Fade to black. Thomas Schwerdtfeger and the Blackwork Tattoo Convention
Covid has been a rough ride for the tattoo industry. In particular conventions have been hit very hard. As we now return to the new normal, the convention circuit is back up and running; but for some covid will leave a lasting legacy. Yayo sent out writer Matt Haddon-Reichardt to meet Thomas Schwerdtfeger the founder of the Blackwork Tattoo Convention and get the lowdown on how covid has impacted on his fledging tattoo event.
The Blackwork Tattoo Convention is an exciting new convention that covid nearly killed while it was still in gestation.
“Well, the first public post on facebook was in January 2020, where we announced the first ever dedicated blackwork tattoo convention, to be held in April. Late February we had all vendors, artists, bands etc lined up and all was ready. But covid was getting closer, and things were starting to shut down. So we had to make a choice. Stay and hope for the best, or postpone it, and get a new date straight away to keep the momentum.” Explained Thomas Schwerdtfeger the convections organiser.
“We announced the new date. But covid, restrictions, lockdown, it all got worse.”
But Thomas didn’t let covid destroy his dream.
“I always had this 2 year plan to move from the first venue to a bigger setup, once we were settled. And with the lockdowns, I could see 2 years ahead before there was a chance to try again. So I took the time to find the new venue, and take it nice and slow. So here we are, and in 2022, hopefully I'm able to host this dream of mine, the Blackwork Tattoo Convention.”
What made matters even worse was a complete lack of government support.
“We got nothing, since the event never got its legs.”
“Being more dedicated to a style and a theme is a new and fresh take."
Since the post Miami Ink tattoo boom many old school artists have bemoaned the commercialisation of tattoo conventions. With the Blackwork tattoo Convention Thomas is aiming to take the experience back to its roots through a new conduit.
“Being more dedicated to a style and a theme is a new and fresh take. That way I can focus more on the music, the performers, vendors etc. It's all in the same theme. I’m also moving away from all these prizes. There will be 1 prize each day, for tattoos 100% done on the convention. No one can show up with the same tattoo again and again, or have a client with a 99% finished tattoo, that you complete at the convention.”
Thomas also wants to make the convention more intimate and less overwhelming for both artists and punters.
“I’ll try and keep the amount of artists low; I think we will be around 20 this time. And that’s for several reasons. The first is there will be more work for the artists. It’s sad to see a convention with 150 artists, and a lot of them are just drawing on paper for 3 days straight. Second we take the day before the convention off to socialize; we go on a trip, maybe dinner etc. It’s important to get to know each other; that's only possible with a small amount of artists. Lastly, it will encourage the artists to take walk ins and not be fully booked. People pay to get into a convention; they go to get tattooed, to get tattoos. So all that combined, I think will bring some hype around it.”
“Tattoos have always meant something for me"
I’ve never been a fan of big conventions or the fact it seems so hard to actually get tattooed unless you book ahead; so I for one love Thomas’s ideas on how to make things fresh and funky. Thomas himself is excited at the notion of opening the doors and getting the tattoo machines buzzing.
“It feels so good to have a date! And I decided to do it in 2022, so I was 99% sure that covid was under control and things were open again; I’m really looking forward to it."
And if covid is still gnashing its teeth and growling Thomas will pull out all the stops to make the convention safe.
“Of course if we have to take measures to tackle covid I will; but I’m not even close to the convention yet, so we will see how things are next year. I´ll start promoting it more, later this year and early next year. It will be then that I go into the practicals about running the convention.”
“I’ve had the convention idea for many years. I was tired of seeing the same shows fail again and again."
It’s really testament to Thomas’s passion for tattooing that he hasn’t let covid stop him living out his dream.
“Tattoos have always meant something for me, it was something I wanted and knew I would have; even as a kid. But my artistic skills didn't go the tattoo way, I went on and did a lot of theatrical work, prop making, stage paintings, running big shows. But one day I hurt my back, and I decided that now it’s the time for a change. By that time I had done some convention prizes as a prop maker and artist, so I was in the mix. That how I started tattooing and I’ve never looked back.”
“I’ve had the convention idea for many years. I was tired of seeing the same shows fail again and again. It’s like the same recipe over and over. And since my background was the stage, I thought I would do a more artistic convention. And I think it helps being an active tattoo artist, who works at conventions. I can better sort things out, what works well and what doesn't.”
A Final thought from the author:
"It's great to see the tattoo industry coming roaring out of the blocks and grabbing the world by the scruff of its neck. Covid has not killed tattooing and its hard working artists like Thomas who are breathing life back into the sleeping giant. Just remember to stay covid safe when you visit a convention. And also remember to heal your tattoo with Yayo. If you want the best then use the best; use Yayo."
Yayo, join the family!
Images by Thomas Schwerdtfeger, words by Matt Haddon-Reichardt