Dennis Pase

Published: 01 October, 2008 - Featured in Skin Deep 165, October, 2008

So there I was sitting by the bar at the State of the Art pre-show party this year and a very pretty girl walks by (well it is my job to look at people!) and I was immediately drawn to the top of her arm where I saw a wonderful old school owl astride a skull design, resplendent in eye-watering colours. The piece was stunning and obviously quite fresh.

So I made a ‘note to self’ to find her over the forthcoming convention to get some photos of her and the great tattoo she was wearing. So I then got on with the task of enjoying myself when Jason Butcher, Jo Harrison and this big chap with a monster beard walked by. I spoke to Jason who introduced me to the wearer of said beard as Dennis Pase. It transpired that Dennis was the man responsible for the owl tattoo. After a brief chat it became apparent that Dennis and I had met before whilst both working at Rick’s Tattoo Convention in the States where I subsequently wrongly credited one of his award winning tattoos in my coverage of the show. Sorry Dennis.

Dennis has carved quite a reputation for himself by producing some incredible renditions of Traditional American tattoo designs as well as some stunning ‘one point’ Japanese designs so it would have been rude not to talk to this very talented artist about his tattooing career so far. Welcome to the world of Dennis Pase...

So Dennis, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I had been getting tattooed for about 8 years and always wanted to do tattoos but always got the “not everyone should tattoo” bit, which I now understand a lot better... started tattooing out of the house in February of 2003, which looking back wasn’t the best way to start but it seemed to work out for the best. In the spring of 2003 I went to my artist/long time friend Pooch at Altered State Tattoo with a makeshift portfolio expecting to hear the worst…to my surprise, he offered me a job and I went back to Gainesville, Florida, where I had been working retail and left everything to start tattooing and hope for the best. Tattooing definitely wasn’t easy at first, but I had high hopes and having a lot of tattoos helped me get a solid start. It helps so much to know what you’re putting people through.

Did you have much of an apprenticeship, or was the majority of your learning conducted solo?
I had a little of both. The first few months I was tattooing out of my house while working a retail job 60-80 hours a week, so it was hell. I think I figured a little out then but when I started at Altered State I got the fine-tuning I needed. I definitely owe my career to Pooch, he really showed me a lot about art and staying humble - he should be an inspiration to all. I think an apprenticeship is key, but on the other hand I don’t think it’s something you should have to pay money for, it should be earned by working hard and being persistent. I think people make it too easy to get into tattooing and I don’t think an apprentice should be treated like an asshole. They’re here to carry the torch, so pick ‘em well...

When did you get your first tattoo?
I got the first one when I was 18 by a guy named Kevin Bukstrup at Louie Lombi’s Tattoo Paradise in Lake Worth Florida (No, I’m not straight edge anymore...oops!)

What’s the vibe like at your studio?
At ACME, we try to maintain a personal environment. We all have separate rooms as well as a piercing room and drawing offices. It’s super inspiring; we have an awesome crew of tattooers and piercers and a super counter girl that is sweet but takes no shit…haha!

How many shows do you work, on average?
I work about 10-20 conventions a year, give or take for the last 3 years or so. I love it; I get to see old friends, make new ones and for the most part come back inspired. I think people seem to like my work.
I’m getting to the point now where I don’t worry about getting business at conventions (knock on wood) so that’s a good sign.

Do you keep an eye on other artists to see how they are applying tattoos?
I watch people work as much as I can at conventions, I think there’s something to learn from everyone. There are some super talented people out there that no one has even heard of but they blow your mind!

We met at Derby of course, but where else have you worked in Europe?
I just got back from a month overseas, working with Jo Harrison at Modern Body Art and at two conventions, that one in Derby and one in Stavenger, Norway, and then I worked with my good friends Maika and Mark at On Edge in Den Haag, Holland. I think there are definitely different styles all over; I’ll work some conventions where I do lil’ banger tattoos, like 10 a day, then there are more serious collectors that want cool work. It also depends on the promoter. Some promoters, for instance, will not like traditional and only book like, one booth of traditional tattooers, which is a bit ridiculous if you ask me. I think every tattoo shop should have people who specialise in each style; tribal, traditional, new school, Japanese, portraits, whatever, but I also think that artists should be versatile as well.

Were any of these places biased toward a particular style of tattooing?
I think just about everywhere is open to tattoos and tattooers “after all you can’t have one without the other” it’s a pretty popular thing right now, but we still get the 3rd degree about why we’re there, whether we’re working or not. But most people all over are pretty receptive.

Did you attend Art College?
No formal art training here but thanks for the benefit of the doubt, haha! While I think it can’t hurt, it’s not necessary - it’s hard to loosen up after that kind of training.

Which tattooists really blow you away?
Hmm, that’s a good one. Tattooists would be Pooch, Jay Fish, Jesse Tseronis, John Boy Furse, Grez, Mike Rubendall, Eric Eaton, Chris Conn, Filip Leu, Dave Fox, Scott Sylvia and Russ Abbott.

What about artists in other mediums?
Joe Coleman, Todd Schorr, Chris Conn (again)

How would you best describe your style?
I love American Traditional and Japanese (not “new” Japanese but the good stuff). I would describe my stuff as traditional, but with some extra colour, although not enough for traditional tattooers to call it traditional. Traditional stuff is definitely my favourite; it ages well and it’s timeless. I like to look at a tattoo from fifty feet away and know what I’m looking at. I think a lot of the new style is gonna look like blueberries in five years…tattoos need to have a foundation like some kind of outline, or at least some black in them. I try to stick to the more “traditional” ideas, not too many bells and whistles. When I sit down to draw a tattoo, I try to consider the area of the body being tattooed and try to make it flow with the contours of the musculature. Then I sketch and refine.

Do your clients give you free reign with their tattoos?
I try to tell clients to not have any preconceived notions of how it “should” look but I do like them to bring me a concrete idea. I make them look at my portfolio so they know how I’m going to approach it. Otherwise, I might not be the artist for them. Some people just let me run with it and I like that.

What would constitute the ultimate tattoo for Dennis Pase to bring to life?
The ultimate tattoo would be a whole front (torso). I’ve never done one before, like a planned thing. I’d really like to do like one big image like a mask or skull or gypsy head, but enormous.

Anything you won’t do?
I won’t do any racist tattoos. I won’t tattoo someone on the hands or neck if they don’t have a lot of other visible tattoos because that should be something you work toward. They can be job stoppers – I’m a tattooer, not a life-ruiner. I won’t tattoo wieners…that’s the body part, not the personality type.

What do you get up to in order to relax?
In the immortal words of the great L.L. Cool J., “When I’m not up in the studio, I’m up in the studio.”

Does that involve working with other mediums?
I paint with watercolours. I feel that it definitely gives me an outside influence on my tattooing - gives me different ways to shade, or approach colour.

Cool. What’s the best thing about being an artist?
Freedom. Being able to travel and always meet new people. It’s non-stop inspiration.

Is there anyone you’d care to give props to for their help along the way? Yes. Pooch, Scott White, Brad Cain, Brooklyn, John Wiley, everyone at Acme: Jay Fish, Slim Brown, John Furse, Scott Bryant, Adam Potts, Steve Gatrost, Matt Brown, Marianne Abbott, Zachary Kerr; Scott Alton, Dan Loose, Scott Lukacs, Jesse Tseronis, Jo Harrison, Maika and Mark and Kim at On Edge Tattoo, Dave (Dave Cat) Porter, Sicko and everyone who’s helped me along the way.

Do you have a closing statement?
It’s way too fucking commercial. It’s kind of getting out of hand in some parts of the world and like every douchebag wants to make a million off an industry that they have nothing to do with. There are talented people but that doesn’t mean that they should tattoo. If you’re going to tattoo you should have tattoos, support what they’re trying to do.


Interview: Neil Photogrpahy: Various


Skin Deep 165 1 October 2008 165