It’s the first day of spring tomorrow, but it seems like it was just the other week that Painful Pleasures had some of today’s incredibly talented tattoo artists walking its halls, tattooing at the Studio, and enjoying the genuine camaraderie between them. Back in December, we welcomed Ron Russo, Dan Henk, Timothy Boor, and Paul Acker to our Painful Pleasures home to do some guest spots, chill out, and have fun. We took this opportunity to get to know Dan Henk, this month’s Limelight guest. Even though we weren’t able to chat vis-à-vis, Dan was happy to take the time to answer some getting-to-know-you questions for us.
Meeseun: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Do you feel weird about there being a Wikipedia page about you?
Dan Henk: Wikipedia is a bit like being on reality TV. It's heavily edited and a lot of the back-story is missing. Although at least it doesn't make up drama and have douche bag judges. Let's see – short version of my life so far? Army brat until 18, when my super religious parents kicked me out of the house for being a punk rocker and moved. The south wasn't kind to punks in the early '90s. I got jumped all the time, and almost had my left thumb severed by a crackhead. I worked shitty jobs, saved up to attend art school, and left early at the urging of teachers for a career in NYC. I did a lot of art I was barely paid for, and worked a shitty food service job. Interviewed twice with DC Comics, who wanted me to draw superheroes and paid almost nothing. Interviewed at Penguin Books, who liked my stuff but wouldn't hire me without more work in the field. Then I started tattooing. I was finally doing art for a living. Magazine, book, and band art on the side, and paying my rent. And I met my future wife. Then I came down with brain cancer. I tattooed while undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments, and bounced all around as an inexperienced tattoo artist in NYC. I moved down to Florida with my girl, and put way too much trust in a guy named Joe Truck. I had a little money from a settlement, sunk it into a shop with Joe, and was too sick on chemo to see how he was mismanaging it all. I had to sell my truck just to get back to NYC. Everything eventually settled down, and then my wife died in a hit and run. After a massive attempt to find the guilty party, I moved to first Texas, then Philadelphia, and finally NY in an attempt to re-find myself.
Now I'm at a great shop, Alchemy Tattoo Arts. I have my own room, do my own thing, and have time for all the other projects on the side. I write novels, illustrate shirts, magazines, and books, and tattoo. It seems to all be working out for now. We'll see. Life is a rocky road.
Meeseun: How long have you been in the industry? What was the moment you realized this was what you were meant to do?
Dan: I've been tattooing 15 years. At first it was just the first job that paid me well to do art. But it ended up changing my life. I can honestly say that I am glad I made it in tattooing, instead of as a comic illustrator or book cover artist. I do those on the side now, but they are mostly jobs. Jobs I enjoy, but tattooing is a culture. I don't think it's a coincidence that so many of the misfits, the punk rockers and metal heads I knew growing up, became tattoo artists.
Meeseun: Horror/Realism is your specialty and people from all over come to you for some really awesome pieces. How did this become your thing? Was this something you knew you’d excel at or something you discovered along the way?
Dan: I always liked a dark tint on everything. I wrote and did art way before I tattooed, and that was always the subject matter. I was kicked out of college credit art and writing classes in high school for doing horror and shocking the teachers. As far as realism, that is just the style I like best and fell into. It's not a photo realistic style so much, as an illustrated, sort of 80's horror movie art take. I up the contrast, adjust the light source, and play with illustrator tricks to make the images pop. I think, at least I would hope, that I've gotten way better over time. Great artists from every medium have inspired me. I have learned through repeated execution of similar themes, and to this day I read art books and attend live drawing classes. Once you stop progressing you die.
Meeseun: You’ve done extensive work in both color tattoos and black and grey. Do you find that your approach to both is more different from or similar to each other when it comes to the actual tattooing process?
Dan: Way different. When I first started tattooing, I figured that anything I could paint, I could tattoo. At first it was just getting all the technical side down. Then, as the years passed, I started seeing old work I did come back. A good black and gray tattoo will look pretty much the same in ten years. Not all color tattoos will. Certain colors fade faster than others, lighter colors tend to match the skin tones as they fade and essentially disappear, and tiny details in light colors? Forget it. I want all my tattoos to look good years from now. The color tattoos I really up the contrast, add a lot of dark tones, and try to keep the super light shading to a minimum. It can be detailed, just not softly detailed for large stretches. With black and gray, I can go all out. I think they look better slightly darker, and it is not like some of the details will fade more than the ones next to them, rendering the image unreadable. Not to mention it's all really only shades of black, that shit is going nowhere.
Meeseun: If it’s one thing you’d tell future clients interested in getting work done by you, what would it be? What is your typical consultation process like?
Dan: I'm pretty lucky, in that my clients usually seem to have great ideas, or are at least open to making their ideas better, and give me a lot of their trust. And I actually have a huge range of things I enjoy. I'm working on horror sleeves, space sleeves, a Willy Wonka Sleeve, a Salvador Dali sleeve...as long as I think it's a cool idea, I'll tattoo it. If I had to offer any advice, it would just be to trust your artist. You went to him because you like his work. He wants to make the piece rise up to its potential, and he has experience in the medium on his side. Although I have to say, most people have exactly that mindset, so I haven't really had a problem.
Meeseun: Most, if not all, of your work is large scale. Both you and your client have to be serious and committed to the idea and to the labor. What are some things you’ve learned that helps both you and your client get through it?
Dan: I'm social, and tend to converse with the client. Many end up being my friends. I have a heavily decorated room in the shop, and a large DVD library I let the clients pick from. If they are comfortable, I'm comfortable. If the room has a feeling and vibe, it becomes more of a social place and not a grueling experience. That is 90% of it. Like a gym helps you work out harder, and seeing a movie on the big screen is more impressive. Feed the brain and everything goes much smoother.
Meeseun: You’ve spent some time at Painful Pleasures as a guest spot artist and to hang out with fellow talented artists. How did you come to know about our company?
Dan: Derek Entenmann first told me about the place, although I had heard of it in passing before. I didn't even know they had a studio until I did a guest spot. It's like the Matrix up in there! Doors open on their own, lights are hand sensitive. Very high tech. Marc's proven to be a cool guy, and he has some great artists doing guest spots.
Meeseun: Custom printing is one of the services we offer to our customers and I understand we’ve done some work for you. What made you choose our company for this type of work? Are you happy with it and would you recommend others to look to us for their custom printing needs?
Dan: Marc started putting out my calendar with the 2015 version. Slick paper, good designers, and he was instantly responsive to any changes I needed made. Very easy guy to work with. I kind of fell into it, but you guys have been way easier to work with than the previous companies I used.
Meeseun: In closing, talk to us about your greatest achievement so far in your career. What’s your next move?
Dan: I don't know that I have one thing I place on a pedestal. I've been in over 20 books and at least 100 magazines for my tattooing. I'm writing novels that are seeing the light of day. Permuted Press is reissuing my first novel The Black Seas of Infinity and Damnation Books is releasing my second novel Down Highways In the Dark...By Demons Driven. I have a yearly horror calendar I put out, featuring a month each by some of the top names in the industry, both in art and tattoo. I illustrate for magazines, paint book covers, and design t-shirts. They are all accomplishments I am proud of. I just want to do more of the same. I'll rest when I die
It’s evident that these tattoo artists, especially our Limelight featured guests, all have an unwavering drive to be the absolute best. Dan is clearly accomplished in so many aspects, but he has no time to be disenchanted by his passion or the industry. His closing words, I’ll rest when I die, are succinct, but left a lasting impression. View more of Dan's work on his Featured Artist page and follow him on Instagram and/or Twitter. Maybe you, too, can have an exceptional Dan Henk piece somewhere on your body some day.
Be on the lookout for our Painful Pleasures ad in Pain Magazine and Inked Magazine featuring Dan Henk and a promo code to use with your next order. If you have any custom printing and design needs, please check out the many options Limitless has to offer and be in charge of your identity.