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  1. Mo Coppoletta

    What he does
    The Family Business isn’t just a tattoo shop. It’s an inking empire, and Coppoletta is Emperor. The place is vast – with enough space for 11 artists following renovations. His own style is varied: ‘The two main sources are Western iconography and Oriental imagery, but I find inspiration from things outside the world of tattooing, otherwise you stagnate.’

    His work graces the bodies of such celebs as wobbly-voiced chanteuse Paloma Faith and art world bad-boys the Chapman brothers, and has attracted the attention of luxury retailers such as Liberty. He’s currently taking a break to come up with 20 new designs: ‘After 16 years of tattooing, I felt like I couldn’t create in a new way, so I’m going back to drawing.'

    Go to him for
    Unique designs.

    The Family Business, 58 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QE

  2. Nikole Lowe

    What she does
    Lowe should be a familiar face to anyone who watched the ‘London Ink’ reality show, where the New Zealander’s complex Japanese and Tibetan-influenced designs turned her into a kind of celebrity tattooist. But she’s no overnight sensation, having built an impressive reputation over more than 20 years of tattooing some of the prettiest, most feminine designs in London. ‘I like things that look good from a distance, but I also like detail,’ she says from the comfort of Good Times, the tattoo shop she opened in a Shoreditch loft space after the show. Approachable and welcoming, it’s an antidote to the macho environments of most shops. ‘Tattooing’s about trust, really,’ she explains. It’s gotta be on you for ever, it’s not like getting your hair done.’

    Go to her for
    Stunningly intricate Eastern ink.

    I Love Good Times, 147 Curtain Rd, EC2A 3QE

  3. Liam Sparkes

    What he does
    Dealing in images of medieval torture, burning villages and creeping insects, Sparkes’s style is decidedly nasty. ‘I do black lines only,’ he says, ‘brutality and absurdity reign supreme.’ Taking inspiration from old etchings and engravings, as well as Duncan X, he’s built a sterling reputation by working his fingers to the bone at Shangri La, though his forays into fashion (collaborating with McQueen, notably) and tattooing some of the most visible bodies in the celebrity world haven’t hurt either. But the fashion work is just a distraction for him. ‘My main motivation is getting ink under skin,’ he states. And his view of tattooing is as black-and-white as his work: ‘I like to keep the sentiment that someone getting a tattoo is a statement, not just an accessory.’

    Go to him for
    Brutal, medieval-inspired black line work.

    Shangri La Tattoo, 54-58 Kingsland Rd, E2 8DP.

  4. Valerie Vargas

    What she does
    Demand for Vargas’s bold, perfectly realised and highly colourful takes on traditional tattooing went through the roof a few years back. ‘My waiting list spiralled out of control, it was a bit crazy,’ she says. But if you’ve got a two-year waiting list, it’s a fair sign that you’re doing something right. She now just booked three-month slots so the rest of us have a chance of getting in. And when you see her work, which is widely viewed as some of the prettiest in the business – all bold lines, super-bright colours and traditional imagery – it’s easy to see why she’s so popular. ‘I’m pretty lucky. I do a lot of girl heads, that’s what I’m known for,’ she admits,’ she admits, ‘but everyone wants something different, so it never gets boring.’

    Frith Street Tattoo can be a daunting place – with bleeding mannequins and abrupt customer service, comfort comes second to the tattooing. ‘I kinda like that it can be intimidating – it means you’ve got to have a pair of balls and just do it.’ When the work is as good as Vargas’s, it’s worth growing some cojones.

    Go to her for
    The best, boldest and brightest traditional tattooing in London.

    Frith Street Tattoo, 18 Frith St, W1D 4RQ.

  5. Duncan X

    What he does
    Duncan X inspires awe among tattooists and the tattooed. Every artist interviewed for this feature spoke about him in tones of hushed reverence. ‘Twenty years ago, when I started getting tattooed, nobody was doing anything I particularly liked – I wanted pictures that were cruder, more naïve,’ he says. He went on to create a style entirely his own, and influenced countless tattoo artists in the process. ‘I don’t want to take a load of credit for that,’ he shrugs. I’ve just stuck to what I do.’

    He modestly describes himself as ‘a bit of a butcher’, but his packed schedule – his booked out until the new year – tells another story. He’s also singularly ethical, refusing to ‘sell out’ to make a quick buck via a line of cheesy T-shirts or posters. ‘Money doesn’t matter to me, this is what matters,’ he says, pawing at his intimidatingly inked arms. His style is all about stark black lines and often absurd imagery where clarity is key. ‘It’s just the medium I’ve chosen, and it suits me because it’s brutal, it can’t be sold on and someone has to make a horribly permanent decision. It’s really exciting.’ Yes it is.

    Go to him for
    Direct, harsh black line work from the master.

    Into You, 144 ST John St, EC1V 4UA.

London's best tattoo artists

We talk to the capital's most sought-after ink artists in their parlours

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