A! Magazine for the Arts

Dave Calvelli

Dave Calvelli

Dave Calvelli creates tattoo art in Johnson City

March 27, 2022

Dave Calvelli, owner of Gold Cross Tattoo Company, Johnson City, Tennessee, is an artist, painter, musician, a photographer and a tattoo artist.

“I have been tattooing for 10 plus years now. Growing up heavily involved in the local music andskateboarding scene, surrounded by people with tattoos was something that was very common. So at a young age, I was mesmerized by them. I always had a passion for art, but tattooing seemed like something completelydifferent than your typical art form. It was permanent, and they told a story,” he says.

In order to become a tattooer, he had to complete an apprenticeship with a mentor who had been tattooing a minimum of at least 10 years.

“My apprenticeship lasted four years. I was taught how to build machines, needles and how to make powder pigment. Every day I was assigned multiple tasks to complete, whether it was redrawing and painting old tattoo designs from the legends before us, mopping the floors or simply handling customers at the front desk. Didn’t matter, I had to be there first thing in the morning ready to work and learn. Apprentices must learn the inside and out of tattooing before getting signed off. Knowing how to properly tune a machine, painting flash (an image of a tattoo pre-drawn and pre-colored) and learning the history of our trade is crucial to becoming a skilled tattooer. Once the fundamentals were taught, my mentor allowed me to start practicing on myself and a few close friends. The health department requires all tattooers to be licensed by the state, and to complete a blood borne pathogen test before starting to tattoo.

“I apprenticed under Jimmy Fellows in Akron, Ohio. I had always looked up to him. The amount of wisdom and knowledge he passed down to mechanged my life in many ways. His lineage in tattooing goes way back, from generation to generation. I’m forever grateful for what he did for me,” Calvelli says.

Calvelli specializes in American Traditional tattoos which are characterized by clean black outlines, vivid colors and minimal shading.

“Traditional tattooing is not just a style but also an application. It is the fundamentals of a good tattoo. Bold lines to hold everything together, a lot of black to give it contrast and longevity, bright color to make it pop and simplistic designs that have been tried and true for over 100 years. Traditional tattooing is what made me fall in love with tattooing in general. The tattoos and their designs have stood up to the test of time. They are designed to age well and look tough as nails.

“Tattoos are more popular now because of pop culture, and the fact that people are not afraid to express themselves anymore. Everyone has tattoos now. I’ve tattooed people from all walks of life and there is no difference and no discrimination. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, blue collar, white collar, scientists, engineers, preachers etc... we’re evolving and becoming more understandingas time goes on.

“Follow your heart. If you’re feeling it, do it. If you are not, don’t. I will never tattoo someone that I don’t feel is ready to commit to a tattoo. We don’t mind waiting until you are ready or redrawing your design until you are 100% in love with it,” Calvelli says.

He says that the process of getting a tattoo is straightforward. Do your research about the tattoo artist. This entails checking out their portfolio and making sure that they are reputable. If you like their work and reputation, go by their shop and meet them in person. He stresses that good communication throughout the process is essential. Stop by the shop with an idea of a tattoo you want. Then go over your ideas and turn them into a design that will last a lifetime. Only get your tattoo once you are happy with the drawing.

“People get tattoos for a lot of different reasons. Some are personal, and some are not. Everyone is different and the reason for getting them can vary, for example, a memorial, a milestone in your life, something influential, or just simply because you want to get a cool tattoo. There is no right or wrong reason to get tattooed. I’m pretty much covered from head to toe. I couldn’t tell you a number. I just have a few places I’ve been saving for the right moment. I started off getting tattooed because I just loved traditional designs and the way they look in the skin. Throughout the years I’ve just been collecting tattoos from the people I respect the most in this industry. I’ve met most of my best friends in tattooing and have had the honor of wearing their tattoos proudly.

“Tattooing is a very personal thing. It can definitely be therapeutic for some people. I’ve had the privilege ofcovering up traumatic memories, tattooing memorials of loved ones and all kinds of life experiences. Most of the time we talk about these experiences and share stories while I’m tattooing them. It’s a form of healing for both the client and for myself. I’ve gained a lot of mental growth from tattooing some truly inspiring people throughout the years. It’s one of my favorite parts of the job.

“Tattooing isn’t just about the art, it’s also an experience. Come hangout at our shop sometime. You don’t even have to get tattooed. It’s kind of like a social club. We love meeting new people. We have a saying in tattooing, ‘Come as a stranger, leave as a friend,’” he says.

Calvelli can be reached at his shop, 423-262-8257, www.goldcrosstattooco.com.