Retro travel themes rule at London tattoo show

Story highlights

  • Sailing ships, anchors among favorite designs at international tattoo convention
  • Exotic east another popular theme on display in London
  • Trends illuminate tattoos' long relationship with travel

Retro ruled at the Ninth International London Tattoo Convention over the weekend.

It was a reminder of how central the theme of travel has long been to tattoos.

How so?

Consider the vintage designs that proved so popular among the thousands of inky fans gathered from all over the world at the three-day meet.

Mermaids. Anchors and sailing ships. Coy 50s pin-ups. Gypsy girls.

It's the classic iconography of the sailor's bicep -- signifiers, in other words, of the professional, inveterate traveler.

Traditional swing

"There's definitely a swing back to traditional. The fashion is the old U.S. marine styles," Marcus Berriman, co-organiser of the convention, told the Guardian.

But another trend on show had an equally strong travel imprint.

Along with "[t]he old-school sailor stuff ... the Japanese are really in vogue now," Aimee Cornwell, a second-generation tattooist at the show told the paper, referring to designs thick with swords and samurais.

Such oriental themes hark back to the allure of the exotic, when wearing a tattoo so often symbolized that you'd been somewhere foreign -- possibly very foreign -- and were therefore also probably a little suspicious.

Now all a tat need signify is that you know how to find your way to a trendy inner-city tattoo parlor.

Could it be that a return to rootless maritime themes and the mysterious east are an attempt to restore a demimonde thrill to a practice that's becoming so mainstream that the next radical statement could be to go entirely tattoo-free?

Or to tattoo your head -- another unmissable trend at the convention that one artist present called a potential "life-ruiner," and something she, like many of her fellow practitioners, never offered.

Scrubbed clean

Seen as one of the great follies of youth, tattooing -- especially when it's on someone's head -- can make you want to scream, "You can't scrub it off!"

Except that you can.

Painful and expensive it might be, but lasering can now return a tattooed body to a blank, if slightly smudgy, canvas.

Leaving you to travel the world in search of new tattoos.

Judging by the skilled artists present, by invitation only, at the convention, electrifying designs are on offer in a growing number of countries around the world.

And to think you just used to sew little flags on to your backpack to show all the places you'd traveled to.