San Diego, the city where the summer never ends and history runs deep. Known as the birthplace of California, a great city and seaport. The city through history had become a center for philanthropy, industry, military, art, architecture, culture and now the Tattoo scene has just made itʼs mark. Bill Canales owner of Circle tattoo and master of Japanese tattooing first spoke about the idea putting on a convention to Len Leye of Clan of Tusk (Belgium) over two years ago.
The idea of bringing together the best tattooing has to offer into his home city by inviting some of the best tattooers from Europe, Asia and North America. Bill put together a great show bringing some of the true masters of this craft. Held in the Golden Hall convention space in the center of San Diego. The vibe and energy was excited, focused and celebratory. I saw nothing but great tattooers at every booth. So many beautiful tattoos both large and small were being created throughout the entire weekend. Bodysuits walking around blowing minds and causing a commotion with viewers asking questions and starring in awe. Tattooing showcased in an honest and great light was clearly apparent at the San Diego tattoo invitational.
Tattoo conventions are the best time to see old friends and make new ones, Meeting artist from around the world. Dalmiro Dal pont who liked to borrow scissors and not return them was a blast to have near my booth that I shared with the fancy Len Leye . Joao Bosco making snakes and flowers all weekend, Phil Holt the texture master was great to see along with Jeff Srsic. Zac Scheinbaum, Justin Weatherholtz from New York along with Nathan Kostechko, all making great tattoos. Cindy Maxwell, Miss Juliet, Andre Malcolm, Rodrigo Souto, Acetates, Mike Dorsey, Tim Hendricks, Jan willem, Rico Drama Goya, shion, the Tebori master HoriTaka LA, Horichuy, Gordon Combs… and endless more to name. All the work was at the highest of level, whether it was Japanese, ornamental, black and grey, or traditional. The days were filled with the hum of tattoo machines, boisterous laughing and camaraderie of fellow tattooers enjoying the San Diego community and the great vibe that bill had built for this first of hopefully many to come San Diego invitationals.
Unlike many of the other conventions Iʼve been to in the past this was truly and solely focused on tattooing as an art form. There were no irrelevant sideshow acts nor wasted space to distract from the work going one throughout the hall. Artists had the opportunity to take part in workshops with Andre Malcolm and also master painter Shawn Barber, covering principles and techniques of their crafts. This is how you further the movement of tattooing, invite the best you know to work in the same space and inspire each other. An opportunity for the people of San Diego and those who traveled from farther to only see what professional tattooing is. Friday and Saturday gave a show for all those attending in showcasing best back pieces, sleeves, legs, and ornamental. Award for the back piece competition went to Ronan Harvey from All Star tattoo in Ireland with an incredible black and grey dragon, second went to Aaron Dellavedova of San Diegoʼs Guru Tattoo.
The days were filled with tattooing but the nights were filled with conversation of everything from the days work to miniature pyramids that purify your water or whatever else can be placed inside of it. Ending up in a high end vegan restaurant that just happens to also be a heavy metal bar. Sitting underneath a massive black 4 eyed wolf with serpent horns eating vegan chimichurrie. Other nights you end up at a bar called the Casbah, Listening to punk with a room full of tattooers possibly a bit drunk and totally enjoying yourself. Hoping the night doesnʼt drag on until the sunrise when you hear the birds start chirping but in the back of your head you think why didnʼt I eat more tacos today?
Conventions end too fast but the San Diego invitational wonʼt be forgotten quickly. It takes a group to make a memorable convention and Bill built that team from everyone at Full Circle Tattoo and all others who were involved. Erica from Tat Soul was great in taking care of every tattooers supply needs, Solid Ink, Eternal Ink, Evolve tattoo removal, Rinsecup, and all the volunteers and convention hall employees were instrumental in the smooth progression of the convention. San Diego youʼve left me with positive memories and a countdown until next year. A great city with a tattoo community that should be recognized. Thank you for all your effort Bill Canales, your inspiring contribution to the tattoo world is apparent. Stay classy San Diego and get tattooed!
Text and photos by Ian Healy