Story and Photo by Alice Gerard
Senior Contributing Writer
Daniel Black, who co-owns the Shaded Dahlia Piercing & Tattoo Parlor, in the Grand Island Plaza, has worked as a tattoo artist since he began his apprenticeship in 2005, except for his seven years in active duty with the U.S. Army infantry, from 2009-16. In this interview, Daniel and his wife, Sara, talk about tattooing as an art form.
•Read part I HERE.
Dispatch: Tell me about you as a tattoo artist.
Daniel: I would say that I specialize mainly in black and gray work. I have a lot of fun with the shading and using the best techniques that I found that I enjoy. I use a lot of dot work in my tattoos for shading. It almost looks like a stippling drawing. I found a technique that allows me to do it quickly and easily. It looks amazing, and I love it.
Dispatch: What sorts of things do people tend to like when they come to get tattooed?
Daniel: I do a lot of floral designs, and I do enjoy tattooing flowers. They’re so organic, and they give you a lot of flow and a lot of ability to play around with things and work with the contours of the body and things like that. Plants and flowers are always fun. Dark things are fun to do, like skulls and all that. Not everyone wants skulls and dark, creepy things so. …
Sara: You do a lot of memorial pieces for people.
Daniel: Memorial pieces, cover ups, portraits.
Dispatch: So, things like people who have a family member who passed away, and that’s a good way to remember them.
Daniel: Yeah. If they don’t have something in mind, and they need a little help with it, I’ll generally talk with them a bit and see if we can find something that reminds them of the person. A portrait is always an option. It’s just trying to find that one thing that reminds you of that person. A lot of times, that’s a good way to go. There’s always a name and a banner wrapped around something. A memorial can be anything. It can be very clearly a memorial or just something you see that reminds you of the person.
Dispatch: How do you go about creating that tattoo?
Daniel: Everybody’s got their own techniques. There are little key points that you might notice that are a signature of one person over another.
Dispatch: So, what would you say yours are?
Daniel: A lot of dot shading and white highlights. Another thing I like to do is to use white ink. I use it next to very dark areas. That helps to extend the contrast even more.
Sara: It’s such a game-changer with the black and gray. It gives it that dimension that’s not there. You can have a nice tattoo without having white highlights. But, once you add them, it makes such a difference.
Dispatch: When you create a design, do you use a book to find reference material, or do you draw it out? How does it work?
Daniel: That varies. I use a wide range of references. There’s almost always a reference for a tattoo. I generally ask my clients to do a little bit of research and find a reference that they like.
Sara: To get the image that they’re seeing in their head.
Daniel: Or if they said, “I don’t know what I want. I just want a tree.” OK, black and gray, and we’ll figure out all the details. If they don’t have any specific images that they like, I’ll just find some references and create something from there.
Dispatch: What if somebody comes to you with a drawing? Can you work with that?
Daniel: Oh, absolutely. If someone came in with their 8-year-old daughter’s drawing, and they wanted to get that exact image tattooed, sure, we could absolutely do that. I could just take a picture of it. In my little program, I’ll trace it, pixel for pixels. We’ll have a perfect stencil, and then just reproduce it. I do that a lot with writing, when someone wants to get their mom or dad’s handwriting. “I love you” or whatever. And then, what I do is take it right into the program, trace it pixel for pixel so I get the perfect stencil. Then I just copy it in a tattoo.
Shaded Dahlia Piercing & Tattoo Parlor
Dispatch: What about the size of the tattoos? Do people come in wanting really big ones or really small ones? Do they want their whole arm done?
Daniel: I’ve done tattoos that were smaller than a quarter. I’ve done entire back pieces and sleeves. It really ranges and varies. People come in and ask, “How much for a sleeve?” That is a range. If they just want something simple, like a trail of flowers up their arm, I could probably do that in a day for $700. But if they’re looking to get a full battle scene or skulls upon skulls stacked upon each other where there’s an amazing amount of detail, that takes a lot more time to do. It can take a few sittings.
Dispatch: I would think that you would have to let the tattoo heal before you can have another sitting.
Daniel: It’s true. You have to let a tattoo heal before you can work on top of it. If you tattoo on top of skin that’s healing, you can damage the skin more. You can overwork it and no ink will stay. You will lose what is there. What you try to put in would not stay. That’s why, when we’re working on something that’s right on top of each other, we put two to three weeks between sittings. If someone wants their lower arm tattooed one day and their upper arm tattooed the next day, you’re a trouper. You can do it.
There have been circumstances where I have tattooed people back-to-back on certain days. I had a client who was about to deploy to Germany. He decided he wanted a full sleeve before he left. He scheduled two days back-to-back before he left. He had a few elements that had detail in them. For the most part, he just wanted tribal. A ram’s skull or something like that on his shoulder. I think it was a deer skull. He wanted a couple hunting elements, a couple hunter tattoos, and then just tribal to fill it all in.
So, back-to-back. It can be done. It’s really uncomfortable. At that point, your skin hasn’t started healing to the point where it’s impossible to do. At that point, your body is in shock and trying to get itself back in place. It’s like taking an hour break in the middle of a tattoo. You can do it, but it’s not going to be fun.
Dispatch: What do you think of a tattoo with someone’s current boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s name on it?
Daniel: Will I tattoo a significant other’s name on someone? Yes, of course. If I don’t do it, they’re just going to go to someone else.
Dispatch: What happens when they come in and say, “We broke up”?
Daniel: That’s happened, and I’ve had someone come in looking to get that name covered up. I think they were in here to make the appointment before the tattoo was fully healed. Basically, she saw the tattoo and was like, “Nah, we’re done!” I warned this guy that there’s a strong superstition that tattooing someone else’s name on you is bad luck for that relationship.
If you want to do this, what I do recommend is before you even do this tattoo, think of how you would cover this if we have to. I found this to be the balance of luck. If you tattoo someone else’s name on you, and you have a vision of what you can do to cover it or how you want to go about covering it, OK.
Sara: We like cover ups, and you definitely like the challenge.
Daniel: Once the initial design is there, in reality, it’s not going anywhere. The design’s going to stay there. Even if I tattoo over it with different colors, it may look great when you walk out the door, but when you heal and all of the colors meld together, that’s when the old tattoo comes back to the surface. When you’re planning a cover up, it’s extremely vital to keep that in mind and use the design that’s already there and incorporate many of the lines, shadings and elements that are in the old design into the new one. That way, it successfully hides and camouflages that old tattoo.
Dispatch: As opposed to adding “Dumped,” and the date.
Daniel: Some people like that idea. Just throw a void stamp over it! That works, too. If that makes the person happy, then, absolutely, let’s throw a void stamp over it.
Cover ups are fun because they are a creative challenge. You really have to plan for what happens when it heals. You have to do that for all tattoos anyway. You have to look at what’s going to happen five or 10 years down the road. Tattoos slightly change over time. The lines can expand in some places. If it’s a color piece, the colors could possibly fade or change over time. Another reason why I like black and gray. Those colors are not changing because it is one uniform color.
The Shaded Dahlia Piercing & Tattoo Parlor is located at 2419 Grand Island Blvd. Its hours of operation are 2-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Other hours can be arranged by appointment.
The minimum age for a tattoo is 18. For piercings, people younger than 18 need parental consent.