Kolobos Tattoos - Dan James

Published: 15 November, 2009 - Featured in Skin Deep 144, April, 2007

There is a regular member of the Skin Deep website forum by the name of Dan James. He started to put some examples of his work on the forum and I was immediately impressed with the quality of his work. Dan is one of a new breed of young tattooists who, I feel, are brining a fresh approach and a renewed interest to the art of tattooing in Great Britain. Skin Deep thought it was time to introduce you all to Dan, the man behind Kolobos Tattoo in Tenby South Wales…


What inspired you to start to tattoo?

Being into the BMX, skate and punk scene had a lot to do with it I suppose. Tattooing and all those seem to come hand in hand and after seeing my dad get tattooed when I was young, the image of that and the final outcome seemed to stay with me. Being into art as well and the thought of actually putting my art onto a living, breathing canvas and it being there for years had its appeal. My friends and family kept encouraging me to become a tattoo artist really didn’t give me much option neither ha ha, better then them pushing me to go to university in the end I guess.


I been tattooing now for almost 4 years but would say 3 of those years was as an apprentice. I opened KOLOBOS TATTOOS about 14 months ago and would say professionally this is how long I have been tattooing.

So where did you get started in the trade?

I started my career in Forever Art Tattoos in Pembroke. The artist who first owned it who I previously had work from was leaving and his relative was taking over. I was too nervous to ask for an apprenticeship but my mate Rob took it upon himself to ask the new owner if he was interested in taking anyone on. After a few discussions I got the position and I was there every Saturday or any chance I could when I finished my weekly job as a sign-maker. Two years after getting the position, I went through a shitty spell with my personal life and lost the enthusiasm to tattoo and parted ways with Forever Art. I was a lost case for 5 months before getting a kick up the arse from my mates and family and was told to get back into tattooing. With this wake up call I opened my own studio KOLOBOS TATTOOS that is situated in Tenby, South Wales.   

The way I tattoo now is down to being self-taught but I started out as an apprentice in Forever Art. My personal opinion is that all artists are self-taught in some aspects of their tattooing; otherwise the standard of work would all be the same. Yeah, you can be taught the basics about machine setups, cross contamination and sterilizing by your mentor, but to actually apply a high standard tattoo onto skin then that’s down to yourself at the end of the day. I know artists who are shit hot at painting and drawing but none of them can tattoo. When I started my apprenticeship my mentor taught me to tattoo using rounds, I’d never heard of magnums before, so when I was informed about them, I gathered as much information as I could and would spend hours getting flux in my eyes and burning my fingers on the soldering iron trying to perfect them. When I was happy with the outcome I started to practice colouring and shading by tattooing my own thighs and arm, so yeah I suppose you could say I’m self-taught in some aspects of tattooing.

Do you think an apprentceship is the best way to learn the business?

Yes, because without the knowledge of cross contamination, sterilizing, needle set ups and grouping, then your ‘gonna become a kitchen wizard, hacking into peoples skin and ripping chunks out of them. Finding a good teacher and studio is the first step and that isn’t easy getting an apprenticeship. Make sure you don’t get ahead of yourself and take the first chance that’s offered you. Check the artists work out as well as the studio, you don’t want to find yourself being taught the wrong way to tattoo just because your relieved to finally be doing what you always wanted to do. Some things are best walking away from.


What age did you get your first tattoo and by whom?

At the age of 16, I got my first tattoo I got the ‘Soul Assassins’ logo on the top of my arm by Billy Best. Probably the best birthday present my parents ever got me!

Have you worked any conventions?

I worked my first convention a couple of weeks ago at the Dragon Inkfest in Swansea and I’m also working the 2nd annual Newport convention as well now. Working my first convention was a HUGE experience for me and one I wont forget! Looking around and seeing that I was working under the same roof as artists like Paul Naylor, Gary Wiedenhof and Shaun Wood to name a few was an honour as well as a nerve racking experience. It was a good laugh and I felt relaxed thanks to Shaun (Images on Skin) who took me under his wing (cheers mate!) also having Mark from Global Tattoos to talk to was also a good thing.  It was good taking to Artists who had gone through the same experience as me really took the stress out of the situation.                           


How did your work go down with the public and the other tattoists working there?

I got a positive feedback off the public as well as artists who’d seen my portfolio at the show (even though I did forget to bring it with me on the first day!) but my portfolio is made up of all sorts of designs from a colourful weird lizard to black and grey praying hands to a portrait of a dog so there’s a lot of diversity in there. The work I was doing on the day got a good response from the public and artists too, especially the Japanese mask I was doing on my mate’s side. I was just a shame I couldn’t finish it at the show.

Did tattooing come easy to you from the off?

NOT a chance and it will never get any easier. It’s taken a lot of hard work and hours to get where I am now and I’m pushing myself each and every day to learn more and more about the art. Having other artists share techniques and information with me has helped no end and without their knowledge I would not be to the standard I am at now.

Have you had any formal art training/ college?

I got a B in my G.C.S.E exam if that helps? And that’s about it. Due to my lack of attendance I wasn’t accepted into art collage or any collage for that matter, which I regret in a way. But I suppose things happen for a reason right? I worked as a sign maker for about 3 years as well, which was good fun most of the stuff was done on computer but it’s all helped me with my career.           


Who are your main influences?

In tattooing there are so many. If I were to list all that have influenced me I would take a whole page up with just names! There are so many different types of art forms in tattooing and each one has their own artists who have inspired me. For realism you have to check Nikko and Robert Hernandez out, their work is outstanding for Black and Grey, I would say Bob Tyrrell and also the UK artists such as Nigel Kurt, Paul Naylor to name a few (the list really is ongoing). There really isn’t any influence outside of the tattooing world because it’s all art at the end of the day. What Paul Booth and Filip Leu have started is very inspiring and influential. The art fusion experiment, where you can have 3 to 6 artists working on the same painting and each individual adding their own talent to make a one of a kind artist is very influential to the art world. What’s even better is seeing it being taking off the canvas and being done as a tattoo. Watching two artists with no guide lines, drawings or reference material to look at and do a complete free hand tattoo is amazing. Make the time and check their site out at: www.artfusionexperiment.com.

Do you have a favourite style of tattoo work and can you describe your style for us?

I would have to say my style of tattooing is a bit of everything I suppose. I get to work in all areas of tattooing from the mad, bright colours to the soft, black and grey, which probably makes tattooing a great art form. Black and grey designs with highlights of colour. I especially like doing dark shades and light colour, this really stands out for me and personally I think it makes for a great tattoo.

Do you get people coming into your studio asking to be a tattooist? What do you say to them?

I think in the 14 months I been open I think I’ve had one person ask me if I could teach them. I didn’t hesitate to say no! There is no way I can teach anyone to tattoo as I’m still learning from day to day. In fact I don’t think I will ever stop learning no matter how long I tattoo for. It’s an art form where each and every day there is room for improvement with scope to learn a new technique and style.

Is there any specific advice you would give to someone who is serious about being a tattooist?

It isn’t the rock star life you think it is. If you’re doing it to make a quick buck or pick up girls then forget about it! It takes over your life and you have to be 150% committed to it. DRAW, DRAW, DRAW, and then DRAW some more. Don’t become an artist for those reasons - we have too many idiots doing that already.

Do you recon there will come a day when there are too many tattooists in this country?

Unskilled artists, YES! Most definitely. All the reality TV shows that are being shown is one reason in my opinion for this. Don’t get me wrong its good for tattooing industry. But people seem to think it’s easy AND IN NO WAY IS IT! The next thing, people see how it’s been done on TV and think they can do it, then we got loads of wannabe artists buying starter kits and getting itchy hands and ripping into their mates skin. NO, NOT CLEVER!

Where do you draw the line with regards to what you will and won't tattoo?

I would like to say I draw the line at tattooing tribal, but at the end of the day, it pays the bills. As long as it’s a good design and fits the body position well and not politically wrong then I’ll do it. There is nothing more annoying then a customer telling you what can be done and what can’t. Bringing in a design of detailed rose and wanting it done the size of a fifty pence piece? We’re tattoo artists, not magicians!

How do you relax when you are not tattooing?

Relax? Is there such a word when you own your own business? I spend most of my time in the studio, even after hours. If I’m not doing designs for customers then it’s paying the bills, ordering equipment, sorting out the studio, sterilizing all my equipment, the list is endless. It sounds easy but it isn’t! For some reason people seem to think all you do is sit there and tattoo all day but they don’t have a clue about what goes on behind closed doors. It’s far from the rock star lifestyle people tend to think you live!

Who is your ideal customer?

My ideal customer is someone who has an imagination and wants something different from what others would have. At the end of the day imagination is the limit and there is so much that can be done these days. The days of red devils, tribal armbands etc, etc, are long gone. Someone who has taken there time in picking the design is always ideal for me, knowing exactly what they want but also letting me have my input towards the final design as well is great.

What are the two major changes in tattooing over the last five-ten years and do you think any of them are for the best?

The standard of work now is out of this world! The likes of Nikko, Joshua Carlton, Joe Capobianco, Bob Tyrrell and Robert Hernandez, all of these artists and many more have changed the way of tattooing these days as well as the imagination on what is possible. I suppose the TV reality shows has opened a lot of people’s minds and thoughts on tattooing and making it more socially acceptable. Also the huge amount of celebrities getting ink these days. But this also brings out the not so talented artists known as (kitchen wizards or scratchers) who seem to think it’s a good idea to mutilate someone for life. That’s not so good.

Do you have any ambitions in either the tattooing industry or otherwise?

I would like to move to bigger premises in the future and would like to work abroad doing a convention or a guest spot but until then, I’m happy with what I’m doing and in my own studio. What more can I ask for?

Is there anybody you would like to thank for helping you over the years?

First and foremost I would like to thank my clients for their loyalty and their trust in what I do. Without them I would not be able to do what I love the most. I would like to thank my friends and family for their support through the good times and the bad times. And a HUGE thanks to Ruth Richards (Metal Militia) for the support and friendship over the last couple of years and to all the artists who inspire me to improve my work each and every day. And I would also like to thank the crew at Skin Deep for publishing my pictures as well as giving me opportunity to do this article.

Is there anything that you would like to add?

Yeah a big WOAH! To all my mates.


Skin Deep 144 1 April 2007 144