Dan Allaston Talks Early Days of Conventions, Co-Founding the 1st Montréal International Tattoo Expo, and Inking on Everest
Patrick Coste: Good day Dan, I’m so glad we’re getting a chance to hang and chat for Point to Point! You know I've been a big fan for a long time. It’s a privilege to interview you.
So tell me, how did you get into tattooing? Were you born into it?
Dan Allaston: Well, what’s that line? “I was born at a very young age”...lol. When I was young, I was always drawing as a kid but more from a technical aspect, you know? I would make diagrams of mechanical things, which kind of ties into the way I started and got interested in all this.
I really started tattooing because I made some machines, you know, like teenage stuff. I drew some tattoos on friends and then I made some machines and started going from there.
PC: So you didn't do an apprenticeship...
DA: No, no. Back in those days you had to register your business and that was it. You have to think way back when, in the late seventies early eighties... I was in Montreal with very few tattoo shops, you know? I made the mistake of letting a guy know that I was trying to learn at home and of course it was like, “f**k off, get out of here”, you know?
It was very different from today. I really was self-taught and went at it blindly for years until the late eighties, when I started going to tattoo conventions in the States like TMJ in Schenectady New York and the Mad Hatter's Tea party.
PC: Dan, I bet you went to a gazillion tattoo conventions. Do you have one that you remember from the early days that you loved?
DA: The Mad Hatter in Portland Maine, with no hesitation. It was never the biggest, you know? But it was by today's standards a great show. It was a seven hour drive, and it always seemed to be during a snowstorm, lol, but that's beside the point. It was really just a cool show, you know? John Shaw and Mike Austin were always there with the guys...it was a fun show.
When I started to meet and talk to other tattoo artists, I started learning from the errors I made, you know? Re-learning by looking at the techniques of others.
We were doing different styles, they were doing different styles. I mean, being self-taught in the early years, there were definitely some holes in my game, right? There still are... We learn, it's just different, you know? Just like now, you could learn by yourself on the internet or you can learn the right way.
When people ask or I say, you know, I've been tattooing since 1982, that's kind of the cut-off of when I bought a whole brand new set-up of, like, Spaulding and Rogers equipment. I was actually tattooing before then but it was a little more, you know...
It probably wasn't until more like 1990 when I was truly a professional. I was 100% committed by the 90’s for sure.
I ended up in Cornwall, Ontario. It was a slow move, I spent time between there and Sorel, Quebec. We had a family house in Cornwall, and I opened my first little shop there. I was also doing some line painting at that time, you know, doing other work to make the month end using other mediums as an artist, getting better at art.
PC: I believe it was at that time that you organized the first Montreal International Tattoo Expo in Montreal?
DA: Yeah, it was the first Canadian international convention; the Montreal International Tattoo Expo, where we had everybody from all over the world. There were a couple of shows before that. I'd been to some shows in Petawawa around 1991, but that was more of a local show.
That Montreal International Tattoo Show was such a great show, and so much fun. I love to talk about those days. It was organized with the late Keith Stewart RIP and featured people like: Paul Booth, Jonathan Shaw… Man, I have to look at the original posters because I'm drawing a blank... Oh, and Gill Montie was also there. He wasn't the only American either... Good times!
PC: I love talking about that stuff, thank you for indulging me! To come back to the present though... How are you coping these days?
DA: I’m ok, lots happening, but really… This whole thing is bad. A few months ago it was really bad. Many of my tattooers were also having a hard time because some of the people from the shop live on the Quebec side of Ottawa, and when Quebec had a curfew they had to finish early so they could go home and not get a ticket. Then you have to follow the rules and if you're coming across, make sure you’ve got some stuff with you to prove that you have a reason to come across. They had to follow the rules of where they live, I needed to adjust and prevail.
PC: Thanks for sharing Dan... Glad things are picking up! I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about tattooing on Mount Everest. I remember seeing it on social media and I was so impressed, just by the fact that you went there. But then you also did a little tattoo while hanging out at 17,598 ft altitude. I bet this all happened overnight eh...
DA: LOL, right... It was a big long plan, but not planned. We were a team of 25 people, and planned on going to Nepal. We were ready, in good shape, but that year the country got hit by a huge earthquake.
Nine thousand people died that day and the city was in ruins, so that was that for the first trip that we planned.
A year later, we got back together with mostly the same team, and the same guy who I was going to tattoo at the Everest base camp was also in!
This whole endeavour was a part of a team fundraiser. Each team member was expected to raise at least five thousand dollars for the charity that they picked, so the climb was to raise money for charity and the fun of doing something as a team, and the challenges. When you trek those big hikes, you know that the payoff is just that, and you know doing a tattoo once we got up there was a bit of a crazy idea that just ended up happening. I wasn't supposed to go at first. I ended up being a replacement.
What’s funny about the whole trip is that I had zero interest in going to Everest, right? It just happened that a friend that was on the team ended up needing surgery and couldn't go. I was training with him just for fun and then the organizer was like, if you want to take his place...and I was like, WHAAATT?
Then I actually wanted to do it, because it sounded cool, right?
PC: Cool is an understatement here Dan. Tell me, what was the trail like?
DA: It’s not paved at all. There are places like you see in the movies and documentaries, where it’s just a trail... Rocks and dirt.
PC: WOW. I love it, I’m totally in awe…I don't know enough about all that, that's for sure.
DA: The fact that they made this, you know, this stone trail through some of these places… It's just stunning.
I also did Machu Picchu, which was amazing, but I’ll have to get in touch with you once more because that’s a whole story in itself!
PC: Thanks for sharing these experiences Dan, amazing, It must be a record?
DA: As far as I know, nobody else has done a tattoo at the Mount Everest base camp. I guess that's kind of a world record? I don't know… We contacted the Guinness book people and they told us that they don't want to set any records that are dangerous for people to try. So because they judged it was dangerous to go, people could die going there I guess, there’s no official “world record”...
PC: Weird… Lol, I remember seeing way worse, but hey, who am I to judge, right? Was anybody a bit judgmental about this whole tattoo ritual?
DA: Right, but I’m pretty sure no one has done it… Of all the comments, I think there was only one idiot that thought that it was ‘’disgusting’’ because it wasn't in a studio… I think I figured out why. I believe it was because once I was all done, I put the machine down on a rock. Again… It was probably cleaner than this guy's shop...
PC: WOW…Just wow… I mean, you just did Everest base camp. What size tattoo did you do, and what gear did you use?
DA: I brought a Cheyenne Pen with me and it was powered by a 9V battery. I did a bunch of tests, before leaving, with different batteries. I tested them at the shop, hooking the machine up to different batteries to find what would last, and I went with that because it's compact. It's one piece, you have you know where your cartridges are and that is pretty much it. It was about a palm-sized mountain tattoo.
PC: I bet those battery pack manufacturers got the idea from you?
DA: Lol, yeah, let's go with that...
PC: Were you using a Cheyenne machine before?
DA: Yes. I don't think I’d be able to tattoo anymore if I was still using coils… My hands are just, you know, smashed…
PC: Riiighht!! So, it also wouldn't be a complete chat without talking about NIX - Northern Ink Xposure. Can you, or will you talk about it?
DA: Yes, absolutely. Damian, each year for the last three shows, was asking me to jump in as his partner. I’d run shows in the past, so I was like…”Nah, you just keep going, you're doing great, I'm good.”
Finally in 2019, he asked me once more… In a weak moment I was like, “Okay, why the hell not?”, because, you know, you've seen the people from my shop. We were there, we were doing it every year and so it wasn't a big stretch....
PC: Oh yes, I didn't know you’d had that much experience at shows. I knew that you did the Montreal International Tattoo Show way back when. You’ve mingled with many, you went to so many more… So yeah, it made sense, right?
DA: I don't know, probably, hah! I worked at a hundred fifty + shows, so then you know, we jumped in. We made a game plan, we're going to change things up, get some better competitions, more categories, better and more entertainment… We're just gonna, you know, give this thing a little facelift.
PC: Ok, ok, so you’d known Damian for a long while… Dan, sorry for your loss. I've been a bit impolite here…
DA: Thank you. No worries Yes, it was a hard loss in 2019, among a few others for me… I can’t help but think of the good times! I've known Damian since ‘97. We were looking forward to a great event… We were obviously not able to do the 2020 show, but we were booked again for June 2021… then Damian passed away.
We ARE scheduled for 2022, at the same place, around the same date.
DA: Thank you. You know, depending on what the restrictions are, we're hoping to come back with a bang and you know, continue where we left off kind of thing…. With a new twist.
PC: For some reason I see a huge Damian banner looking down at us, so we’d better behave… Lol!
DA: That could very well be!
PC: Thank you so very much Dan, I can’t wait to see you at NIX in 2022 .
Visit Dan Allaston Instagram here: www.instagram.com/dan_allaston_tattoos