Tag Archives: ink

Dave’s World

May 25, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

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.

Sweet Design
 from Sweet Afton Studios

January 15, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It’s not often that a grocery list grabs people’s attention.

But that’s exactly what happened the other day at a restaurant for Krystal Leichliter and her husband Ryan. Krystal and Ryan are the owners of Sweet Afton Studios, a design and letterpress studio. Krystal was using an extra card from a recent project to write her grocery list. A waitress, mesmerized, came up and immediately started feeling the back of the card.

That experience spoke volumes to Krystal, because she says she saw how much letterpress really jumps out to people. As she explains, the paper used for letterpress is made of 100 percent cotton, so it’s very soft and tactile.

While Krystal and Ryan founded Sweet Afton Studios in 2011 after they obtained a letterpress, they have expanded their business to designing business cards, wedding invitations, signs, logos, banners, and more. Their goal is to make brands, gifts, and even everyday products stand out with an exceptional and personalized design.

Krystal is the designer at Sweet Afton, while Ryan runs the press. Krystal had worked in advertising for years, but decided she wanted to leave the corporate setting. She had always loved beautiful paper, and after designing wedding invitations and logos for friends, letterpress and design were disciplines she thought she and Ryan could work at full time.

“It was really just a desire to pursue being creative and doing the things I love,” says Krystal.


But the couple got more than they bargained for when they purchased their first letterpress, an approximately 1,500-pound behemoth that Krystal says “looks kind of like a time machine.”

“It wasn’t attached to electricity, so we couldn’t really see it, and we just kind of bought it in faith that it really was going to work,” Krystal says with a laugh.

Through internet research, assistance from a letterpress studio in Lincoln, and many sleepless nights, Ryan and Krystal had their first creation two weeks after they bought their letterpress: wedding invitations for a friend.

“We were crazy,” Ryan admits.

Now, once a client is set on a design, Krystal and Ryan can turn around a finished product in about two weeks. As they say, letterpress is a very labor-intensive process. Once Krystal and Ryan have a finished design on the computer, they will get to work creating polymer print plates to imprint with different layers of the design. Each color has to have a separate plate, so if a design has three colors, Ryan has to run it through the letterpress three times.

“It [letterpress] is an art, and it’s a product of time and labor. You can’t just do what you see on the computer on letterpress.”
– Jara Sturdivant-Wilson, customer of Sweet Afton Studios

Krystal mixes the different-colored ink by hand. Finally, once the plates, the ink, and the paper are ready to go through the letterpress, Krystal and Ryan will sometimes print hundreds of extra copies, and handpick the ones to give to clients.  “With letterpress, the thing that makes it so beautiful is that it’s hand-done, and that means that each piece is going to be unique,” says Krystal.

Jara Sturdivant-Wilson, a customer of Sweet Afton and a former neighbor of Krystal’s, agrees. She reached out to the Leichliters when she wanted to give her husband a gift with a more personal touch. Sturdivant-Wilson admitted that she didn’t have many ideas when it came to designing a gift, but that Krystal was very helpful, meeting with her throughout the process at coffee shops.

Eventually, she ended up with a calendar and a set of cards that catered to her husband’s interests. For example, one page of the calendar was designed with her husband’s favorite softball team in mind, while some of the cards featured a line-drawn picture of his dog. “It [letterpress] is an art, and it’s a product of time and labor. You can’t just do what you see on the computer on letterpress,” says Sturdivant-Wilson.

As they have learned the ropes of letterpress, Krystal and Ryan have had the time to expand their design business beyond strictly letterpress projects. One of Sweet Afton’s newest clients is the Seattle Children’s Museum. For the museum’s new displays every month, Krystal will come up with a design concept for the overall exhibit, and then work on designing signs, banners, and buttons for employees to wear. Ryan is also getting his chance to dive into design; he earned a degree in animation last year, and he plans to offer animation services to customers, as well as help Krystal with her dream of designing a children’s book with an animated component.

As their customer base has expanded, mostly through word-of-mouth, Sweet Afton Studios has started doing more business outside of Nebraska, everywhere from California to New York and even Spain. Krystal and Ryan have even had a few companies approach them about carrying some of Sweet Afton’s cards in their stores. But for now, Krystal and Ryan plan to keep all of their business online, on sites such as Etsy, The Knot, and Dribbble. While they were considering opening a storefront, they enjoy the flexibility of working from home. Krystal also wants to be able to devote more time to working on children’s illustrations.

“It’s all about having fun,” says Ryan.