Colin Dale: Traditional Nordic Tattoos
Colin Dale is a man of legendary reputation; his work with Neo-Nordic and indigenous tattoo communities has inspired artists globally, and his tattoos continue to be honoured as some of the most original and profound pieces in the field.
Rooted in respect for traditional methods, Colin’s technique honours ancient practices from Europe and beyond. With wisdom collected from tattoo masters in Borneo, Tahiti, and Samoa, Colin’s personal history with Inuit and First Nations people of North America has allowed him to utilize techniques that were sometimes hidden or lost for centuries.
Clients travel globally to have their skin marked by Colin in his studio, Skin & Bone Tattoo in Copenhagen, Denmark.
In this episode of the Northern Fire History Podcast, Sean Parry sits down with Colin to dig a little deeper into the history of the Nordic tattoo scene and his role as a celebrated pioneer in the field.
“I was interested in cultural tattooing…
What I was really interested in were the ones that died out,
that weren’t being practiced anymore,
that hadn’t been practiced sometimes for centuries,
and sort of trying them out and learning
what I could use for the Nordic stuff as well.”
Above: Colin stitching ink into his arm via an ancient method of Inuit tattooing. Image © Claire Artemyz.
As he studied methods of ancient tattooing, Colin decided to experiment with a nearly extinct style of tattooing practiced by Inuit. This involves stitching a needle through the skin that carries an ink-dipped thread. As part of his personal research, he performed this tattoo work on himself, beginning with two stitched lines.
This drive is precisely how Colin became a world renowned artist in the scene. His unwavering willingness to challenge himself and bring attention to traditional and living histories is what allows him to flourish, and to in turn inspire the artists of the future.
“I’ve always enjoyed drawing…
(but) when we were young my brothers built a tattoo machine
and proceeded to scar themselves for life with it...
that really turned me off to tattooing.
Going to university and taking a lot of classes in indigenous art,
that’s where I sort of became interested in the cultural aspect of tattooing.”
Perhaps his most famous designs are those seen in the vast number of magazines and published papers that feature his work, we want to highlight the skill it takes to create these tattoos, and the intense depth of research and persevering drive needed to reach this level of artistry.
Above: Colin’s work on the front cover of Z-Tattoo Magazine -
you can read more about this specific piece on the Skin & Bone Tattoo Blog.
This work was done entirely by Colin through hand tattooing.
“Tradition is not the worship of ashes,
but the preservation of fire.”
- Gustav Mahler -
Although deeply rooted in traditional symbolism, a defining feature of Colin’s work is it’s unbridled relationship with historic imagery. The refusal to stagnate in strictly replicated iconography allows his designs to ebb and flow with the skin, ultimately forming a depth of meaning that speaks to the ancient and modern influences of tattooing.
Above: A depiction of Yggdrasil on a client’s back
done in Colin’s famous Neo-Nordic Style -
for more Viking symbol tattoos by Colin.
Above: Handpoked work by Colin on the beautiful Nanna -
Find more of Colin's hand tattooed work here.
Above: One of Colin’s Nordic Dragon sleeves
pictured with a late Viking Age Urnes Style runestone.
Above: Maria modeling her full body hand poked work by Colin
Image by Thursarn
A Northern Fire artist that sells her prints through the shop.
Above: Godmask arm piece in Neo-Nordic style done with machine.
Above: La Tène tattoo done entirely by hand
based on the Desborough mirror from the Celtic Iron Age.
Above: Close up of Colin at work, wielding one of his hand tattoo tools.
While Colin is also a master at machine tattooing, hand tattooing is something he has been able to specialize in as traditional work has become more popular.
Since he began tattooing, hand tattooing has always been his method of choice over machine.
“Hand tattooing I really preferred because it wasn’t as stressful...
the machine is hitting 60, 100 times a second
so it’s really hard on the skin….
You can draw a line on the skin,
but it’s actually almost ripping the skin as you go through it.
Whereas the hand tattooing you put in so many dots that make a mark...
and then you continue on.”
And clearly, hand tattooing has not held him back. In addition to the numerous awards Colin has received at tattoo conventions, his work has been featured internationally in publications that highlight his renowned style. His pieces carry a depth of intent for the traditional and ritual past, forming a tether between his clients and ancestors through the process and the artistry.
“...one of the things you find in the hand poke scene -
people saying it’s supposed to look rough because it’s done by hand,
which is not the case.
That’s one of the worst cliches.”
Anyone that has seen Colin’s hand poked art on skin would agree. Hand tattooed work can be as nuanced and clean as machine work, especially when done by someone of his legendary status.
FOLLOW Colin Dale on the Skin & Bone Tattoo Shop website.
BROWSE his collection with Northern Fire.
VISIT his Facebook page on Traditional Nordic Tattooing.