Ante UP! – Part 1
An interview with Vida Loca owner Dan Watson
Playing poker for a living and running a tattoo studio have more in common than you
might think. Tony Jones speaks to Dan Watson about tattooing, boxing, gambling and
never giving up.
On learning his trade:
I pestered every tattooist in my area for an apprenticeship, but none of them could or would
take me on. I tried for about a year to get my foot in the door and I’d like to think my artwork
portfolio was of a high enough calibre. I think by now I’ve proved I have what it takes to
make it in the industry, but it goes to show how tough it is to get started. It was very
frustrating but I’m not the kind of person who gives in easily. I was always going to find a
way, or make one.
I hate having to admit that I never really did an apprenticeship. There are so many people out
there who think they can just pick up a machine and start tattooing. Many of them have no
artistic talent to begin with so they will never make good tattoo artist. There are shops all
over the country with tattooists who couldn’t draw a stick-man, charging good money and
ruining people’s skin, and ruining the whole business of tattooing at the same time. There’s a
difference between a ‘Tattooist’ and ‘Tattoo Artist’. Thankfully I was a good enough artist
that my first attempts weren’t too bad, but an apprenticeship where I could have learned from
someone else’s mistakes, instead of making them myself, would have been very useful.
I say I am self-taught, but once I was up and running I did have lots of input and advice from
established tattooists such as Paul Saunders from Voodoo Tattoo in Warrington, and Karl
Fletcher from Fleckys in Golbourn. I owe a big thank you to those guys as they had faith in
me and helped me enormously, not only with tattooing technical info, but also on how to run
a tattoo studio business.
This isn’t my first studio. Vida Loca evolved incrementally as I developed as a tattooist and
my customer base grew larger. I’ve only ever worked for myself at my own studio. I began
by renting retail space in a gym near where I grew up in Little Lever near Bolton, before
progressing to a slightly bigger shop in the same village. Here I was joined by other artists
and it became clear very quickly that more space and artists were required. We eventually
moved into a three storey shop in the centre of Bolton, but I always felt there was a gap for a
more sophisticated tattoo studio. So, I decided to get new premises and build the studio I’d
always dreamed of. We moved here in 2014 and we haven’t looked back. It’s an awesome
place to work and I’m really proud of what we’ve built here. I don’t think there’s anywhere
else like it in the country.
I have a very clear vision of what I want my shop to be like. We’re based in the city centre
and so we cater for a broad customer base, from mainly custom work in various styles to
walk-ins, flash and pretty much anything else you can bring us. You can’t run this kind of
studio if you are ONLY interested in art or indeed ONLY interested in money. You have to
be able to master a few different skills. Being a good tattoo artist is a very important
foundation, but it is only one part of running a good studio.
We have a brilliant team in place who turn out some great work and get on well together.
We’re passionate artist, and we get along great, but this is a business too and we all need to
earn a living. Looking after clients is vitally important, as is the ability to run a smooth
business. Thankfully (Paul McCarthy) my business manager and business partner takes much
of the administrative strain away from me - which means I can do what I do best which is to
focus more on tattooing and client care.
One of the great things about the tattooing world is the rich variety of people in it, both tattoo
professionals and customers alike. Some people do it this way, some do it like that. We don’t
like to present ourselves as elitists and neither do we ‘hang out on the scene’. There’s a place
for that, but it’s not for us. Our number one rule here is that we deal with PEOPLE - all
different kinds of PEOPLE. We like to look after our customers, give them respect, make
them comfortable and feel at home in this environment. Our reputation helps with this
enormously as clients are happy to listen to our advice and speak to us comfortably without
feeling intimidated. It helps with the collaboration that is the artist-client relationship.