Body language is skin deep as tattoo artists meet in London

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And judging by the size of the queue outside the inaugural London Tattoo Convention yesterday, the 130 top body colourists from around the world had plenty of flesh to press.

Zele from Croatia, Horikoi from Japan and BorneoHeadHunter from Indonesia joined other tattoo artists in transforming an old brewery building in the East End into the biggest tattoo parlour in the world.

Many of the 4,000 or so visitors were seeking a tattoo and had already booked sessions up to seven hours long.

Derek Marks-Baker, a "huge body art and tattooing fan", had woken at dawn for the six-hour drive from Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, to watch his steady-handed heroes.

As he queued outside the hall with his wife, Steph, Mr Marks-Baker, 41, said: "I'm quite excited. This convention is bringing together about 100 of the world's top artists. It's going to be absolutely awesome seeing them at work."

He was hoping to get a large "horror" tattoo from one of his favourite tattooists, Paul Booth of Last Rites in New York, but feared the price could pass £1,000.

British tattooists, like Bugs and George Bone, were busy working alongside famous foreigners leaving their mark on visitors.

Tattooing equipment was cleaned in a special sterile room, and after use every needle was stowed away for disposal.

For those seeking enlightenment about the history of tattooing, a temporary museum told the story of body art through the ages.

Modern Western tattoos were developed in Britain following the discovery by Captain Cook in 1769 of Tahiti and its tattooed inhabitants. The seafarer reputedly coined the term tattoo from the "tac-tac" sound made by the hammer that hit the needle into the skin.

Miki Vialetto, who runs two international tattooing magazines, decided to bring the international show to Britain after staging it for four years in Milan.

"There are representatives of all the techniques, from Japanese to Borneo to gothic," Mr Vialetto, 34, said.

The Italian, whose body is covered 80 per cent by tattoos, believed tattooed celebrities such as Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston and Eminem were responsible for the surge of interest in body art in the past decade.

"It's become a cultural phenomenon. Many museums have started to get interested in tattooing," he said.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 people are expected to visit the three-day convention before it closes at 7pm tomorrow.