Craigy Lee: Back in the Van... - Mainz Tattoo Expo 2012

Published: 07 November, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 218, November, 2012

Sometimes our travel itinerary can make me feel like a ping pong ball, bouncing between different places; after a short time in the UK we are now shooting back over to Germany, but I will not be bouncing between conventions as I am also working two guestspots this time around.

One of the most annoying things about travelling so much is that I can never commit to large tattoos that will take a few sessions to finish. Most of the time I have to be able to finish my work in one sitting so I am not leaving a trail of half-finished work around the world. So it is quite a luxury to be going back to somewhere I have already been this year, returning to Bodyscript in West Germany. The shop is already feeling like home as I was only here a few months ago – knowing this at the time was great as I had a few return customers, and for the first time in nearly two years, I started a half sleeve. Time flies when you’re having fun, and as usual the week shoots by in the blink of an eye, and before I know it I am in the van again headed north to Recklinghausen.

Holy Diver is my next stop, it is a young shop owned by a young artist, 25-year-old Kristin Schubert. I crossed paths with Kristin many times at various conventions in Germany and she invited me to work at her shop. It is a custom-only studio and despite a shop front in town, it pretty much operates as a private studio; Kristin has a heavy work load and a long waiting list. It is not the only studio in Recklinghausen and despite opening close to other studios, it didn’t really cause much of a problem: “The other shops came to visit me when I opened, but once they realised I was only doing large-scale custom work and wouldn’t be taking their walk-in trade, they didn’t have a problem,” Kristin tells me. Despite having a good customer base, opening a studio and working alone at such a young age must be quite daunting? “Sure, it takes a lot of guts to open a studio. I worry that other artists will not respect me, and there are lots of overheads to cover each month. I broke my arm earlier this year which made it a struggle to cover the studio’s running costs. I did have another artist, but he was unreliable, so now I will just stick to regular guest artists. I live in Essen which is a 40-minute drive to work, so I think when my lease is up I will relocate the shop closer to home so I can have more time to draw.”

Hopefully, relocating the shop will not lose any of the shop’s character or vibe. Inside is beautifully decorated, with dark wooden floors and ornate carved furniture, and the large waiting room with decorative wallpaper adorned with framed artwork and a large bookcase full of great reference material gives the shop a relaxed feel. Indeed the studio space is rather large for one artist and moving into something smaller makes perfect sense, so I look forward to seeing the new studio space on a future visit.

My final stop this month is the capital city of the Rhineland – the Palatinate region of Germany – the city of Mainz! Mainz is a great place to visit. The architecture is very typically German with Baroque-style fronts and facias on a lot of the buildings – there is also a Romanesque influence in some buildings, most notably the cathedral. After walking around and exploring the city, it was great to sit by the river on a man-made beach sipping a cold pilsner in the ‘beach bar’, relaxing in anticipation for the show. In fact, with such fine weather, imported palm trees, and sand, you could be forgiven for thinking you were somewhere far more tropical.

The convention here is in its second year and is run by the organisers of the mammoth 20-year-old Frankfurt show, so I was already looking forward to it knowing the organisation and hospitality would be second to none. The show is held in the Rheingoldhalle situated on the banks of the bustling river Rhein which runs through the city. It is the longest river in the country and acts as a motorway for boats, barges and trade ships that navigate its 766-mile length delivering goods deep inland. The weather was nice and the artists catering is held outside in a tent next to the water, which was a fantastic place to chill out in between tattoos and have something to eat and recharge the batteries. Sitting in the sun by the river reminded me of days off in London relaxing on the South Bank watching the world go by. The convention was held in one hall and was a lot smaller than Frankfurt, but being in its second year, it is very much a newcomer to the convention circuit. The whole side of the Rheingoldhalle is glass which makes the whole place feel bright and airy, and gives a great view of the river. My good friend, Andy, and his crew from Body Electric Tattoo were working hard all weekend. I caught up with Joe Wang from 8 Volts Tattoo in Singapore and also made some new friends, notably, David, who is working at Andy Engel’s tattoo studio after re-locating from LA, and Dane, who is another travelling artist from Germany. On Friday I was asked to judge the tattoo competitions, which was a great honour but an extremely hard job.

Everyone at the show was very friendly and most artists made the effort to come around and talk, which made the whole weekend feel very social. This carried on over Monday when the organisers of the show held a boat party for all the artists during the day to see the sights and the city from the river itself. Overall, a great weekend made even better by fantastic weather and great hosts. I think convention organisers in the UK need to start going to German shows to learn a thing or two about hospitality; with so many shows popping up, quality will prevail and help the decent ones last. Until next month Auf wiedersehen (Pet).


Text & Photography: Craigy Lee