybe black and grey pieces don’t present as well on black skin; the lack of clarity could be less impressive when shown in a portfolio. I could only speculate, as most of the artists were tattooing clients. I wasn’t going to be the gal interrupting them with: “SO IS THIS THE ARM OF A LIGHT-SKINNED PERSON OR NAH?”
Maybe I should have.
I needed to ask everyone I met to see where it led. Stall after stall of shops, equipment salespeople, and fashion retailers – there wasn’t a single person who had an answer but they were full of well wishes as I walked away. When I asked if they were comfortable doing color on a skin tone as dark as mine, I received the same answers as I’ve been getting for a few years: it’s not really possible because it will look like a messy smudge once it heals or colors like red, are the only ones worth using. I’m not in the market for a red tattoo!
At the final stall, I met two guys and explained my situation. They agreed there are more artists in the U.S. who specialized in tattooing dark skin and couldn’t suggest anyone they knew in town. They told me who WOULD be able to help; upon searching the convention room floors, they couldn’t find her.
I decided to do a final lap and got discouraged less than halfway through. What was I doing? I needed to go back to the drawing board and figure this out. I revisited the helpful dudes and thanked them. When I told them I had zero luck, one said something that made me pause. He said, “Maybe that’s why you had the idea for your article; you’re supposed to be the one to get it done right and bring artists to Toronto. Make it the norm!”
I left the building and walked to the subway repeating his words and came to the conclusion: I accept this challenge.