Prolific painter and tattooist Dave Koenig says people often ask him, “How do you develop a style?” or, more precisely, “How did you develop your style?”
For an artist who is known and recognized from Omaha all the way to Chaudes-Aigues, France, for his particular brushstroke and trail of ink, Koenig humbly says he doesn’t recognize a certain style in his work. He just sees himself as someone who draws “the same stuff everybody else draws.”
“I’m not the most technically refined tattooer, and I’m not the most technically refined artist. But I tend to try to pull a level of emotion, on a subconscious level, to every piece I draw,” Koenig says. “And I feel like that creates something different.”
His colleague of more than 10 years and co-worker at Tenth Sanctum Tattoo (1010 S. 10th St.), Tobias Caballero, says one element that contributes to Koenig’s style is his use of line. “If you look at his lines, you’ll be able to see Dave in it,” Caballero says. “It’s almost like watching Bruce Lee fight. You can tell that Bruce Lee has found the best of everything and combined it into his fighting. It’s the same way Dave has compiled this formula of how he creates art.”
Koenig says line work is a crucial component to some of his most requested work—like tattoos of his signature female figures. “The lines that you put on them—say it’s the hair, or where their eyes or mouth are—it has to be exact,” he says. “The line has to count. One slight off with one of those lines, it can completely change the emotion of the piece. I like to take the time to refine each of them.”
Before he began tattooing, or started taking his painting too seriously, Koenig says it was his graffiti-style art he was known for. It is, in fact, what got his foot in the door to begin apprenticing at his first tattoo shop 17 years ago.
“He learned really young in life that style is something he valued,” Caballero says. “It all started when he was doing his graffiti and he started integrating that into his tattoos, and that influenced his paintings, and then he just simply continued to refine it, and it turned into something only he can do now. It’s absolutely beautiful.”
Influenced by Japanese and American traditional tattooing styles, as well as a mix of art nouveau and art deco, Koenig has crafted a signature look that is not only recognizable but also heavily sought after.
Koenig’s tattoo regulars and hopefuls are so obsessed with his work that they will wait—often lengthy periods—to obtain their very own Dave Koenig masterpiece. His tattooing schedule, on average, is booked out at a staggering 18-24 months.
His artwork can be found screen-printed on shirts at Curbside Clothing (505 S. 11th St.), illustrated on the beer cans at Brickway Brewery & Distillery (1116 Jackson St.), hanging on the walls of bars and businesses, and covering the bodies of his devoted tattoo clients. It can also be found across Europe and South America, in tattoo magazines and books, and hanging on walls around small towns in France and Italy.
The charm of his personal brand of art has proven strong. In 2016, Koenig was asked to design the poster for the 2016 Chaudes-Aigues tattoo convention in France. For the poster, he created his own rendition of the town’s coat of arms. The Chaudes-Aigues family, whom the town is named after, was so seduced with his vision that they adopted his work to use as the new version of their family crest.
When Zac Triemert, owner of Brickway, decided to open the brewery in 2013, he says Koenig was the first person he thought of to incorporate into the business’ branding. He was hired to create the artwork for Brickway’s logo, signage, and the labels on their Bison Series beer.
“His work is iconic. You can’t see Dave’s work without knowing that is absolutely Dave Koenig’s work,” Triemert says. “And I love his style. It’s really fun, strong, and aggressive.”
Caballero dubs Koenig’s work as difficult to describe with mere words. He says it has to be seen to be understood.
“He’s found the perfect combination of understanding technique as well as understanding how to be loose with his work—as well as understanding color theory,” Caballero says. “He’s kind of created a perfect storm for himself where he doesn’t wind up in a place where he’s repeating himself. He’s always working toward becoming better, and he’s managed something he’s built into his own personal empire.”
Despite his ever-growing fan base and unending praise, Koenig never boasts about his success. The way he sees it, he’s still “just some Omaha kid” and says he’s “blessed and happy people like my work.”
Although humble about his impact on the art and tattoo scene, his talent and appeal are undeniable. He has managed to captivate audiences around the globe with his technical skill, knack for detail, and ability to evoke striking emotion.
Now that he has created his own strong sense of brand, Koenig says, it’s on to his next goal: How to help the world through his art?
“The whole point is ‘What’s your legacy?’,” Koenig says. “I just draw pictures; how do you help everything as a whole through drawing pictures? It’s the tracks we leave behind that people remember forever. You’ve got to make sure to leave some big tracks and make sure they’re walking in the right direction.”
This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Encounter.