This is the new interview done by Joe Waulken on Dave MF Tedder, the manager and long time artist of All or Nothing Tattoo and Body Piercing in Atlanta, GA.
Atlanta, AK-47's, and the Internet:
an interview with Dave Tedder
By Joe Waulken
I had the rare opportunity to have an afternoon alone with Dave "MF" Tedder, while I was back in Atlanta. It was a cool August afternoon, and the two us made the trek out to Cedartown Georgia, to check out Dave's favorite outdoor shooting range. Apparently Dave doesn't get much free time, between a full tattoo schedule, managing All or Nothing Tattoo, and being a full time father. So whenever he get a chance he likes to "train" for the apocalypse. And if you were to see the back of my Bronco that afternoon, you would believe he was ready for it. When we got there we started gleefully dumping the dozens of 30 round magazines Dave pre-loaded, and when it was time to sit and reload, I figured the mood was right for a little Q&A.
JW: So we've known each other for a minute now, that means I'm going to jump straight to the point, then maybe back track around a little bit. You've been influencing my art the entire time I've been associated with All or Nothing, so I wanna know; How long's has your wallet been the one that says "Bad MotherFucker" on it? Basically, how long have you been happy with the quality of your art?
DMFT: (Laughs)... In all honesty, never. I'm never happy with the quality of my art. Don't get me wrong, I've been toting that wallet my whole career, but thats more of a confidence thing really. I think that as an artist, if you want to continue to progress, and explore new ideas you have to be your harshest critic as well. If I sat here patting myself on the back all day, content in my own head that there was nothing else I needed to learn then my art would stagnate. If you listen to the people in this world that support you, and believe the sugar coated lies, that even they don't realize they're telling you, you'll never get any better than you currently are, just more refined.
JW: It's funny to hear you talk about it like that. So, basically what you're saying is, the people who tell you you're awesome are your worst enemies.
DMFT: Nah, not quite that extreme, but thats the general gist of it. It delights me to no end, that there are people who will wait for months at a time just to wear a piece of my art. I love all of my clients, and without them I couldn't continue this journey. Everything would still be a figment of my imagination instead of living art. But what I am saying, is that if you let their words seep into the dark parts of your brain, and start believing them, then their words have just become the biggest obstacle in your path.
JW: I get it...
DMFT: For example, I've trained myself to only view what I perceive to be flaws when I look at a piece of art that I've created. And the reason I do this is because I want those parts of the design to be etched into my memory, so I know not to make them again next time around. It doesn't matter how many clients or tattoo artists come up to me afterwords and tell me how incredible it looks, or how those colors are the brightest they've ever seen, or how it flows perfectly down the arm. All I see are the tiny details that I'm not quite happy with, like the slightly misplaced highlight or the shade of blue that could be one tint darker. And I do this for my clients just as much as I do for myself. They deserve to get me at the best of my ability, and just like a circus seal, I perform on time every time. One of the aspects I love the most about All or Nothing, is the fact that there are no kiss asses here. If someone see something wrong in the design process, no one hesitates to tell you. If someone else knows a more efficient way of accomplishing a certain trick or effect, they spare no time in showing you.
JW: You're talking about the joint effort we have going on here.
DMFT: Yes sir! You really wanna know how long I've been toting that wallet? For as long as I've been working with the crew of bad ass artists we keep assembled under one roof. Don't tell anybody but thats the real trick to it all. With all of the talent we have bursting through the rafters here, there's no wonder why artists accelerate as fast as they do in this environment. When you have daily access to ten other Internationally recognized artists who all specialize in different styles, and have different ways of approaching a tattoo, then it's pretty easy to find the best way to accomplish your desired result.
JW: It is pretty amazing, to watch how fast an artist progresses after he start working at All or Nothing. Or even when guest artists come for an extended length of time, then always leave with a lot of new tricks up their sleeve.
DMFT: Oh yea, I've been here ever since the begining, so I've seen them all. I've even seen my own progression first hand way back when it was just Brandon Albie Rock and myself. It all comes from the creative energy we have floating around the studio. We hand select artists from all over the world while we're out touring, and them bring them in as guest artists to make sure everyones personalities are compatible. And I make sure no one gets hired who's not willing to leave his ego at the door. Being confident in your abilities is one thing, but being down right cocky about it 24/7 is another. Everyone that works here used to be a big fish in a small pond, and thats the reason we all sought something else. You can only grow as large as your environment allows. And with all of us working together instead of separately our environment is infinite.
JW: You've mentioned confidence a couple of times already, care to elaborate?
DMFT: Confidence is one of the most important weapons in an artists arsenal. I have requests thrown at me all of the time that I have no idea how I'm even going to begin to tackle. But I am confident that I am able to reverse engineer any reference my client may have to produce the look or feel they may want. I'm confident that I am clever enough to figure a way around my problem without having a coronary. I'm confident in the fact that I've done my homework, and I know how approach whatever i may be working on properly. And then when I'm done, I nitpick it to death to ensure that the next one is better than the last. With out that confidence though, I'd be spending the tire entire tattoo session worrying about whether or not my client was going to like the design, instead of worrying about the technical aspects of the tattoo.
JW: You do a lot of extremely large scale tattooing, and I'm going to assume that you've leaned in that direction by choice. How do you cope with designs that large?
DMFT: It was a little by choice, and a whole lot of the nature of the beast. When Brandon and Albie saw my first large scale koi, they started pushing me to do more Japanese inspired art. I was currently focusing all of my attention on American Traditional style designs, and it was the push that I needed to make my art reach the fulcrum and break through to the next level. When I started putting more of my new style out there for people to see, my art started getting more and more interest and attention. It wasn't very long before my appointment book exploded with noh masks, koi fish, dragons, geishas, samurai, and oni demons. And I quickly found out that people who are looking for that style of art, and looking for it large and in charge. How do I cope with designs that large? One step at a time my man. It all starts with a sharpie marker and a patient client. I've definitely learned that you have to dive right in, but you can't get ahead of yourself. Instead of trying to lay out a whole sleeve with a stencil in one fell swoop, I generally draw most of my designs on with a sharpie marker. It's much easier for me to lay out the general flow if I'm already drawing on my clients muscle structure instead of a flat piece of paper. So I start slowly, draw on a quick sketch really rough with a light colored sharpie, and slowly refine my image by using darker colored sharpies until I'm comfortable enough with the design to begin tattooing. The sharpie is really more of a guide, all of the real art begins when the needle actually hits the skin. More often that not, a lot more detail gets added with the tattoo machine as opposed to the sharpie. Then on the really large designs I often work in sessions. Thats not to say I can't complete a very large piece in one session, I just have to have a client who willing to sit for a longer session. I love working on larger tattoos, the feeling of satisfaction upon completion is so much greater than a smaller tattoo.
JW: I've noticed that a lot of your clients are willing to sit for the longer sessions. Why is that?
DMFT: To get these big ass tattoos finished as quick as they can, why else? Really though, A large handful of my clientel travels from out of state, so most of it is because they are trying to get as much work done as humanly possible in one trip, and with the distances some of them travel I can't really blame them.
JW: Your amount of out of state clientel really is impressive, how do you get them to travel so far?
DMFT: Well I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I'm tattooing an americanized version of classic traditional Japanese imagery, with my own style added to it. I'm using modern tricks and techniques, on top of tried and true theory and application, to create dynamic images. In a nutshell, I'm doing something fairly unique with a style thats been around for centuries. Thats why people "want" to travel to Atlanta to get tattooed by me. I think the reason that so many are willing is because we, as a studio, make it so accessible to them. Since the Atlanta airport is a hub for many airlines, it's so cheap and easy to fly in get tattooed and fly out the next morning. Having a staff capable of shuttling them from the airport to the hotel to the studio and back doesn't hurt either. And on top of that I always knock some travel expenses off of the price of the tattoo to make it that much more affordable. The key is making it easy for the clients. All they have to do is drive to the airport, we handle all the rest.
JW: Why don't you ever pick me up from the airport and shuttle me around?
DMFT: Cause I don't like you...
We both had a good laugh while I quietly tried to determine wether or not he was serious, and it was time to get back to business. The magazines were full after all, and we did come here to shoot. And let me tell you, Waylon Jennings knew what was up, when he wrote that song about Cedartown Georgia. They don't give a damn what you shoot, or how many rounds you fire when you're out there. It's the craziest range I've ever been too. After another 1200 rounds explode into the fading afternoon sunlight, Dave and I start packing it up and I try and weasel a few more questions in.
JW: So are you ready for some totally lame questions that you probably don't want to answer.
JW: What do you think about all the media attention thats been drawn to tattooing in the last few years. I know a lot of tattooers seem to always have a bad attitude when the subject comes up.
DMFT: Well you can love it or you can hate it, but you definitely can't change it. Tattooing is evolving more and more every day. All the media attention helps validate tattooing as a true art form. Don't get me wrong, it would be nice if we had a couple of different ambassadors to the couch potato nation, but whatever. Since all of those shows and everything else came about, the general public has become a lot more aware when it comes to tattooing. Way more people understand the importance of an appointment now when they're trying to get a large piece. They also understand that more work than what they see happening goes into making a good tattoo. I think most of the people that are bagging on all of the exposure are kids that suffer from too cool for school syndrome. I mean seriously, how can you hate something that brings more people to you that are asking for cooler tattoos, that already kind of understand the process.
JW: Right on, thats a really good way to put it into perspective. What about the internet? How do you think its affecting tattooing?
DMFT: Jesus Christ! You could write a thesis on how the internet is affecting tattooing. The internet changed the world, and tattooing changed forever as well. I mean aside from the exchange of information between fellow artists and clients alike, the ability for you to put your images up instantly, and have potential clients viewing them from halfway around the world is amazing. The internet is so vital to my career. Without all of the websites, the majority of my clientel wouldn't know how to find me. I honestly don't think that I know one single tattooer that doesn't have some form of web page. It allows clients to find artists who specialize in the form of art they're looking for, then compare and contrast from the privacy of their home. I mean, the list of websites associated with All or Nothing is ridiculous.
Thats a pretty big list. Everyday, more and more people are finding their studios and their artists online, they're even buying their designs online. Without an internet presence, the modern tattooer can't survive.
JW: What about any other projects you got kicking around. Anything new and exciting?
DMFT: You know, Dan Hazelton just turned me onto Digi-Art, and it's the most exciting side project I've worked on in a while. It's all photoshop manipulation, but using a wacom tablet, and the paintbrush tool. So it's about as close to actual painting on a computer as you can come. the real benefit is that you can collaborate on a painting with multiple artists in different parts of the world through email. I'm not gonna ramble about it because it's my new toy, and I could go on forever, but this is definitely going to push my tattooing to a new level. I see it happening already. Anytime I learn a new medium, I try and adapt whatever tricks I can into my tattooing to bring something new to the table. The few paintings and collaborations I've done so far have turned out really well, and I've learned something new from each of them, so keep on the lookout for a digital art explosion in the near future.
JW: You're not gonna talk about your new top secret childrens book?
DMFT: Well I wasn't gonna, since it's top secret. But I guess a teaser couldn't hurt. Since my daughter, Delia Sadie, was born, priorities in life have definitely switched directions, and I've taken an interest in doing a series of childrens books. I'm not going to go into too much detail, since on top of Stranglehold Publications, I'm still dealing with a few other publishers, but they are coming, and I promise you that if your kid is cool at all, then they will definitely want copies of all of them. Square toddlers need not apply.
JW: Awesome! One more question, do you mind?
JW: Are you seriously loading one more magazine?
All Or Nothing Tattoo Studio & Fine Art Gallery
2569 South Cobb Dr.
Smyrna GA 30080
770 435 9966