A tattoo artist, teacher, writer and musician, Dave Regan likes to keep busy. Originally from Baltimore, he has lived in Colorado for almost five years and currently works at Landmark Tattooing. He also writes for Tattoo Artist and Tattoo Culture magazines. In his latest article, he chronicles his motorcycle road trip, crossing eighteen states and tattooing all over the country. Westword just caught up with Regan, who talked about balancing his busy lifestyle, the trendiness of tattoos and the importance of education in the industry.
Westword: How long have you been in Colorado?
Dave Regan: I moved out here five years ago this August. I got a job at Bolder Ink and I really haven't looked back.
How long have you been in the business?
Fifteen years in the business and twelve years tattooing, I've been at it pretty much since I got out of high school.
Did you find any differences in the industry when you moved here?
The industry, collectively, has changed so dramatically since day one for me. The first couple of years was sort of like the end of the golden era, I would say. When I first got into it, the passion that went into it in the early '90s, everybody -- clientele included -- had a lot of really interesting ideas coming through. It seemed like it was just this really burgeoning creative force that was really unstoppable, and then somewhere along the line it just kind of caught on, I guess. Unfortunately, when you have something like that, you have -- I call it the "magic," you know, and I think as time progresses and people are exposed to it, it sort of begins to lose it. It doesn't mean those pockets don't exist, by any stretch, but I think generally it feels like it's kind of dumbed-down a little bit from where it was. It was always kooky, but lately it's very trend-driven. It's always been that to some degree, but I guess with the prevalence of it everywhere, you see more and more of the trend, Pinterest tattooing, that kind of stuff. If tattooers were the ones influencing tattooing, I would feel better about it. When media influences what we do -- it's changed an awful lot. And it's a double-edged sword. Certainly, in some aspects it's changed for the better and in a lot of other aspects it's changed for the worst, I think.
How do you deal with balancing the ideas a client has and your own vision of what might look good?
I do a lot of fine art stuff, I teach drawing. I actually worked with Will Thidemann last summer teaching classes for free at Kaze, which was awesome. I really enjoy teaching. I don't have a formal background, but it's something I'm good at. Basically, when I'm at work I'm a designer, and when I'm making art I can be selfish. That is the division for me. Of course, I try and make suggestions that are gonna help the client in making a better decision for themselves, because a lot of the time people just aren't aware of what's available to them. I kind of try to get in their head and see what it is they want, and it may be different from what they came in with initially. But ultimately, at the end of the day, if you want it, I'll do it.
I actually just wrote an article -- I've been writing for Tattoo Artist and Tattoo Culture magazine for almost two years -- and I talked about that quite a bit. I make pizza. If you want to have good pizza, come on in, I'll make a killer slice of pizza for you. If you want me to make pizza out of spaghetti, I will, but it's not necessarily going to taste like pizza. At the end of the day, it's about giving people what they want. You do have to sort of put yourself on hold to some degree, because it's not about you. Sometimes it is hard not to be dismissive when people are hell-bent on making a decision that may affect them negatively down the line, but you can't be everybody's parent. Keeping a customer base that's informed will only further benefit everyone. It's nice to have that educated community and clientele.
Continue reading for the rest of the Q&A with Regan.
Do you have plans to continue teaching now that Kaze is closing?
Yeah, I was doing that stuff for free, and I'll probably start doing classes again for money, honestly because of the lack of interest. It started out really strong, we had about twelve or thirteen people there the first go around, and it sort of just dwindled out. We did it once a month with the hope that if you didn't do it so regularly, then more people would be interested. Unfortunately, people are pretty flaky, generally speaking. Sometimes when you do things for free, it makes it a lot less committal. Whereas if you're charging somebody to learn this stuff, then they're putting money down so they feel obligated to be there. I would like to do it again; I'd probably do private groups if there's enough interest. I thoroughly enjo, teaching. It's just cool presenting a concept to people and just watching the light bulb go off. I figure if everybody could be better together, then it's just better for all of us.
So you're a tattoo artist, fine artist, writer, teacher, and you do photography as well?
So you're a pretty busy guy. How do you find the time for all that?
I just do it. I have kind of a very quiet social life. I go home, I work, and on my weekends I'm in the mountains during the winter. I travel a ton, too. It's juggling, but it doesn't feel like juggling. It's sort of like whatever gets attention, gets it for that day. It's just finding creative ways to spend your time. I'm not a big partier anymore, I don't really get into that. No girl, no kids, no nothing. So that makes it pretty easy.
Do you find any parallels among those different forms of art?
Absolutely. I mean, it's cyclical, right? Everything influences everything. Doing this, you can't be selfish, it's not for you. But music is selfish. Art is selfish. And I don't mean that to sound nasty, it's just something you do for you. When you're at work, you do this for other people. I think there are lessons you can take away from working with people here. Sometimes clients come in and have amazing ideas. Unfortunately, it's increasingly rare to find people who come in with kind of forward-thinking stuff.
I might get an idea for somebody, draw something up and they don't like it, then I can take that and turn it into a painting. I may make a painting somebody really likes and wants to get that tattooed. I've been collecting music pretty much my whole life, and tattooing has really opened up that horizon a lot, so what I listen to will in turn influence what I make. If I'm not feeling like painting one night, I'll play guitar. If I'm not feeling like playing guitar, I'll play piano. If I don't feel like playing piano, I'll draw. It's constantly trying to keep that fire stoked from all sides.
How do you define your style of tattooing?
I specialize in what you want. I mean, if I had to pick, I would absolutely love to be able to choose what I do, but I don't get that choice in tattoos. I'm here to make people happy, whatever it may be. Again, I try and guide them the right way. If I could choose what I want to do, I have a pretty big background in Japanese and I have a pretty big background in Americana. Really, my favorite thing to do is if to take all of these pictures that we have -- panthers, skulls, whatever -- and say, "What about those images speaks to people? Why are panthers so popular and have been for 200 years? What about that invokes a response?" And then help you create a tattoo using that imagery to sort of treat them as a lexicon. You're creating a composition that to the casual observer may not mean anything, but to the people who are wearing them, it's a subtle tongue-in-cheek kind of thing where, if you want to read it on another level, you can, and if you don't, that's okay.
I think that's a responsibility that sometimes tattooers don't take as seriously, which is that constant push to learn and to try new things and work harder and get out and travel and get influenced by other people and help influence other people. To me, the stronger your community is, the stronger you're gonna be. I think that right now, tattooing probably needs that more than ever.
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