By Rachneet Randhawa, November 8 2021—
The annual Calgary Tattoo and Arts Festival 2021 is the biggest show of its kind in Canada. Over 200 of the best local artists come together to showcase their work alongside contests, retail exhibits and tattooing sessions all weekend long. This year we’ve done a countdown to our top artists and best tattoo parlours in Calgary.
The Gauntlet sat down for an interview with a handful of ink masters, some of whom were Sami Louise, Rebecca Rogue and Mahala from Boss Tattoos from their Beltline location to learn more.
Artist: Sami Louise
Style: Minimalism and fine lines:
As a newbie artist, Louise has been practicing this craft for two years now and had her start right after high school. She was inspired to become a tattoo artist after having gone to tattoo conventions growing up with her family. Louise’s definition of a tattoo can be anything to anybody.
“It can range from something super meaningful to just a joke that you have with somebody,” she says. “For me, I love to have the opportunity with my clients to give them a good time and something memorable with their tattoo.”
The biggest challenge thus far has been having to deal with customer service and having to work with people to get their ideas right. As for how COVID impacted the business, it was shut down many times and persuaded Louise to get out and to be open to trying new things.
“So it kind of forced me to get out of my comfort zone a bit with different art styles and different techniques,” she says. “While we weren’t allowed to physically tattoo, we could still sell prints and artworks. So it was nice to be pushed to other creative outlets.”
For those that are indecisive about committing to getting permanently inked, Louise recommends doing some research beforehand.
“Do your research first. Research artists — always make sure you’re gonna pick someone that you’re happy with, don’t take a different style to an artist that only does something specific because it’s not going to come out as something else when they only do one style.”
As for how large-scale conventions like this shape the culture of the city, Louise claimed that the stereotype that tattoos are for hardcore bikers is old news and there’s lots of amazing people you can meet and forge connections with. Also, she recommends investing the time that you have at the festival.
“It’s good to just walk around and take everything in, look at the booths, grabbing business cards and following [artists] online is a really good way to help out your local artists and to help out local businesses as well.”
As for making designs from scratch as an artist, there is no method to the madness as according to Louise.
“I always start with a good base structure and then I kind of just let it flow from there and see what happens,” she says. “Working with other people is nice because you get their ideas to work with so you kind of start with that base and you get to build it on your own.”
Her parting advice was to just have fun and if you feel uncomfortable in any way to say no and stand up for yourself.
“It’s on your body forever. You have a right to say if you like it or don’t and should be able to change things.”
Artist: Rebecca Rogue
Style: Flourishes with femininity:
As an experienced tattoo artist, Rogue is a part of the team at Boss Tattoos Beltline location and also owns her own shop, Rebecca Rouge Ink. Rouge’s definition of a tattoo is something different for everybody.
“I think it is definitely like a timeline whether your tattoos have meaning or not. Over time, there’s just periods that you’ll relate to the images. It’s just marking time on your body’s self-expression.”
The biggest challenge thus far has been dealing with her day-to-day clients. At times it can make her anxious, especially anticipating to see how the party is going to show up and if they are satisfied with their tattoo. As for how COVID impacted the business, Rouge said it’s been tough financially.
“It’s been really hard with COVID being out of work for six months of the year, last year, using all of our savings for a family of four with kids,” she says. “And you know the benefits have been great, but it’s only a third of our income.”
For those that are indecisive about committing to getting permanently inked, Rogue recommends researching and meeting up with artists — at the end of the day it’s an investment of your money and time to pick out an artist you vibe with. As for the creative process, Rogue said all artists, of course, have their unique technique and as an artist, there are seminars all over in which you can get mentored and absorb other artists’ talents to learn. Rouge spoke about how large-scale conventions like this shape the culture of the city, saying that it’s a great opportunity to see new types of artwork and talent from all across Canada.
Style: Bold with a flair:
And lastly, we have another up-and-coming BIPOC artist Mahala. A part of Boss Beltline, Mahala has also recently launched her studio Inked By Lala. She has been tattooing for about a year now and defines a tattoo as something to do as memory and something to remember by. The biggest challenge thus far has been coming up with original and exciting ideas and the most enjoyable is getting to test out those crazy new ideas on clients and have them wear her art forever. As for how COVID impacted the business apart from job losses for a prolonged period, industry morale has faced a downturn.
For those that are indecisive about committing to getting permanently inked Mahala recommends testing the waters first and getting a good grasp on what you want to commit to.
“Remember that this is a permanent decision, and you’re not going to be able to get rid of it. If you’re not 100 per cent set on it, think about how it’s going to look in 10 years, because that’s a realistic thing to think about.”
For the creativity behind her tattooing techniques, she said it can take years to perfect and even then you have to consider the client’s idea alongside your own artistic twist.
As for how large-scale conventions like this shape the culture of the city, Mahala mentioned that the tattoo community is close so it’s a great place to get in touch and bond. Mahala suggested to soak all of the experiences in at the tattoo convention and see a little bit of everything first.
“Make sure that you kind of give everybody a chance,” she says, as you never know what you may end up discovering.