London Tattoo Convention a-buzz with body art

The buzz of tattoo machines and thousands of men and women with a seemingly insatiable appetite for pain filled Tobacco Dock last weekend for the annual International London Tattoo Convention.

Now in its 8th year, the Convention continues to draw a crowd apparently intent upon ensuring any as yet undecorated patches of skin are dealt with over the course of the weekend.

Perhaps surprisingly, politeness appears to be the name of the game at the Dock. The crowd – which includes a frankly astonishing number of people with tattoos on their heads and faces – is largely engaging and open-minded when it comes to discussing the pros and cons of body art.

Among the crowd is Alice, a tattooist at Divine Canvas in King’s Cross, who suggests that attitudes towards body art have changed in recent years.

“People are becoming more and more interested in the artistic possibilities of tattooing”, she explains. “It’s becoming more acceptable, and that’s amazing.

“We get City boys coming into our shop, doctors, nurses – all different kinds of people, and that’s what keeps it interesting.

“The world is shrinking, and I feel like it’s becoming more acceptable to decorate yourself in these different ways.”

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Wondering around the stalls at the Convention, Alice’s point is easy to appreciate.

Whilst there are a healthy number of the people a first-time convention-goer might expect to find browsing through catalogues of designs, there are plenty more who wouldn’t be out of place filling their trolleys with flat-pack furniture in IKEA.

Alistair Prett, who works in a bank, made the trip from Huddersfield, and is two hours into getting his latest tattoo as we speak. He says the draw of the event is the quality of the tattooists it attracts.

“The tattoo scene where we are is getting better, but you get lots of international artists coming to events like this – people who wouldn’t come to Huddersfield.”

He speaks calmly, not flinching at what is renowned as being an extremely painful experience. “There’s pain, but it’s worth it and I kind of bizarrely enjoy it,” he adds.

The atmosphere in the convention is actually rather civilised - perhaps not what many would expect at such an event, a preconception which could be reinforced after hearing accounts of how people became involved in the tattoo-scene.

Xed Lehead, an artist who first started tattooing himself at the tender age of 13, has an array of piercings and tattoos stretching up to his face and closely-shaven head.

“I was a bit of a maverick”, he says. “I stayed underground and moved around Europe, tattooing people privately in squats, then had some bad experiences and moved to Germany and have been working in a parlour since 2001.”

Xed explains that he initially shared many of the mis-givings expected about the prospect of tattooing his face.

“People said to me that I should stop asking what it’s like and just do it. Once you do it, you realise it’s nothing.

“It gave me more invisibility – I thought less about what the world thought about me. It’s not for everyone because it does close some doors, but it opens others.”

The idea of tattoos opening doors might seem surprising, but such is the laid back attitude of many in attendance at the convention it’s one which begins to make more sense.

This environment is perhaps typified by the fact that children can be spotted wondering among the stalls with their parents as people everywhere around them have the finishing touches put to their tattoos.

Francesco Gaudialo and his wife Erica have brought their 10-month-old son Morgan and eight-year-old daughter Maya along. The couple took Maya out of school early specifically to allow her to experience the event.

“It’s something different for them,” Francesco explains. “I love art. It doesn’t matter if it’s tattoos or a painting – it’s all art.”

Despite his unconventional decision to bring his children with him, he’s unwavering in his belief that tattoos are not something for children.

“I don’t think kids should get tattoos before 18. It’s a big decision – it’s for the rest of your life.”

His advice to anyone considering a tattoo differs to that likely to be given out by many of the artists present, who charge anything from �90 per hour to more than �1000.

“If you’re not sure, wait.” I think I will.

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