Dave Perry

Published: 18 February, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 189, August, 2010

Located in the lively seaside town of Torquay, Revolver Tattoo Rooms is a studio fast developing a growing reputation within the tattoo world. Warm, friendly and with a tardis like quality once you walk in through its front door, this is a unique world created by its colorful owner and lead tattoo artist Dave Perry. A man with more than a few stories to tell…


Dave’s journey into the tattoo industry has taken quite a few interesting twists and turns through the years. From TV shows to magazine publishing,  art schools to A-list parties, it is fair to say that this was a man who had ‘done a bit’, before turning his back on it all to dedicate himself fully to his love of tattooing. Now having returned to his home town of Torquay, Dave has the air of a man who has finally found what he has been looking for, and, with his studio Revolver Tattoo Rooms quickly becoming one of ‘the’ places to get tattooed in the South West, he seems more than content with his lot these days.


I think it’s fair to say that you’ve taken a pretty colorful route into the tattoo industry. Fill us in a little about your background.

You’re not wrong… it’s been a bit of a winding road. I got my first tattoo set-up during the 90s while I was living in London. I had not long finished studying for my degree at the Bath Academy of Art and my landlord at the time was always coming back from our local pub with some dodgy piece of gear or other to make money with. Sometimes it was a car engine, others a python, on this occasion it was a carrier bag full of tattoo gear. ‘Here boy, we can make some money with this’… or words to that effect. I remember just looking at it and thinking… ‘bloody hell!’ I naively sought out a few local artists at the time to ask for advice on how it all worked, only to be told to ‘fuck off’, and quite rightly so.


I was always looking for new mediums to work in, but had never considered working on living flesh before. It seemed exciting but completely alien. It was around this time that I began to get work in television, presenting on shows for Channel 4 and Sky, and what with the shooting schedules and my magazine commitments, learning to tattoo had to take a back seat for a while. But it was never forgotten.


As time passed I decided to get more and more work done on myself, so I could watch the artists work and put a few things together. Some were helpful, some didn’t say a word, but slowly I began to figure things out.


Sessions were spent sat in front of the kitchen cooker, watching out for jacket potatoes that had been put in the oven, while working on friends and family until eventually it became clear that this was all I wanted to do with my life. It felt right. It was all I could think about and from that moment on things would never be the same again


Do you think that formal art training is beneficial to a tattooist?

Definitely. Some things in life are what I like to call ‘God Gifts’. Some people can sing, some can’t, some people are fast and some aren’t, and some people can just draw, while others can’t. But you must never take these gifts for granted; they all need fine tuning and perfecting. What a formal art training gives you is a better understanding of things like composition, form and colour theory. It also takes instinctive ability and gives it a level of confidence that can only come from nurture. 


I have worked with some very good tattooists that have fallen apart when asked to draw simple figures and faces. A formal art training would have prepared them better for that. It’s not essential to have it, but I think it really helps. I think it is harder to be a top artist without it. Not impossible, but definitely harder.


Is it true that you were once voted one of the UK’s 50 most eligible bachelors?

Ha, ha! Yes… in 1996 Company Magazine voted me one of their 50 most eligible bachelors. Is that a first for the tattoo industry? Has anybody else in the tattoo industry ever received such an award? Long time ago now though.


But you turned your back on it all to concentrate on tattooing?

Absolutely. Skin is the ultimate canvas; there is nothing more bad ass than the stuff we do. No greater artistic thrill than working on living flesh in a medium that offers no eraser. Tattooing had been something that had been burning inside of me for a long time, but had always taken a bit of a back seat to my writing and television work. However, whenever I got tattooed I was still asking the questions and putting the puzzle together. Then putting in to practice what I had picked up. It was an exciting way to learn an art form, but frustrating too. It still is… you never stop learning, you never stop wanting to be better.


Eventually, more and more people were getting in touch with me, looking for work and it became apparent that I could actually make a good living out of doing what I loved. So that’s what I did. I put all other interests aside and concentrated on my tattooing. Now it’s my life. I feel the time was right and everything just came together for a reason.  It’s funny really; there are a lot of tattooists trying to get on TV these days… I just went the opposite route.


How long has your studio been open now?

We’ve been open for business at Revolver for over three and a half years, and I have to say it’s been quite a ride. With any new shop it takes time to build up confidence in your local area, and to get enough work out there to start bringing new customers to the door. I am a great believer that there is no better advert for any tattooist than a happy customer walking around showing off their new ink to anyone who’s interested. That is why customer care is so important. Studios who don’t take the time to treat their customers well are certainly missing a trick, no matter how good their artists. Little details make a big difference to people. Especially when they’re a bit nervous or apprehensive about what is ahead of them. The days of the surly, intimidating tattoo studio are fast becoming numbered. Customers are far more discerning these days; they expect to be treated well.


And how’s life on the English Riviera treating you?

Marvellous, it’s good to be back in Torquay. I was here and always had it in my head that one day, when I opened my own shop, it would be here. However, I do get frustrated by just how much the town itself has become run down … but that’s a conversation for another time. Maybe I should run for Mayor one day.


Not at all like Miami then?

Er no, not really. We do have palm trees and beaches, but the weather is nowhere near as good, and we very rarely get rock stars or bikini clad models walking into our shop. I have been known to throw a few Ami James style tantrums though…


Like many other artists you didn’t come into tattooing via the traditional apprenticeship route. Yet you are a big fan of that system for getting new tattooists into the industry aren’t you?

Without question an apprenticeship is the best way to get into this industry. It didn’t work out that way for me but there is so much you need to know, so much you need to find out, and to have much of that knowledge drip fed to you is invaluable. It must be wonderful to have a mentor to talk to and ask questions of. I’d still love to have one now. Learning by yourself is really, really tough, and in all honestly pretty irresponsible. It’s also very lonely, but it is amazing just how many great artists have started out that way. 


But the industry is a lot more open these days…

Yes it is. But the most valuable information is still very, very hard to come by. You have to earn it one way or another; no-one has a divine right to tattoo. 


What’s the ambience and atmosphere like at Revolver Tattoo Rooms?

Most of our customers tell us it is one of the cleanest and friendliest studios they have ever been in, and that makes me smile every time I hear it. There are no egos at Revolver, everybody is genuinely interested in what each other is doing, and everybody will always go the extra yard for each other. We laugh a lot, the cups of tea flow freely, and despite all of the banter and loud music we take our work very, very seriously indeed. I genuinely believe that everyone who works there would still turn up tomorrow if they won the lottery because we all love what we do, and we all love working with each other. 


The studio even has its own signature tattoo that everybody who works here has tattooed on their body somewhere. We are bonded by ink you see, and wherever we end up in the future we will always have those symbols of our time together. It really is a very cool environment in which to tattoo and get tattooed.


Tell us about your team?

Well, I have worked with a number of artists at Revolver through the years, but my current team is without a doubt the best I have had alongside me, and they are only going to get better with time.


Danny has been with me since I opened the studio, and was my first apprentice. He dropped out of grammar school three and a half years ago to take up his apprenticeship and has now been tattooing full-time for over a year. He has a fantastic talent for tribal and dot work and has quickly built up a very loyal customer base with both these styles. 


Dris D joined me almost two years ago now after returning to the West Country from Australia, where he had been living and working. He seems to think of nothing but tattooing 24/7, and spends most of his spare time painting in oils. I truly believe that in the next 10 years he is going to be one of the best tattooists in the country.


We have two apprentices at the studio, Lauren and Richard both of whom are now into their second years and coming along nicely, and a female piercer, Shelley, who joined me around a year and a half ago has become one of the best piercers in the South West. She’s also the studio muscle!


As a team I trust each one of them implicitly. There are no prima donnas, just a talented bunch of people pulling together to do what they love.


Do you personally have a favorite style of tattooing?

I enjoy realism. I guess that stems from years and years of life drawing. I’d much rather tattoo a realistic looking animal or portrait for a customer than do a more traditional style design. It just feels more natural to me. I like the challenge. I also like putting outsized tattoos on people. Stuff you can see from across the street.


Is your work largely custom these days, or as a studio do you still rely on walk-ins?

We still get our full share of walk-ins at the shop, especially during the summer, but personally I am largely booked out these days by customers wanting me to produce custom pieces for them. It seems that with every year the work is getting bigger and bigger, especially on the girls. In fact, it’s great to see so many ladies now daring to get larger pieces of work. The female body is so wonderfully curvy and it doesn’t take much to accentuate a customer’s shape with a well-placed design.


I hear that you are also a bit of machine collector?

Dris calls me a ‘machine chaser’, which I think is a great term. I’m always on the lookout for that perfect machine to elevate my work to the next level. I can’t help it; they are my one big indulgence. Tattoo machines are just so seductive. I love buzzing a new machine for the first time.


And is that your ‘only’ big indulgence?

Well, I also have a weakness for collecting sunglasses… and Manchester United shirts which never get worn and sit in a pile on my wardrobe floor. Every two seasons a new shirt comes out and I just have to have it… then never wear it again. 

‘My name is Dave and I am a football shirt addict…’ (laughs)


Where do you draw the line on what you will and won’t tattoo?

Well, if I’m not comfortable with it, I won’t take it on. I don’t tattoo faces, willies or ball bags. I’m sorry but sitting there holding another man’s knob for half an hour is not my idea of fun. I also avoid tribal like the plague. I just get no enjoyment out of it so the other guys in the studio tend to take it on instead. Danny is really good at it. I always try to make sure that customers get what they want; it just might not be me that’s doing it.


Who have been your main influences in both the art world, and the tattoo world?

I am a huge fan of the Renaissance period, particularly the paintings of Raphael. When I learnt to sketch I studied DaVinci’s drawings extensively and also those of the sculptor Rodin. If you want to know how to draw hands in particular there is no better source. I also like the richness contained in the works of Blake and Turner, and for a while was very influenced by the typography and illustrations of Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman, who I was fortunate enough to have drawn with once.


In the tattoo world my influences change daily. The seminar DVDs produced by Joshua Carlton and Brandon Bond were both very influential to me at different stages of my career, as was a recent visit to Nikole Lowe’s Good Times studio. I like the way Louis Malloy conducts himself, he’s a true master craftsman, and I also like how Paul Booth has turned getting a tattoo into something far more theatrical through his Last Rites studio in New York.


Tell us a little about your own tattoos… 

Hmm, my arms have mainly been built up by the various artists that I have worked with through the years. Neither has been particularly planned out and both are a real smorgasbord of images and styles. My left arm is an oriental dragon sleeve which is partially finished and badly needs relining when I get the time, and the right contains a central image of The Gorillaz.


I have a necklace of skulls that goes across my collarbone and right around my neck that was done for me by Jin O. My left pec has a colour skull on it by Matt Hunt, and my right ribs and chest have a pattern of butterflies that Nikole Lowe tattooed for me shortly after moving into her new studio.


My other notable tattoo is a zombie pin-up on my left leg which I had done at Modern Body Art by Jo Harrison, who selflessly worked into the night on it before travelling to America a day later.


Are there any other artists that you are planning on getting work from in the future?

I have a definite list of tattoos I want done, it’s just finding the time. I almost realised one of my long term ambitions recently when Paul Naylor agreed to do a portrait of Roy Keane for me on the outside of my right calf. We were going to do it at the Halloween Bash, but then after a number of emails between us I realised that I am actually away in the States while that is happening. Gutted.


I have also been talking to Toni Moore about doing some lettering for me above my collar bone later this year, and I’d like a Valerie Vargas gypsy head on my side. I’d also like to get a swastika from Xed at some point… the list goes on and on. So many tattoos, so many great artists… it’s just finding the time, it really is.


So are you good at being tattooed yourself?

Like everybody else I love the whole experience in a strange kind of pleasure/pain way… but it hurts. There’s not a tattoo on me that I didn’t want to tap out of in the first ten minutes. But you get through them don’t you? You have to; the pain is what makes the whole process special.


As well as running a busy studio and coping with an ever growing waiting list, you have also just agreed to take over the reins of Tattoo Master, the industry’s leading trade magazine? Are you mad? 

Well… maybe. But opportunities like that don’t along every day. The publishers offered me 100% editorial control and after discussing it with the rest of the team at my studio I accepted. It is going to be the beginning of a very exciting new chapter for me. A lot of extra work, but hopefully it will be worth it. Hopefully I’ll be able to give this industry a magazine they can be proud of.


What is your vision for the future, where do you personally see the tattoo industry going in the next 10 years?

I have a personal theory about the growth of the tattoo industry, and that is that everything is going to become more and more about the ‘experience’, than it is about the tattoo. It is going to be more about having a tattoo done by a big name artist, than just having the best tattoo you can get.


For example, if you want a picture of some sunflowers there is probably an excellent artist in your local area that could do you a superb sunflower watercolour for around forty quid. However, if you want the kudos of owning what would be perceived as the ultimate sunflower image then you would need to pay out tens of millions for a Van Gogh painting. Now, the Van Gogh may not be in reality be anywhere near as good an actual likeness of the sunflowers but my god, everybody would be envious! And I think that is the way that the tattoo industry is moving. I see people at conventions showing off their tattoos and going, ‘Yeah, it’s a Phil Kyle’ or going up to people and saying ‘Is that a Bob Tyrrel?’ The name of the artist that created tattoo has almost become as big a factor for many people as the tattoo itself.


To this end the whole celebrity artist thing is going to continue to become more and more of a selling point, and if you are not a celebrity artist then maybe you can have a unique studio instead that gets people talking. There’s going to become a little bit more ‘show business’ in how things are done over the next decade, you watch. It’s going to be a very exciting time for us all.


How important do you think the ever increasing media involvement is to the industry’s growth?

Love it or hate it, the recent media interest in the tattoo world has certainly helped line a lot of people’s pockets in this industry. It has definitely grown the market beyond our wildest dreams and I genuinely think that as a result, from a business point of view, things have never been so good.


However, the downside is that the TV shows etc. make tattooing look so cool and so easy that everybody and their dog seems to be buying a DIY tattoo kit these days, or has a son or daughter that wants to be a tattoo artist without any idea of what is really involved.

Recently there has been a lot of negative talk about people ‘cashing in’ on this industry, but at the end of the day that was always going to happen sooner or later. We couldn’t keep it all ‘our little secret’ forever. It’s far too interesting for that. We have to protect tattooing so that it can maintain its integrity, but between the TV shows, the internet sites, the DVD seminars that many artists themselves now produce, it has become impossible to regulate as strictly as it used to be.


As artists we have to learn to play the game, make sure our work is seen and let the public make their own choices. Cream always rises to the top.


What about the internet?

Once again there are pros and cons with the internet. It has certainly opened lines of communication between the artists themselves, which can only be good for the art form as a whole. Certainly the social networking sites are a great way to meet new customers and introduce them to your work. The downside however, is that it has become far too easy to get hold of the tattoo equipment and if this isn’t stopped soon then people are going to get hurt.


What’s the best thing about being a tattoo artist?

Waking up everyday with a smile on your face and looking forward to going to work. I think being able to do something you love for a living is pretty close to finding the secret of happiness in life. So many hours of your life are spent working; I just thank the stars that I spend mine happily and creatively and hopefully making other people happy into the bargain.


Is there anything you would say you particularly dislike about the job?

I lose patience pretty quickly with people who try to haggle over the price of a tattoo, or artists who wear their longevity as some kind of badge, no matter what the quality of their work. I don’t think doing any job longer than someone else necessarily makes you any better at it than them. More experienced yes, but a guy that has been tattooing for 15 years is not necessarily going to put a better tattoo on you than say Nikko Hurtado, who has only tattooing for a fraction of the time. True talent does not come with a timeline.


What do you do when you’re not tattooing?

Watch football, play skittles, spend time with the family, walk the dogs… oh and write for magazines!


Finally, tell us a funny anecdote…

The other day I was sat talking to a customer in our reception who was waiting for her friend to be pierced. Predictably the conversation moved on to the subject of tattoos and I asked her if she herself had any? Removing her shoe she said that she had one on her foot and that I had done it for her three years ago. Then hesitating, she looked me up and down and said, “Well, I think it was you… have you moved your tattoos about?” Yes, she was blonde.


Dave it has been a pleasure…



How long have you been working at Revolver?

Since day dot. I helped Dave paint the walls when he first moved in and have loved every minute of it since. 


How did you end up at the tattoo studio? 

I had been in contact with Dave over the phone and we eventually set up a date to meet. When I came in and met Dave I could tell straight away that it was a nice friendly environment and we got to speaking about the future aims of the studio and what was hoped to be achieved. It’s a good studio to work in, no one is too proud to ask for help and everyone is happy to help. Everyone is striving to better themselves constantly. What more could you ask then that?


What style of work do you yourself enjoy?

I’m really enjoying dot work. I love geometric patterns and trying to work with the curves of the body.


Tell us a funny story about Dave?

Has to be our first winter of opening. Most people who have worked in a tattoo shop in the winter months will know it goes a bit quiet, especially when you have only just opened. It got to the point where we had to do something in between customers otherwise we would go insane. So we decided that Guitar Hero was the way forward. Everyone loves a bit of Guitar Hero. Me and Dave had one song on it we could not do. We must have tried it 20-30 times and still to this day have never managed it. It’s not a really rock and roll story but its one of those that every time an iPod randomly chucks up the tune Barracuda, makes me have a little chuckle to myself. Long live the Guitar Heroes!



How long have you been working at Revolver?

I have been working at Revolver for just over a year now.


How did you end up at the studio? 

I had just come back from Australia, and I wanted to hang out with some like-minded people, so I emailed Dave, and he invited me down to his studio to hang out. Straight away I got on with everybody and got a really good feeling about the studio’s vibe, and it just went on from there I guess.


What style of work do you yourself enjoy?

I enjoy most styles of tattooing apart from tribal and script. I really love doing black and grey realism, and I’m just starting to move onto more complex colour work which is really exciting for me as it is pushing me harder, and helping me develop more as an all round artist.


Tell us a funny story about Dave?

Ha, ha! The most memorable story of many is one of our staff outings. We all went out, and to cut a long story short, had lots to drink and managed to lose Dave. Now we all assumed that he had retired for the night, however in the next few days we found out that this was not the case. He had actually gone on to a strip club (without me which I wasn’t happy about!) got a lot more drunk, gone for a dance with a girl and ended up crashing through a table. Poor, poor strippers...



Text Mark Steer Main Photography Scott Morgan


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Skin Deep 189 24 August 2010 189