Each month our intrepid artist liaison and generally jovial Eikon staffer Patrick Coste sits down with a tattoo artist to get to know them a little better. This month he's catching up with artist, machine builder and Hub City Tattoo Expo organizer, Brad Dawe.
Brad’s hands must be so confused between mechanical work and tattooing, as he goes all over the creative spectrum to build and craft one-of-a-kind creations. A true artisan. - Patrick Coste
Patrick Coste: Hey Hey Brad, how are you doing out in your neck of the woods!?
Brad Dawe: Good! Very good! Keeping busy with the shop and these crazy times!!
PC: Right. Were you ok during what feels like the world's longest break?
BD: Well, it was long enough to be worried and be ok at the same time. The first few weeks I was stressed out, but then I realized we don’t have a choice. I took time off from everything and didn’t even draw for a few weeks.
After that, I took the idea of relaxing seriously. I realized that I was burned out without noticing it. Life is always ongoing and I needed a break, so I took one. I recharged for the first time in... over 5 years really. I took time to reflect and make sure I was ok.
But then towards the end I was ready to put a sign on the door... it was rough. I was about to dig into my personal savings to make sure the rent was paid, and that never ends well. We were ready to give the keys back.
Today, we’re quite busy. I tend to say that I work a bit more than I should, in case we shut down again. I did promise myself that I would take it a bit easier, but overall I’m good. Thank you, lol! You know, the tattooing life is a great one but you never really stop and next thing you know, you're burned out
PC: You definitely deserved the rest! Tell me, one thing I love when you post on social media is your love for “anything” handcrafted; cars, and of course tattoo machines are things you love and it shows. I bet you have a great story on how this love for building came to be...
BD: It was back in 1991 (in a storyteller voice) lol! I was in Windsor Ontario where I was raised, and at that time there were only 2 tattoo shops I believe, and I was 16 years old. LOL! No one wanted to hire a 16 year old questionable tattooer.
PC: Wait what? Sixteen, good Lord! You were going to a shop to work? Lol.
BD: Aw man, let me tell you something... I started tattooing the wrong way, lol. I used a walkman motor for machines and all when I first started. I was young and stupid, tattooing bad tattoos in my parents’ basement. They were shitty, like shitty, shitty tattoos, no doubt. Lol.
After that time, a few of my “wealthier friends” got together and bought a “real tattoo gun”. LOL, yes I was calling them guns back then. That’s how it started. I was drawing all the time and the tattooing never stopped. After a while I got more serious and found places to work and went up from there!
I tell everyone the exact opposite: Do not do that at home and really, tattooing isn’t the same today.
It’s also how I also discovered the process of tattooing; drawing, talking to clients - which I love very much. We work hard but it’s fun, even after 30 years.
PC: Did you start building machines when you started or was it later in your tattooing life?
BD: Hmm, it was in 2004 I think. I wasn't very mechanical at that time. I had a guy doing work for me and the deal felt through, so I acquired his welder on a trade and decided to learn how to weld lol. It was mostly for bike work which I was doing a long time ago.
Shortly after that, I decided to give tattoo machine building a try. Man, I was so proud when I started. I still get the same feeling every day when I get one fired up. That first machine was made of aluminium. I took coils from here and parts from there and was making a shitload of sparks. I never tattooed with it, but it’s a source of pride lol.
PC: You’re doing a killer job at it man. Man, I love old VW vans and have had few. Have you always built stuff like cars and bikes?
BD: Been at it for a while... I love everything handcrafted and old. I also had a ‘75 VW Van. I started out in Detroit and went down to Mexico, came back through the Western coast and drove through Banff - that’s where I met my wife!! Good times.
PC: No way...I lived in Banff!! LOL, tell me more hahah, seriously, tell me more about your builds; nice trucks and bikes and they’re as stunning as your tattoo machines.
BD: LOL! Yes, thank you. I’ve been building for a while and I’m a bit obsessed with cars and building old stuff anew. You go in the shop for one hour or six, you build and then it’s ok to leave. It’s a great feeling.
PC: You’re also part of a bike “GANG”?
BD: LOL, I wouldn't call it a gang, but definitely a brotherhood. The loosey goosey SHITTY TIGERS. No president or meetings, we shout on our dorky Facebook page and we ride old motorcycles - no new ones allowed!
PC: LOL, shitty tiger eh! You gotta have more to that story, lol?
BD: It’s a funny one. We were at the Art Tattoo Convention in Montreal. Gandhi and I were looking through a patch bin in an old army store. We were flipping through the patches and Gandhi saw a patch that said ”that is a shitty tiger” - a perfect name it became! Lol, we now have 20 members, more like brothers that we can rely on. We have a mechanic, a painter, and a tattooer lol, we’re set.
PC: Aw, so nice. Go Shitty Tigers go!! On a slightly sour note here - So no Moncton Convention eh? I hope your lady didn’t work too much and it wasn't a pain for her...
BD: It’s $%&^%&#%%@#! I would say no. Too much risk and really, we could fill it up. Artists want to come but we wonder about the people visiting, then the drinking... lol. We could try for December even, but nothing is worth endangering people. We’d rather stay safe, so it’s delayed. We talk to the town a lot, and we have plans. Melissa, my wife, is on top of it but really, why? We’d rather sit for a bit more and be sure.
PC: Brad thank you so much! It’s been great, truly. Say “hi” to all your tattoo family we miss them.
Give Brad a follow on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bradawe