Tattoo artists and enthusiasts from across Ontario and Quebec are in the National Capital Region this weekend hoping to stimulate the return of an industry hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ottawa-Gatineau Capital City Ink Festival first began in 2011, but was cancelled for the first time in 2020 due to COVID-19. Its return after a two-year hiatus proved popular, with people lining up at the Hilton "Casino" Lac Leamy hotel in Gatineau, Que., Saturday to either give or receive ink.
Roxy Kay is a tattoo artist and owner of With Trust & Faith Ink tattoo shop in Port Dover, Ont. It was her first time at the convention.
"It's pretty nice to see people out, and a little bit of normalcy again," she said.
Kay has operated her tattoo shop since 2012, and said the pandemic created a difficult set of circumstances for her and her business. She was forced her to shut down for 11 months and had no income from the shop during that time.
"We're one of the most sterile environments you could be in, and it was probably actually one of the safest places you could be in through the pandemic, but we were still shut down."
Kay said once she was able to re-open the shop business was booming because "everyone wanted a tattoo." For now, she says business is at a more manageable pace and she's hopeful for the industry's future.
The expo runs from Nov. 12 to 14, featuring dozens of tattoo artists with various styles and backgrounds.
Gabriel Papineau works at Sage, a tattoo shop in Ottawa's west end. He had a rather unconventional start in the business, moving from one hard-hit industry to another.
He said the pandemic was the reason he decided to leave the food world behind and take up a needle and ink, getting started in in the popular body art industry.
"I literally had nothing to do, so I bought myself a machine and tattooed my entire legs."
Working as a chef for 15 years, Papineau found himself out of work when the pandemic hit. He kept himself busy training as a tattoo artist, but was out of work once again because of provincial restrictions on the industry.
He said being unemployed gave him more time to work on his art outside of the shop.
"It's always a struggle as an artist when you can't work. It's a struggle because we're self-employed, right?"
For someone who refers to himself as an introvert, Papineau said the expo was "very stressful," but that the energetic environment and friendly people make the tattoo industry a great community to be a part of.