Tattooing is historically a cultural art form that’s been practised for thousands of years, however it’s only in the last century that body inking has become a widespread (and accepted) form of expressionism and fashion. Often tattooing is overlooked as an artistic skill yet the combined required elements of technique, attention to detail and illustrative talent highlights why it should not be.

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We came across Australian tattoo artist Dave Clayton via Instagram and reached out to him to discover more!

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Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your path to becoming a tattoo artist?

My Name is Dave, I’m 30 years old and I live in Melbourne, Australia. I have always been interested in art, coming from a loving family that encouraged me to always do what I loved doing, which was drawing. My father was a technical illustrator so I guess it was in the genes!

After high school I studied Illustration and Multimedia and Design, then started working as a graphic designer.

Getting into tattooing was a big shift for me, I’d just finished 2 1/2 years living in  London and travelling around Europe and arrived back in Australia to a job I wasn’t stimulated by. 

After a few months of working I saw that a tattoo parlour in my area (The Piercing Urge) had a position open for an apprentice, I knew of one of the artists there, Frederick Bain (who is now my great friend and mentor). So I knew I had to give it a shot or I would regret it. 

Now two years later I wouldn’t change a thing; I love this job and the industry.

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How different is it drawing on someone’s skin to drawing on paper or canvas? 

I think the technical aspect of it is something you need to learn, like the way to hold a machine and having different techniques to create certain effects. The skin is also not flat, it’s curved, some people are squishy and some people are boney which you also have to account for. The machines are also heavier than a pencil so thats something that you also need to get used to 

But first and foremost the hand eye coordination that you have from learning to draw is a great starting point for anyone thinking about getting into the industry, so Practise that FIRST!

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How have you had to adapt your technique?

Like I said, you need to learn new techniques when starting with any new medium weather it be painting, sculpting, drawing, 3D modelling, so I guess rather than adapting you are always learning new things.

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Tattoos are a fashion in themselves and therefore trends come and go. What dictates these trends and how quickly do you think they stay around for?

I think now more than ever tattoos are less taboo so more people are getting them, which is great to see. I have only been in the industry a short time so to give you an example I think the trend for Chinese characters is gone because I’m yet to tattoo one! Geometric designs like Mandalas are popular now and roses have always been popular, but it’s hard to know what will be the next ‘IN’ designs.

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What’s been the toughest tattoo commission you’ve had so far? 

When it comes to a design you really need to work with you client to come to a final image because it’s on them for LIFE! But because of my background in graphic design I find the consultation side pretty easy. What makes tattooing hard sometimes is if you have a client that cannot sit still or gets flustered by the pain. This has happened a few times and is always tough because you feel kinda bad for causing the distress even if it is involuntary!

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Where do you draw inspiration from for your own artwork? 

Everything! If I’m walking down the street I’ll stop sometimes to look at a pattern in the concrete or stare at a building or person sometimes! I think its ignorant to pigeon hole yourself as an artist, i like to explore inspiration from everywhere.

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What tattoo artists do you admire?

First and foremost is my mentor Frederick Bain, he is a freak of an artist and his work ethic is second to none. I’ve been very spoilt in learning from him and enjoying our shared love of death metal music in the studio makes the days fun! Also Boris Tattoo, Carlos Torres, Josh Duffy, Phil Garcia, Shige Yellowblaze. I could actually go on all day about this but I’ll stop there.

What challenges do you face artistically as a tattoo artist, if any?

Artistically not many, size and detail are two things that people sometimes try to force on you, meaning that the client will want a portrait of Elvis but they want it the size of a finger nail…. you need to explain to them that this will not make a good tattoo. I think with the evolution of machines and inks things that are being tattooed these days are mind blowing and it’s really becoming another avenue for fine artists to explore.

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Do you prefer working with color or in black and white? 

Either or, it doesn’t bother me. Like I said I’m not going to pigeon hole my ability into one thing or another. There are some artists that will only work in one or the other but that’s fine too.

If you had the freedom to do one tattoo, what would it be and where?

I would love to do a full body suit Japanese style. It’s just the peak of a tattooist’s ability I think to create something like that, where a client will trust you with their whole body.

A big thank you to Dave for taking the time to speak with us. You can explore more of his work on his website and on Instagram.