Meet Tristan Zhang and Tony Hu, Toronto’s representatives at the 2016 London International Tattoo Convention

Meet Tristan Zhang and Tony Hu, Toronto’s representatives at the 2016 London International Tattoo Convention

Tristan Zhang and Tony Hu. Photo courtesy Chronic Ink

Chronic Ink artists and co-owners Tony Hu and Tristan Zhang are heading overseas this weekend to showcase their work at the London International Tattoo Convention, one of the largest, most high-calibre tattoo conventions in the world. We spoke with them—the only Toronto-based tattoo artists attending the convention—about how they got there, what they’ll be doing on the convention floor, and why the show is worth the flight over.

The road to London

In order to showcase their work at the convention, Zhang and Hu are first required to submit a portfolio of their best pieces in order to be considered for floorspace. The tattoos are then judged by Miki Vialetto, the owner of the London International Tattoo Convention—and history has shown that Vialetto is a fan of the Chronic Ink artists’ work. This year is the third consecutive year that both Zhang and Hu have been accepted to the convention. “They want people who work really hard,” Zhang says. “This show is for the best of the best.”

An example of Tony Hu's work. An example of Tony Hu’s work.

The convention floor

It costs Zhang and Hu £350 each for their booth on the convention floor at London’s Tobacco Dock, a warehouse-turned-venue in the city’s east end. Once there, they’ll get to work—literally: Zhang and Hu spend an estimated 80% of their time at the convention actually tattooing. “This is an opportunity to show people who are walking around what we can do, and what kind of styles we work with,” Hu says. Zhang and Hu spent three full days working together on a single tattoo for one client at the first London convention they attended, and then again at the second. This year is no different. They’ve already chosen their lucky client—he’s a native Londoner who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get tattooed by the two artists—and are in the process of conducting phone consultations to design the piece (it’ll most likely be a sleeve-sized piece, so the business partners can schlep as little equipment onto their flight from Toronto as possible). “I’ll have him send me a picture of where he wants it, and make sure it’s a larger piece,” Zhang says. “It has to be something that will be nice for us to work on.”

A sleeve by Tristen Zhang. A sleeve by Tristan Zhang.

The competition

Every year, the London International Tattoo Convention hosts a competition honouring the best tattoo artists in the world. In order to enter, artists simply need to submit what they consider to be their best piece of the year in one of three categories: small work, medium-sized work (like a full sleeve of substantial back piece) or large work, like an entire back, plus legs. Hu and Zhang have competed before, but this year, they’re opting out. Hu explains that, to him, the highest calibre work generally shows up in the large category, and this year, neither he nor Zhang has anything that big quite finished. “If I’m going to compete,” he says, “I want to compete against the best.”


The learning experience

Networking is important to Hu an Zhang, and both agree that the best thing about going to the London International Tattoo Convention is meeting—and learning from—other artists. “In Toronto, we have no established tattoo style,” Zhang says. “Basically, clients just walk in, and artists do whatever. In London, they’re the best at portraiture—realistic-looking tattoos—and Asian-style tattoos, which we do.” Hu agrees. “The main reason for me to go there is to learn,” he says. “This convention has the largest concentration of amazing artists in the world.”