Interview with artist Dan Henk
By Elizabeth Torres
Red Door Magazine
When I moved to New York, back in the beginning of 2007, I started exploring the local arts scene of each borough, and spent countless hours visiting the studios, galleries, tattoo shops and collective spaces of what I now call my New York family of world-threaders. Although he had already left the city, the stories of his work and the tragedies that had followed his path made him become a familiar name. I would constantly hear that I needed to meet this Dan Henk guy, whose work was amazing and whose story was one of resilience and unstoppable dedication.
Henk is a warrior, a humble, sweet character and a very, very talented artist. He is also the survivor of several tragedies. Henk is brain cancer survivor, who fought through chemotherapy and radiation. His wife, Monica Castillo, a fellow tattoo artist, was the victim of a hit-and-run accident that took her life back in 2007. (I had exchanged myspace messages with her a few times before, because I wanted to get some of her ink on me, but unfortunately that didn’t happen). Then Henk moved to Austin, and when we finally agreed to meet up and do an interview, he was ran over while on his bike, by a car going over 40, and wrote to me after he woke up from a coma, to re-schedule. In spite of all this, we were able to meet up and have dinner together before I left Austin again, but then I faced some tough times and Red Door entered a long hiatus. This is all to say that this interview with Henk has been a long way coming, and I am honored and thankful that the universe finally conspired to share his work with all of you.
I invite you to take a look at his work, get your hands on his book and if you’re in Philly, get up and go get inked by him.
Special thanks to Dan Henk for the images, our meeting in Austin, this interview and his support to Red Door.
For how long have you been painting, inking, illustrating?Too long! My parents sent me to oil painting classes when I was in third grade-kind, which was kind of strange considering how super religious they were. I didn’t have a TV until the 5th grade, and even then I was limited to one program a day. So I was never much of a TV person. I read a lot of books and comics, did plenty of drawing, and spent the rest of my time playing war games with fireworks and building tree forts. Usually on the army bases my dad stationed at.
Who were / are your mentors?
I was writing and drawing from an early age, completing my first book (on lined notebook paper) in fifth grade. I don’t remember much about it, except that it featured giant robots and outer space, and I did all these pencil illustrations every 15 pages or so. I’m sure it’s horrible now, but it was a start. I kept at it, and was determined to be a comic artist by the 8th grade. I would visit this freelance independent comic artist who worked at a used comic and book store downtown and show him my latest stuff. There was a lady at a slightly higher profile comic shop who also did independent comics, and I would bug her as well. I then moved from Florida to Virginia, and I had a great lady, almost 70 years old, who taught creative writing. She was my first encounter with a teacher who was truly nice and supportive. The art teacher was a dick however, and kicked me out of his class for doing horror. It didn;t help that as he gave me shit, I made fun of his horrible drawings. I was then kicked out of my house, and spent a few years scourging around as a punk rocker bouncing from house to house, working shit jobs, and barely getting by. But I was the guy that drew, so I did all the band fliers, fanzine art, painted people’s leather jackets, and so on. I managed to get stable, started doing political cartoons for a local DC magazine, and finally attended art school. I lucked out and got this great teacher, Mr. Thomas, who was at one time a radical black painter. He was all over the DC scene in the 60s, doing controversial art that got him kicked out of exhibits at the Watergate hotel more than once. I learned alot from him. He really helped me refine my technique, and introduced me to oil painting. Chad Divel, a tattoo artist at Visual Addiction in Carlisle, PA, got me started in tattooing, and I’m forever grateful. Nice guy, horror fan, and he started me in the first industry that gave me a living wage off of art. Since then, I haven’t really had someone specific, but I take notice of what the artists on the scene are doing, especially the ones I like, and often ask them questions.You keep growing and progressing into new stuff or you may as well quit.
Any artistic influences?
The way I draw is hugely inspired by the work of John Totleben, Mike Kaluta, and Bernie Wrightson. Frank Frazetta and John Harris have been huge inspirations on my painting, and the list of tattoo artists who influence me grows all the time.There are so many good ones out there now, it’s hard to pick a few. Starting out, the guys I liked best on the scene were Guy Aitchison, Aaron Caine, Tom Renshaw, Deano Cook, Jay Wheeler and Stephane Claudesaigues. Some of my current favorites are Tommy Lee Wendtner, Paul Acker, Carlos Torres, and Steve Moore.
I’ve been reading forever, and I could go on a long rant of authors that influence me, but to simplify it, some of my favorites are John Steinbeck, H. P. Lovecraft, Neal Stephenson, Alan Moore, and Richard Matheson.
Steampunk half sleeve
Space Sleeve (print)
What about the shades and tones of your work. Do they hold specific meaning to you, and do they relate to your personal life?
Most people who do good artwork have a palette they prefer. I like to use slightly muted tones, and refer to my style as illustrated, as opposed to hyper realistic. I often sharpen the contrast, ad warmer tones and cooler tones, and play between a mix of super detail at points, to an almost surreal diffusion at others. Subtlety isn’t really my thing, I go for the visceral scene that will reach out and grab you.That comic book, older horror movie feel. The kind of stuff that always drew my attention as a kid.
What’s your creative process like?
I usually have way more ideas than I have time to draw and write about. I tend to throw around an idea. run with it until I fell I’ve hit a stumbling block, at which point I put it aside and work on another project until a fresh angle pops into my head. Then I dive back in. That might take a few hours, or it might take a week, but I always strive to put out work I am personally proud of, time isn’t really the factor.
What are your creative triggers? what inspires you? or… what leads you to make work?
I travel a lot, and I find the constant change of locals and cultures is a big influence. I see plenty of the world, and often the feel of a certain scene will spark something. I run all the time, and often some of the best ideas will coalesce while I’m out jogging.
Seeing other good work, whether it’s a book, movie, drawing, tattoo, whatever, always pushes me as well. I’ve seen a movie, and immediately gone home and started drawing or writing in a flash of inspiration. I’ve also been on a plane, or in a South American jungle, and something will pop into my head, and I’ll pull out my iPhone and make notes.
What changes, advances or progress have you seen in your work throughout the years
Well, hopefully I get better! I don’t think my idea of what makes good art or a good story has changed, I just find new approaches and ways to refine it. I really see the difference when I look at some of my older work that I was so proud of, and I’m like “I could do way better now!” It’s all a matter of trying to make each work a little better than the last.
Where are you currently located?
Do you have any upcoming trips / conventions / exhibits?
I’m a featured guest at the Cardiff, UK horror show “Scardiff” in October. I just came back from the Toronto show, where I participated in the art exhibit, and I’ll be at the Nepa Valley show working and conducting a seminar. I’m doing Tattoo Jam in the UK this October, working and giving a seminar as well, and I’ll be back as usual at the Detroit and Edinburgh, Scotland shows early next year. I vacationed down to Mexico to see the Mayan ruins, and Costa Rica to see the jungle and Cloud Mountain, I really want to head out to Peru next and see the Inca ruins soon.
What are you currently working on?
Next on the list is a so far unnamed sequel to my first novel “The Black Seas of Infinity”, another “Me & Rollo” cartoon for Tattoo Artist Magazine, an upcoming “Robots vs. Monsters” art show, and I’m sure something else I am forgetting.
List some of your upcoming projects?
My new novel “Down Highways In The Dark…By Demons Driven” has been picked up by Damnation Books, and Permuted Press has picked up my debut novel “The Black Seas Of Infinity” for a reissue with a new cover and slight edit. They will be putting out a sequel as well, I’m coalescing ideas and working on it as we speak. I just completed a new cover for “Splatterpunk” magazine, and an illustration for “Black Static”, both UK horror magazines. I’m almost done with two of the eight space sleeves I am currently working on, and just started my second steampunk based sleeve. I’m actually doing mostly sleeves at the moment. I’m working on a Willy Wonka sleeve, an Evil Dead sleeve, a Star Wars sleeve, a horror sleeve, a skulls/demonic sleeve, a creepy take on the Little Mermaid sleeve, a Beetlejuice sleeve, a Devil’s Rejects sleeve, a Hellraiser sleeve, and I’m sure a few more that aren’t popping into my head. I just put out the 2015 edition of my yearly horror calendar. I did December, and I have a great list of artists doing the other months. Chet Zar, Jeff Zornow, Bus Hasson and Ken Hauser, Nick Baxter. Tommy Lee Wendtner, Paul Acker, Ron Russo, and plenty of others. Painful Pleasures just released my tattooing DVD, an instructional video on doing illustrated horror. Oh yeah, and I do Muay Thai! I should be competing in a fight this September.
Are you involved with the artistic community in your area? collectives, groups, galleries, etc… feel free to promote friends as well.
Not as much as I’d like. I keep traveling too much, and I have so many projects, I don’t have time to paint as much as I’d like. That said, my buddies ken Hauser and Buz Hasson do The Living Corpse comic, and they have been a great help with all things comic related. I have done horror and comic conventions with them, and they always do a page for my yearly horror calendar. I do a lot of the art shows at the conventions I attend, and always check out when my friends and coworkers such as Tom Taylor do work for a local exhibit. Our shop is planning on an art show next year, and Chet Zar will be coming down to do a painting seminar.
Please mention some of your past achievements:
I have been in something like 60 tattoo magazines, with quite a few doing several page features on my work. I’ve done art for Madcap Magazine, Splatterpunk, Black Static Magazine, Maximum Rock and Roll, Aprodesia, TAM, This Is Horror, The Living Corpse comic, Skin Deep, and a few I’m sure I am forgetting. I did a book cover for Deadite Press and Anarchy Books, as well as paintings for the covers of my books coming out via Damnation Press and Permuted Press. I did art for the books Diablico, Antennae of Inspiration, Eight Arms of Inspiration, Cranial Visions, The Tarot Project, Pint Sized Paintings, and Art Necro. My work is featured in the books Tattoo Prodigies, Behind The Needle, Tattoo World, Black And Grey Tattoo volumes 1-3, No Regrets, and Inside The Tattoo Circus. I have a book out, “The Black Seas of Infinity”, a chapbook entitled Christmas Is Cancelled, a “Realistic Oil Painting” book available through Eternal, and my yearly horror calendar, which is now on it’s third year. I’ve done album covers and artwork for the bands Shai Hulud, Indecision, Most Precious Blood, Coalesce, More Complete Psychosis, Zombie Apocalypse, Purr, Beyond Reason, Locked In A Vacancy, and Koshari. Oh yeah, and painful pleasures just came out with my “Illustrated Horror” DVD.
Feel free to promote here any upcoming books, book tours, shows, etc.
Check out my new book “Down Highways In The Dark…By Demons Driven”. It’s a novella followed by a few selected short stories, apparently a few publishers liked it, and there was a little bidding war over who got the rights! Permuted Press is re-issuing my debut novel “The Black Seas of Infinity”. The 2015 version of my horror calendar is out via Painful Pleasures. They have my DVD as well. Other than that, lock up the kids and hide the pets, I might be in your town soon!
Oh the Horror
Where can people get in touch with you to purchase your work or to schedule an appointment?
Words to live by:
“Words have no meaning, when they are said by shallow minds.”
How do you promote your work / career? (networking, social media, friends of friends, etc… please give advice here for people who are getting started)
You just have to get your stuff out there. Do every interview that comes your way, even if only 10 people see it. Post your work regularly on all the social media sites. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Attend conventions, network, and do stuff for free if you have to put out work you want people to see. Advertising is not wasted money. Stickers, t-shirts, business cards, fliers. Try everything, and one day, you’re suddenly there.
Any books, shows, records or places you recommend?There is way too much to recommend it all, but I’ll try to break it down.
Music wise, Ghost, Down, and the Misfits legacy tour I all saw recently, and they were great. The latest movies I enjoyed were Godzilla and Pacific Rim. The new albums by Carcass, Deftones, Clutch, and The Sword are good, although I feel like a lot of mainstays have dropped off. Books I recently enjoyed include The Swarm, Daughter of the Hounds, and Lucifer’s Hammer.
Links where people can follow you:
Deadguyllc on Facebook, DanHenk on Instagram, I always have updates on my website www.danhenk.com
, DanHenk on twitter, and DanHenk on goodreads!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Buy my book you cheap bastards!