Portrait realism. One of the most difficult styles of tattooing, one wrong tint can transform your piece from Johnny Depp to Johnny Knoxville. And usual company aside, at least by our industry’s standards, no one deserves to be that much of a jackass. The level of detail, the strain and the pressure to capture the essence of what clients hold dear is not lost for empaths like Daniel Brevik. In fact, he has the most relatable reaction to some of his artwork that plenty of us have to life – often thinking about what it is he could have done differently.
But when it comes to Daniel, 33, make no mistake. He’s quite literally BUILT for this, as if it was in his blood all along. The former med student shows surgeon-level skills with the perseverance to match. With a past full of health scares that forced him to reshape his future that’s now earned him the admiration of thousands, the only thing he’s cast in is the winner’s circle.
He's part of our Inkiverse. He is ForTATude…
The “Punk Kid” From Boise
In his early 20s, Daniel had it all lined up. A college football player and athlete, Daniel’s dreams for the future painted a different picture. “At the time I was going to school to be a physician,” he said. “I think I was doing it more for the status of being a physician and the money that came along with it.”
However, things took a turn for the self-proclaimed Punk Kid from Boise and bodybuilder with a shocking diagnosis. At just 25, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. “They implanted a pacemaker in me and basically told me, ‘Hey if you get any worse, we're going to have to have the conversation of a heart transplant,’” he recalls.
With such disruptive news and a serious procedure, Daniel inevitably decided to rethink his future in medicine entirely. “Once you're kind of faced with your own mortality, it was like ‘I don't think I really want to do this for the rest of my life.’"
The answer to his call? Art.
“I reached out to a friend of mine who had been tattooing for probably like five years at that point and asked about an apprenticeship,” he said. His mentor assumed they would simply converse, and talk the future. But, respectfully, Daniel had other things in mind. Once he discovered that he could spend his life doing something that he loved versus something that he knew he’d grow to hate, there was no going back. “I showed up and I bought everything I needed the next day,” he said. “And we started my apprenticeship.”
In the beginning, Daniel was drawn to another style of tattooing entirely. When Daniel kicked off his tattooing venture, he couldn't help but fall for the timeless charm of traditional Japanese tattooing. "Honestly, when I first started tattooing, [my heart was all about] traditional Japanese," he admits. "I think it's some of the most gorgeous tattoos out there, they're just absolutely beautiful; the way that they're put together and the longevity of them." Even though his heart was with Japanese style, he openly confesses, "I couldn't draw, at all; my brain did not work that way." That burning desire to master Japanese tattooing led him to struggle. "I so badly wanted to learn how to do traditional Japanese," Daniel explains, "It was just so beautiful to me, and I sucked at it.”
But Daniel's persistence unveiled quite the revelation: he had a knack for captivating the world through portraiture. With a background in painting, he possessed an eye for realism. “My mentor was pushing me to kind of start doing some realism stuff because that's what he specialized in and it clicked. It just made sense to me."
In a world where people increasingly rely on AI to capture portraits due to the level of difficulty and time consumption, for Daniel, the challenge of realism was the draw. It’s art with only so much room left for interpretation. As an artist who focuses on that style, it was imperative for him to go out of his comfort zone, imitating flesh tones that are beyond earthy, flat shades of browns. Sometimes artists who specialize in this tattoo style need to extract from a full palette, just like Daniel did on one of his favorite pieces yet – a portrait of Allen Iverson. “I went full palette on it; there's greens, oranges, purples, almost everything you can think about putting on his face.”
Getting to harness his skill in painting is a dream come true. He’s a photocopier ‘through and through.’ And while he’s still in love with Japanese-style tattoos, he’s allowed certain elements of that style to transcend into a painters-stroke approach to realism. “I think I take more of a painterly approach to the way that I tattoo,” he suggests. “Rather than being super harsh realism, my tattoos are usually pretty soft.”
Tattoo Healing – Mind, Body & Soul
His health forced him to confront his future. His present forced him to come to grips with his confidence. In a refreshingly humble disposition, he confessed to scrutinizing his work relentlessly – even to the point where he levels the darkest parts of his insecurities to his now fiancé and fellow award-winning tattoo artist, Jordan Allred. “I'm gonna be completely honest with you,” he relents. "[Jordan] can tell you - I hate all of my tattoos [that I create]. I'll look at them and look at them for hours and just pick them apart.”
How does he grapple? A, by building and expanding on his technique and B, by building a support system a self-deprecating artist needs. "I've done a lot of bad tattoos in my day," he claims. He credits the unwavering support of those around him for helping him weather the turbulent start. "I was fortunate enough to have people around me who are willing to let me do these bad tattoos on them."
It was through these early missteps that he began to build his confidence, honing his skills and learning from his mistakes. Today, as he completely dominates his signature portrait style on the convention circuit with his super complex tattoos, he still wrestles with self-doubt but has learned to accept it as part of the journey. "There's always work that can be done... it's all part of the process."
It's the very essence of fortitude, learning that the journey is just as important as the destination. For Daniel, every needle stroke contributes to mastering his new path and settling his score with self-doubt.
Want to see more of Daniel? Follow him on Instagram at @danielbreviktattoo.
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