Artists: Dan Smith
You’ve made a bit of a name for yourself by tattooing tiny little sneakers. Why sneakers? Why so small? And what’s your favorite?
I have always liked exploring tattooing and trying to push my abilities. I didn’t go to art school and don’t have a natural artistic talent so most of this hasn’t come easy to me. I feel like every tattoo you see should make you ask yourself a few questions about your own work and then try to apply a different train of thought to the next, with the intent to progress. The small tattoos are just as hard as the big ones but I’ve always loved shoes of all sorts so it’s enjoyable tattooing something that people can really get excited about. My favourite so far, is probably the combat boot. It had a lot of different textures and sections to try to recreate.
Let’s talk about the idea of micro tattoos in general. What made you start doing them? Do you prefer working on small pieces or larger pieces?
Ben Grillo gave me the confidence to do them. If I do anything that looks half as good as his tattooing then I am happy. One time I drove with BJ Betts to visit Ben and watched him get a tiny Air Max 95. I left so inspired and wanting to try something so small and detailed as soon as I could. I’ve done a lot of small stuff but I guess the shoes just resonated louder with people. I am used to mostly doing smaller scale tattoos but since opening Captured have been lucky to work on many bigger projects. As long as I am tattooing, I am ok.
How did you get started tattooing?
I started in 2000 tattooing friends in the punk/hardcore scene. I was also traveling with the band I was in, tattooing on the road. I was always a fan of tattoos through music. They both went hand-in-hand to me and they gave me purpose and direction in my own life. I got my first tattoo from Dean Sacred and I have spent the last 18 years trying to make it up to him. Him and Dan Andersen have been the biggest influences to me in the early days, but Shep from Adelaide is who I really have to thank for getting me in. If I didn’t meet him I’m not sure how it would have turned out. I am eternally grateful to him for everything.
What was your first shop experience like?
Amazing. Shep helped me get a start at The Body Art Shop and I will always look back on those days with great memories. The owner Gomer was the greatest and taught me a whole lot more than he might think. They basically showed me how to be a tattooer and the ropes of all aspects of tattooing. I am honestly so proud that I got to start there and get the support from them early on.
What was the tattoo scene like growing up in New Zealand? What made you make the move to California? For me and my friends it was a very exciting time. No one was tattooed back then and in the scene we were in it was all positive and exciting. I felt like we had a secret that no one knew about. We skipped all the bad elements that can come along with tattooing because were so consumed in our own world of music, skateboarding and art in such a small city. We always pushed each other to do as much as possible and I think moving countries was a natural progression of that same ideal. The band I was in toured America a few times and after meeting countless artists I always looked up to and the obvious other attractions to California, I moved in 2004. I have been here ever since.
What other mediums do you work in?
I find painting gives me a freedom that I don’t have with tattooing so sometimes a painting can have a lot of weird stuff going on. I often use paint pens, pencils, markers and spray paint. I love painting flash too. A more strict method, but such an honest and therapeutic process.
Tell us a little bit about the skate decks that you have painted. Is that just a hobby or a branch of your art that you would like to pursue further?
Like many tattooers my age, I love skateboarding and grew up on skateboard graphics of the 80s and 90s. Those designs were pure power and left lasting impressions on all of us. I feel like a skateboard is a mini billboard for art and makes any cool painting a little bit cooler.
You seem to do a fair amount of tattoos in subjects that you love (skateboards, shoes, bands etc.), do you attack pieces like this with extra relish? Do you get excited about getting to tattoo things that you are passionate about?
It’s probably obvious but yes, I do. If someone told me when I was 16 that I would make a living from doing everything I get to do I would have laughed or at least been highly cynical. Tattooing an ideal, song lyric or design related to something that made a difference in someone’s life like it did mine is a special thing, whatever way you look at it. It is the essence of tattooing just like getting the heart and name on your arm. How could you ever take that for granted?