Calgary Tattoo and Arts Festival inks up Cowtown with artists like Clark MacLeod

It seems like everyone has a tattoo these days — grandma, your teacher, the bus driver — but what’s it like on the other side of the needle?

Innovations in ink quality and low-vibration machines make the job easier, but tattoo artists still spend hours on their feet (14-hour days aren’t unusual), focusing on intricate design details that can take a toll on the eyes and wrist.

But those who make a living at it aren’t complaining — they’re riding the wave of popularity right into the BMO Centre for this weekend’s tattoo show.

For the first time in his many years at the helm, festival founder Steve Peace will be creating at the show, joining a fellow tattoo artist to make a full backside work (back, rear, legs) of a gorilla coming out of the woods.

“I’m not happy just doing trinkets, anymore. I don’t do anything that’s under four hours,” Peace says.

“It’s unbelievable to come to the shows and see what the next generation is creating. Artists keep pushing the edge.”

Peace says art on the head and hands is a new trend, as is tandem-style ink — with two artists each doing half of a piece.

For the show, he has invited local, national and international artists to showcase their work.

Among them is Immaculate Concept Tattoo artist Clark MacLeod, who says he is excited to work on his “modern take on a Medusa-like serpent lady wrapped around a bell” in front of the thousands expected at the show.

“I’m a fan of big lines and I use as much colour as possible. My co-workers call my style bubble gum, so I guess my work appeals to younger guys and gals,” MacLeod says, describing a favourite thigh tattoo he created of a robot fighting in space. “The industry is way more mainstream now. It has come out of the shadows.”

Many artists are pre-booked, but Peace says there are some walk-up spots available for a quick banger or trinket. “You won’t get a whole sleeve done in 20 minutes, but you can see what’s possible.”

If you go

The Calgary Tattoo and Arts Festival runs Friday to Sunday at the BMO Centre in Stampede Park. On tap: merchandise vendors, entertainment, a scavenger hunt and appearances by Kim Coates and Theo Rossi from Sons of Anarchy.

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