It is always great to see collaboration between a tattooist and his customer to create something new and innovative using both of their skill sets, which is how the Tattoo Grips 316 came about. Dan, a precision engineer, and Mark with his tattoo skills have worked to make something that hand poking tattoo artists can rely on as well as keep hygienic at all times.
Interview – Ben Lakin
Photography – Daniel Southern and Mark Richards
How did you get interested in tattooing?
Daniel: My interest in tattoos started when I was only 17 and thinking of what to have for my first tattoo as soon as I turned 18. I was instantly hooked, planning my next big tat- too to get my x of ink. Three years later I met Mark, when he was just starting his apprenticeship, and we became good friends.
Mark: I’ve been around tattoo studios for quite a while. A lot of my friends were artists even before I started to learn myself in 2009. I did a three-year apprenticeship and I’ve been tattooing professionally for about six months with David Dardis at his studio, Realist Ink Salford.
Tell us about your background. What led the two of you to this project?
Daniel: For 14 years I worked my way through the ranks of the catering industry. I was the head chef of high-quality establishments, gaining awards and acknowledgements. Then along came my son. The long hours and stress were no good for family life. So when I got offered an apprenticeship in precision engineering where I would be trained by engineers with 40-plus years of experience, I took it. It was rather daunting at first going from chef’s whites to overalls – big machinery, loud noises and a lot to take in. Very different from a nice clean warm kitchen.
Mark: I first got hooked on hand-poked tattoos when I was backpacking in Southeast Asia. On Koh Phangan in Thailand, I met a bamboo tattoo artist called Chop, on this tiny bit of the island called Bottle Beach. He used to have a studio in Phuket before the Tsunami hit. When it happened it destroyed his shop and he lost everything, so he travelled to Koh Phangan with a pencil and sketch pad and set up on Bottle Beach. He had a little hut where he would hand poke tattoos and give the owner of the beach 50% of whatever he made. I got him to hand poke a tattoo of a Maori-style manta ray going down my ankle and onto my foot. I was mesmerised watching him do it so effortlessly. I was sat on the floor in his hut while he tattooed me. The rain hammering down against the plastic sheeting that covered the hut was the only noise. It was the coolest tattoo experience of my life.
Then I moved on to Borneo where I got tattooed by Ernesto Kalum at Borneo Head Hunters in Kuching Sarawak. He used a method called ‘tapping’. He had a piece of wood with a needle at 90 degrees and he hit it with another piece of wood. It was one of the most painless tattoos I’ve ever had.
I used to do dotwork with a machine but always fancied trying to hand poke instead. But it always seemed to be a two-man job, one stretching the skin and one either tapping like Ernesto did or using a long stick with a needle attached. I wanted to be able to do it without the need for a second man. I knew what a tool to make that possible would look like, but I was never quite sure how to go about getting it made so I put it to the back of my mind. Then Dan had his career change and I had a chat with him about whether he could make something like that. He said no worries, and knocked a few prototypes up and dropped them at the studio.
Daniel: After years of being creative as a chef I was always thinking of little projects to do using my new-found love of engineering. So when Mark asked me if I could help I was more than happy. He put me in touch with a top hand poke artist and asked if I could send him some tools to look at and get some feedback. I made a few tweaks based on what he told me; then it was on to quality control. Mark did two mandalas on his legs to get the feel of hand poking. Then it was my turn to experience the tool in action. He tattooed a mandala on my leg too, and I have to say it’s a very relaxing way to get a tattoo.
Pricing of the Tattoo Grips 316 tool
A single tool is £17.50 and a set of three is £51, which allows the tattooist to have different groupings of needles set up at once. And of course, it saves a little on tools and postage.More info is available at:
What makes this tool stand out from the others available?
Daniel: We feel the DotWork Tool stands out from the others for its unique ‘pen’ design. It’s really comfortable to hold and has a good weight. And the wicked surface finish on the 316 stainless steel gives it a very stylish look. It’s an all-round quality precision-engineered tool.
I’m currently designing a grip to go with the tool. I also plan to machine standard stainless steel tattoo machine grips and stems with help from Dave Frodsham at Tattoo Chaos in St Helens.
Mark: I prefer to do my dotwork with the tool because it’s so relaxing. It changes the whole experience for me and my customer, and I nd I’m more accurate with the tool. It’s almost like a pen. And it’s autoclavable.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Daniel: Massive thanks to Mark Richards for helping me along the way and his gaffer Dave Dardis of Realist Ink tat- too studio for being supportive through the whole process. Also big thanks to Nine Mag for letting me showcase the dotwork tool.
Mark: A big thank you to everyone at Nine Mag magazine.
Who’s using the dotwork tool?
Artists in the UK include Mark Richards, Pete Finka and Jamie Thomson. Overseas has been a good response too with Joe Molnar in the USA and Chux Time from Mexico and many more besides.
Illumin-Eye Tattoo & Piercing London. UK.
Being an artist with a passion for the dotwork style, I know that the quality of your tools and equipment definitely contributes to the end result. If you’re comfortable with your kit, it makes your job a lot more enjoyable. When I received my handpoking tools from Dan at Tattoo Grips 316, I was impressed with the quality. They are comfortable to use and simple to set up and sterilise. The simple, awless design means that they will last forever! The tool is a piece of art in itself.I would definitely recommend these tools to others.
Tattoo Chaos St Helens. UK.
An amazing tool made specifically for the job. Being made out of 316 it’s easy to clean and sterilise and looks surgical and hygienic, which puts clients at ease.The groove texture at the base is enough to provide a non-slip grip without causing discomfort to the fingers. The taper gives the user a clearer view for more precision.It’s a nice weight and diameter which makes it easy to work with.