When a bunch of tattoo artists try to create a tattoo convention out of nothing, it can go off the rails pretty quickly. That’s why veteran tattooer — and owner of High Noon Tattoo — Mikey Sarratt brought in his friends Drew Rheinhardt and James Badman to help with the newly formed Grand Canyon Tattoo Convention, which debuts on January 26 and runs through January 28.
Although Rheinhardt (who's run the Phoenix Reptile Expo for the last decade) and Badman (the director of the school of life sciences at Arizona State University) have experience in fields wildly unrelated to tattooing, they’re focused on making the brand new expo as ink-centric as possible.
“We’re getting back to basics with this show,” Rheinhardt says. “We’re not trying to be like the other tattoo shows and conventions around the country that are full of distractions that take away from what we’re focusing on: the tattooers and the art. A lot of the other conventions are tied to a beer festival or some other distraction, and we just aren’t interested in that.”
Of course, the Mesa Convention Center won’t be entirely filled with tattooers.
There’ll be some retail spaces (including a brand new Dutch Bros. mobile stand), a couple of musical acts, a live snake display, and a few other non-tattoo attractions, but none of them are there to compete with the numerous noteworthy artists in attendance. After all, if Sarratt just wanted to provide the same type of diluted convention experience found on so many other weekends, he could’ve taken the easy way out and recruited dozens of his local buddies instead of bringing in tattooers specializing in a wide variety of styles from all around the world.
“Instead of just a bunch of Arizona tattooers, I wanted to make it so people might have the chance to get tattooed by someone they might otherwise never have the chance to get tattooed by,” Sarratt says. “We’ve got a bunch of heavy hitters — really super talented dudes coming in from out of the state and out of the country. I didn’t want it to be full of Arizona shops with five people from out of town, I wanted it to be 90 percent from out of town and a few guys from Arizona.”
“These are collector-style artists that people would usually fly all over the country for,” Rheinhardt adds. “Just letting everyone know that all of these guys are going to be in their backyards is a huge portion of this convention.”
While Grand Canyon may not yet have the name recognition of the longstanding Hell City Tattoo Festival or the beloved Northern Arizona Tattoo Festival in Prescott, it has the chance to offer some fresh life into a convention scene that’s remained somewhat stagnant as the Valley’s tattoo community has exploded over the last handful of years. For the experienced Sarratt, the transformation of the local tattoo industry lends itself to a lot of new possibilities going forward — both for the artists here as well as the clientele.
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“We have an amazing tattoo community here for both artists and collectors,” Sarratt says. “We have some phenomenal tattooers here, and I could’ve filled this convention up with just guys from Arizona that have the talent to fill up every booth in here. Seeing where it’s gone from 13 years ago to now, the talent level is through the roof and the amount of people getting tattooed — and getting big tattoos — is crazy. I have people walk into the shop wanting to collect a tattoo from me, and it’s crazy to see all of the phenomenal people they have tattoos from. Being able to put a show on where we’re expecting all of those people to come in and support that is something I didn’t think I would ever see in my time tattooing here.”
As thousands of tattoo aficionados spend the weekend checking out the work of artists they may only otherwise see on Instagram, the homegrown Sarratt is hoping that the traveling tattooers will be able to do some exploring of their own as well. Seeing as the tattoo industry peaks during the late spring and summer months in most places, there aren’t too many other American cities that could serve as a viable destination for a massive convention at the beginning of the year.
“It’s January in Arizona, so it’s 75 degrees and sunny,” Sarratt laughs. “To bring some tattooers in here from other places to see our city is really cool. They can come here and see that we have a rad city, so to put that on the map too is kind of neat. It’s not all about tattoos, it’s about building friendships and having people come to our city to see what we can offer.”
The inaugural Grand Canyon Tattoo Convention runs January 26-28, 2018 at the Mesa Convention Center. Tickets and more information are available on the convention’s Facebook page.