Bringing a holistic and beautifully cultivated approach to his artwork, tattooist Daniel the Gardener focuses on transformative compositions that are deeply personal for each of his clients. His appreciation of nature, the poignant respect for florals and fauna that cover the terra firma, is apparent not only in his illustrative tattoos, but his on-going projects. In this interview, Daniel the Gardener talks about his most recent venture: The Hearth & Home Project, in which he blends seasonal comfort foods with flourishing tattoo flash.
How did you get into tattooing, and why was it the art form you were most drawn to?
I’ve always been fascinated with tattoos. When I was a kid, my dad always told me the story from Ray Bradbury “The Illustrated Man,” where a man’s tattoos individually animated, and each tells a different tale. And with my older sister, we used to go to “Galeria Bond Street” in the city center of Buenos Aires. There, we saw everything from alternative fashion, skateboard culture, tattoo shops, sex shops, etc. On this small “paseo,” I can only remember waiting to become “old enough” to get away with pretending to be 18. Finally, when I was 14, I got my first tattoo. Of course, I told my mom it was henna. I wanted to become a tattoo artist, but of course, my family totally disapproved of it.
So I just kept busy with drawing and painting, which I did since day one, and started exhibiting my paintings by the age of 18. It was only 6 years after I moved to Berlin — sick of the relationship between my artwork, galleries, and curators — that the idea of tattooing came back to me. Above all, what drew me most to becoming a tattooer is the intrinsic interaction I can have with my customers, where instead of watching a canvas at an art gallery, they are their own canvas and I’m creating my pieces on them. That’s, in my eyes, pretty poetic. Having the chance to tailor a tattoo onto a human body eliminates all possible distances between the person interested to acquire the artwork and the artist.
Can you talk about your connection to nature and how that influences your work?
I grew up in an apartment in a crowded area of Buenos Aires. My first interactions with nature were limited to the park or at the sports club. In summer, we used to go to the beach, which was literally the best time for me. I was always amused by the immensity of the sea and craved more nature encounters. As a kid, my drawings where mostly animals and plants. I used to spend a lot of hours with my dad reading animal encyclopedias, plant books, watching animal documentaries. And my mom always collected plants, which I’ve continued to do since leaving home. Today, I choose to draw plants and work with botanical tattoos because it connects the human experience with the natural world.
The process of getting a tattoo from you is really unique. How do you go about building custom pieces for clients?
My freehand process consists of a few different steps and will probably evolve as I grow. The first and most important step, for me, is to talk about the piece and what it should reflect about the person wearing it. Sometimes they bring plants to the studio to show me all the details of what they want. There are lots of reasons why some would like to cover their body with plants; a lot of customers have stories behind the specific plants that are chosen. Others are in special stages of their life, and want to get tattooed as a way to empower themselves. Listening to their stories and going through the design references with them gives me an idea of the composition and movement that the piece should have on the body. I roughly sketch on my customers with light markers, as we talk.
I also like creating a mood board on my iPad with all the plants we will use, and references from prior tattoos I've made, for shadings and composition. The process of creating a final design takes from 1 to 4 hours, depending on the size and complexity of the design. It is 100% collaborative from start to finish. Even while tattooing, we can add extra details, free machine with no sketch.
What I like the most about doing all my floral work freehand is not knowing what the tattoo will look like, before coming to the studio. I love the idea of meeting my customers, and then working together throughout this process as a team. I like the idea of being someone who can translate their ideas to skin, in my own language.
Do you have a mission or philosophy behind your work? How do you feel about the tattoo collector/creator relationship, and the amount of trust involved?
I just trust plants and their powerful silence. The intrinsic relationship between plants and every single living being on this planet makes me feel confident that it’s a good choice to mark them on other people’s bodies. Plants are also what I also choose to get tattooed the most on my own body, and it feels to me like a quite honest and natural relationship.
About the tattoo collector/creator relationship, it is always evolving through the years. It also changes as I gain more experience, both from being a tattooer and a tattoo collector. I really appreciate my customers and their trust, the same way I appreciate the tattooers who compose my own collection. This year, I got a bird on my torso freehanded by Joseph Bryce and it was really meaningful to see myself as a customer again. Trusting your tattooer is (in my opinion) the main key for a great tattoo experience, and each person walks their own path.
Who, in the industry, has inspired your creations or the way you work? Who are your personal heroes?
In terms of becoming a tattooer, Nazareno Tubaro has always been my biggest inspiration. I started my back piece around 12 years ago, and he was the first tattooer I could relate to. I admired him not only for his work but for his passion and humbleness. For the last few years, I’ve booked appointments with lots of tattooers who I admire, and I almost always bombarded them with 1000 nerdy questions about machines, needles and tattoo philosophy. Tattooers like Max Vorax, Sara Herzdame, Luxiano, Weep and Forfeit, Pulled Poltergeist, Pokeeeeo, Julim Rosa, Adam Wu, Savannah Colleen, Joseph Bryce, thetattooninja, Han Shinko, Phillipe Fernandez, Madame ChäN, Squire Strahan, Esther de Miguel, Julia Toebel, miedoalvacio... As for superheroes in my “justice league” right now would probably be Happy Pets, Sneaky Mitch, Gakkin, Tim Tabaria, Kelly Violence, Butterstinker, Horiokami, and Slower Black.
You’re currently working on a project where you blend recipes with tattoo designs. How did this idea develop? What is your hope for the finished collection?
Meals bring us together, and when you cook with plants, it’s a very direct reminder that the earth is nurturing us. So I’m inspired right now by plants that harmonize in recipes because they create something special together that’s more than the sum of their parts.
My Hearth & Home flash project is inspired by seasonal, plant-based recipes. Each tattoo design comes with its own recipe card to recreate these flavors and enjoy them with the people you love. It was also super fun to collaborate with the talented photographer Joseph Maddon and the lingerie company Solstice Intimates, who photographed and styled the models for the designs. It’s just a fun way we all wanted to honor the abundance of the world around us.
What do you love about Berlin, and why was it the place you decided to settle in? What makes it such a perfect place for artists?
Berlin gave me the chance to discover myself. I never had so much time and freedom to experience reality without worrying about achieving something or becoming someone. Berlin helped me break the structures in my mind of what is “supposed to be” and “who I’m supposed to become.” I imagine some people who live there for many years will understand this feeling.
As an artist, I would say Berlin still offers a huge amount of freedom, a sense of self-responsibility in your own acts, and still affordable rent (which are for sure a great Kickstarter for developing your interest). In the last 9 years, I feel like I’ve lived many different lives in the same city, and it’s the versatility Berlin has what I will always be thankful for.
Nevertheless, I’ve been traveling since the last year every month for guest spots, and having a bigger picture of the possibilities out there. I realized it’s time for a change, to give myself a chance to live somewhere else. Starting March next year, I will be a resident at Parliament Tattoo in London and will continue to travel around the world, as well. I’m really looking forward to this new moment in my life, and of course to keep discovering new places!
What are your hopes for the future of your personal work, as well as the fine art/tattoo industry at large?
My main interest is to create bigger pieces and get on my way to developing bodysuits. I recently started composing large back- and front-pieces, and I’m really excited to have the chance to start tattooing them very soon. I would love to have a better understanding of human anatomy, and how to work with it. I love the learning process, which experience brings every day that I’m tattooing and spending time drawing on my customers. Beyond that, I look forward to more traveling and learning from other tattooers’ processes, which has already brought me so much.