Divine Canvas - Bespoke Tattooing

Published: 08 June, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 186, June, 2010

Divine Canvas is a totally new studio, with two of the industry’s most passionate and committed artists at the helm, set on making Divine Canvas a studio that produces and pushes tattooing further than ever before.

What can I say about Xed Lehead? This man has single-handedly brought the Geometric tattoo to the forefront of UK tattooing with his eye-wateringly beautiful tattoo designs. Xed is not only a very colourful character, but also a superbly talented and spiritual person who pushes himself and his tattoos to the limit, often to his own personal detriment. 

Alan, or Mad Alan to give him his full title, is just that. Mad – but in a very nice and friendly way, with an infectious personality and obvious love for everything he does. These two friends have come up with what I’m sure will be a winning formula with the opening of Divine Canvas Bespoke Tattooing. Xed and Alan have put together a team of amazing artists that will, all make their mark on the tattoo scene in a very permanent way.

Welcome to the driving forces behind Divine Canvas Bespoke Tattooing - Xed LeHead & Mad Alan...

Tell us what has transpired since your departure from Into You.

Xed: "After I was unfairly sacked (by email) from IN2U for insubordination, initially I did a bit of travelling; I went to Spain, Australia and New Zealand. In NZ I stayed with Inia Taylor III… I didn’t actually work properly out there, but did ink a few kiwis… I just went for a holiday but it was interesting to see how Inia carries on in terms of his work.

When I returned to England, I went to work at Blue Fire Tattoo in Chingford, which was an interesting experience, you could say. Unfortunately things there didn’t go as planned but I still ended up staying for six months. During that time I had been invited to start work at Nikole Lowe’s new studio, she had a beautiful place lined up near London Bridge, but sadly that didn’t come off and she had to start looking for other premises. In the meantime I went back to New Zealand, didn’t do much tattooing whilst there, not because I didn’t want to but because there really wasn’t much going on.

All in all that wasn’t a happy period and when I returned to the UK, I didn’t work for another six weeks. I had taken my equipment out of Blue Fire and Nikole was still having problems getting her studio sorted, so Alan introduced me to the owner of London Tattoo, a top fella named Sparx and I took a position there whilst waiting to start with Nikole when I suddenly realised that what I actually needed was to have my own place, as soon as possible; though at the time I had no idea how to make that happen as I was right in debt and technically homeless and the good ole’ days seemed quite far behind me…"

So what was the turning point that made you realise after all these years of tattooing that you needed to open your own studio?

Xed: "That point came when I realised that my way of tattooing is not always compatible with all studio bosses. The time had come to take control. I want to be able to work in an environment with the right people around me and if someone comes in and I am not comfortable with them, I want to be able to ask them to leave. Obviously being in control comes with its own kinds of stress, as I’m now finding out.  I’m reaching an age where I don’t want to be surrounded by anything but positivity; I’ve kicked the drugs yet again and I just want to get on with the work. I have enough chaos going on in my love life; I don’t need it in my tattooing."

You’ve often said your love life is always chaotic.

Xed: "You could say that! I have a habit of getting myself into situations. The ups and downs of love are fuel for the passions of my work! Falling in love and the inevitable heartbreaks are wood to stoke the fires of creativity. But I’m happy to say it’s actually reaching a stable period right now, kind of, maybe, and I am finding happiness as I find new balance in my life… And long may it last. I have been in my shell too long and I appear to be feeling far more sociable again after a lengthy spell in a self-created dark place. I have enjoyed re-opening my website and coming above ground again as I pretty much dropped right out and became basically unobtainable for about a year and a half. It’s good to be back!"

So how did this studio come about?

Xed: "One day Alan came and told me that he had come across this little shop via a good friend of his, Sarah, the owner of Wedge hair design that’s next door to our little place and he asked me how I felt about co-opening it as a studio. I guess for me it came at the right time, I wasn’t happy not being in control of things; working at London Tattoo was an experience, I had a some real good times there, but it wasn’t what I really wanted. Thank God that Alan came along coz I had, as usual, no fucking money; as always, anything I get my hands on pours through my fingers like water, I’ve always been crap with money, so Alan offered to put up the whole lot, and hey presto, Divine Canvas was becoming a reality…"

Did it take long to get the place up and running?

Xed: "Not too long, but we did have to wait four months to get the change of use of the building allowed and we couldn’t do anything until that was sorted. We had all of the stuff ready to install but were told that if we put one screw in the wall, it would jeopardise our position. Anyway it eventually came through and we were ready to go. Having said that, the studio is still nothing like we want it to be, we still have a lot to do, a lot more art to put on the walls but the foundation is here, it just needs fine-tuning."

Alan: "Everything takes money and you have to remember that we have opened in a depression, but we are lucky enough to have Xed here, so we already have a client base. I believe that any new business will take a year to get rolling and we are crawling; but crawling forward as opposed to backwards. Aside from Xed, we have some amazing artists here; we have Eric Blanc, that kid is incredible; he really is our ace card. Eric will be the future of tattooing and I believe, his artwork is sensational, some of his paintings take years to do but when you see the results, they just blow you away."

Xed: "Eric asks me almost nothing about tattooing; he just learns it all for himself. He just seems to suss it out. Initially I gave him a few pointers but after that I just left him, he’s a natural born tattooist. I’ve known him for about 12 years and when he told me a few years ago that he was going to buy some machinery, I told him straight way that if I were ever to open a studio, I wanted him to work with me. I will put my cards on the table now and say that in a few years, he will be one of the top ink smiths in the UK…"

Xed, are you still doing mainly dot work?

Xed:  "That’s pretty much all I do, dots and lines, though I have done colour work on Alan, mostly because he keeps pestering me and I also have a couple of other customers who like to hassle me for colour work."

How do you feel about working in colour after all of that black work?

Xed: "It’s all right. Its not like working in colour was years ago when the inks were thick and messy. They are now nice and thin so it’s almost like working with black ink. Having said that, colour work is still messy, I often open the bottle and before I start tattooing I’ve got ink all over me, colour splashes on the wall, ink on my head, so it takes a bit of getting used to.   

Alan: "I could always tattoo your head pink!"

Xed: "Someone will do that one day. I remember when I did Lucky Diamond Rich’s head black, Chris Cougar came up to me and said, “you fucking nutter, you did it”. He remembered a conversation we had in Germany a few years previously when I had said that someone one day would have their whole body blacked out as the ultimate extreme end of the line; it just had to happen…

I never imagined back then that I would be responsible for doing so much of the actual work that turned Lucky Diamond Rich into the most tattooed person in the entire Universe. I was pretty chuffed that Chris remembered that conversation."

So, what is your vision for your future as a tattooist and for the studio?

Xed:  "The hope for this place is that we end up with a really strong, creative team of artists here. With regard to the studio, we will be open to a certain amount of walk-ins but most of the custom work will be done later in the day when we will still be open, as both Alan and myself believe in having a studio where clients can visit fairly late."

Alan: "We would both envisage expanding in the future to encompass more than one shop. I’ve got many plans to push forward, but we have to walk before we can run.  We have to get the flagship sailing before the rest of the fleet."

Xed:  "Personally, I’d like to have a more private area where I could work alongside perhaps just one other artist, maybe two. Perhaps this could be a smaller shop near here. That’s what I am aiming to achieve within the next year. Ideally I would like to work with Eric because I’m heading towards that quiet, spiritual way of working and that’s what he is about; he just gets on with things in his own quiet, reflective way."

Alan: "Tattooing is an art form in its own right and there are very few people like that."

Xed: "Who can lay claim to having invented their own style? When you are in that position, if you decide that you don’t need to do all the shading for example, you can ask someone else if they want to work with you, and that’s ok, it’s still in your own style."

Xed, what else would you like to say about the studio?

Xed: "With regard to the studio, this is phase one of three stages. I don’t want to say too much about phase two or three at this time. I don’t plan to leave England, but I do have plans to open a kind of winter retreat in a warmer climate. I know which island I am thinking of, but don’t want to name it. All I can say is that it’s a nice, quiet, sunny place, not a million miles away. It would be great to have a house there where I could see some of my select clientele who could afford to fly in and out. I’m hoping to go there next winter to research property prices. I love England and I really love London, well London is England. We are like all capital city dwellers around the world, for us there is nowhere else.

There is a sense of humour in London, which is unparalleled. I miss that when I am away. I lived in Germany for a few years and those stiff bastards really do have their humour glands drained just after birth! I came back to London ten years ago and I haven’t looked back."

And what about these rotary machines you are building? How do you find the time for that as well?

Xed: "Ahh, those machines, well, for anyone who did not see the Tattoo Master interview with Uncle Roy and myself on those machines, I would like to say that they are completely built by Roy to original measurements and ideas by me. Initially, he was just making machines for me alone, but friends starting wanting them and Roy began to build them to order, and as they are sanctioned by me, that’s why they carry my name with them. We will be selling them for him through the Divine Canvas studio, So if you’re a registered artist, come on down and check them out in person, where I can give you a quick run down on how to set them up properly, coz if they ain’t set right, you just won’t get the true smooth rotary experience."

Ok Alan, let’s put the spotlight on you. Tell us about your interesting and contentious past.

Alan: "I don’t know what you mean! (laughs). Seriously, my dad was a barrow boy and my mother was a topless club hostess, so I grew up around the markets and clubs of Soho. About twenty years ago I got involved in car breaking through my interest in banger racing and from there things have just progressed. Nowadays I also do a lot of metal sculpting, artistic stuff. I’ve had a gas license for welding and making sculpture since I was sixteen, at first they wouldn’t give me one until I took my grandmother along to B.O.C to sign for it so that I could get the bottles. Back then I used to make masks, that was my thing at the time."

How was it growing up in Soho in the days when Soho really was Soho?

Alan: "Fantastic! That is what has made me the colourful character I am. I spent my school holidays selling chocolate and during the weekends I was in the clubs watching dad iron out the money, waiting for the shift to end so that we could all go home. Often I would spend time sitting outside with the working girls, who were waiting for someone to win a few quid and take them out for the night. Life was fantastic, we had our own collective; our own society and you can’t buy into that."

I take it you still get out and about on the fetish scene?

Alan: "I can’t help it, it’s my way. I really enjoy it. As you know, I’m pansexual; I love to dress up. I can’t really say much more without being perceived as a perv, but that’s what I am. And do you know that in all the years I’ve been going out on the fetish scene, I’ve never seen a punch-up. People there are respectful and anyway when you get all dressed up to go out, you don’t want to get too messed up. I spend a lot of time getting ready, so I don’t want to get into any aggro, it might spoil my make-up.

I love dressing up, I’ve dressed up for punters in the past, I’ve been arrested for running a disorderly house where we were offering sex for money, give us your money, we’ll give you sex. I’ve been in numerous places on numerous occasions in numerous odd positions with numerous people.  I am often asked how I can talk so openly about it, but I don’t really care, it has made me the person I am today, the colourful character I am. I have four children, two grandchildren and the most beautiful wife in the world, God bless her, and I don’t know how she puts up with me."

How do they react to all of your eccentricities?

Alan: "They don’t like it at all. My kids think I’m out of order, they wonder how their mum puts up with it. They don’t want me to go to parents’ evenings and my daughter has asked me not to pick her up from school in the lorry because the other kids think we are gypsies and they have also asked me not to wear women’s clothes to the school.

I am what I am, I’m very happy. I’m not in denial about anything, I do have some down days and there have been some times in the past when I have not been at ease with myself, but now, I don’t care. I’m well and truly out. If I want to wear women’s clothes, I will. Everybody knows I’m outrageous."

Why have you decided on a career change and become a tattooist?

Alan: "I just love the decoration of the skin, the art. I have been shown so little up to this point, but it means so much. The power of colouring the skin is incredible. I just love tattoos; I got my first when I was thirteen. I’m fifty-two now and want to get more and more until I have no more space.

Why do I want to tattoo? Passion. I was getting bored at the breakers yard. I live quite well; you know that, you’ve been to my house. It wasn’t out of necessity; I just wanted to do something new with my life. I don’t want to retire; I’m not ready to join the pipe and slippers brigade.

I love ink and I love the environment that surrounds it. I love the sort of people it attracts. It also blends in well with my perverse side, as I like to see naked people getting tattooed."

Tell us about your own tatts.

Alan: "A lot of my most recent work has been done by Matt Difa (Jolie Rogue); he has been a family friend since the age of twelve. He’s actually a close friend of my son and when I started to get tattooed again recently, it was my son who suggested going to Difa, or Matt the tatt as we call him. He is an amazing artist and between him and Xed they have covered my body."

It was you who got Xed into doing colour work.

Alan: "Yes. I love colour, there is enough black in my life and colour suits my skin. I will continue getting work until there is no more skin left and by that time I hope I will be proficient enough to work more on others. So far, I have been tattooing friends and they have all become regulars, no one has said that they don’t want more work by me, so that’s encouraging. I am trying to develop my own style, some people see a ship riding through waves; I see a ship grinding through cogs. I’m never going to be a Xed or a Filip Leu, but I will definitely be a character in my own right."

How did you meet Xed and how did this collaboration come about?

Alan: "Our mutual friend, Dave Tusk, who thought that we were destined to meet each other, first introduced us and quite honestly, I have never met anyone that I got on so well with right from the start. Xed is my brother and my mentor. We have a really good relationship, he tells me off, like no one ever has; in many ways, he’s like my dad."

So where do things go from here?

Alan: "I’ve got plans for more studios but all in good time, we have to get this one going first. We are what we say we are, Divine Canvas, Bespoke Tattooing and if anyone goes out of here with a bad tattoo, we don’t want the artist who did that working here. We are not about ripping people off; we’re far more about making people happy. Don’t get me wrong, we need money; who doesn’t, but it’s more about the people and the art.

I ooze confidence. Life is not a dress rehearsal; this is it! I can honestly say that if there is anything out there that I want to do, I’ll do it and I generally think about the consequences later. I’ve been involved in corporate business and I’ve been in and out of strife all of my life, but I’m a happy creature and I want to bring other people happiness. Surely that can’t be such a
bad thing?"


Divine Canvas Bespoke Tattooing

179 Caledonian Road
N1 0SL

0207 5027736



Text & Photography: Ashley at savageskin.co.uk


Skin Deep 186 1 June 2010 186