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From Ash to Flames: Interview with Dan Bones

Posted by Stephanie Crumley on

This weekend we head over to the West Coast for Midnite Collective's Midnite Communion in Los Angeles' Los Globos November 17th. It's been a pleasure to partner with Midnite Collective to do our first art installation in compliment one of our other passions: music. You can still buy tickets - click here to snag yours. We have one more artist feature before we leave the landlocked Ohio for Los Angeles - illustrator and tattoo artist Dan Bones took some time to answer some brief questions about his work and his recent move from New York to Los Angeles.


Dan Bones art
Tell us your name, and what you do. 

My name is Dan Bones, and I work as a tattoo artist and illustrator at Incognito Tattoo in Los Angeles.

How did you become an artist? And moreover, how did you make this passion your day job? 

I was always drawing as a kid and went to school for film and animation in Boston. I graduated from Emerson College in 2006 and moved to New York shortly after to work as a video editor and motion graphics designer for an animation studio. In 2008, I started taking continuing ed courses at SVA for illustration and started getting tattooed at Brooklyn Adorned. I got to meet some of the most incredible tattooers in the US, all of whom I still look up to today.  During the recession in 2009, I was a freelance animator whenever I could get work, but was mostly moving furniture and working as a bike messenger. I realized I hated working in offices and decided to put all my time and effort into finding a tattoo apprenticeship. It took two years before I was professionally working in a shop, and I am unbelievably grateful to everyone that gave me a chance and helped me along the way.  

Dan Bones tattoo

What is different about tattooing versus illustration?

In essence, the relationship with the client.  As far as subject matter, technique and longevity, I see the fewer and fewer differences between each medium every day.  The one constant is the transfer of trust, energy, and commitment between artist and client that isn't possible with freelance illustration work.  Tattooing demands that you be focused 100% of the time.  When I worked in an office, I felt like I was barely present. Tattooing requires non-stop attention and can be exhausting mentally and emotionally at the end of a day.  Aside from the challenges in the craft itself, being able to communicate in the moment with a client, read their body language, and present yourself professionally is a skill that you're always improving upon.  It's almost like a live performance aspect to a fine art, which makes for a wildly dynamic, exciting and rewarding craft.

Dan Bones art print

What inspires your work?

My introduction to art was cartoons. My earliest inspiration ever was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the 80's. My favorite artists have been Gustave Doré, Albrecht Durer, Bernini, MC Escher, Artemisia Gentileschi, Harry Clarke, and Walton Ford. Lately, I'm obsessed with Bernie Wrightson, Geof Darrow, Heavy Metal Magazine, comic books, and graphic novels. There's also an unimaginable amount of other tattooers and illustrators currently working that blow me away every day. Half of the people exhibiting in "From Ash to Flame" are huge inspirations of mine!

You recently moved from New York to Los Angeles. Talk a little bit about the different of arts in both coasts, and what inspired your move?

My wife Meg and I have been in LA for exactly one month as I write this, it feels a little naive to talk about the differences between the two since LA is so new to us. The move was something we had been planning for years but was still a really difficult decision after being in New York for 12 years. I am unbelievably grateful for the clientele that I have built up in New York, all of the friends we have there, and the amazing music scene we left behind. However, I was putting way more energy into the city than I was getting back. I was spending all of my free time exhausted and miserable and started to withdraw from friends. I could go on for hours about why we moved, but in short, this was an opportunity to take what energy and hustle I still have and put it into an entirely new environment and ideally new creative outlets.

What does dark art mean to you?

"Dark" art takes inspiration from abstract emotional responses more than it does tangible objects and places. Dark art is a manifestation of anxieties, insecurities, fears, depression, and anger. Whenever people say the best punk bands were a direct response to Reagan era politics, its because that music was born from those social injustices and economic insecurities that couldn't be addressed at by an individual. Today, dark art is a much-needed outlet to confront any of the millions of problems in the world that we can't address directly as individuals. Things such as looming environmental catastrophe, mass shootings from right-wing extremists, the rise of white nationalism and the violence that comes with it, misogyny, racism, homophobia, lack of healthcare, skyrocketing housing costs and student loan debt weigh heavily on everyone before their own personal problems can be addressed. We live in an age of hyper-awareness of the world's problems with no direct course of action to solve them. Today, Dark art is how we address the anxiety, depression, rage, helplessness, and paranoia that stems from the world around us.

What are your favorite subject matters to tattoo and illustrate?

The longer I tattoo, the more I focus on how a particular subject flows with the contours of the body, so currently, my favorite things to tattoo are snakes, birds, floral pieces, geometric work, and filigree pieces. I love doing technical renderings and architectural drawings, and I will ALWAYS love tattooing skulls, sharks, chains, tigers and anything heavy metal inspired.  As for illustration, I love doing post-apocalyptic landscapes that are sort of a mix of Warhammer 40K and Tank Girl imagery. Lots of skulls, spikes, ghosts, robots, mutants and beer cans.  

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A lot of your work is blackwork, but I've been seeing some color creeping in there. Can you talk a little bit more about that process of potentially transitioning style and what inspired that?

Before I was tattooing I only ever worked in color!  Once I started to really take illustration and tattooing seriously, I stripped my work back down to its foundations and strictly worked with lines for years before I started introducing tonal values to my work. I feel like the past five years of tattooing for me have been strictly focusing on creating stronger, more readable compositions that fit the body better, while my illustration work has been getting back to color more heavily. I'm always happy to do color tattoos, but no one ever asks me for them.  I would love to do more color pieces!

Top five artists, that you think every person reading this must follow?

Ian Bederman, @wonkytiger on Instagram.  PHENOMENALLY creative, wildly imaginative, super prolific sci-fi tattoos that have soooo much style.  He also does all the art for the Heavy Metal Mag comic Atomahawk.  Absolutely one of my favorite artists currently working.  

Mark Richards, @heavy.hand  I met Mark fairly early into his illustration career and was like "yeah, this dude is pretty good."  Within a year, he was completely blowing me away with how insanely strong his pieces are, which he cranks out a mile a minute. His work is super expressive, it reads beautifully, and Mark is suuuuch a good hustler. I can't name many bands I love that he hasn't worked with. He also has work up in "From Ash To Flame" and I'm stoked to be in a show with him again.

Dave Kloc, @Davekloc Maybe the hardest working illustrator and screen printer I know, and also maybe the nicest person on the planet.  Dave's understanding of spatial relationships will melt your eyes. He's like if M.C. Escher just wanted to draw rad things without a ruler instead of doing a ton of math homework.  

Gerald Feliciano @geraldfeliciano Criminally underrated tattooer in New York currently working at Leathernecks Tattoo and Invisible Tattoo. Gerald's style is a mix of art nouveau and traditional Japanese, but his reproductions of renaissance and baroque paintings are absolutely incredible.  

Kati Vaughn @Kativaughn Kati's work is the living, breathing embodiment of the phrase "that's fuckin' badass." Whether its a smutty engraving on a lighter or a hectic blastover sleeve, Kati just makes the coolest work while simultaneously being the coolest person.  She tattoos at Three Kings in Brooklyn.

What was absolutely a career highlight for you? Moreover, a career low? 

In August, I had a giant illustration of mine displayed on a 20' billboard inside the Hard Rock Hotel for the entire weekend of Psycho Las Vegas. Every single time I walked past that billboard for three days straight, someone was taking a photo of it. Aside from doing the on-stage motion graphics for the festival this year, I put a TON of time and effort into that piece, and it really paid off.  As far as low points go, I have a much longer story about needing a fairly intense eye surgery in 2016. The short version is that I worked myself permanently cross-eyed, and was living with severe double vision for a few years. Tattooing and drawing was sort of the only thing I could do without having to close one eye. I wound up having to have the muscles cut off of both of my eyeballs and sewn back on. There's a very unflattering photo of me legitimately crying blood when I got out of surgery. I am so, so grateful that it worked and my eyes are back to normal, but the whole ordeal took a pretty big toll on me.  

You can find Dan at Incognito Tattoo in Los Angeles, on Instagram, and via his website

Stephanie Crumley

Digital Marketing Advisor to Creatives. Art Curator. Lover of Dark Art, Slow Fashion, and the Unknown.



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