Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Interview: Dan Gold - Good As Gold?

Since appearing on reality TV show London Ink, Dan Gold has become one of Britain’s most well known tattoo artists. I caught up with the ‘bad boy of tattooing’ at this year’s Bournemouth Ink tattoo convention to talk homemade tattoo machines, going topless and Britney Spears…

When did you first become interested in tattooing?

I was always interested in tattooing. I remember my mum always said I was quite a weird child. We passed a tattoo shop when I was about five. I looked into the window and there was a picture of the Japanese Yakuza, who have their whole body tattooed. I said to my mum, when I grow up, don’t be scared, but I wanna look like that. So it must have been something that was quite deep inside of me. I started drawing pictures for my friends and took them to tattoo shops. Then one day the tattooist said ‘Dan, you can draw cant you?’ and I went ‘Yep’ and he says ‘Well, I’m gonna go and get drunk, so if anyone comes into the shop, just tattoo them’. I was like ‘What?!’. So I sat in the tattoo shop but luckily no one came in. I was shitting myself, thinking what the hell am I gonna do if someone comes in? But then I thought, this could be quite cool, why don’t I give it a go?

Back then it was very hard to get any kind of information about tattooing. So I ended up having to build my own tattoo machine out of old scalextric engines, my mum’s sewing machine foot pedal and some of my brother’s guitar strings. I’d seen a book about things that were smuggled into Russian prisons, there was a picture of a homemade tattoo machine so I built one myself from that and tried to tattoo myself. Which I realise was a stupid idea because it bloody hurt. So I thought the best thing I could do is actually to do it on other people. And I haven’t really looked back since.

You specialise in graffiti and robot tattoos, what got you into that particular style?

I was part of a big graffiti gang in Denmark when I grew up so since I was 12 I’ve been painting graffiti. That’s what made me want to become a tattooist, because I could never find anyone to do the tattoos that I wanted. I’ve tried to become the tattoo artist that I couldn’t find basically. I love robots, I love sci-fi. I’m a bit of a geek so its quite natural for me to do stuff like that. It’s the kind of art that I love.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a tattoo artist?

Don’t! No seriously, I think if you really want to be an artist you’ve got to think to yourself, ‘what can I give to the industry?’ It’s no good thinking I just want to do it because it seems cool. It’s a bloody hard job and there’s a lot more to it. It’s not glamorous as we try and make out it is. Tattooing involves a lot of cleaning and studying. But it’s also a lot of fun. It takes a long time. I’d say my apprentice would take about three years before I’d call him a tattooist. So if someone really wants to become a tattoo artist, they should find a shop, a good shop where there’s an artist that you really respect, build up a portfolio, take it there and then start an apprenticeship. I think the worst thing you can do is do it the way I did it and build your own machine and do it from home. Because it takes you so much longer to get to a point where you will probably have to unlearn most of the things that you’ve taught yourself because they are all wrong. And it’s not safe as well.

You were on London Ink, do you think the show has had a positive effect on the tattoo industry?

I think it’s great. There will always be people who slag it off. There seems to be people in this industry who want to keep it in the stone age and liked it when it was underground. But that was bullshit. I was around when it was underground and it wasn’t that great. At least now we get the respect that we deserve. The industry, the art form and the history of tattooing gets what it deserves. The programmes were obviously quite mainstream and they were never made for other tattooists. They were made for middle England, middle class people who didn’t know anything about tattooing. It was sort of an insight into the industry for them so that everyone can see what we’re doing. And it has definitely made everyone a lot busier, which they don’t seem to complain about.

Some people believe that it is possible to become addicted to tattoos. Would you agree with this?

Certainly, I only came in for one! Yea, it’s super addictive. It’s like going to the gym or getting plastic surgery. When you realise that you don’t actually have to accept what you are born with, you can change it and modify it, that in itself is a very addictive thing. I remember when I started out, I was quite shy about my body. I was quite insecure about it. I never liked going to the beach and taking my top off because I always felt that I wasn’t as muscly as the other guys. But I think now that I’ve got my tattoos, I’m proud of my own body and every time someone sees me they’re like ‘wow, that’s wicked!’ That has a positive effect on your confidence and the way you feel about yourself. I think that’s a healthy thing. And now if the sun is shining just a little bit, I’m already half naked. Or if there’s alcohol.

Obviously there’s a fine line and you should be careful. I’ve seen people get a lot of tattoos, especially facial tattoos, and then loose the plot a little bit because it’s almost like they’re trying to erase themselves. That’s a whole different territory. But if you get tattoos to try and make yourself feel better, then I think it’s a very positive thing. Out of all the addictions you can have, it’s one of the good ones. And it makes me rich, so I like it.

You have tattooed quite a lot of famous people including Kate Moss and Peaches Geldof, but who is your favourite person that you’ve tattooed?

I think it’s got to be Kate Moss, if you’re talking about the famous people. She was so sweet and she ended up tattooing me as well. We became quite good friends. To be honest, a lot of them have been a lot friendlier than I thought they would be. The only people that tend to be arseholes are the semi-famous people, like your Big Brother lot and X Factor musicians. When you get to tattoo them they’ve always got an attitude. But when you tattoo people who are really famous they are always quite nice and very polite. Like when Britney Spears came into the shop she offered to make a cup of tea for me and stuff. They are just really down to earth.

What are your plans for the near future?

To get very, very drunk. But that’s the very near future. Like the next 12 hours. No seriously, I hope to spend quite a lot of time in America in the future. And I’ve got a new shop in Liverpool with three artists working there. That’s going really well. Just enjoying life, enjoying what I’ve created and what I’ve done. Life is really good at the moment so I’m just trying to enjoy it as much as I can and not take anything for granted. We are also gonna try and do something on TV within the next year one way or another. But it’s difficult to get anything financed. Making those programmes is very expensive. I’m also planning to go out to Afghanistan for Help The Heroes charity. Maybe tattoo some troops out there.

See what else Bournemouth Ink had in store

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