The Paradise Tattoo Gathering (PTG), at the Jiminy Peak Resort in Massachusetts, is a unique experience and one which I would highly recommend. In its fourth year, this convention stands alone amongst hundreds as being completely orchestrated for the benefit of tattooers. Don't get me wrong, the public is welcome but with the location chosen and the schedule of events, it's apparent this show is for tattooers who WANT to be in their community and who also want to improve themselves, their art and their tattooing. It's quite unlike anything else out there and it was EXACTLY what I needed, at exactly the right time... (More on that in a minute.)
My gratitude extends to Gabe and the crew for hosting such a remarkable event and to the long list of tattooers who attended and participated. It was a very refreshing change of scenery!
What makes it so special...? Easy answer, the people!
What a break it was to be surrounded by tattooers interested in improving things, both for themselves and for others, rather than merely listening to each other complain. (And I say this as one who had been stuck in that place for a long time. )
My realization for 2011; it's up to each one of us individually to snap out of it, wake up and put our energies toward more productive efforts, while we still can. The tattoo world is changing fast, and we have but a few choices available to us if we hope to have any real influence on the future.
Case in point: There were over 25 seminars given during the four-day event by the top tattooers, painters and thinkers of their particular field of expertise. But the truly astounding aspect for me was that almost all of the seminar presenters/teachers could also be found attending seminars in their off-time, so they too could grow and learn something new.
A short list of seminars offered over the weekend:
-Watercolor Techniques by Hunter Spanks
-Chet Zar offered three seminars on Monster Making, from sculpture to digital rendering and then oil painting
-Shawn Barber hosted 2 sold out Portrait Painting seminars
-Gunnar spoke on Creating Tattoos that Tell Stories
-Robert Ryan gave an intriguing lecture on Symbolism and it's relation to tattooing, past and present.
-with others by Nick Baxter, Joe Capobianco, Craola, Soba, Bob Tyrell and Big Gus, and a B.J. Betts' Letttering Seminar, and many more.
It was amazing and I can't say enough about it. I am literally blown away. There just might be hope yet for this craft of ours, even in the midst of so much chaotic change. My only wish is that more of our tattoo-heroes would join the larger community/conversations because their perspectives are sorely missed. As Gunnar says in an upcoming blog, the best way to help our community isn't to hammer on people what's WRONG with tattooing, it's to SHOW THEM what's GREAT about tattooing and invite them to participate!
I am starting to think about this idea as a duty almost, and as a very profound way to "Give Back" to tattooing. When I began tattooing more than 20 years ago, the truly inspirational tattooers of the day had already been hard at work sharing and teaching for a decade or more. Their willingness to engage my generation, (the NEW generation, at that time), is how we came to value and respect this craft and if it wasn't for their vision and willingness to share information, (by starting the first tattoo conventions, publishing books like Tattoo Times, and sharing their work and lives with one another), I seriously doubt that many of us would have ever even become tattooers, let alone honed the skills and ideas necessary to be any 'good' at it. Imagine where we'd be if Ed Hardy, Mike Malone or any of our heroes had decided to do nothing but complain to each other in the 80s and early 90s about the state of tattooing, (when most of my generation entered tattooing), rather than work hard to help guide it along! Where would we be...where would I be now, had it not been for them? (Loading boxes?)
How can I/we claim to have been inspired by their examples and still refuse to engage in anything meaningful or exert any energy for making things better? It's sad. Where's the courage? Where's the thankfulness? Where's the "giving back" sentiment many claim to be of such great importance?
From one perspective, "Giving back" nowadays tends to mean little more than "bitching back," sadly. It's not the same thing my friends, not by a long shot. Yet the Paradise show was full of tattooers wanting to learn, grow and help others do the same. Sorry if that sounds too positive, but in all honesty I'm (finally) starting to get it, and every tattooer I connect with who's thinking the same way just reinforces the potential we have to impact, in a positive manner, our community and beyond. The tattooers participating on this blog are interested in these things. I think there's more, many more, to come.
Pardon me for rampbling. One of the most interesting aspects of the Paradise Convention was that it didn't matter what style each artist preferred or specialized in; neither did it matter what "clique" a person belonged to- people GOT ALONG just fine. I saw traditional tattooers taking oil painting classes with Shawn Barber and Chet Zar, and then color realism guys (like Nick Baxter) sitting in on Robert Ryan's awesome seminar on traditional tattoo iconography. The diversity and camaraderie at PTG reminded me of conventions back when I started tattooing in 1990... And... man, has that been missed!
Here's the rest of my PTG report:
I arrived on Thursday at the Albany airport in upstate New York, 45-minutes from the Jiminy Peak resort. My flight was a little late, but luckily the shuttle driver and all its occupants waited patiently for me and Josh (our videographer) to collect our bags. Once we arrived at the lodge and unloaded our gear we set about wandering the property. Almost immediately I found myself engaged in conversations with tattooers I'd never spoken with before and they all shared the same excitement of being here.
Thursday evening served as the precursor to the entire event thanks to Jeff Gogue's keynote address and the participation of several truly inspirational tattooers today, including: Bob Tyrell, Chris Dingwell, Durb Morrison, Big Gus and famed painter Chet Zar. Jeff's always candid and inspiring words guided the panel discussion through topics as diverse as, "How did [each of you] get to where you are in your careers?", to, "Who inspired you?", "How do you try to inspire others", and, "How much work does it take to NOT be average in this craft", etc.
The talk was followed by the Workhorse Irons welcoming dinner at Jiminy Peak's beloved Tavern. The food was delicious and the gathering overwhelmingly positive. It was clear that everyone was psyched up for the weekend. It only got better from there...
There was very little public presence throughout the entire event, though I hardly saw an idle tattooer. The seminars started each day at 10 a.m. and ran late, as the nightly panel discussions and critique groups were open to anyone willing to participate. The atmosphere was energizing for all involved and I only heard ONE TATTOOER, standing outside alone, shivering, on his phone, complaining about some other artist, (who was inside the warm facility), participating with 10 other tattooers on a critique panel. How poignant...
Each evening was spent reconnecting to old friends or discovering new ones, and we were all treated to live music at the lodge's tavern, including a great performance by Dana Helmuth and his band on Saturday. The days were spent collecting a new batch of interviews for upcoming issues of TAM; a few of them included: Nick Baxter, Alex de Pase, my old pal Gunnar and coming soon; articles on Mike Cole, Tony Ciavarro, Tom Strom and a few others.
Finally, and this is the craziest part of the entire trip. When I was six or seven years old, my folks took me and my sis' to an alpine slide. For those of you unfamiliar, an alpine slide (or mountain slide, as they're commonly known) is a concrete half-tube track, (similar to a bobsled track) down some portion of a mountain where the participants sit on what I can only describe as an oversized lunch tray with slide-pads and wheels on the rear, and an extended vertical hand-brake in the center.
After a 10-minute ride up the mountain, via the ski-lift, the descent takes about a minute-twenty, (WATCH THE VIDEO). Anyway, I knew the slide was there and I also knew it would be open on Saturday and Sunday, so I was anticipating the rush for weeks. On Sunday I finally had some spare time so Forrest from Cobra Custom Tattoo and a few of us met up for a ride. While hanging out I talked about how I hadn't been on one of these (dangerous) rides in 35 years. It was amazing.
All weekend we'd heard about tattooers going too fast and even coming completely out of the track and some hurting themselves. (They closed one of the slides because tattooers were all racing each other. Ha-ha). Anyway, I went down three times and on the last trip I attempted it without breaks. I took the monster curve too fast, lost control and ended up sliding about 30 yards on one exposed elbow and a knee, and I've got the friction burns to prove it. Folks overhead in the ski-lift were taking pictures and yelling down, "Are you ok?!" and I just rolled back on to the cart and resumed the trek, screaming, "Fuck yeah! I'm great!"
This video ends right as I bust it on the final curve. (I gotta earn my nickname somehow, right?) Thanks to Josh McHale for snapping the (above) photo and distracting me!
When I flew back home I told my pops about it and mentioned the name of the resort, Jiminy Peak... come to find out, that was the same place he'd taken me 35 years earlier, and he had pictures. What a great weekend!
Thanks to everyone for one of the best conventions ever!
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