Once only for sailors and criminals, tattoos have become the latest trend among suburban kids and moms looking for a diversion

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In a day with an inked prime minister, it’s not surprising to see anyone flaunting body art.

In any good-weather walk through downtown London you’re bound to take notice of a number of tattoos, likely done at one of the more than 20 tattoo shops in London.

But what’s popular on the arms, legs and bodies of Londoners will vary depending on which tattoo artist gives the answer.

Veronica Zager, who’s worked in the tattoo industry in London for 17 years, says what she describes as “Pinterest tattoos” — trendy tattoos picked online — have become a hot pick.

“Infinity symbols, coordinates, heartbeats — all those kind of things are popular,” said Zager. “They’re popular for people who are just trying to get a feel for a tattoo.”

Al Hartshorn, who’s worked as a tattoo artist for more than 20 years in London, has noticed this as well, saying he’s noticed pocket watches and doves as trendy requests.

Hartshorn said requests of artwork of photo-realism are popular as well.

Making a comeback according to Jacqui Gallant, owner of Addictive Tattoo, London’s longest running tattoo walk-in shop, are tattoos in the craft’s traditional style with bold lines and bright colours.

“Trends come and go, tattoos don’t,” said Gallant.

She remembers a time when tattoos of the like were watched with caution, rather than observed with interest on London streets.

“When they saw me coming, people would literally take their kids by the hand and cross the street,” said Gallant, whose tattoos cover her from foot to neck. She’s had tattoos done by about 25 artists — the exact number she’s lost count.

She got her first tattoo in 1994 and has spent about 200 hours under the needle since.

“It’s about the journey and the memories, it’s never been a matter of cost,” she said.

In 1996 Gallant opened Addictive.

“We didn’t have a number listed in the phone book and our door was locked. If you didn’t know someone, you weren’t coming in,” said Gallant.

“It was underground, it wasn’t cool. We used to tattoo ourselves to separate ourselves from society. We wanted to be different; we didn’t want to be normal.”

Gallant says today, people get inked for the opposite reason.

“Now people tattoo themselves to fit in,” she said.

Gallant opened the shop with Jason Wojceik, an artist from a now-closed parlour called the Blue Dragon, which she said was the only other serious tattoo shop in the city at the time.

Zager’s shop, Legacy Tattoo and Piercing, opened in 1999. She said there were only five or six shops in London at that time.

Hartshorn, formerly an artist at Blue Dragon and Addictive himself, and Gallant agreed that tattoos became more popular in the city when tattoo studios became a set for reality TV shows in the mid-2000s, in Miami Ink and the like.

“It changed quite a bit,” said Hartshorn. “It’s becoming more acceptable.”

As for the artists, what has grown more common is tattoo specialists who mainly stick to their own style.

Not yet lost in London is a degree of tattoo-exclusivity that Addictive eventually evolved from.

Mike Austin, of Custom Tattooing By Mike, and John Austin, another Blue Dragon alumnus, who employees at Gallant’s shop called “a legend” and “a pioneer,” is known to schedule appointments months in advance and reject artwork that he deems unfit. Austin, whose private by-appointment shop predates Addictive by four years, agreed that tattooing has changed in the 21st century.

“Todays tattooists are not a collection of eccentric misfits, nor are they as colourful as the old timers. Individuality is uncommon to these days, to an extent,” said Austin.

“That being said, the up and coming truly talented artists are absolutely mind blowing in what they are capable of; things we could only dream of 20 years ago.”

Both Addictive and Legacy Tattoo accept walk-ins and specialty work.

Hartshorn opened his own tattoo studio, the Collector in Lambeth, three weeks ago, where he specializes in dark art pieces.

“Some people say there are so many tattoo shops in the city. I don’t see how having more tattoo shops is a bad thing. It’s promoting tattooing,” said Hartshorn.

At her shop, Gallant estimates the average walk-in tattoo takes an hour or two to complete, costing $150 – $300.

For a “collector”, however, someone like herself or others that collect tattoos like pieces of artwork, it might cost $600 for the average piece of ink.



Tattoo tips from the pros:

  • Research artists’ portfolios
  • Check studios’ inspection history by the Middlesex-London Health Unit

Prices in London

$100 to $180 per hour, depending on location and artist’s experience.

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