Spit 'n' Polish - Dan Walczak

Published: 02 January, 2013 - Featured in Skin Deep 220, January, 2013

Peterlee 2010: in the far corner is a guy busting out a realistic tattoo; commonplace for a convention you might say, but Dan Walczak (or Polish Dan as he is more commonly known) is tattooing his own thigh…

It took me another couple of years to get around to chatting to Dan, but here we are. Dan is based at True Colour Trinity in York, where he has been tattooing since he arrived in England. When he first arrived, he could hardly speak English and was set on a career in teaching kids physical education. Now he is one of the most respected tattooists around with a diary booked up till May 2013.

“I have been here seven years in March. My best friend was living in York, so as soon as I completed university, where I had qualified to be a PE teacher, I left my full-time job and came over to England. I was only meant to stay for three months! When I first arrived, I was finding it hard to get a job as I could only speak a little bit of English. I was quite into art so I started painting again in my spare time. I managed to get a few paintings in galleries in town and it all went from there.

“One day I decided to get a tattoo machine and start tattooing. For the first six months I was teaching myself and tattooing from home. Then Joy Eastwood (the owner of True Colour) saw a tattoo I had done on one of his mates and he absolutely loved it. He phoned me one day and asked if I could bring my portfolio into the shop, and when he saw it, he offered me a job. So I left the factory I was working at and started working here.

“It was amazing because I have always been into art, but when you are younger, you don’t really think that the future lies in art. I would always draw and paint but I never went back to school and studied it. I never really thought about tattooing either, because ten years ago, even though tattooing was growing more and more popular, it was still quite an underground thing in Poland. Obviously now it is a growing market and lots of brilliant artists are about. In the past I think people weren’t very open minded to it, but now, like when you go to Kraków convention, it is massive and you see people everywhere just covered in tattoos.

“It is all a bit crazy but I can’t complain at all. The only problem is I have to book holidays about six months in advance. I used to go back to Poland quite a bit, maybe every two months, but I prefer it now when my family come over here because then it is more like a holiday for them and I can carry on working here for a few hours a day. Also, when I used to go back to Poland on holiday, I would take my equipment with me, but I try not to do that anymore. In the past I would tattoo a few of my friends, but my Dad started complaining that there were people queuing outside his house waiting for me… and I wanted to spend time with my family.”

Joking aside, one thing you pick up really quickly when chatting to Dan is how humble and modest he is about his work. Sometimes you even get the impression that he can’t actually believe his career has taken off like it has. Get him chatting about his art, whether tattooing, painting or airbrushing, and he is off – lost in his love for it all.

“I have never really been into promoting myself and I am always really surprised when people like my work. About 30 or 40 percent of my customers are from outside the area, and I even have some customers who come from abroad, which still shocks me now. I think what happens is that people see stuff they really like and then find that that artist has a two or three year waiting list; they then see my work which is similar, but I have a shorter waiting list, so they travel up for a tattoo.”

Dan’s work definitely speaks for itself and it won’t be long before his waiting list is hitting the 12-month mark. Another one of Dan’s passions is conventions, and here he has his own way of doing things too. For Dan, conventions aren’t about trying to make money – they’re about the customer and getting his work out there.

“I try to do as many conventions as possible. I absolutely love Peterlee Tattoo Convention. It is just a small convention, but the atmosphere is brilliant and the people who organise it always make me feel really welcome. What I usually try and do when I am working a convention is take friends along with me. I’ll chat with someone first and see if they are up for it. For example, if I start a sleeve on a customer and I want to finish it off, I will ask them if they fancy going to a convention so I can complete it. So it’s a free day of tattooing for them and I get to show my tattoos and enter them into the competitions. I like to give something back to the customer and it seems to have worked well for me so far.

“And of course, you get to socialise with other artists and see them working. If you keep to yourself and not look around, you are not going to learn more about what you do. Just from my experience, starting off working from home, it was a totally different experience working in a studio and seeing how other people tattoo, people who are qualified and experienced. Even stuff like setting up machines… it is a tough job to learn on your own. And of course, inks and needles and machines are at a completely different level now, which helps, and tattooists are also artists now, they’re not just looking for a cool or easy job to do.

“Sometimes people don’t realise how detailed or how sharp you can go with a tattoo these days. No more pokey lines, you can do so much with shading and therefore get nearly anything done. When I first started working at True Colour, I told John that we needed to get rid of the ‘flash on the wall’ set-up and start doing more custom designs, because this is what customers are going to start travelling to the studio for. If you copy others, you are not going to progress… and that goes for anything.”

Seven years on and Dan is still keen to learn; it shows in his work which gets better with each sitting. But it seems the secret of his popularity is not seeing tattooing as work, but rather as something he wants to get up every morning and do. “I love it when a customer has a basic idea and then lets you have artistic control of the tattoo… it is difficult to stop at the end of the day when you are working on something like that, something that you are really enjoying. Often it is closing time and I ask if they are happy to stay on for a couple more hours so I can finish it off.  That’s what I love about this job, when you’re in the groove, you don’t notice time passing by. It is all in the mind-set of the artist.

“What I also love is that you get to spend a lot of time with the customer, so you are getting to know them and making new friends, and I think that is really important. Though I still find it really strange when I see people walking around on the street with my artwork on them; it’s cool because not only do I remember the tattoo, but I also remember the person and the experience. You can sell a painting and there is nothing personal in it, you don’t learn anything about the person, but with tattoos it becomes something different!”

And just chatting with Dan is something different. I walk away feeling like I have made a new friend. He puts his heart into everything he does and it shows. Before we finish, Dan lets slip there are more projects on the horizon and more conventions he’ll be going with his band of friends… but for now, he is more than happy with where he is.

“I will definitely be staying in York. I absolutely love the place and I’ve got loads of friends here. It is a really satisfying job and I love doing it, so I’ll just see what happens really. I have always made loads of plans before and they have never seemed to work out… so I guess I just got to go with the flow!”

True Colour Trinity

85 Clarence Street
YO31 7TE
01904 671 777


Text: Trent Aitken-Smith; Photography: Alexandra Bell