Aug. 15 2012 02:22 PM

Avalon II tattoo artist calls his work urban taxidermy'

Dave Warshaw
Photo by Jen Jackman

This week's cover is a recreation of artist Dave Warshaw's Urban Taxidermy, his name for a series of nightmarish creatures that he draws on wood using a ballpoint pen—from flying monkeys with antlers to bobcats with talons. These tree-trunk cross sections hang on the walls at Avalon Tattoo II in Normal Heights, where Warshaw sells them and etches their designs onto people's bodies.

The four-eyed owl on the cover of this week's issue also decorates a ribcage somewhere in San Diego County. Both the artist and his human canvas, Ryan Sinn, will be at Masterworks of Body Art: Volume 4 happening at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Oceanside Museum of Art. The exhibit will feature the works of several local body artists during the main-event runway show.

"It's easier to draw on skin, because it doesn't have grains like wood," Warshaw says. "There are thousands of hard and soft grains in wood; sometimes the pen dries up or the ball stops rolling. For skin, I just stencil [the art] and then tattoo."

Warshaw says it's common for a person to see his woodwork at Avalon and then have him recreate it on skin; he's also been commissioned for unique pieces.

Being a tattoo artist for nearly 20 years has given him the patience to hone his Urban Taxidermy.

 "The biggest compliment is when people say how unique my work is," he says. While ballpoint-pen illustrations are common among tattoo artists, Warshaw says the drawings on wood are what sets him apart. "People take interest in this weird thing that I do; because it's quirky, cute and disturbing, they've found an attachment to it."

Warshaw believes he's carved out a reputation with his illustrations on wood that has helped him succeed as a tattoo artist in San Diego, a region full of inked bodies and competing artists.

He says his work is a reflection of Southern California subcultures: motorcycles, skateboarding, surf art and Tiki culture, along with his music career—an original member of the San Diego noise-punk band The Locust, Warshaw says that, for years, he used tattooing as a means for barter while he toured.

He still plays music—for the past 13 years in The Creepy Creeps. But his days as a tattoo gypsy are over.

Though his sci-fi-like creations lean toward the dark side, Warshaw has a lightheartedness that softens the creepy imagery. "Tattoos are fun; they're there for you to enjoy. People worry, ‘What if I don't like it down the road,'" he says, adding, "I'm not going to be worried about the drawing on my arm in 30 years—I'm going to worry about avoiding cancer, or something else that's really important." 

Amy blogs at and you can follow her on Twitter @saysgranite.


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