Every competition has a leader. A superior figure whose peers signify as elite, outstanding, or simply the best. It’s not a title that can be self made, it’s a characteristic that is nominated through the results of an individuals actions, choices and character. Basketball has Michael Jordan, Football has Joe Montana, Boxing has Muhammad Ali, the business world has Donald Trump and Rock N’ Roll has Ozzy Osbourne, among others. Tattoo culture has many legends known for their incredible body exhibits that are defined as being the G.O.A.T.; however, one man that has been receiving rave reviews and creating a buzz recently is Los Angeles artist Dan Lins. Many have mentioned him as one of the greats and have even gone as far as to label him “the best”. This was someone I had to check out for myself because that’s always the best way to determine if what people say is true.
Dan Lins, 27, is a traveling tattoo artist, where he does not have to commit himself to a single shop but instead travels the world working as a guest artist in different tattoo shops for short periods of time. Miami, New York, Amsterdam, etc, Dan has been allowing his reputation to not only grow on a global scale but land him in a higher price range and demand, gaining clientele throughout the planet.
The proper title of Dan’s life is drifter, being someone who moves from place to place with the intention of each only being a temporary stop. Temporary employment is not uncommon for an artist in this culture, especially with the opportunity to work the many conventions that take place all year long. Living out of a suitcase, waking up in a foreign place constantly, and meeting new faces daily definitely makes for an interesting lifestyle on top of becoming a familiar face to people all over the world for your work. It can be very fascinating and also intense at times.
Word traveled fast on the upcoming talent that is Dan Lins and now Dan is receiving open invitations to work in tattoo shops all over the world and is taking full advantage of the opportunities in front of him. Lins is definitely an inspiration for other artists stuck in their booths as he journeys throughout the continents of the world doing what he loves. Inkdiction Magazine sits down for a conversation with the man that is considered by many as one of the best artists in the industry. However, although he is considered the best, Dan, with such a humble heart in his chest, says he is always striving to become a better artist and over come the next challenges in front of him.
SO WHAT IS THE STORY ON DAN LINS, I MEAN REALLY, WHAT IS ALL THE BUZZ ABOUT? WHAT’S YOUR STORY?
I was a city boy trapped in the womb of a desolate gravestone ridden rural area of a state I’d rather not even name. I was at first blinded at the fact that any greater reality existed past the rest of the zombies in my area until I started to get into the tattoo scene. Having some great artists in my corner helped me not only hone my skills but shape my path, which is obviously off road terrain that only the crazy and adventurous can follow. I feel regular folks would just get anxiety and find the closest sharp object to just do themselves in rather than see what it is like to live like a free spirit amongst the people who realize a pulse is more then a bleep on a hospital computer screen.
I joined up with a bunch of other crazy passionate risk takers called the Adrenaline Crew and we all blazed a path to hell and back by traveling the United States filming anything dangerous, illegal and unsafe. One of the worst memories I have is after we were breaking into hotels, jumping off the roofs into the pools, security came after us. I tried to hide on a balcony of a hotel room ledge and this girl I was with lost her footing, falling off, but some how managing to grab on to my hand before she was swallowed up by the darkness below. This sent me like a rocket, head first into the ground 3 stories below, splitting my whole face open and breaking my eye socket. Whatever, it was all caught on film so it’s a memory I can kick back and drink a few cold ones too.
Nowadays I find myself a little older and wiser and realize, why piss in my own backyard, there is a whole planet out there! So I grabbed my tattoo supplies and talked to a few buddies around the world and set off on the first flight I could find. Before I used to wake up with glazed over eyes staring at a white ceiling in some hotel room and be like “holy fuck, what city am I in?” Now I get to wake up and say “what country did I just wake up in?”
TATTOOING IS A VERY COMPETITIVE ART FORM/LIFESTYLE, WOULDN’T YOU SAY?
Stupid competitive. We’re all here for the same reason, to produce good work and grow off one another. Its ridiculous, people treat it like a football game, like who is going to win and who is going to lose. I think its just plain stupid.
IS IT TRUE THAT TATTOO ARTISTS AND MAGICIANS ARE SIMILAR, NEVER REVEALING THEIR TRICKS OR SECRETS?
Yeah I guess that’s how it was back in the day cause people were fighting to be the only guy in a town . Now you can walk in and buy a tattoo machine at a store on Hollywood Blvd. Everyone is doing it so it doesn’t really matter if you hide your tricks or secrets cause either way they’re going to learn, or revolutionize a new style, who knows? Today since machines are so available to everyday people, artists became smart and made books and DVDs, selling them at a fairly decent price.
WHAT GOT YOU INTO BECOMING A TRAVELING TATTOO ARTIST? DON’T LIKE THE RESTRICTIONS OF BEING CONFINED TO A BOOTH? PAYING HIGH RENT? FBI LOOKING FOR YOU?
[Laughs] FBI? Maybe the IRS, crooked bastards. But ummm… yeah, being confined to a shop is mainly it. Nothing about paying rent or giving a percentage, that doesn’t bother me. Its being confined, I wanted to go and do me. The majority of shops out there are run like any other business, gotta be here at this time, gotta make money. By doing just me, I go and see the world, tattoo when I want to tattoo. I know this is going to be my long time career so I don’t want to get burned out working at some shop tattooing for people all day, that’s bullshit. I mean I understand that’s how some people have to survive that choose to do that. I’m happy tattooing one decent size piece on one person a day and that’s it. I don’t want to be no slave, I’ve been lucky and have very awesome cliental and I think mainly it’s because I treat all my clients as if they were my friends. Hell, if anything they’re technically my boss cause they tell me when I’m going to get paid!
TELL US A STORY OF YOUR WORST DAY AS AN APPRENTICE
I got truly lucky because my sisters’s boyfriend, who is now her husband, was my artist at the time. So I didn’t get treated like I was getting hazed in college football, that shit is wack. They’re supposed to be treating the apprentice as a student, not like a maggot under their foot. Any real tattoo artist wouldn’t do that, it’s the grumpy old men that know that there time is up that do that shit to their apprentice’s.
COMING UP IN THE CULTURE, WHO INSPIRED YOU AS AN ARTIST?
Shit first and foremost it was the guys who started teaching me the ropes cause that’s all I had to look up to. My goal was to get as good as them, and then the real power house artists like Mike DeVeries, Nikko, Paul Booth, Bob Tyrell. And to be honest those guys still have not stopped inspiring me. Especially Bob Tyrell, one of the most genuinely nice guys I could ever meet in the world. I actually met him at Paul Booth’s shop a couple years back on New Years Eve in NYC. I think he is such an inspiration cause he started late in the industry but went right to the top and his lifestyle is kinda the same as mine, he loves to drink and have a good time.
NOT TO TOOT YOUR OWN HORN OR MASSAGE YOUR EGO, HOWEVER WE HEARD YOU ARE ONE OF THE BEST TATTOO ARTISTS IN THE WORLD? CARE TO ELABORATE ON THAT? IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE IN THE TATTOO CULTURE?
[Laughs] You were lied too. I might have a cool lifestyle but definitely nowhere near or would even want to be titled as the best. And as far as the artists out there that I would consider the best, its really all an opinion. It’s art, you know some people look at a wall splattered in paint and someone will pay a million dollars for it. For me mainly the biggest thing with tattoo evolving is the realism. Styles are so weird cause you will look at the big guys out there and each one tattoos different.
And you, we would just splatter more paint on that and call it a day. So to answer that, no I definitely don’t think there is a best tattoo artist cause some people like tribal, some like traditional, some like bio, and some like portraits. It’s just what fancies you, you know.
LETS CLEAR UP ANOTHER ONE. RUMOR HAS IT YOU’VE BEEN OFFERED SEVERAL TELEVISION REALITY SERIES FOR YOURSELF BUT YOU’RE NOT INTERESTED IN BEING THE NEXT KAT VON D? YOU DON’T BELIEVE YOUR LIFE IS CAMERA READY JUST YET?
Yeah I really didn’t get offered my own show. It was more or less “hey come in, we were referred your name. We checked out your site and we would like to interview you to be on a show”. There are a lot of shows coming up so hopefully something takes down that show. But its reality television. All they want is drama, I’m not into that, I’m a happy person, you will never see me upset. So in reality, if I did get interviewed they probably wouldn’t choose me. Thinking I’m too easy going.
SPEAKING OF REALITY TV, IM SURE YOU’VE MET MISS KAT VON D?
Yeah a couple of times back in the day when she was on Miami Ink. She always hung out at this bar down the street from my apartment in Hollywood called the Burgundy Room. Cool chick from what my drunken state of mind remembers.
WHERE YOU FIRST BEGAN INKING, DID YOU EVER IMAGINE THE POSSIBILITIES THAT WOULD OPEN UP FOR YOU?
Not really. I’m not going to lie to you, tattooing was more less a scape goat. I’m from a shitty small town in PA. I was always getting in trouble there, everyone that lives there either dies there, gets married, has a kid or ends up in jail. Hell some people have all of that happen too. I wanted to get far far away and never look back. I was always an artist but to me it just sounded cool to be a tattoo artist so that’s honestly how I got into it at first. I was lucky and even more luckier, I stayed focused and tried to make myself better and continue to try to grow. I think if you’re not becoming better you might as well give up. So I moved to the west coast and more doors opened. Now I guess you could consider me semi-worldwide. Its been an amazing ride and hopefully I don’t die or become crippled. The ride should keep on rolling cause I continue to keep great people around and for the most part those same people push me.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE STRENGTH OF THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AN ARTIST AND THEIR CLIENT.
Well, with some artists I think they care but there are definitely big artists out there that could care less. This goes back to why Bob Tyrell is such an inspiration, because he literally is one of the best and he will take the time out of his day and shoot me a text to just say what’s up and he even texts my buddy who doesn’t even have a single tattoo on his body. Bob talks to him when he comes his way. But then again at times there are other artists who I’ve dealt with that won’t even text me back if I text them. Just kinda blow people off. For me, I try and keep in contact with everyone. Hell I feel like sometimes my clients don’t even want to keep in contact with me ‘cause I bug them so much but yeah, if they contact me first then I will always reply as soon as I’m done tattooing.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR YOUR BUSINESS CARDS [A POKER CHIP, BRILLIANT!] Another thing I can’t take credit for! A client of mine in Vegas got them made for me as a tip, I guess he is good friends with a guy who makes them for the casinos so my chips are actually legit $100 chips.
DESCRIBE THE NECESSARY BUSINESS SENSE OF A TATTOO ARTIST IN THIS “NEW” ECONOMY? YOU’RE DEALING WITH COMPETITIVE PRICES, BARGAIN-MINDED CUSTOMERS, AND OVER-SATURATED SOCIAL MARKETING.
Umm…[pause] wasn’t’ aware, I just keep being me [laughs]… But yeah people talk about the economy but I’ll be damned. I’m not sure where people are coming up with $600-$1,000 for a tattoo if the economy is so hurt. If anything I’m the last person who will ever hand out my business cards. I get harassed by my friends all the time. “Make sure you bring your chips”. Yeah I got em but never will pull them out and I try never to tell people I am an artist ‘cause honestly it seems like everyone wants a tattoo. So you gotta listen to a story for 40 minutes about how they’re going to hit me up an get tattooed by me, but only 1 out of 20 people will actually call. So I keep my mouth shut or tell people I ride BMX for a living.
WHAT ARE SOME TRICKS YOU’VE LEARNED OVERSEAS THAT A LOT OF AMERICANS AREN’T TOO FAMILIAR WITH YET?
Hmm… Can’t really say I have seen much. I know a lot of Europeans use the rotary machines but that’s nothing new to Americans.
DISCUSS SOME SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES BETWEEN AMERICAN GIRLS AND OVERSEAS WOMEN IN STYLES OF TATTOOING?
Again that’s another hard one for me because I personally never worked with any girls in America. The two girls I worked with overseas both seem to be more interested in traditional style.
WITH TATTOOING CONSTANTLY EVOLVING, WHAT IS SOMETHING INTERESTING THAT YOU EITHER RECENTLY READ ABOUT OR SAW AS FAR AS TECHNIQUE OR STYLE GOES.
Mainly the biggest thing with tattooing evolving is the realism styles are so weird cause you will look at the big guys out there and each one tattoos different but yet each are still absolutely amazing. So it’s hard to say. The only thing that is visible that is evolving is that there are actually a lot of really good artists out there, the biker shops and just your normal shops will hopefully start fading. They will definitely always still exist ‘cause not everyone wants to pay $150 an hour for a tattoo. But the majority should slowly fade away.
IF YOU COULD RELIVE A PAST CONVENTION WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
Geez not even sure. Had so many great times at so many since the conventions are three days long. I would probably take a single day at each one… Craziest Friday would be Rhode Island’s two years ago. I did the convention with Bob Tyrell and we partied at this bar from 6am when the convention opened until 10am the next day. It was such a good time. The bar was supposed to close at two but since it was the after hours spot to be they said fuck it, we will eat the fine cause they knew I guess they’d make more money in bar sales. Saturday convention day would have been Chicago three years ago. Worked the booth with this shop out of Denver, Colorado. The convention was crazy busy and we all made tons of money. I was booked solid. For the after party they actually had a school bus drive us from the convention to the bar who was hosting it. It was a bunch of artists and a bunch of groupie girls with there asses and tits out flashing the cars. End of the night guys I did the convention with, two were puking one got lost and I was stuck in the rain waiting for a cab cause I didn’t want to stop drinking. A Sunday I enjoyed the most would be a convention in San Francisco two years ago. Again another great tattooing day with good friends Robert Mikee and Jamie. We ended up going to a strip club, for some reason no alcohol but the guy who checked us in thought we must have been someone cool cause he gave us each 70 bucks and we got to drink what ever we wanted. They were bringing drinks left and right from the back. We were throwing his money everywhere. Mikee got up on the dance floor, climbed to the top of the stripper pole so we started tossing money at him and all the chicks were scooping it up. It was fucking hilarious, we came back to our rooms and Mikee and I were in our suite so we decided to just destroy the place starting by tossing the shirt iron out the window. Woke up with pizza on the lights cause I guess we decided we were going to cook leftovers?
GIVE US SOME INSIGHT ON THE LAST DESIGN OR IDEA YOU HAD AND WHAT INSPIRED THAT IDEA?
[Laughs] This might be tooting my own horn but the last memorable tattoo was one on this girl who was one of my first clients when I moved to LA. She came up to the shop I was working at in Northridge cause she saw I was on the cover of Playgirl. So now five years later, she decided she wanted to get my face tattooed on her. Since then I’ve done it but her fiancé didn’t want her to, so she was like “I cant do it”. Well when she arrives she is like fuck it, lets tattoo your face from the Playgirl cover. Big thing in the industry now is people getting realistic day of the dead faces so I turned my face on her into a sugar skull. Needless to say I don’t think her fiancé is very happy with her, but if they love each other it shouldn’t matter, it’s just a tattoo. Its kinda her fault for telling him she wanted my face on her in the first place because I think any fiancé would be a little upset!