The Photography of Mike O'Neill ABIPP

July Topic – Magazine Feature

This article I had hoped would grace the Pages of a magazine such as Skin Deep – it didnt make it so now Ill post here…


The stunning interior of the Ulster Hall in Belfast was the setting this weekend for the Northern Ireland Tattoo Convention 2011.  Artists had come from as far as Amsterdam and London to name but a few origins.  With much of the cream of Ulster Tattoo Artists in attendance it was an event not to be missed for those interested in tattoos and tattoo artwork.   Thousands came throughout the weekend to see what the Artists in had to offer.   

The music playing inside the hall could barely drown the din of over 25 needle machines inking individuals who want the beautiful artwork on display to adorn their body.

The artists are serious about their work and love what they do.  For a number of them it was their first time striking out on their own and they were eager to show what they can do.  Nikita ‘Pixie’ Nevermore was one such artist at her first prime event she said “I work at Diamondback Studio in Larne for Lee Rogers and I’ve just finished my 3 year apprenticeship a couple of months ago so this is my first outing on my own.   I came to the convention for my first big push out.  This is the only thing I could think of to throw me in at the deep end.  Today I’ve just finished an Alice in Wonderland piece for a friend; she wants a fairy-tale sleeve of all her favourite stories she liked as a kid and after that I’m doing old school ship from wrist to elbow”.

Skinworks of Belfast, the Province’s largest outfit employs eight different artists all skilled in different areas of artwork.   Skinworks had at least 5 of them working during the Convention and had taken up a large section of one side of the hall.  One of the Skinworks crew, Thomas Higgins, did well in the competition scooping the top awards for Best Colour Large, Best Black and Grey Large and Most Realistic.

Another seasoned artist, veteran tattooist Shane Sunday who hails from Toronto in Canada has settled in Holywood near Bangor and set up Alternative Ink.  Shane is the type of guy that when asked ‘What brings you to Northern Ireland?’ he replied ‘An airplane!’  “Seriously though I visited” he added “and then visited some more then I met my wife.  I have a Studio in Holywood, County Down and it’s called Alternative Ink.  I’ve been in the business for 18 years; I’m currently working on a Chewbacca piece at the convention.  I love Star Wars I guess!”

At one point I came across Trev Brister from Trev’s House of Tattoos based in Perth, Scotland.  He was in the middle of adding to a full body tattoo on a man with the most tattoos I’ve ever seen.  He said “I’ve been in the business for 14 years.  I got into this line of work really by being inquisitive and being interested in body art.  I trained for 2 years before doing my first tattoo and since then I’ve just taken it on.  I’m so passionate for it and yeah I do it for the money but I also do it because I love to see body art.  I came across to Belfast because I love the Irish people man, the conventions are amazing, you just can’t beat it in Belfast, the Irish conventions are amazing”.

With so many artists travelling to the event I was keen to speak to more of Ulster’s Own so I found born and bred Belfast lad Darren who currently works at Goodtimes Tattoo in Belfast.  “I work for Robert who has been tattooing a long time and has really taught me a lot.  I have been tattooing for roughly 6 years now pushing 7.  I didn’t train the traditional way; I was working out of a kitchen before I bit the bullet and opened my own shop and I soon realised it wasn’t all I thought it was.  So I moved to Goodtimes and I’ve learned a hell of a bit, I’ve kind of been re-schooled.  Goodtimes came to the convention today to get ourselves out there and meet new people, to show what we can do to the public.  We are a relatively new studio so we need to get out there with the big boys”.

Overall, people who came to the event were having a great time and cameras were in use all over the hall.  The organisers are already planning next years’ event and by the sounds of it may be a bigger affair.  I spoke to Robert Allen, the organiser, a tattoo artist himself, who gave me a final word on the event “Things went well and the feedback we have received has been immense, so much so that we’ve started organising next year’s event.  We have already been approached by artists who didn’t get involved but who want to have a stall for the next one.  AT this stage it looks like it will be a bigger event.  That said we don’t want to burn out but build things up slowly.  We will stick with the same venue as they were very good to us.

My own experience of the event was a good one and it was good to see tattoo culture well represented and being pitched to a greater, more main stream audience.  I had to laugh when one of the security guards told me that there had been some disgruntlement in customers coming expecting to see Military Style Pipe and Drum bands, which are very big in Ulster.  Sorry, it was not that type of tattoo!

Here are the pics…

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All those who I spoke to and photographed, Ill be emailing images shortly – I was holding them for the mags to publish…


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