Tattoos have been well documented throughout the ages and have a long, rich history of cultural importance. Of course, there are certain methods which have evolved with technology, trends also affect the industry with great force. We had the pleasure of speaking to traditional stick n poke style tattoo artist Dave King, who prefers to be aware of and to stick to his roots.
He is a cheeky chap, full to the brim of creative talent and with a sprinkle of pure punk. We met in the heart of Amsterdam on a bitterly cold winter day and decided to discuss his art over coffee.
There is something quite unique about Dave King, not just his exceptionally warm character but his mastered methods of tattooing. He only uses black ink whilst keeping his delicate but intrinsically brutal style which seems to flow through whichever work he desires to complete.
How would you introduce yourself and how would you describe your work?
Well, I am a blackwork, ornamental and geometric tattoo artist. I do everything machine free, so hand poked.
What inspired you and what other elements do you try to pull in?
I tattoo in an ornamental style so generally, I don’t make figurative tattoos – more like decoration for the body. I take in fluences from all sorts of places for those decorations, sometimes it’s based on a something I’ve seen – a symbol, a pattern from another culture…anything in fact…or, it’s a completely abstracted version of something I have been influenced by, that I think will fit and enhance the form of the body.
Do you take in artwork that has been presented to you, or do you always make it your own?
Because I’m making tattoos machine free, it changes the dynamics of my appointments a little bit. Without the use of a machine, certain styles are impossible and others obviously take longer to achieve by hand, so it also changes the scope of the techniques that I can utilise – so – there are things that I just wouldn’t take as a walk-in tattoo. With other styles, I can achieve a result very similar to that of the machine. So, it depends on the style of the artwork. It generally depends on the person and the project and why they came to me specifically; whether it’s because they wanted it made by hand in particular or because they wanted my style of tattoo, and then we will try to meet in the middle, a- to see if I’m the right artist to make the tattoo b- if I’m going to make the right artwork for what they had imagined in the first place
What elements do you think stick n poke give?
I’m super inspired by the tattoos and the fact that people were making tattoos before machines were invented, my influences are definitely more from tribal tattooing…not say Mike Tyson’s tribal face tattoo(!) but –
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Yeah, it’s coming back!!….but traditional tattooing coming from, Indonesia, the Inuit, Africa. It was much simpler artwork and that’s the kind of aesthetic that I try to carry through, whilst making these tattoos with modern materials.
Did you start off with a machine?
No, it was always stick and poke that I was always interested in. I love the idea that this is how indigenous people tattooed before machines were invented. Also, on a practical level, because I don’t have to have the same equipment, the set-up is much more simple and I don’t have to carry all the stuff with me! I can still make a tattoo in the same vein as a machine tattoo, but wherever. I love that.
Has your style developed even though you’ve kept your fundamental tattoo morals close?
For sure yeah, before I was tattooing I was designing stuff heavily influenced by tattoo art, but without any idea how to actually apply the tattoo. I have learnt about tattooing through making tattoos for sure. The style of my tattoos have evolved because I’m realising what works better on the skin, what people like and what I think looks good; positioning, techniques, everything is evolving every time, so yeah, my style evolves every day in some way.
Do you think that’s quite an important thing for an artist to enhance as well?
Yeah I think that in any creative world if you’re not doing something creative every day then you don’t feel satisfied, you’re not pushing yourself forward and you do stagnate, so for anything creative, doing it on a daily basis will always develop your style faster. I take inspiration from many things, from the metal grate on the front of a window to the embroidery of a textile, every day I’m bombarded with things that I think can be turned into a nice tattoo….and not even just tattooing – other artwork as well!
Lets touch on to that, you’re known for your lettering Yeah, I got into tattooing through lettering.
I was lettering and painting signs and initially, I got a few jobs for tattoo shops – that was my way sneaky way into the tattoo world. Yeah, before I was lettering and sign painting as well as doing personal projects which were more ornamental and illustrative. I was using a lot of dot-work and taking influences from things I’ve seen on my travels – which is the base of my tattoo style now. Because I was doing dotwork and a lot of drafting, it felt like quite a smooth transition into tattooing – I found that the way to approach a project and even some of the techniques were the same. It felt like a smooth transition – but I was super lucky to have had those opportunities! Now I have the luxury of having my fingers in pies! If I’m not tattooing then I have opportunities for sign painting, screen printing t-shirts, making illustrative artwork…I really like that. You only work with black ink? I only tattoo with black ink
So what do you think black gives rather than colour?
Well for me, again it goes back to traditional/indigenous tattooing. Most often the ink was black, coming from the charcoal from say – the bottom of an old burnt pan. So, for me and the style of the tattoos I do, I think that black will always be the most classic, have the best longevity and the most appropriate aesthetic for the tattoos I make. That’s not to say that I haven’t been tattooed in colour but just for my artwork, I like to keep in down to black. Also, it means I have fewer things to travel with! As I said before, I love hand-poked tattooing because it is so mobile, it gives you that element of freedom, just having one colour of ink is part of this ideology – less equipment to carry!
What other projects have you got going on?
Last year was a really epic year and pushed things forward a lot for me, so there are a few big projects that are happening already. I’m working on opening a private tattoo studio here in Amsterdam, whilst still tattooing in Berlin and Barcelona, where I alternate between the two 19:28 studios, roughly one week each month. I hope to continue that whilst travelling to other places in-between! A few friends and I have also started making a zine for Amsterdam, a free giveaway, with another couple of friends I recently started screen printing and making t-shirts…as I said before, fingers in pies!
Where can people find your social media?
Everything is on Instagram – @MrDaveKing
Keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming interviews!