Thousands flock to Australian Tattoo Expo in celebration of its 14th year

Thousands flock to Australian Tattoo Expo in celebration of its 14th year
Image: Photo: Christine Lai.


The Australian Tattoo Expo saw thousands of people flock to the International Convention and Exhibition Centre (ICC) across March 10-12, hosting more than 400 tattoo artists and a line-up of stellar entertainment for eventgoers seeking to get tattooed.

City Hub spoke to one of the talented artists, Melbourne-based Sleepy Dave, a tattoo artist who has been doing Dot Work, Blackwork, Fine Line, Japanese and Black and Grey work for over 15 years.

Sleepy Dave 

Tattoo artist Sleepy Dave. Photo: Christine Lai.

Having tattooed cover ups from exes names to ‘bad ideas’, almost nothing is off the table for Sleepy Dave. When asked what his most memorable cover up or ‘out there’ tattoo was, Sleepy Dave described tattooing the Gucci “crossed G’s” logo on someone’s perineum (“Tattooing the Gucci logo on their Gooch”).

Sleepy Dave had always wanted to do something creative and got his kickstart into the arts by studying graphic design at university before realising he could not “sit in front of a computer all day doing the same thing”. Getting his first tattoo on his 16th birthday, and having been in and around tattooing, when a friend nudged him into trying tattooing as a job he dived straight in and has stayed in the industry since.

“I pretty much spent like a few months getting tattooed by a few different artists at the same shop and hung out, helped out. The natural progression kind of happened, with an apprenticeship. And the rest is history,” he said.

Sleepy Dave has been a regular tattoo artist at international tattoo expos since 2010 and spoke to City Hub about the privilege of being able to travel the world twice for work.

“I jumped around a bunch of work with Original Tattoos in San Pedro and Vintage Tattoo Island that was in Highland Park. We would kind of travel out every weekend and do a different convention in a different city. But we ended up doing I think it was something like 46 conventions that year. It was wild. We spent so much time on the road”, he said.

Lauren Fox 

Coming to Australia at 18, Lauren Fox got her start in Wollongong before moving to Surry Hills to tattoo and has stayed at Lighthouse Tattoo in Botany for the last five years. She describes her style as mainly Native Traditional with a “Japanese flair to it” and enjoys doing “a lot of pop culture inspired stuff as well”.

Artist Lauren Fox at the Sydney expo. Photo: Christine Lai.

“The main thing that I’d like to do is typically natives, animals, florals, anything nature based”, Lauren said.

Despite not coming from a tattoo background, on her 19th birthday, Lauren got tattooed at Manly Tattoos by a female tattooed which was a rarity at the time and was inspired by Carmen to follow suit.

“Back then I didn’t really see many female tattoo artists, but I saw Carmen and with my art background, it occurred to me that I could actually do this”, she said.

Lauren was granted an apprenticeship through an ex-partner’s friend and “now the rest is history”.

“It took a few years to get there and now you can see so many great artists like the calibre of tattooing has just skyrocketed, it’s really exciting”, she said.

When asked what advice she would give to up and coming tattoo artists, Lauren emphasised the art of practice, “Just keep drawing, just push it. If you’re not good at something it’s fine, just keep pushing and look for feedback”.

“Do whatever you can do get your foot into the door, but just practise. If you get knocked back that’s okay, take that on board, you can always make it better.”

Lauren has tattooed “All the places. You name it, I’ve tattooed it, including some quite intimate areas”, and described the funniest tattoo she’s ever had to do was a request by a young man who came in asking for a “stick figure pulling a bong while doing a poo”.

“It was very specific, so funny and odd. Normally you just be like it’s so stupid but for some reason it suited him, that’s one that kind of stuck in my mind since”, she said.


Bali tattoo artist Dewa Koko, better known as Koko, has been tattooing since 2007 and loves all tattoo styles, especially Japanese, realism, black and grey and colours. Koko is the owner of @flashink.bali, @flashink.seminyak, @f.rentalbali, @theflashgym.bali, and is known for his large realism tattoo pieces, particularly across the entire back or arm sleeves.

When asked why he tattoos, Koko described an affinity for drawing and art that had come about since he could remember. Unable to pick out a favourite tattoo that he’s done, Koko explained that there were “far too many tattoos that I’ve done in my lifetime for me to single out just one”.

Koko offered advice to apprentices and individuals seeking to jump into the tattoo industry with “Keep working hard and do what you love”.

Having got his start into tattooing from a friend and having access to a tattoo machine, Koko tried it on his friend, and on himself before realising how much he enjoyed it.

“I didn’t expect to be an artist, I just loved art and one day I found myself in it for good”, Koko said.

During conversation with City Hub, Koko had been working on a tattoo that he estimated would take the entirety of the three-day Sydney Tattoo Expo to complete. The finished product of that tattoo can be found here.

Live entertainment 

Photo: Christine Lai.

As the Southern Hemisphere’s “biggest and best event”, the Australian Tattoo Expo hosted several sideshow entertainments, body piercings, tattoo related merchandise and tattoo competitions.

Contortionist Thomas Worrell took to the stage, performing with specialised body manoeuvres while breaking out into dance and DJs offered live entertainment, selecting tracks and mixing music for the crowd of attendees at the Expo.

Flux Entertainment, a company that describes themselves as providing “unique, high impact, jaw dropping entertainment that will keep you at the edge of your seats”, provided an original act fire show where performers used handheld pyrotechnics, cracked whips, danced, and performed aerials.

The renowned ‘Shittest Tattoo Competition’ also took place, with the main prize for the competition including vouchers for tattoo removal, in addition to joke trophies. One woman was gifted with a free tattoo removal for winning the competition with her Phoenix Bird back tattoo.

The Australian Tattoo Expo 2023 will be hosted at other cities across the year including Brisbane, Perth, and Melbourne:

Brisbane: June 9-11, Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre. 

Perth: September 1-3, Perth Convention & Exhibition Centre 

Melbourne: December 1-3, Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre 

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