Inside Tattoo Freeze: The heart of the UK’s tattoo community

Kerrang! takes a trip to Telford for the annual Tattoo Freeze convention to find out why it’s such a vital part of the British tattoo community…

Inside Tattoo Freeze: The heart of the UK’s tattoo community
Words and photos:
Chris Bethell

It's early February at the Telford International Centre, a nondescript business venue that today looks like the first day of a Hells Angels family holiday. The exhibition centre is surrounded by a sea of black tees and thick vape clouds, as hordes of heavily inked people wait patiently for the doors of 2022's first UK tattoo convention to open.

Tattoo Freeze has been long established in Telford with this being its 13th year (sadly missing a year or two due to the pandemic). Originally conceived by Skin Deep magazine, the team saw a market for conventions and an opportunity to bring artists together, launching their first event Tattoo Jam in Llandudno in 2008. A few years later, they had four annual conventions on the go, but eventually settled into Tattoo Freeze and The Great British Tattoo Convention in London, providing the opportunity and platform for the British tattoo industry to showcase their artistic flair, inspire each other and (most importantly) strengthen the community.

We met some artists and tattoo enthusiasts to find out what Tattoo Freeze means to them and why similar conventions are so important to both tattoo artists and fans alike.

Lily Marion, customer

Why are you here today?
"I'm getting a tattoo done! We're entering it into a competition, hopefully it will do well."

So you booked this in advance?
"Yeah, it's been pencilled in for a few months. All of my left leg was already done by Curtis, so I thought, 'Why not do the other one!'"

Do you find it important to build a relationship with your tattooist?
"Absolutely! I was one of the first people he tattooed when he first started. We've known each other since we were about 14. It's nice to see how his work has developed, although I won't show you the earlier ones."

What's are you getting tattooed today?
"It's a Laurel & Hardy piece, it's really sick – a nice big piece. We've been going for about three-and-a-half hours now and it feels alright. It should be done at some point tomorrow."

Curtis Pickup, artist

How long have you been tattooing?
"For about 10 years now, this is my first proper working convention. I went to one in Rome but I was mostly helping another artist out. I thought it was going to be weird but it actually feels quite normal; I thought people walking past was going to be distracting but it's great."

Do you find conventions are beneficial to the tattoo community?
"Oh definitely, it really helps to shine a spotlight onto artists. You get the same people coming time and again and supporting each other, which is great."

What are you interested in tattooing?
"I love realism. Portraits, anything from movies. Black and grey."

Tiffany Marie, artist

What have you been working on since you got here?
"I mapped my piece out yesterday, so today we're just working on shading the top half and hopefully finishing it off tomorrow. It's a long session for Connor!"

What are you interested in with your work?
"Well, my booth is really pink and girly, but when you see what I tattoo, it's quite dark. I like a lot of dark work. Today I'm tattooing a nun – she's being grabbed by a demon. I also like some architecture, so we've got some chapel windows and stuff like that."

Have you worked at a convention before?
"This was my first one about two years ago, and I've done The Great British Tattoo Show in London as well. I make so many friends with other artists whenever I come to them. It's great to walk around and see what everyone is up to, but everyone is especially friendly at this one. It's also a bit more local to me, which is great. I like it a lot."

Connor Reilly, customer

That's a pretty big piece you're getting! How's it been?
"Alright! Tomorrow is going to be rubbish, though, if I'm honest. We've so far done a full day on Thursday, today [Saturday] will be a full day and then another full day tomorrow."

Your skin must be red raw.
"Yeah, I'm in pain today, but tomorrow will be worse!"

You don't fancy a break between them?
"Nah, I'd rather bang it all out in one!"

Is this your first convention? What's it like being tattooed here compared to a shop?
"Yeah, it is; I prefer it here as there are more distractions. People to look at and talk to – in the shop you've got nothing but the pain! I'd rather be chatting with everyone, they're all so friendly."

So what's your tattoo?
"It's a back piece; it's a nun being dragged by a demon. I didn't have any input into the idea, but I'm getting these three day sessions for free, so I said to Tiffany to do what she wants. She's tattooed all of me and we've got similar tastes so I said she could have free artistic reign over me."

Michelle Leung, customer

What are you getting done today?
"I'm getting a Japanese sleeve – no particular reason behind it, I just like it. I think we started it last week and I'm here today to get some more shading on it. We should hopefully have it done in another two sessions."

Is it your first time at a convention?
"It's not my first, but it's my first being tattooed at one. It's more crowded than being tattooed in a shop, but it's nice to see everyone going about their day."

Tin Chi Im, artist

What do you like tattooing?
"I do anything, really! No specifics, any style. But my favourite is oriental, I just love doing it."

How long have you been tattooing for?
"Fourteen years."

Oh wow, so this isn't your first convention, then?
"No, I love coming to them to meet other people in the industry. I'm quite shy, so what's nice is a lot of people come and speak to me first."

Jaison Spencer, artist

Can you tell us a bit about your work?
"I like Japanese. I was trained in black and grey and Japanese, but I prefer doing Japanese because it's timeless. It sticks on the body and is made for the body, most tattoos spring from Japanese work. I like the traditional aspect of it, the stories and tales. It's very deep. And with the amount of rules with the Japanese style, you can spot from across the room whether someone knows what they're doing or not. All of that is what attracts me to it."

How long have you been doing that?.
I've been doing Japanese for 10 years. I'm 48, I might not look it, but I will be on Tuesday."

Why do you think conventions like this are so important?
"So the public can see what's happening. Back in the day, tattoos were a very niche thing, for the outlandish and the rebels. But now it's become so popular it's good for the public to see that it's not as bad as framed. When they can see people getting tattooed it removes the stigma – people get really scared when they go to get a tattoo. It's also great for people to see that it can be an attractive career; you're not going to be a millionaire, but you can earn a good living!"

Ryan Whiffen, customer

What are you getting done today?
"I'm getting a Japanese dragon! I really like the Japanese style; as Jaison said, it's very traditional. I like the Yakuza tattoos and the themes of them. The artwork, all of it is amazing."

Had you booked it before coming here today?
"No, it was just a walk-in booking. It's my first tattoo convention and I love it, it's so much fun to go around all the stands and check out the artist's work. It's a great opportunity for them to showcase their work and inspire people to either get tattooed or maybe start drawing!"

Are you scared about the pain?
"Nah not really, it's quite fun. An adrenaline rush!"

Jessica Marshall, artist

Can you tell us a bit about your work?
"Well, I've only been tattooing for about two years. I'm working at Snake Town in Boston, which is about a three-hour trek here. I mostly specialise in black and grey realism, portraits, things like that. I have almost a neo-trad colour vibe with my line work stuff, with realistic shading. I don't really know what style it is – who knows! I just like drawing it."

What tattoos have you done today?
"I've tattooed some teeth today! I've got some weapons booked in and a line work Freddy Krueger, which I'm excited about. Hopefully tomorrow I'll get someone in for a portrait."

Why do you think conventions are so important?
"I think it's really important to meet other artists, not just for inspiration but also to speak to somebody in the same trade as you. It's really important. Not many people do what you do on a daily basis, so it's really nice to connect with people and see their styles – it's just really fun to be honest!"

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