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‘Tylenol, orange juice, lots of water’: Tattoo artists, enthusiasts leave their mark at Toronto’s annual convention

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Five-year-old Mia clings to her mom’s tattooed leg.



The buzzing of needles could be heard two floors up as tattoo artists and aficionados from all over gathered at Toronto’s annual tattoo show downtown.

Billed as one of the world’s largest tattoo conventions, thousands poured into the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from Thursday to Sunday for the Toronto Tattoo Show NIX 2024 to gawk at the myriad of designs, participate in contests and get tattooed on the spot.

Organizer Dan Allaston, 62, joined operations in 2019 after years as an adviser (and now works with co-organizer Milena Fusco) but says the tattoo show’s beginnings date back to 1998 in Collingwood.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, he continued, the objective was twofold: show the world that tattoos are a form of art and showcase this artwork to people who perceived it as “primitive old sailor tattoos.”

“Now, tattoos are much more popular amongst the general public. So now we’re trying to up the game and showcase the finer art aspects,” said Allaston, who’s also a tattooist and owner of Ottawa’s New Moon Tattoo shop.

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Event organizers Milena Fusco (left) and Dan Allaston (right).

Artists from across Canada were joined by those hailing from Sweden, Norway, France, Italy, England, Korea, China and South America. Various generations, genders and ethnicities were getting tattooed to commemorate something, mark a milestone, add to their body’s canvas or just be spontaneous.

Allaston said they work closely with Toronto Public Health, who was on site to monitor and do spot checks, to ensure health and safety protocols were up to par. Every one of the more than 400 tattooists were inspected and registered.

Similar to any tattoo shop, patrons wanting a tattoo had to fill out a waiver with their name, signature and answer a series of health questions before they received a red wristband. Only those with a wristband could walk up to a booth and roll up their sleeves (or another clothing item), if the artist was available.

Belleville resident Gavin Cunningham, 28, was getting one of Odin’s ravens, named Munin, inked into his upper left arm.

In Norse mythology, Odin is the god of war and of the dead, who has two ravens that fly all over the world, the second named Hugin, and tell Odin what they see. Hugin represents memory and Munin represents thought. Odin also oversees Valhalla, known as the hall of slain warriors.

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Kayla Tremblay laughs while working on the Norse god Odin’s raven for friend Gavin Cunningham.

“I’m an active Canadian Armed Forces member,” Cunningham said while artist Kayla Tremblay traced the raven’s wings. “Valhalla is a representation of warriors. I’ve (also) always had a very keen interest in the Greek gods.”

Cunningham’s newest tattoo complements the Greek gods on his right arm: Zeus, ruler and god of the sky, Hades, god of the underworld, Poseidon, god of the sea and Gorgon monster figure Medusa.

The convention centre was filled with hundreds of artists showcasing their different skills from realism, fine lines and cutesy designs to Neo traditional, minimalist and blackwork.

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Saurin Galloway (right) works on a keychain Kuromi tattoo for Kassie Duffus.

Mississauga resident Kassie Duffus, 28, was getting a key-chain Kuromi on her right shin from artist Saurin Galloway, which Duffus describes as similar to Hello Kitty but darker in nature. This was in addition to her tattoos of Harley Quinn and Bulma from Dragon Ball.

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Kassie Duffus’ keychain Kuromi tattoo.

“The characters I have I relate to personality-wise — very powerful female characters,” she said. “I just love that balance of cute and soft but (they) also don’t take s—-.”

The convention had music, merchandise and even tattoo supplies. The organizers held contests over four days, with tattooists as judges, under various categories like “Tattoo of the day,” “Best arm sleeve” and “Best back or front,” to name a few.

Jaden Bainbridge, 29, came from Ottawa and had been getting tattooed for three days, totalling 24 hours, for a giant design on the entirety of his right leg’s exterior: an eclipsed female face going into a hand holding an apple.

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Anthony Lara (left) and Anthony Charbonneau (right) work on a three-day full leg piece for Jaden Bainbridge.

Tattoo artists Anthony Charbonneau, from Ottawa, and Anthony Lara, from Florida, had been working on Bainbridge’s leg simultaneously to submit it for “Tattoo of the Show.”

“Tylenol, orange juice, lots of water, snack breaks and protein shakes help,” Bainbridge said. “It fits the trend of other female portraits I have on my body, too.”

While they didn’t win, Bainbridge is “definitely excited” to still have the ink on him permanently.

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Marie-Lou Gauthier (left) tattoos best friend and mentor Dominique Guy.

As for Montreal close friends and tattoo artists Dominique Guy, 43, and Marie-Lou Gauthier, 45, the latter was tattooing the former. Guy taught Gauthier the art of tattooing a decade ago when they first met.

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Dominique Guy’s tattoo.

“I recently got divorced after 23 years,” Guy said, who was getting a coloured tattoo of an envelope with “AMOR” written on it and flanked by what appeared to be two swallows.

“Like Christmas when kids write a wish list, I wrote a letter and put it in the mail,” Guy continued, referencing a metaphor to one day finding “the right person” for her.

For Allaston, seeing the 4,000 to 5,000 people come out this year was a demonstration of how far the industry has come. Back in the 1980s when he first got into tattooing, Allaston says it would have been impossible to rent out the biggest house in the biggest city in Canada.

“This was once an outsider art,” he said. “Now, we’re amazed with the new generation of artists that makes us stop in our tracks … I think that’s the mark of success: that you left an industry better than you found it.”

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The city’s annual tattoo show gathers artists from across the world and attracts Torontonians from all walks of life looking to get tatted for all kinds of reasons.

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Credit belongs to : www.thestar.com

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