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Veteran tattoo artist revels in his craft

Community ProfileVeteran tattoo artist revels in his craft

Dave ‘Tatty’ McCabe, has become one of the most well-known and respected tattoo artists in Brantford because of his dedication to the craft and his ability to adapt to the many changes in the industry across his three-decade career.

Operating from his shop called Kreative Khaos Tattooing & Body Piercing in downtown Brantford, McCabe started out learning and practicing his trade despite limited resources and training options.

“When I started tattooing 35 years ago, it was a lot different than it is today. [It was a] lot more underground, and very secret. Finding someone to pass on the craft and experiences wasn’t easy. I was able to come across another artist, Stu Bailey, and he had a shop in another city and he became my mentor. [I apprenticed under him] and he showed me the ropes,” said McCabe.

Dave McCabe, local tattoo artist, has been refining his skills for over three decades. He has operated his shop, Kreative Khaos, mostly around Brantford’s downtown core and has been at its current location at 300 Colborne St E for 13 years. Photo courtesy Dave McCabe/Kreative Khaos.

Being an apprentice was important to McCabe’s development especially at a time with no training schools around in the 1980s and early 1990s. Although he was in the sign business for a while, his passion was tattooing.

“Back then we would do [tattooing] in our [homes] and I had a little studio in my basement. I would just do it part time,” McCabe explained. “When I was getting into it [on a] more professional level, there were more tattoo shops popping up. As tattooing became more popular, the health aspects started to be taken more seriously and there was more scrutiny.”

McCabe has been a student of art of tattooing for over 35 years. When he started out in the late 1980s there were no schools for tattooing; it was all done through mentorships within the underground scene. Photo courtesy Dave McCabe/Kreative Khaos.

As well, McCabe started at a time when tattoos were not at all mainstream, but was slowly gaining traction. 

“Back then tattoos had a lot more taboos connected to them. But, as new artists from the art and music scenes become involved…the art of tattooing and different tattoo styles exploded in the late 90s. It just opened up the creative floodgates; being able to [get what you wanted] instead of going in and picking something off the wall,” McCabe continued. “Now, we can do portraits, realism, and traditional; we [can] do all styles at our studio. Between the three artists that I have working here, we have been able to create pretty anything [for any person] that walks through the door.”

McCabe has grown a loyal client base from across Brantford and Ontario. Here he is pictured with one of his clients holding a quilt they made for him. Photo courtesy Dave McCabe/Kreative Khaos.

However, when McCabe moved to Brantford, he first worked around Eagle Place and eventually moved to Colborne Street until the building they were in had to be torn down. For the past 13 years, Kreative Khaos has been at 300 Colborne St E.

Along with running his studio, McCabe wanted to be a proponent of developing a more professional tattooing scene.

“When I had [a] studio in Burlington for eight years, there were some shops around with people that were learning. We call them ‘scratchers’; people that don’t know what they’re doing, so they scratch and scar people,” explained McCabe. “And one of my friends, who owned a shop out there, asked me if I wanted to help him get rid of the scratchers [and] the bad tattooing, [and] the dangerous [practices] and turn around the industry.”

McCabe relishes in developing his skills as a tattoo artist. He has worked across Ontario and has attended many conferences and working closely with other talented artists. Photo courtesy Dave McCabe/Kreative Khaos.

Along with his tattooing expertise, McCabe has also built a strong reputation for catering to what his clients want; and many of those clients have recommended Kreative Khaos to their friends and family.  

“Every tattoo has a meaning to me, that’s on somebody for the rest of their life [so] I’m always into making that customer walk out with what [they] wanted and visualized. We work closely with the customers [and] through consultations, I get a feel for what they want. It’s very rare to be able to walk in and get a tattoo. Sometimes you can, but tattoos are more elaborate now. They take a little more planning,” said McCabe.

McCabe has built a strong team at Kreative Khaos, which includes tattoo artists’ Kayla Sevier and Dago Alves. Photo courtesy Dave McCabe/Kreative Khaos.

Being in the downtown core for many years, McCabe has always made efforts to be involved in its development as well as contributing to various causes.

“My daughter, Erin, and I both run the shop. She does piercings but she’s becoming more involved with the BIA (Downtown Brantford Business Association) …just looking into what’s going on, and what changes are coming. We’re reaching out a little bit more, [but] we’ve been active in the community; donating to charities or anything that we can do to help,” noted McCabe.

Going on 35 years strong, McCabe continues to savour his time tattooing in Brantford.  

“Tattooing has always been a passion of mine, so I don’t look back at it as a work. But it’s been hard [and] exciting. At the end of the day, just being able to do tattoos in Brantford for as long as I have [and building] a good reputation and working hard for it, that’s probably the best part of the whole entrepreneurial experience,” said McCabe.

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