For the bulk of the bank holiday weekend, Ally Pally rung with the constant low-level buzz of ink being etched onto skin. Hundreds of renowned tattoo artists rolled into the Palace’s great hall, encased in a pair of latex gloves, ready to unleash their latest creations on their needle-yearning subjects.
A problem for many visitors at The Great British Tattoo Show wasn’t what they should get, but rather where they could fit another piece on their art-adorned skin. Or at least that’s what we were told by a woman who had multicoloured leopard print on her temples and paw prints on her palms.
We spoke with her while she was getting the final etchings of a phoenix that wrapped from her coccyx to her calf. She broke our conversation to wince in pain when her tattoo artist – who she labels “the wizard” – shaded her hamstring bright yellow.
“That’s the most painful body part to get done,” she says, post-wince. After a moment’s pause, she raises her elbow to the Pally’s roof, revealing the feathers on her armpit, “actually, this one was far worse.”
Her least favourite tattoo? “I’ve got more leopard print on my crotch,” she says, “but I got it done eight years ago and it just looks like a disease now.” Note to self: keep bikini-line tattoo-free.
Tattoo conventions take place year-round across the country: the biggest is in Tobacco Dock – hosting a hundred more artists than this one – while the Brighton expo is said to have the warmest atmosphere.
“This is by far and away my favourite location,” says another inked-pundit, “it is just so poetic,” she adds, while pointing to the sun streaming in through the venue’s circular stained-glass windows.
Throughout the day the tinny hum of needles was sporadically interspersed with applause for the line-up of performers compiled by Gypsy Disco. The immersive theatrical company brought a squad of fire-cage wielding men, fire-breathing burlesque artists, bow and arrow strumming acrobats, contortionists and clowns: suitable visual fodder to admire while cling-film wrapped body parts allow art to settle into skin.
Main image: Clare Hand