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All Or Nothing Tattoo Artist: Dave Tedder



Dave began in the industry as a piercer in South Kakalac, as a way to break in to tattooing. He knew from the age of 10 years old that he was destined to tattoo. The only thing hindering Dave was trying to learn in a state that deemed tattooing illegal. Not wanting to learn bad habits, he decided to seek out a tattoo apprenticeship. Since piercing was not illegal in South Carolina he used it as a gateway into tattooing. Being a fast learner he was picked up by a high end shop in the busy tourist Mecca Myrtle Beach.

Keeping true to his dreams he moved to Fort Lauderdale to forward his apprenticeship. Bouncing around between shops it took almost a year to find someone he felt comfortable learning from. He found his mentor in Holden Ritchison and the two became fast friends. Together they left Bulldog Tattoo to expand their artistic horizons at Babylon Tattoo. It was there that Dave was able to learn from three of Florida's finest tattoo artists. Dave took wisdom and experience from Novi Filopovich and John Coiro, as well as Holden. After finishing his apprenticeship, issues with family called him back home to South Carolina. His daily commute was to North Carolina, where tattooing was legal. He spent the next four years honing his skills in tattooing and ninjitsu, working in various shops throughout North Carolina, traveling to conventions, and selling flash. He was almost ready for his international debut.

Since the beginning of his career he knew he didn't want the tattoos of his past to haunt his future so he set himself a five year plan. The time is nigh. An international phenomenon is about to happen. In the immortal words of Dave Tedder... "A ninja neither arrives early, nor late. Rather precisely on time and target." Dave also would like everyone to know he likes "taters." Dave tattoos by appointment only. Please contact the shop to make an appointment.


Interview with Dave Tedder
by Tattoo Masters Magazine  UK

Describe yourself in 140 characters twitter style.

Hilariously witty, yet not afraid to shake a motherf*cker down.  Loyal till death, unless given a reason to hate.  Oh, one bad-a$$ tattooer, too.

How long have you been tattooing?

Jesus, I know it's one of the stock questions that has to be handled in an interview, but it really is one I have to answer on a daily basis. It's all good though, after 10 years I've learned how to answer it with grace and a little bit of style. My career really began 15 years ago, in my home town of Florence, South Carolina. But, before then, it was something I dreamed of as a small child. I've known I was destined to tattoo since I was about ten years old.  In the state where I was born and raised, tattooing was actually illegal up until 2006, I think. I was gone long before it became legalized, but that's beside the point, the bug hit me at a very young age. Ever since I was a wee little chap, tattooing has fascinated me. I know most artists have that uncle, or maybe even their father, who had tattoos that they used to trace with their finger as a child.  Not me. As a kid growing up in rural South Carolina, I noticed that only the outlaw types had tattoos. The hard-a$$ bikers with long hair and naked ladies, inked in the old school blue/black ink, running down their arms.  Images of skulls, snakes, and daggers, adorning every exposed area of skin, flipped some kind of a switch in me. I saw these guys, guys everyone gave wide berth to when they were walking down the street, and I knew I wanted to be like them. I knew I wanted to be the one that made these sweet f*cking designs on their arms, I wanted to be the one that made these forbidden images, for others, to wear like their hearts on their sleeves.  So, I tried to find as much information as I could.  Unfortunately, in the backwoods of small town South Carolina, there wasn't much to be had. By the time I was 15, I had scraped together enough knowledge to know that the only proper way to go about it was to apprentice under an established artist, and progress from there. Everyone I had spoken with, and everything I had read, convinced me that trying to teach myself was only going to lead to me fighting in the dark for years.  Sure, I had lots of opportunities to make some sh*tty jailhouse "tat gun", but I always tried to keep the high road. I knew that my life and tattooing would eventually cross paths, so, I waited and watched all of my friends get sh*t-faced, and give each other really horrible names and ugly little hearts and banners.

Knowing that I would never find an apprenticeship in a state where tattooing was still illegal, I knew that I had to find a way out, a way to help myself glide into the industry a little bit smoother.  While tattooing was illegal, the piercing industry really hit it big in South Carolina right around 1994-1995, and by 1996, I had already taken an extremely quick, and not so thorough, piercing apprenticeship.  I moved to Myrtle Beach the summer of that same year, and promptly talked myself into the main position at the busiest piercing studio in Myrtle Beach. I've always been a natural hustler, and they had no idea I was lacking the experience I probably needed.  The beach in the late 90's was fertile ground for piercing, and I really spent about two weeks in a serious trial by fire.  It was insane, the three seasons I worked in Myrtle Beach, I did more piercings every day than most shops do in a week or a month. NO exaggeration.  I've never seen anything like it since, and I'm sure that since tattooing became legalized in South Carolina the piercing trade is nothing like it used to be. 
After three seasons of piercing in Myrtle Beach, I knew that if I stayed longer, I might never realize my real dream of tattooing.  I set out for Florida in 1998, to live with friends, in a state that might open up real possibilities for me.  I was in South Florida for almost a year, and had bounced between a few studios, before I met someone whom I felt comfortable learning from. I had a few offers in that year, but I didn't want to make the mistake of learning bad habits from a bad artist. I had done a lot of research over the years, and I knew that if I didn't get it right the first time, I could spend years trying to figure out my bad habits and then unlearn them. After enough searching, I finally started working with Holden Ritchison at Bulldog Tattoo, down on Fort Lauderdale beach. I became aware of Holden's work as soon as I arrived in Florida, it was some of the cleanest and most solid I had ever seen.  Needless to say, I was more than excited to be working with him. Then after enough begging, he finally agreed to teach me how to tattoo.  It was one of the happiest days of my life, until the owner of the shop said that I couldn't apprentice at his studio. Afterward, it also became clear that I was no longer welcome there. Old school mentality, to say the least. He wouldn't outright fire me, but I was given the worst shifts, and through attitude, it became apparent that I was going nowhere fast. Since he was fed up with the studio as well, Holden and I left simultaneously to work at Babylon Tattoo. Novi, the owner, was in need of a piercer and tattooer, and he was more than willing to let me apprentice, if it meant gaining Holden as an artist. It was almost as if the stars were finally aligning for me and my dream. I spent the next year busting my a$$, getting to the shop before everyone else and making sure it was spiffy and neat before it was open for business, making needles, running stencils, scrubbing tubes, being the brunt of every ones jokes, and tattooing as much as possible.  I was hella glad for every bit of it.  I was living the dream. Right around the turn of the century/millennium, I was given the green light to start charging clients and booking real appointments. I let myself think that I was on top of the world, for just a brief second, and then I brought myself back to reality. I knew that there was so much more work to be done, if I was ever going to figure this tattoo thing out for real. The green light alone was not enough to make me happy. At this point, I knew there was much more to tattooing than I could imagine, and I wanted to soak up as much of it as I could. I could never be satisfied with being mediocre or middle of the road. 

Where did you live before coming to Atlanta? How long have you been with ALL OR NOTHING and how did you come to work at such a prestigious studio?

It's a pretty crazy adventure since Florida.  My mother died during my apprenticeship, right near the end of it.  It was hard times for sure.  I hadn't seen my family in years at this point and it was a difficult cross to bear. After she passed away, my father tried to maintain and keep himself together, but he is an old school southerner if there ever was one. He didn't even know how to do his own laundry, didn't know how a washer or dryer even worked.  When he called me and I heard fear in my father's voice for the first time in my life, I knew that I had an obligation to what was left of my family.  I moved back to South Carolina and sought out work in North Carolina, where tattooing was legal. Originally, I worked in Lumberton, the tiniest town I've ever tattooed in. It was the closest town to the South Carolina border. After almost a year of quasi-hard times, I couldn't take it anymore. I had to get out, but I still wanted to stay close to my family, so I started traveling, even further north, and began working in Fayetteville. This time it was an hour and a half commute each way, instead of the hour to Lumberton, but the extra miles didn't make any difference to me. I started working at a busy studio called Chop Shop Tattoo. Fayetteville was a military town, and the studio is located in an area where most of the officers live, so there was plenty of custom work to go around. It was a nice combination of walk-ins to help build up the speed, and enough custom work to keep me artistically challenged. I worked there for almost a year as well, and it was a hard thing to have to leave.  I really enjoyed my time there, but the traveling bug struck me, as it usually does, and I had to make miles.  By this time my sister had moved in with my father, so the family was taken care of, and I started traveling for a few months. I sat in and did a few guest spots at various studios, traveled to new cities and sold flash, did a few conventions, and settled in Asheville, North Carolina for a few months.  Asheville is a wonderful city, but it's also a small one.  The studio I worked in was very nice and extremely artsy, but the owner and I butted heads on a regular basis. It made for a rough work environment, despite the benefits of the city, so I couldn't stay. The road was calling once again, and when the road calls, who the f*ck am I to ignore it? So yet again, I was off on the flash route. I made a new set, specifically to travel with and sell on the road.  I did a few more guest spots, a few more conventions, but somehow, I couldn't shake the bad luck that Asheville stuck to me.  At least that's how it felt. Nothing seemed to have changed in my approach, but the outcome was vastly different. Instead of having a blast on the road, and making lots of money while seeing new places, I seemed to have hit a dry spell on all fronts. The flash market seemed to have dried up, every shop I stopped to work at for a week or two was in the middle of a slow spell. All of the conventions I worked were a complete bust for me.  Life is like a roller coaster sometimes, and you have your ups and your downs, this time I was on a serious dip in the track. Then my car finally kicked the bucket. It had died long before, but I refused to accept it, so when it finally had enough and couldn't go any further, I knew I had to figure out contingency plan B.

I called my good friend DJ Minor, because I knew he was working a studio that was generating a lot of buzz in the South East, All Or Nothing Tattoo.  I knew Brandon Bond had just opened the studio in Atlanta.  I saw the studios' full page ads in the local magazines and had already seen a write-up or two as well, so I was interested in whether or not they were hiring.  I was surprised as hell when DJ told me they had only been open for a few weeks and needed someone bad. I thought that the studio had at least 6 months to a year under its belt, as much as I had heard about it already.  I promptly put together a mini portfolio and sent it to Atlanta.  When they received it, DJ called me back.  He gave me the go ahead to come down for a guest spot, just to make sure everyone worked well together, and so Brandon could make sure that I wasn't a douche-bag. I was a sad case at that point in my life, and I actually had to ride into town on a Greyhound bus. Not something I'm proud of, but on a long enough time line, it's just another dip in the track. I spent two weeks at All Or Nothing, and they were the best, most profitable two weeks of that year so far.  Brandon and DJ decided that, despite the horse I rode in on, I was a good fit for the studio, so I was officially among the employed again, and happy to be there. I went back to South Carolina to tie up a few loose ends I had there, packed up my gear, and moved to Atlanta forthwith. No bus this time, I was actually able to get an old friend to drive me down, and I moved into a hotel for the first few months I worked at the studio. The reason I lived in a hotel is because All Or Nothing was so damn busy that I didn't have time to look for a place to live. I went months and months without a day off, and I was happy to do so. Sure Brandon and I butted heads a bit during the early days, that tends to happen a lot with me, but I recognized his genius for what it is, and I'm pretty sure he recognized my loyalty and dedication for what it is. Both of us tolerated the other until eventually we became close friends. It was through touring that we really got to know each other and became best friends.
I've always been a gypsy at heart, and the road is always on my mind, but fortunately Brandon isn't an owner that tries to stifle personal growth as an artist, quite the opposite... he encourages it. Most shop owners aren't too keen about their artists taking off any weekend they want and doing a convention or ten. Brandon is smart enough to realize that what is good for one of his artists is good for everyone and the studio. So travel is always an option at All Or Nothing. Anyone here can do as many conventions, or travel as much as they please. It really is the most comfortable work environment I've ever experienced, or even heard of. That's why I've never had the desire to leave, not once. I'm afforded the best of both worlds, and the opportunities here are limitless.

What is your favorite type of tattooing to do?

That really is a loaded question, huh? My favorite type of tattooing is the expensive type! HA! Really though, it's kind of hard to pin down, because so many different styles of tattooing have fascinated me over the years. One look through my on-line gallery and it's kind of apparent that I like to work in many different styles. At first, I was fascinated by traditional tattooing, because that's what Holden focused on, so that's what I was exposed to the most at the beginning of my career. That quickly evolved into a deep love for neo-traditional Americana. That's really my first love. I spent so many hours studying and stealing. Playing the mad tattoo scientist, and backwards engineering all the tattoos that I thought were incredible at the time. I focused on that when I could, but when I started to feel that I had some understanding of it, my attention slowly started drifting towards more Japanese themed tattoos. When Albie-Rock was down at the studio working with us, he and Brandon saw a koi fish that I had done that night, and both of them agreed that Japanese was where I needed to start focusing my efforts. That was really the only push I needed, and I was balls deep in it. I dove into my studies with a furious fever, trying to soak up as much knowledge about the history of the art as I could, while still reverse engineering every tattoo I admired. I've spent quite a few years now working on dragons or koi fish, damn near every day of the week. I still have a love and passion for the oriental arts, but I'm currently becoming more and more fascinated with black and grey tattooing. Especially portraiture and realism. It's a realm of tattooing that never really interested me before, but completely consumes me now. Hopefully, in the future, I'll find some way to balance my passion for Japanese style tattooing, and my desire to do more black and grey realism. That is one thing I love about Europe and the UK. Whenever I'm over here I get to do so much more black and grey than I do back home.

What machines do you use? How many do you set up for a substantial session?

Wow! I use a lot of machines. Especially these days. Of course, since I started over 10 years ago, I began with only two, which is one more than a lot of guys I know. But over the years, my collection has grown substantially. I usually don't buy collectors machines, because my father was a carpenter, and I'm a firm believer that a tool is meant to be used as often as possible. It longs for use, but I do have a few that have never broken skin. But mainly, my collection consists of heavy duty irons meant to take a beating. For the longest time, I used Pulse machines exclusively, but over time that changed as well. Currently, my daily drivers are a Seth Cifferi brass Wienerdog, a Lucky Irons Walker frame with a Greek Lira bolted to the side that I have dubbed "The A$$ Sex Machine", a Pulse Executive Liner, a Seth prototype Walker-esque cutback liner, an Infinite Irons Walker frame, that I picked up off of Joey D when he rolled through the shop, and an Eric Merrill limited edition machine, from Pulse, that also uses Walker geometry. Notice a trend there? I love a Walker frame, and I hate a welded frame. Joey and Seth are the only guys I know that can weld a frame and not make it sound like dog sh*t.

What type of needles & groupings do you prefer? How did you come to start using them?

I've changed groupings a lot over the years.  Like most, at times, I thought there was a secret that I just didn't know, but there isn't. I found that it's really just what you're comfortable using.  I started out like everyone did down in Florida, about 10 years ago, using 7's & 7's; 7 rounds, and 7 magnums with the occasional tight 3. Then over the years, I branched out and broadened my horizons a bit, and tried a 5 liner. So, I threw that into the mix when I needed it. Then eventually, after quite a few years, I tried a 9 mag and thought I was in heaven. I didn't know how I ever lived without it. So pretty soon, I figured out how to fit a 9 mag into everywhere I used to go with a 7. After the 7 mag was taken out of the mix, I tried an 11 and a 13 mag. I spent a few years experimenting, trying to figure out what worked best for me, and eventually I dropped the 11 mag. It just wasn't doing it for me. I settled on a 13 mag and the occasional 9 mag.  It has to be a pretty tight piece with lots of little areas for me to break out a 9 mag these days. As for liners, I use tight 7's, loose 7's, and super tight 5's. And by super tight 5's, I mean 5's that could pass as a 3 or even a single at times.

Is Brandon really a psychopath to work for?

Like I said earlier, Brandon and I butted heads a lot during the first few months. And while it took me quite a while to come around to his way of thinking, that is mainly because I was extremely stubborn, not because he's crazy or wrong. Do I think Brandon is a psychopath? No. I do see how those on the outside could perceive him as such though. I'm sure it can seem confusing for those on the outside looking in. Truth is, sh*t moves so fast around here that everything that gets put out there, for the world to see, is always two or three steps behind what's currently going on, and it's about 10 steps behind whatever he's got cooking for the future. So it must be a lot to keep up with. You wouldn't believe some of the rumors I hear. The tattoo industry is worse than a sewing circle, playing the children's game "telephone" at times. But it is what it is, and like P.T. Barnum said, "No Press is bad Press."  Truth be told, I've worked with Brandon since the start, over 6 years now and many more to come, and he is the closest thing to Howard Hughes/P.T. Barnum that the tattoo community has. Regardless of your opinion, whether you love his antics or hate them, you can't deny that they work.

What has changed about your tattooing since you first walked in the front door of ALL OR NOTHING?

Everything, really. I've been here so long now that if my tattooing hasn't rolled over a few times already, I would be stagnating. I'm a firm believer in moving forward. There is no room, and no reason, for complacency in this business, especially these days. The new kids are coming up fast, and it's really easy to get left behind if you don't practice your art to the best of your abilities every day. When I first came to the shop I was knee deep in my neo-traditional phase, I was painting watercolors every day and picking up new tricks as often as I could. Over the years, my style has drifted more towards the Japanese inspired motifs, and my technique has changed drastically. I think that's part of the growth I was talking about as well. The more time you spend actually implanting pigment under the skin, the more you begin to understand the process. You have to spend as much time studying your craft as you do practicing your art. You can have all the best designs in the world, but, if you don't understand the fundamentals of tattooing, and the basis behind your techniques, you're gonna really sh*t the bed when your favorite machine dies on you mid-tattoo.
I seriously believe you should have a completely different outlook, on everything concerning tattooing, every 2-3 years. If not, you're standing still and watching the herd pass you by.

Everyone that comes arrives at different times, so the list of artists is always in flux. Who have YOU worked with, gotten tattooed by, met or gotten to watch work since coming to ALL OR NOTHING? And how did any of that affect you and your art.

You know, I started working at All Or Nothing about 3-4 weeks after the doors first opened, so I've had the opportunity to work with everyone who's ever worked here, or done a guest spot at the studio. I feel extremely fortunate for all of the experiences I've had here. Just imagine anyone that has ever worked here, even if only for a day, and I've stolen at least one trick from them. Many of the artists, I sought out and personally hired when I was managing the studio, and many of them came to us seeking a way to further their careers and their art.
The best thing about working with so many different artists is the constant barrage of different ideas. Everyone who works here, or comes for a guest spot, have such different styles that it's impossible to not be inspired every day I come to work.  When Eric Merrill was here, I learned more about watercolor painting in one day than I had taught myself in an entire year. And when Bob Tyrell came, and tattooed Short, I learned more about portraiture than I had in years.  Plus, getting to work beside such talented artists like Short Parker, Vince Villalvazo, Tony Mancia, and Chris Birdsong every day keeps me on my toes. It's exciting to have such a group of talented artists next to you, it gives you someone else to impress.

What other type of art do you produce? Paintings, video, flash, graphics etc?

I don't produce anywhere near as much art as I should these days, but that recently changed. I used to paint with a lot of watercolors. I've put out three sets of flash and I'm currently working on my fourth, but my newest passion is oil painting. I've wanted to get into oils for awhile now, but they've always been kind of intimidating. Recently, I decided to dive in head first, and now Paul Booth has agreed to let me come up for a few days and steal some of his oil trickery. I'm really excited to learn more with this medium, and I can't wait until I have created something that I feel worthy of print.

Was there ever a time when you realized you had figured this out or had an "art epiphany" about your own growth as a tattooer?

HA! Every six months, I sit back after I've had such an epiphany and think, now I've got this sh*t figured out, I get it now. Then six more months down the line, I realize that all this sh*t I thought I knew half a year ago was only the tip of the iceberg. That's the beautiful thing about tattooing, as long as you treat it good, it will find a way to keep you interested. That's the trick, you do right by tattooing, and tattooing will do right by you.

What kind of inks do you use?

What, are you trying to learn how to tattoo or something? I like how you slid that question in, a few personal questions after the needle question. I use a mix though. I have yet to find a complete set that I love entirely.  But, currently, I use a mix of Dynamic and Pelican black, a lot of Classic Colors, I love Troy's pigment, and a few select Starbright colors, Scarlet, White and Yellow, mainly for mixing. It's hard to say really, because the inks I use change like my styles have changed over the years. It all falls under that "now I've got this sh*t figured out" epiphany that keeps happening.

What types of tattoos would you LIKE to do, like if you could start doing any specific style a lot, what would it be?

Like I mentioned earlier, I'm really fascinated by black and grey realism these days, and if there was any particular style I would like to focus on, it would be anything I've had a hand in developing, except in black and grey, instead of color. Portraits with crazy backgrounds, Japanese themed images done ultra realistic or even extremely religious images. Anything black and grey. I'm especially partial to creating really dark images from from obscure sculpture reference.

What do you love about tattooing the most?

I love the fact that tattooing can take me anywhere I want to go.  Tattooing has saved my life, many times over, and it continues to do so to this day. I mean that in the most literal of senses. Without tattooing, there is no telling what cell block I might be on, or what shallow grave I may have ended up in. Tattooing has kept me grounded. Tattooing has continually been good to me, and in return I've tried to give as much back as I can through hard work and dedication. Tattooing is one of the fairest trades I know.

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