Portsmouth Tattoo Festival 2021

The 2021 Portsmouth Tattoo Festival was held at the Mountbatten Leisure Centre and home to over 70 artists, all of which offer their own unique styles and techniques. Alongside these artists, were merchants with wares ranging from moonshine to ouija boards, which is about what you might expect from a tattoo festival. The event ran from Saturday 2 to Sunday 3 October 2021 and Penny Post contributor Liam Heisig had the pleasure of attending. 

I feel lucky with my upbringing on the taboo topic of tattoos as my mother has always been a lover of tattoos and the culture surrounding them. Fair to say that this has worked in my favour when returning home with unannounced tattoos, unlike many of my friends. My first tattoo was actually a fairly gruelling 6-hour session on my left forearm, depicting Zeus shrouded in smoke. I booked it on my 18th birthday and had it done not long after, and my mother was with me the whole time. To this day I’m still unsure whether it’s me or her who likes the tattoo more. It was in fact also her idea to go to Portsmouth’s Tattoo Festival.

On the morning of the first day of the festival, we arrived early in a long queue, waiting in anticipation to enter the festival taking place. After a fair wait, we were welcomed into the hall by friendly faces,  familiar music, the sound of tattoo guns and laughter.

Every artist had their own booth, most with a portfolio folder, free stickers and business cards to show the visitors their work. Some even handed out sweets and sugar-kick snacks, which at first confused me until I remembered that this was so the people getting tattooed wouldn’t faint, which from experience isn’t fun. Every artist greeted me with a smile and a comforting “Hey man!”. 

I spent a good few hours just enjoying talking to artists, admiring work, listening to the live music and the bar (that opened at 10am…). Quite often I found myself giving a reassuring smile and wave to the people that I could see being tattooed in a lot of discomfort. Whether or not this helped or not I’m unsure but I’d like to think so. 

Before I knew it, the competition was being announced. The tattoo competitions were held at 5.30pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Artists needed to register in the morning and each artist that entered had 7 hours to create a tattoo to submit which would then be put up for judging at the main stage. Saturday’s competition had the theme of Heroes and Villains, Rival Ink. It consisted of different categories:  Best male small, best female small, best male large and best female large. Each “canvas” as they’re called, had to show their tattoo to the judges, no matter of placement and then showed the visitors too. 

There was also another competition held on Sunday with no overall theme but differently themed categories: Best small colour, best traditional, best oriental / Japanese, best tribal / dot work, best realistic, best black and grey and best of show. Each of these categories represents different styles of tattoos that each artist may specialise in; for instance, traditional tattoos feature bold lines and bright colours whereas, realistic styled work is catered to being, well, as realistic as possible. I have a mix of black and grey and traditional tattoos myself.

My most memorable tattoo from the weekend was one that was submitted to the “best male small” category, a cartoon shark, that had been tattooed on the side of a man’s head. It was so well done that it looked as though the artist had just placed a detailed sticker there. I’ve experienced a lot of pain from tattoos before but, nothing to what I can only imagine was an uncomfortable experience with that one. 

At the end of the judging, the artists that won their individual categories were called up and handed a plaque. It was an eventful day, with some artists tattooing for up to 10 hours. Safe to say, it was a great experience. Not only do some visitors get to leave with a one of a kind piece of art on their body forever, but artists can also leave knowing that their reach has been widened. The whole festival is a fantastic way for lesser-known artists to get their name into the world. 

The whole weekend was an absolute treasure. To say I’m looking forward to my next one would be my biggest understatement since telling my Mother I got another “small” tattoo.


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