Dan Ryan has been crafting elegant fine line tattoos for the last six years. Informed by a life spent in constant movement, Ryan’s work couples incessant curiosity and passion for the craft with an acute attention to detail. In Ryan’s practice, contemporary imagery retains a versatility that allows his monochromatic pieces to resonate with many different genres of tattooing—an adaptability reflected in his manner as a tattooist. Ryan currently works at Hidden Moon Tattoo in Melbourne, Australia.
What is your name, birthplace, and year of birth?
My name is Dan John Ryan. I was born in Port Fairy, Victoria, Australia in 1993.
Where did you grow up? Please describe your upbringing and sociocultural background.
I grew up in the outback of Australia, traveling in old cars and motorcycles with my parents and older brother. I lived life on the road for the majority of my childhood: I always seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, whether it was the desert, rainforest, or on the side of a dirt road. There was never any technology, no tents or luxurious showers and toilets—just a swag on the ground and you built your own shelter from the environment around you. I feel very privileged to what seems to be the last of them upbringings living off the land. To this day, I still feel more at home on the road.
"My dad would take me into the old tattoo studios and bars and I’d see all the old bikers and sailors covered in tattoos. I’d draw all over my arms and sit next to them. I thought, fuck I’m into this."
Where do you currently work? Prior to that, where have you worked?
I currently work at Hidden Moon Tattoo in Melbourne. I have worked at a lot of different studios mainly due to traveling. The last studio I worked at full time was in Ireland with my buddy Charlie—the studio was called Making Ma Proud Tattoo.
How long have you been tattooing?
I think I did my first tattoo in a studio about six years ago and since then it’s been on and off.
What inspired you to learn tattooing, and what did you initially learn how to tattoo?
Ever since I can remember I wanted to tattoo. My dad would take me into the old tattoo studios and bars and I’d see all the old bikers and sailors covered in tattoos. I’d draw all over my arms and sit next to them. I thought, fuck I’m into this. The self-expression and symbolism a tattoo can hold is incredible. It can completely alter people’s perceptions of an individual, visual creates that we are. I find it fascinating that you can make a permanent mark on this impermanent flesh called the body. That impermanence is life itself, and tattoos are nice mementos of death.
Were you trained through a formal apprenticeship? Describe the circumstances of learning.
When I first started out it, there were definitely no such things as sunshine and rainbows! Fuck, it was pretty much about money, guns, and drugs and who could take a beating to get a foot in the door. If you were lucky enough, you might learn something. It’s not something I like to talk about but I can’t say I would want anyone to go through that bullshit. I was very lucky to go on to be at great studios and mentored by so many amazing people since then and am grateful I got to learn traditional methods of making needles and building machines.
Have you previously studied art in an institutional setting? If so, what level of training did you reach and in what disciplines?
I started a Bachelor of Arts once upon a time (for a very short time, actually) and fucking hated it. I’m sure if I’d seen it through I might have actually been a good tattoo artist, maybe!
How did you develop your style? How would you describe it? What are your influences?
I developed it purely by trial and error—so you could say it’s very much not developed. I would describe my work as things that I think would look cool to tattoo, featuring ideas from clients with that amazing fine line twist that’s wildly popular with today’s Melbourne youth, haha! I do love the simplicity of single needle: what you can achieve with one machine, one needle, and a cap of black is incredible. My influences come from a lot of different parts of my life—from writers, musicians, traveling with other artists, and so on. Regarding the tattoo artists that have influenced my specifically, I have to mention Jack Rudy, Kari Barba, Bobby Shaw, Stefan Sinclair, and so on.
Have you had or do you have plans to take on apprentices?
No, I have never had an apprentice but I would absolutely pass down what I know to the right person in the future.
What do you look for in a shop?
Good people who love what they do—that’s all that matters to me. I don’t care how good artists at the shop are, if you don’t get along with the people you’re working with, the place will be a nightmare. This holds especially for tattoo artists, given how much of your life you’ll spend with the people you work with in your shop.
Do you have any hobbies outside of tattooing?
Drinking and smoking cigarettes mostly. I try to get away as much as possible, go camping, get on the motorcycle, write poetry, play some music, and light a fire.
What inspires you generally?
Is traveling important to you? If so, where do you usually travel? Do you have any interesting experiences abroad that you can share? What is the main challenge of tattooing today?
Yes traveling is my favorite thing to do. If I had enough money, I don’t think I’d ever settle. I wouldn’t say I have a usual destination; I try to get around as much as possible. I have plenty of interesting travel stories—the list is too long. My most recent one would be overdosing in Amsterdam and flying to Naples the next day to have my belongings robbed from the baggage claim, including all of the money that I made from tattooing. I was left with my machines and a backpack that held my passport and wallet. Luckily, I had a night booked in at what I thought was a hotel room overlooking the beach…until the taxi dropped me off in the middle of a rough neighborhood nowhere near the beach. I checked into my room, which was falling apart at the seams, to find a nice little photo on the wall. It was the image of a balcony overlooking the beach that they had used to advertise the hotel! And so I ended up sleeping on the streets in Naples with the other homeless until I got enough money to fly home.
"I would really like to see a change in social media related to tattooing—hopefully a new sort of medium apart from Instagram and personal accounts. I imagine something purely tattoo- and art-based with no likes, comments, or followers—a place where people can share work with the public without judgment, without competing with each other."
Ideally, how would you like to see tattooing evolve? How do you think it will evolve realistically?
I think tattooing will evolve naturally, as it should. You just have to look and see how it’s developed until now due to the impact of different individuals over time. Those people have really done so much for the industry and made changes in its direction which directly benefit the tattoo community. I would really like to see a change in social media related to tattooing—hopefully a new sort of medium apart from Instagram and personal accounts. I imagine something purely tattoo- and art-based with no likes, comments, or followers—a place where people can share work with the public without judgment, without competing with each other. I hate seeing the amazing people in our industry torn apart mentally by something as trivial as social media. I personally think it will realistically get worse before it gets any better, but that’s just how life goes.
You can find more of Dan Ryan’s work on Instagram (@________sadboy_________).