My First Convention
Written by Cyd Sanchez
As Mindzai’s newest member of the Marketplace squad, I was given the chance to complete initiation by working a tattoo convention. I was booked to go to the Tampa Tattoo Convention by Villain Arts with our owner, Scott, and Chimu Grigio who were both going to be tattooing beside the Mindzai booth. Here’s how it went…
Longest. Day. Ever. Scott and I landed in Tampa about noon. We immediately headed to the convention center and set up our booths up for the next day. It was fun getting all of our shirts, prints, and other merch set up; however, I was totally dead after. Since we were in need of some decompression time, we went to the Airbnb to unpack our luggage and rest our souls. Once we had our Z’s, we headed out to town in search of food. We ended up at this really cute local place, the Flan Factory, that sold Cuban food and some insanely good flan. The place was owned by a nice Latinx family who made us feel right at home.
Our travels continued on foot as we went grocery shopping and sightseeing. We ended up in a part of town called Ybor City that reminded me of 6th street back home in Austin. After checking out some of the local tattoo shops, we went back to the hotel to meet up with Chimu. He was ready to stretch his legs and explore so the three of us made another trip to Ybor City to experience the nightlife which was a great end cap to our first day.
First Convention Day! I was so excited for the day to start. Scott, Chimu, and I all woke up around 7:30 to start our individual morning rituals. We walked ourselves back to the Flan Factory to load up on coffee and breakfast then headed out to the convention center. I knew more or less what to expect, but not totally, you know? It was an easy start up given we had set up the day before 🙏🏼
Right out of the gate, people started flooding in to see what was happening. It was a bit overwhelming at first, but I soon started to get the vibe. As someone who is an amateur tattooer and enamored with tattoo culture, I was fully in my element. Between the buzzing sounds of the machines, seeing more people in a room covered in tattoos than not for once, and being surrounded by those who shared my interests… I finally felt like I was at home!
Everyone was so kind! I hadn’t realized that this particular convention was sort of like a tour. Even though there were tons of artists from different cities, there were so many folks who knew each other well, Scott included. It didn’t take long before the booths began to fill up with patrons eager to get new art prints from their favorite artists. I was working the booth by myself so I was quite busy but found time during bathroom breaks to casually walk through the aisles of booths. I had only somewhat heard of tattoo conventions - particularly the ones where you have to be invited to tattoo at and not open to the general public. It was surprising to see not only tattooers, but also sword swallowers, hook suspension, burlesque dancers, and vendors of every kind!
By the end of the night the three of us were all beat and decided to grab some dinner before heading back to the Airbnb. We ended up at this oceanside restaurant that not only was a bar but also a club with a DJ?? We had anticipated a quiet dinner with some conversation until we walked up to the joint where you could feel the music from outside its doors. I found some solace in what I’d argue to be the best truffle fries I’d ever eaten and met some very nice women in the bathroom to chat with for the rest of the evening. Overall it was a great first day.
Up bright and early, the three of us repeated our new morning routine and armed ourselves for what they told me would be the busiest day ever. (Spoilers: They weren’t lying.) The whole place was packed to the brim. I was talking to people and making sales for mostly the whole day. I was so thankful that we had thought to grab groceries on the first day so I was armed with my collection of snacks to keep me going. I also had plenty of booth neighbors checking in and making sure I was taken care of! That had to be one of the best parts of the day. Everyone looked out for each other and there was a strong feeling of community across the board. This was definitely the busiest day for me hands down. I had never fully experienced the rush of a crowd so eager to buy what I was selling. Even though it wasn’t my own merchandise, it made me feel good to know I was representing everything we work towards at Mindzai.
Last Day!! By Sunday I was still getting up early and marching on. Even though this trip had me on the opposite end of my sleep schedule, I surprisingly managed the pacing well. I was, however, so ready to get back to my alone/down time. I’m the type of person that needs to recharge their social battery more often than not so I was hitting that empty percent. That being said, I did my best to go out with a bang on the last day and gave it my all. I was bummed that we were at the end, although I did not hesitate to swap contact info with people I’d call new friends and associates.
The whole experience made me want to get out and travel more. When you get a chance to see more than what you’re given, it leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth making you ready for the next step. I’m so grateful to have met Chimu alongside other tattooers. Their stories and wisdom will be with me for years to come! I left them all with an “until next time” rather than goodbye since something tells me this upcoming year we’ll see each other again.