Finding Daniel Forrester: A Conversation with an Independent Tattoo Artist

July 10th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Pareidolia is the clinical term for the detection of patterned images in random visual stimuli. Most humans demonstrate this tendency to some degree. It’s the perceptual phenomenon that transforms topographic contours into the so-called “face on mars,” turns the sear marks on a tortilla into a likeness of the Virgin Mary, and allows for the broad range of responses we provide when given a Rorschach inkblot test. This trick of the eye so fascinated Ames resident Daniel Forrester that he named his soon-to-be-open tattoo shop Inkblot Studios. In time, he even plans to decorate the walls of his studio with stylized variations on the ten original inkblots developed by Hermann Rorschach in 1921. As he explains, “It’s non-referential. It’s not a picture of something, but it’s a picture that people invariably find something in–that’s what I like about it. People find a bit of themselves in it. It’s a catalyst for self-expression, which is what I’d like tattooing to be.”

Forrester’s own tattoos clearly broadcast the scope of his own passions, from the Buddha statue on his left forearm, to the blackwork headphones on his ribcage, to the remarkably faithful rendering of Egon Schiele’s The Embrace on his calf. They share space with a peace sign, a dove, an anarchy symbol and (ironically) the word “humility” in lowercase type. Since he’s lately been covering up some of his first tattoos, he can’t give a precise account of how many he has, but he estimates that the number is “around thirty.”

Forrester has been tattooing professionally since 2005. He started at Lasting Impressions in Ames, having spent the previous two years working as a piercer at the nearby Jaded Angel. After working at Lasting Impressions for a year and a half, he moved on to Sacred Skin in Clive, where he was fired in his first year for, in his words, “spending too much time on pieces” and “not charging enough.” He was then hired at Lasting Impressions’ Des Moines location, where, after two months, he felt compelled to leave for similar reasons. Forrester returned to Ames in April of this year, certain that he “didn’t like the of idea of working for other people,” and determined to open his own studio.

Inkblot, which will be based out of his home, is tentatively slated to open on July 16th. It will be one of four state-licensed tattoo shops operating in Ames (joining Jaded Angel, Lasting Impressions and The Asylum), but Forrester says he’s undaunted by the presence of so many well-established competitors. “I’m not sweatin’ it,” he claims. “I’ve got a good way with people, when it comes to talking them into coming to me for their work.” Forrester readily acknowledges that he’s working in a crowded market, but maintains that he doesn’t care–it’s passion, rather than profit, that drives this project. “To put it most simply,” he says, “I don’t want to be doing anything else with my time. I don’t have a family to take care of. I don’t really want to do anything but tattoo.

Forrester’s single-mindedness is evident in the way he approaches each of his pieces. “I tell people to come back so I can ‘see if the piece needs touching up.’” But if you come back,” he says soberly, “I touch it up. I always sit a piece again. And honestly, I’ll keep sitting it as long as you’re ready to sit for it. I’ve touched up pieces the customer was completely happy with. I’ve worked on pieces like, two or three times that the customer came back to show me how great it healed and how happy they were with it. I’m like ‘Hey, I like it too! Let me sit you for like a half hour or so and let me see what I can do with it.’ I’m a perfectionist, and the fact that I’m only in my third year of tattooing, it means that I’m on a learning curve, so that means, if you come back in like five or six months, than that’s how much better I am. And that’s how much better I can make your tattoo look. And the bottom line is, no matter how much money you paid for it, it’s not your fuckin’ tattoo. It’s my tattoo. So it’s up to me to make it look as good as I can make it look.”

Given their permanence, it seems somewhat incongruous that he compares his creations to mandalas–the elaborate circular designs that Vajraya Buddhists draw in the sand, only to watch them be blown away hours later. “I spend hours and hours on a piece, and, if I’m lucky, I see it again, but most of the time, especially if I’m working in the studio … the customer walks away and I never see him again. It’s like it’s gone.”

Daniel will be working by appointment only. Prospective clients can contact him via email at

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 bob // Jul 29, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    Great! I love your Schiele piece, oh wait, I did it. Anyway, I would like to see what can be done w the Mandelbrot and the julian. Also, I’m looking 4 someone 2 do a Miro or a Renoir or maybe a starai or a litwalk.
    So yea, peace!

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