Body-more Art (Baltimore)

What does it take to be a tattoo artist? We speak with Dave Wah who draws back the curtains on his journey and shows us how an initial spark of curiosity evolved over the years into a serious profession.

Shopkeepers' Stories - Dave Wah Stay Humble Tattoo Studio

Dave Wah with his customer Mike Clark at Stay Humble Tattoo Company in Baltimore

Curiosity | Colors

“When I was about 17 or 18 years old, I kept wondering: “How do they do it? How do they get the colors in?” I thought they were literally stabbing you with a needle!”

Asking Questions | Aspirations

“I got my first tattoo on my 18th birthday. As I was getting tattooed, I saw how hard it was to do it. I asked a lot of questions about how to get into the business and asked the apprentice if I could see her sketches. I would pour over her art and check them all out. Whenever my friends got tattooed, I’d flip through and see all the designs.”

Patience | Practice

“As an apprentice, you do whatever needs to be done. You don’t even do a tattoo for half a year or more. They let me start by tattooing leather, tattooing myself, and my friends who let me practice on them. I was allowed to do a tiny little butterfly before getting the freedom to do what I want.”

Shopkeepers' Stories - Dave Wah Stay Humble Tattoo Studio

Youth | Growth

“When I was young, I was content with being mediocre. I’d go from the class to work – and then it’s college, which means you want to party, so we’d go to the bar. It was hard to stay focused. I’d wake up in the morning, and do the same thing all over again. I was 19 years old and didn’t know tattooing could be a career. I saw it as a part-time job… but, that’s the worse way to see it, it’s not the right way to see it. You’re putting it on people forever. Over time your tattoos just get better and better, and more people start responding to it. When you’re actually passionate about it, it’s so much more rewarding.”

Professional | Preparation

“Now I put so much preparation into each tattoo that if it doesn’t feel right – even when the client is in the studio – if I put the template to their skin and it doesn’t seem to work out, I won’t do it. It’s hard finding a good tattoo artist you can trust. You want to know when you leave that you’ll have something you can be proud of.”

Shopkeepers' Stories - Dave Wah Stay Humble Tattoo Studio

Skills | Art

“To be a good tattooer, you’ve got to be able to draw or paint, and bring that artistic knowledge to the technical medium of tattooing. It’s a process that takes years: to learn different effects and say, yes, that’s something I want to do again.”

Motivation | Passion

“If you do a job that you love, it may be the most tedious job ever, but you’ll be excited about it. It’s like digging ditches. If you’re just digging a hole for the sake of digging a hole, it’s tedious. But if you’re searching for treasure, there’s something to be excited about. I don’t know if that made sense… but you gotta love what you do.”

Fans | Appreciation

“There are people who follow me on Instagram and on my website, and follow my art over the years, and they come in with so much respect. When people come in here, they’re so nice. They just want good art on their body. I take pride in the fact that people say this is the most different tattoo place they’ve been to.”

Shopkeepers' Stories - Dave Wah Stay Humble Tattoo Studio

Trust | Connection

“Even though I don’t talk a lot while tattooing, you make a definite connection with people. You’re putting something on them forever. They’re so trusting, they give me the basic idea and say: we trust you to do to what looks good. My work is different from the street shops where you just walk in, choose a design, and walk out 15 minutes later. Each session takes 5-6 hours, with multiple sessions for the whole arm, leg, or back. The last session is always bittersweet, you’ve put so much into it. There’s a little bit of a sad moment because you’re not going to see them again for a couple of years.”

Shopkeepers' Stories - Dave Wah Stay Humble Tattoo Studio

Business | Stay Fresh

“We have to keep things fresh, see things the way customers see it. The worst thing a business can do is to be complacent and comfortable. You have to keep thinking of new ways of doing things and think out of the box. I usually talk to clients and ask them what they think, and I ask my friends who own businesses. We get together quite regularly and talk business. For example, I have a friend who owns a jujitsu academy. Even though we do different things, some of the ideas can be shared.”

Community | Collaborate

“For the future, I want to invite other talented artists to work here as guest artists, there’s space for them, and it will give local people a chance to be tattooed by other people. Some of my customers drive all the way for 4-5 hours to get a tattoo from me, and they book 10 months in advance.”

Family | Baby | Knowledge

“We just had a baby who is now 5 months. It was so cool seeing her here: my daughter in here for the first time! If she got into tattoos, it would be so amazing. I could teach her so much. Knowledge isn’t something that you gain and keep to yourself, it’s meant to be passed on, and when you do that, it keeps growing. I can pass it to my daughter, and she passes it on…”

Shopkeepers' Stories - Dave Wah Stay Humble Tattoo Studio

Enjoy this interview? You can check out Dave’s stunning collection of tattoos on his Instagram page and explore a kaleidoscope of interviews with shopkeepers around the world on Facebook and Instagram @ShopkeeperStories. Enjoy!

Shopkeepers' Stories - Dave Wah Stay Humble Tattoo Studio     Shopkeepers' Stories - Dave Wah Stay Humble Tattoo Studio


3 thoughts on “Body-more Art (Baltimore)

  1. I was diagnosed with lupus in 2007 at the age of 17. In 2011, I made the decision to make my journey with the disease an addition to my (small but growing) collection of body art. A wolf is what signifies the disease and I am so thrilled that in December I’m going to be able to say that Dave Wah is the genius artist behind my long time coming wolf tattoo. I was willing to wait months, even years, and travel across the country to get this tattoo as it is so dear to my heart. After about 7 months of tattoo artist research and contemplation I decided that I wanted Dave to do this for me. I went to his website to get information on appointments to find out he is in Baltimore, not even an hour from me. So I not only got lucky in finding this artist, but I also got lucky in having someone I was willing to travel across country for, end up being so close. His work is mesmerizing and the love for what he does is so evident, even just through social media. Nothing is better than having absolutely no reservations and complete trust in a tattoo artist.

    Liked by 1 person

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