The whole community associates you with the World Tattoo Events website, but nobody knows how your adventure with tattooing started. How did it all start? When did you get your first tattoo and when did you decide to get so involved in the tattoo industry?
I started getting interested in tattoos when I was a teenager (late 80’s). At that time I was living in Italy where tattoos were still quite uncommon; at least in my neighborhood and social circle. However during my teens years, I used to spend a lot of time in Holland as well (I’m half Dutch), where I gradually got exposed to a lot more tattooed people. I remember being always very fascinated by every single tattooed person I ever saw. I would always ask them a ton of questions and this is how I slowly started to learn more about tattooing. When I heard that some band members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (one of my favorite bands at that time) got tattooed by Hanky Panky in Amsterdam I went to visit his studio out of sheer curiosity. I clearly still remember the buzz of the machines when I got in for the first time and it was like entering an entirely new dimension.
Then I found the studio of Tattoo Peter (the oldest one in Amsterdam) which had tons of beautiful traditional flash art and I guess that this is where my fascination for flash art really got started.
By the way, both studios were in the Red Light District area and tattoos were one more element of a dangerous but super fascinating mix of travelers, soft drugs, heavy drinking, rock music, prostitution, partying, and very colorful humanity. Magic!!
In Holland, I also started buying my first tattoo magazines which I have been collecting for over 20 years. I piled up a huge collection from several countries, trying to learn everything I could about the tattoo culture.
In 1996 I moved to UK where I decided to get my first tattoo by Bugs at his legendary studio in Camden Town: Evil from the Needle. I got tattooed a pretty big Betty Page tattoo which still sits pretty well on my back after over 25 years. I think it’s worth mentioning that it did take me 3 or 4 years to decide who to get my first tattoo from; I could only rely on tattoo magazines which I would read over and over again and observe the “consistency” of the work of the tattoo artists I knew at that time. Bugs was definitely an innovator and he was producing really beautiful and solid work considering the era he was working in. By the way, we are talking about the pre-internet era. A totally different world.
Last but not least, for quite a long time as a young adult I seriously considered becoming a tattoo artist which in my romantic view, lead to a beautiful lifestyle and extensive travels to exotic destinations. Instead, pressed by my financial obligations I started working in a completely different field: IT.
At what point in your life did World Tattoo Events come about? Did anyone help you create the site or help you run it now?
In 1993 I visited my first tattoo convention in Rome and I still remember it as an extraordinary experience. Never in my life have I seen so many tattooed people coming together. There was such a special energy and it was a great occasion to meet for the first time, in real life, famous tattoo artists which I have been following for years in tattoo magazines. That first tattoo convention opened to me an entirely new world and I went on to visit in the following years several other tattoo conventions in Italy, UK, Holland, and Germany. Tattoo conventions were my escape from my rat-race jobs reality.
In 2009 I remember missing both the London and Rome Tattoo Conventions WHILE I was there for the weekend because the websites I was following about tattooing didn’t list them. So I figured that no tattoo website was listing all international tattoo conventions.
At that time I was running a small web design and hosting company (which I actually still own) and in January 2010 I decided to create a website listing all tattoo conventions from every part of the world. It was actually a very simple idea and to be honest with no big ambitions, other than doing something useful for event visitors like myself. On the other hand, I also saw it as an opportunity to finally be involved in a field that I did really love: tattooing.
During the first year, I’ve been working on the website development and content mostly by myself. However, the website quickly gained quite some traffic
and by 2011/2012 I had to get on board with other people to keep up with an ever-increasing amount of work. Since 2014 my current wife (Noriko Nguyen) has been actively working on the website. Before the pandemic, we had a staff of 6 people (including me) to manage the website. Now we are down to 3, but hopefully, we will go back to 5 or 6 people by 2022.
What are your biggest dreams related to WTE?
WTE it’s already one of the biggest tattoo websites online in terms of traffic and I’ve never even dreamed to come that far.
Over the years it has become an important point of reference for many tattoo industry professionals and in some ways, it has been bringing together a huge and international community involved in tattoo events.
At this point, my biggest dream is just to make it better and better and to transform it into a very dynamic and interactive platform to book tattoo conventions as a participant or visitor. Like Bookings.com for Hotels.
From a historical perspective, WTE also became a huge archive of tattoo convention information and I wish to be able to pass it on to future generations.
You travel the world a lot for tattoo conventions. Do you have any favorites?
This is a very tough one as I have really memorable experiences at even the worst tattoo conventions. Obviously, conventions like London (been there 3 times) which used to bring together the cream of the entire world tattoo industry it’s a dream come true for every tattoo aficionado. But I do also really appreciate the smaller conventions as this is where you get to really connect with many people and artists. One of those events was the King of Tattoo Convention in Tokyo which I visited in 2017. It one of the smallest events I have ever been to and yet attended by super tattoo legends as Horiyoshi III. Also, the number of Japanese bodysuits being showcased on the podium completely blew my mind.
What, in your opinion, makes one tattoo convention better than another? What do you think should be paid special attention to when somebody organizes a tattoo convention?
Great question! Taking for granted a great lineup of tattoo artists, what makes a convention better than another, in my opinion, relies on a few key elements:
#1 ORGANIZATIONAL SKILLS
Over the years, I have seen countless people jumping into the conventions industry. Probably hoping to make a quick buck. However, organizing a serious tattoo convention requires very solid organizational and leadership skills. A tattoo convention is the result of a lot of moving parts and the effort of hundreds of people.
Failing to properly co-ordinate and take care of every aspect of the convention (including guests and artists) leads to conventions that won’t happen again.
Organizing a good convention it’s expensive. Very expensive. Without a proper budget, it will be very difficult to put in place all other elements like sideshows, live music, live performances that are so common (and expected) these days at most tattoo conventions. As an organizer, you always need more cash than you think. I’ve seen so many conventions disappearing over the years, because of the lack of financial resources.
#3 LOCATION & ACCESSIBILITY
If you are into real estate, you are probably familiar with the location, location, location mantra. Tattoo Conventions are no different. A beautiful and scenic location in a big city will obviously always naturally attract more visitors and artists than a shabby place in a smaller city. A good example is again the Tobacco Dock in London. It’s hard to beat as it has so many unique features that make it perfect for a tattoo convention. A good location has also to be easily accessible with most public transport and with plenty of parking facilities.
# 4 COMMUNICATION AND PROMOTION
Excellent communication is king. While promoting on social media and World Tattoo Events it’s practically mandatory, it’s only just the beginning.
One of the most effective ways to promote a convention is to partner with the right artists, influencers, and brands. This alone can easily make a huge difference although it may obviously come at a significant cost.
Last but not least conventions should also promote relentlessly within their local communities with old-school printed flyers, banners, posters, and any other form of public printed media (they actually still work).
A very weird trend I’ve noticed in the last few years is how many conventions practically abandoned promoting via their own websites, which would still be one of their best promotional tools.
# 5 REPUTATION OF THE ORGANIZER
I think this one is largely underestimated. But if the organizer doesn’t really have a good reputation in the tattoo industry (or he is totally unknown), it’s going to be very difficult to put together any kind of decent show. Any successful event would need above all the support of the tattoo community in general and that’s very hard to get without a really good and long-lasting reputation.
Your body is also decorated with tattoos. Do you have your favorite tattoo artists? If so, please share with us which artists impress you the most.
I indeed collected quite a few tattoos by artists as Bugs (my first one), Jo Harrison, Antonio Proietti, Quang Pham, Onny Somboon, Gippi Rondinella, Hans PJ Svedberg, Nguyễn Thanh Cao, Horiyoshi4, Shannon Romijn, Boat Forget, Alessandro Ceccato and some more. I love all of those artists (many are really good friends) although they all have very different styles. My list of favorite artists it’s actually huge as there is an overwhelming amount of tattoo artists producing some truly incredible work. I would unfairly leave out too many people by trying to come up with any list. However since as I’m living in Vietnam I had the opportunity to meet some really impressive new tattoo artists as Quang Pham, Tu Den, Vu Ngoc Tan, Danis Nguyen, Jun Teppei, Kiệt Nguyễn, Lâm Việt, Phong Hà, Anh Việt, Nguyễn Thanh Cao, Tery Do, Dũng Trần and many many more. Their work is amazing and they are working really hard to gain a reputation on an international level. I hope to slowly collect more and more tattoos by them.
Are there any new projects you are organizing or participating in that you would like to tell us about?
Definitely yes. I always have a lot of ideas and new projects in mind. I love what I do and I always see new opportunities to add value to our community. Besides World Tattoo Events those are my current projects:
– In May 2021 I opened a new tattoo and piercing studio in Danang (Vietnam) where I live. The studio is called “Dragon City Ink” and my aim is to place Danang into the international map of tattooing by bringing here as guests, some of the very best international tattoo artists in the world. We are located just 200m from the beach in the middle of the expats and tourists area.
– A second project I’m actively busy with, it’s called “Inkpact Events” and it’s a collaboration with a couple of very established event organizers to set up a few new tattoo conventions in different countries starting in 2022. I’m very excited by this project as there is so much experience and knowledge which we can all contribute with.
– Last but not least, since last year I’ve been doing some live streams within the “Reinventing the Tattoo” network by Guy Aitchison and Gabe Ripley, exploring the history of tattoo conventions along with their organizers. It’s a topic that I personally find very interesting and we have plans to keep expanding the current format.
If you think about yourself in 10 years, what do you see?
Well, I truly love my life and my job. I consider myself very lucky to be able to do exactly what I like and I wish to keep going for as long as I possibly can. In 10 years I just wish to stay healthy enough to keep working on new interesting projects within the tattoo world. Somehow I always have the feeling that I just got started!!