Chase The Dragon - Chad Chase

Published: 14 August, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 215, August, 2012

Maine based tattooist, Chad Chase, was flying low under my radar before being introduced to him by the guys at Formula 51. But at soon as I saw his work, I knew we had to get him on board big time…

Chad’s realistic work is in a different league, a pure pleasure to look at, and his portfolio is packed full of solid tattoos, many of which so perfectly rendered you begin to doubt whether it’s a tattoo or a computer generated image you’re looking at. And then we get onto his portrait work, which is absolutely some of the best I have ever seen.

Chad grew up in Sanford, Maine, where his love of heavy metal and an old flash book belonging to his father, sparked a lifetime interest in all things ink. “I have always been into drawing. I loved heavy metal and was completely amazed at album cover art from bands like Iron Maiden and Megadeth. I knew badass art was possible. It piqued my interest and I would often redraw stuff like that as a kid. I can’t even count all the times I redrew Eddie from Iron Maiden… or the Motorhead skull! As far as my interest in tattooing, that was started by my father. He had a bunch of ink (and an old Spaulding & Rogers flash book to be precise) and even had a bunch of random tattoo designs laying around, so drawing and redrawing that stuff as well was inevitable. As I got old enough to enter the workforce, I realised that tattooing was what I wanted to do.”

A few minor troubles in his teenage years aside and Chad opened up his first studio in 1996. This move was due more to his struggle to get an apprenticeship than being young, headstrong and determined to succeed, yet it was these same qualities that helped Chad turn his first venture in tattooing, into a successful shop.

“I started tattooing in 1995 and then opened up a studio in 1996. Young, dumb, and unable to find an apprenticeship, I took it all on. On my own. I shadowed a tattoo artist friend of my Dad’s for a while and haunted the Mad Hatter’s convention in Portland, Maine, every year. I watched all the great tattooists, like Paul Booth, Jack Rudy, Guy Aitchison, Brian Everett and a bunch of others. I took seminars, took blood-borne pathogens courses and learned how to make my own needles. The only real seminar then was on machine building and tuning. Guy had come out with some thin little ‘how-to books’ that were gospel to me. I worked my ass off and sucked.

“I think not having an apprenticeship hindered my progress greatly. Figuring things out on your own is a huge waste of time, especially when I started. The internet was not used on a daily basis then, there were no educational dvds and those who knew how to tattoo, guarded those secrets with their life. It was tough. I think everyone, even to this day, should seek out an apprenticeship with a good artist. And getting one with a bad artist is just as bad as not having one at all. You’re gonna have to unlearn all those bad habits you were taught.”

Eight years later, 2004, Chad decided a change was due. Wanting to focus his talent more on the custom side of tattooing, he opened a new shop, Venom Ink.

“It was a long hard road, but eventually I started to get better. For years all I did was flash off the walls, although it was all hand-drawn flash, drawn by me and my buddy, Dave. After about seven or eight years I got sick of doing the flash thing. I started over with a new studio and went all custom. There were no designs on the wall. It went over like a lead balloon at first. People in my area didn't know what to make of a studio where you couldn’t go in and pick a design off the wall. Slowly, I was able to show people that their ideas could be drawn for them and they’d get something original. Now that seems to be normal.

“The studio is thriving. I’m booked six to eight weeks out. I have another great artist working with me, Chris Chubbuck, and a great apprentice and piercer, Dan Kelley.”

Helping to steer the Venom Ink ship is Kelly, Chad’s wife, who helps make sure everything runs smoothly. And with two daughters, maintaining a healthy balance between work and home is very important to Chad.

“Working with Kelly is awesome. Most couples couldn’t pull it off, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. She makes everything run smoothly; when she can’t be there, or has to take time off, it is complete chaos. She handles everything from finances, cleaning, booking and running the front all day. I don’t know if one enhances the other, but we are a team and together the shop remains a well-oiled machine.

“Being with my family is so important to me, but it can be very frustrating at times. It seems like the one thing I cannot obtain. Owning a studio and tattooing full-time consumes all. I have two beautiful little girls and I try to make as much time for them as I can. Sometimes I feel as though the business takes away from them, but they handle it well and seem to understand. This is one of the reasons that I don’t work very many conventions. Between the shop and my two little girls, I just don’t have the time. I’m not willing to sacrifice the time it takes to do a bunch of shows. Life is too short and my family needs me. I do attend three or four a year though, just to get out there and meet new faces and such.”

So no getting away to a convention for a ‘little break’ then?

“I don’t attend conventions for the party. Nothing worse than tattooing hungover! I’m actually not a huge fan of conventions at this point. There are so many now Stateside that you can’t even tell which will be good and which will be bad. People who have nothing to do with tattooing putting them on and lining their pockets off the backs of working tattoo artists. I don’t support that. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of good shows put on by righteous people, and that’s fine. I do work some shows, but I’m very selective about it.”

Though by no means the only style he can turn his machine to, Chad’s realistic work is what really jumps out at you. But it would be a long haul before he had the confidence, or the advancement in tattoo technology, to really turn up the heat and show what could be done with the right equipment and raw talent.

“I slowly started to break into realism and started refining that style. That seems to be where I am comfortable. I really enjoy taking a realistic image and putting my own twist on it. Changing colour, shape or contrast. Making it my own. I was ten years in before I even attempted my first colour portrait. I was so nervous, I didn’t want to screw it up.

“I think that the ‘realist’ style is evidence of advancements in machines, needles and technique. This kind of work was not being done when I started. It’s crazy what is possible and what is being done now. The envelope never seems to stop being pushed. I don’t see tattoo artists being put in the same class as fine artists though, there will always be those that snub their noses at tattooing and that’s fine with me. Tattooing used to seem dangerous and edgy. Now it’s so mainstream and acceptable. I think it’s slowly losing that magic that sucked us all in in the first place. The shock value has gone from, ‘oh my, he’s tattooed!’, to, ‘oh my, look at the quality of those tattoos!’ It all has its pros and cons… it’s changing. Seems as though you need to change with it or get left behind.”

And with the increase in the calibre of tattooing, with some tattoos being literally ‘works of art’ are we going to see a different breed of collectors emerging… collectors of skin art rather than collectors of tattoos?

“For sure, people are getting tattooed just to collect art but I find that the balance between them and the people getting personal, meaningful work are about equal. About half of our clients want pieces to memorialise a person lost or a period in life of importance to them. The other half are ‘do whatever you want’ clients…and we love ’em all.”

There has been some talk about realistic tattoos not lasting the long haul, that they tend to fade over time, is this something that artists have to keep in mind when tattooing in this style?

“I think realistic tattoos will fade if they aren’t done right. But there’s no reason, if the contrast and edges in a piece are sharp enough, that the tattoo won’t last. Everything ages; line work, black work, colour work. It doesn’t matter which style, but if done properly the pieces will last. It should always be a conscious effort, as a realistic artist, to make sure the piece will last as long as any other. The client deserves that.”

So it seems that the future is bright for tattooing in Chad’s world. And it is getting brighter. With Formula 51 Ink, who Chad describes as “amazing ink and amazing people” now sponsoring him, and a few more conventions in the pipeline, I think we will be seeing a lot more of Chad Chase and Venom Ink.
Or as Chad puts it, “I couldn’t be happier with my shop and the people around me. Life is good.”

Chad Chase

Venom Ink Tattoo
Sanford, Maine
207 206 1828


Text: Trent Aitken-Smith; Photography: Chad Chase


Artist Profiles: