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Moments in Ink: Q&A With Owner of Covenant Tattoo

Rob Nicholl carefully tattoos an atom symbol on Vera Bendoni’s side at Covenant Tattoo shop. Photo by Madison Brandt.
Rob Nicholl carefully tattoos an atom symbol on Vera Bendoni's side at Covenant Tattoo shop.
Rob Nicholl carefully tattoos an atom symbol on Vera Bendoni’s side at Covenant Tattoo shop. Photo by Madison Brandt.

It was an early snowy morning, the snow billowed around me in a dance of white flurries, cold and burning, and there in the midst of it all, was I, the hero of this story. Just kidding, I flatter myself too much, but Dan Dolan is a man worthy of flattery, a true gentleman that I had the pleasure of meeting with that day.

Located at 602 S. College Ave., Covenant Tattoo and Piercing is owned and operated by Dolan, a previous student of CSU. He also owns Freakshow Tattoo and Piercing, which is located at 1232 W. Elizabeth St.

Walking into Covenant, I was surprised by the inviting presence of the shop; there was a lot of natural light and unique decorations that made it very welcoming. Dolan is an intimidating man; he stood tall, and even with a majority of his body covered by heavy clothing, one could still see the tattoos snaking around his hand and neck. When we spoke, I found he had a genuine passion for what he does, an infectious energy that transcends beyond just doing his job.  I was curious of the story behind the man and how he transitioned from a mechanical engineer major to a tattoo artist.

So the first question is, what drew you into the profession of being a tattoo artist?

“At the end of the day, you’re gonna have to figure out what makes you happy at the end of your life and sitting behind a cubicle didn’t seem like what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I like to be around people, I like to be around artists, and I like to be around art. I guess I saw an opening in the industry that a lot of tattoos shops are sort of run like a pirate ship, you know like a clubhouse for boys, and I saw an opportunity to run a tattoo shop like a business, and sort of appeal to the school that I went to. And, fortunately, CSU has been hugely supportive.”

Yeah it’s great up at CSU. There’s definitely a stereotype surrounding people who are super tatted up but what they don’t know is that some tattoos hold meaning.

“Yeah, if you go to Nebraska all tatted up, people look at you like you just landed in a spaceship (laughs). Thankfully, Fort Collins is very expressive. Tattoos mean a lot to people. One time we had a woman come in who just had a double mastectomy, you know for breast cancer. And my artist, Tyler Eilbeck, had the honor of doing a beautiful floral piece from her collarbone covering her chest. It was an epic piece. I think I cried. You know, it shows how we can do something beautiful for someone and it means a lot that it holds a lot of meaning to that person.”

Yeah, I see that a lot of people getting tattoos are usually artists or people who have an event to remember.

The thing about tattoos is that it isn’t just for artists. I see people getting tattoos who don’t have a single artistic bone in their body, (laughs), but the thing is, they have a want for art. And that’s what we do. They have an emptiness that they want filled with art, and we do that for them. They can walk out and have something that fills that need.”

So how does one become a tattoo artist?

“You find an artist that will mentor you, then you would start out as a shop helper because we want to start you from the ground up. So we have you sweep the floor…and once they have learned everything they have to learn besides tattooing, then they become an apprentice.

An apprenticeship involves thousands and thousands of hours of drawing. Really it’s understanding art and how it translates to the human body, and that’s the very difficult part. It’s like someone who is an amazing oil painter doing graffiti. A lot of the time is spent teaching them how to translate art in to tattoo art.

Once you go through the art aspect of it, then you start to tattoo. The first person you tattoo is yourself. You do a foot, a hand, then you move to your friends and family, people that can handle you at your worst.

Then after we think you’re good enough, you start doing customers. And after, if your mentor thinks you’re ready, you become a full blown artist.”

That sounds like a lot of hard work and discipline (thinks of my dedication to surf the web two hours before a paper is due), it shows how passionate you have to be about your work.

“What’s neat about this place is most of these guys have been with me for 2 to 5 years. And they all sync really well, and they sort of drive each other. Somebody will do like a really cool tattoo and it will play off, and then another artist will sort of build off of that and do something even cooler, and they sort of push each other, constantly, to create more interesting, more beautiful, more vibrant tattoos.”

It’s great to see artists passionate about their work. Anything to say to people wanting a tattoo?

“This is something that is important, there are so many young people that come out of Englewood, Aurora, Highlands Ranch, who you know this is their first time away from home, right, and they start hanging out with some cool people. And they’re downtown, and they see all these great tattoos, and they are like ‘I want to get a tattoo.’ So, they come in here and they want to get a wrist, or a forearm, or a huge shoulder cap. I’ve tried to tell them from personal experience, ‘Look, when I was your age, I thought I was going to be a mechanical engineer and look at me now.’

Life takes you in a lot of directions, and before you get visibly tattooed, remember, you might end up in Nebraska where people think you just landed in a spaceship. Because tattoos, they affect everything. They affect who comes in your life and who leaves your life. If you’re fine with something visibly staying with you forever, then go ahead and get that large visible tattoo.

I love tattoos because it gives people a chance of expressing themselves. Your tattoo says something about you.  I hope that our tattoos don’t negatively affect the future, but unfortunately, sometimes it does … It’s just knowing where you’re headed in life.”

Dolan was a great person to talk to. After having a lengthy conversation too long to be transcribed into these pages, I left with more insight into the world of tattoos then I did when I came in. Seeing the passion and perspective through which he viewed tattoos, as something more than ink on skin, reveals the thought that tattoo artists put in when they decide to give locals and students a picture that will last forever.

“It is a painting that you carry with you all the time, it’s a beautiful picture that can remind you of a moment or a stand in your life,” Dolan said. “College is all about change and experience. It’s all about new place, new friends and new scenery, and this is kind of a part of it. And it’s cool that people will include us in it.”

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