October 26, 2017

Really Listen: Tattoo Artist Extraordinaire David Allen Offers His Advice for Art—and Life

David Allen wanted to leave his mark. As he began his artistic career, first illustrating and designing album covers, his focus, he said, was all about “me me me.” But as he matured as a human and as an artist, his perspective began to shift. “I wasn’t happy with work,” he said. “It was all about catering to myself, but I was not sure if the work connected to the person who had to live with it.” His goal became to create what feels good to both the artist and the client.

For David, that also meant changing his medium: he became a tattoo artist. (Check out his tattoos and paintings at allentattoo.com.) “David is literally leaving his mark on the human body,” says Dava Guthmiller of the In/Visible Talks team, who was in the September 2017 AirBnB Design Talks audience as he shared the insights he gained from his journey. This means a conscious collaboration must happen. “You are forced to become in tune with people, to really listen,” David said, “to empathize” with what people really need.

The process, David decided, is more important—or just as important—as the final product. “If you don’t know what you’re doing,” he says, “stop and take a step back.” He encourages creatives to make time to engage in and appreciate down time. “Make time to find your own creative voice so that you can be better for others.”

David’s talk left Dava pondering: As designers and creatives, how do we leave our marks? Do we think about our impact on the brand? “It’s about really listening,” Dava says was her takeaway. “What do clients really need, what are they trying to celebrate, or what challenge do they need to overcome?”

What questions are an integral part of your creative process? If you are looking for ideas and inspiration, join us for provocative lightning talks and panel discussion at the In/Visible Talks conference in San Francisco this coming January.