Utah Stories

Salt Lake City International Tattoo Convention

The annual SLC International Tattoo Convention inks the city with a carnival theme.


Photos courtesy of CJ Starkey

Salt Lake City International Tattoo Convention will be held March 4-6 at the Salt Palace Convention Center, 100 West Temple, in Salt Lake City.

“Tattoo artists from all around the country and world come to tattoo the public here during the convention,” said convention co-owner and operator CJ Starkey. “A lot of people are setting up appointments online with the artists prior, and many come just to get inspired.”

While they used to travel with t-shirts to sell, there is now a movement for tattoo artists to refine their painting skills and sell the prints, which are more cost-effective when traveling, he said.

Every year, the organizers choose a new theme for the convention. This year it is old-fashioned carnivals.

“We have some nonprofits like Planned Parenthood and PRIDE that are going to do a midway with games and prizes to bring awareness to what they’re doing,” Starkey said.

Starkey and his business partner, Nate Drew, owner of Lost Art Tattoo, started the convention in 2004, shortly after the Olympic Winter Games came to Salt Lake City.

“We knew we wanted it to be an international show,” Starkey said. “My business partner travels doing tattoos, so we called the people we knew and asked if they would give Salt Lake a try. Then people came back to do it every year.”

DSC_9494Though attendance has remained roughly the same at about 5,000 to 7,000 over the weekend, the number of tattoo artists has nearly tripled.

“A lot of our success has to do with the public,” he said. “Our artists are blown away by how nice the public is here. People offer to bring lunch or coffee,” said Starkey. “A lot of artists have told me they have established relationships with people where they continue to get work. Some people even travel to go see them.”

Despite the state’s prominent religious overtones, Salt Lake City itself is very democratic and liberal, said Starkey.

“People are trying to establish their identity here and are trying to make themselves unique through body modification,” he said. “And there are a lot of transplants here as well.”

The convention also serves as a venue for artists to pick up tattoo equipment hand-built by craftsman, get “flashes” (tattoo designs set on paper to give patrons ideas), and meet their peers to exchange ideas.

Kate Hillenbrand of Shanghai Kate’s Tattoos has come to the convention every year since its inception. Though she now lives in Austin, Texas, she was born and raised in Utah.

“I love Salt Lake,” she said. “It’s my home turf and it’s really important for me to come back and revisit it every year. I have a lot of very dear friends here and a lot of clients that come and see me. Right now I’m scheduling appointments for the show with people I’ve been working on every year that I’ve come. People will wait until I come back.”

For more information on the convention, visit www.slctattoo.com; on Kate Hillenbrand, visit www.shanghaikates.com.Flaco-Productions001-214x300

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