Skin & Bone is a combination gallery and tattoo studio. The gallery will exhibit art and ethnographic handicrafts related to tattooing, while the studio will have Colin Dale tattooing alongside various guest artists throughout the year. Through his years of travelling and tattooing around the world Colin has had the pleasure to meet and work alongside a wide range of tattoo artists and experts working in ethnographic and other specialized styles. Amongst these friends, we have hand-tattooists from Borneo, Polynesia and Japan as well as some of the world's leading artists in Blackwork and Dotwork coming to visit. Check the homepage to see some of the work

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Artistic Process: The Fenris Wolf

Researchers believe that wolves were first domesticated in Europe over 10,000 years ago and the Nordic culture has always had a strong facination with these creatures. 
The wolves Geri & Freki were Odin’s trusted companions. Other more malicious wolves would include Sköll & Hati who pursue the sun and the moon across the sky… Garmr who guards the gates Hel… or the Fenris Wolf who is feared by all the gods with the exception of Tyr. 
The story goes that the Fenris wolf was one of three children Loki had with the giantess Angrboða... the other two being the Midgaards Serpent and Hel. The beast grew so large that even the gods began to fear it and finally decided to have it chained. The first chain Leyding was much too weak... the second Dromi faired much the same. The gods enlisted the aid of the dwarves who constructed the third chain Gleipnir out of such intangibles as the sound of cats footsteps amongst other things. However by this time Fenris was becoming more wary of the gods and it took Tyr, the bravest of the gods, who placed his hand in the wolf's mouth as a sign of trust to finally bind the beast... at the cost of his own hand!

The Ledberg Stone, Sweden with a depiction of the Fenris Wolf devouring Odin at Ragnarok

This is a design I drew about 20 years back, before I was tattooing. It depicts theThorwald's Cross from the Kirk Andreas on the Isle of Man. On the one side of the cross is a depiction of Odin with a Raven on his shoulder and armed with his spear Gungnir being devoured by the Fenris Wolf at Ragnarok. The bottom of the cross is broken so I improvised with a Thor's Hammer... however the Swastika Cross at the other end is original :-)

Illustration from an 18th Century Icelandic manuscript

Tyr binding the Fenris Wolf
I tattooed this design by hand at the Florence Tattoo Convention this year. We didn't finish in time to enter in the "Tribal" catagory but decided to enter it in "Best of Day" just to show the piece. So I was quite proud when it got called up by the judges for a second look... just to make sure that it was ALL done by hand (Yes, even the lines). However the last thing I expected was for it to actually win the competition... especially pitted against such incredible pieces of machine work :-)
(Note the Triple Tyr Rune in the tip of the sword)  

Another version done with machine

Fenris biting the hand of Tyr :-)
I was very proud to tattoo this design on my friend Joey from Crooked Moon Tattoo, whom I've known since he was an apprentice.

I tattooed Gudrun with a Midgaards Serpent at the Icelandic Tattoo Expo last year and was awarded "Best of Show" :-) which was an achievement I never expected to attain for a piece tattooed by hand.
This year we continued the theme with another of Loki's children... the Fenris Wolf. We finished just in time to enter the "Ornamental" catagory and despite being up against much larger projects completed outside the convention, still walked away with first place.

This is a premier piece I did on Gorm several years back and was featured in the book "Black Tattoo Art". Since that time have added the Midgaards Serpent (another of Loki's children) to the other side. This piece won second place at Copenhagen Ink Fest 2012 in the Celtic/Tribal catagory

Inge Mette's backpiece was featured in the books " Spiritual Skin" by Lars Krutak as well as the Danish book "Ink Slingers" by Jakob Schultz and placed 3rd at Copenhagen Ink Fest 2012. The design itself is based on the Basse Yutz flagon and it's ornamentation depicts a wolf and 2 pups hunting a duck which sits farther up on the flagon's spout. The larger wolf is actually the flagons handle which terminates in a mask instead of back paws. Masks are a favorite subject of mine and fit well between the two wolf pups which I formed to fit her back. An added detail was a scar on Inge Mette's back which fell into one of the mask's eyes. I decided to make this eye blind, in homage to Odin (or sacrifice to Mimer) which coincidentally is the same eye missing the coral in lay on the original flagon :-)

Here the two pups are hunting a duck with their mother. This artifact is of Celtic origin and from the Migration Period in Europe which preseeds Viking times... however it could be an early depiction of Fenris (the mother) and her two pups Skøl and Hati who chase the Sun and the Moon represented by the duck. This flagon was found in France and now resides in the National Museum of London

The Fenris Bitch stalking down the leg. 
We kept the design to simple spirals with no interlacing knotwork like the later Celtic period

A female client contacted me a few years back about getting a Fenris wolf on her calf. I asked if she had any ideas for inspiration and she sent this :-)
I've included this drawing not to ridicule the client, but rather to show what can be created given a little direction. The spirals in the hips, the knotted tail and the chain Gleipnir are all there... other than that she had seen my work and gave me free hand to create something original for her :-)

I placed the Fenris Wolf rampant to fit the leg better. The mane was divided into 3 bands depicting Leyding, Dromi and Gleipnir... the third of which he could not break.
This was done over 2 visits... so you'll have to excuse the redness of the second session

A bound version of Fenris on Kim's right thigh to balance Sleipner (another of Loki's children) on the left.
I drew the chain Gleipnir as a serpent which Fenris is doing battle with to break free.
Variation on a theme
Fenris bound by Gleipnir in the form of a serpent again which springs from his tail in a triskele knot representing the third chain. I used a double row of chevrons in the body above the rope pattern for abdominal muscules. I also twisted the head and shoulders into a 3/4 stance looking backwards which jumps out of the picture more.
This is Henrik's first tattoo and a very sensitive part of the body, so 3 sessions in two weeks was enough.

The Hunnestad Monument is probably the most important set of runestones aside from Jelling. Unfortunately these stones were destroyed in the 18th Century with only three remaining. Thankfully they were well documented by such antiquaries such as Ole Worm.

This is an old drawing I did of an image from the 4th stone. It appears to depict the Giantess Hyrrokkin from the saga of the death of Balder. When the god Balder was slain his funeral boat was so laden down with gifts and treasure that the gods could not move it to set sail. At this point Hyrrokkin rides up on a wolf reined with serpents and helps to push the ship out to sea,
A very suiting image for a memorial stone

I have a client named Sylvester who is collecting all of the Hunnestad images. This wolf (or perhaps wild boar) from the 5th stone (now destroyed) is the latest tattoo in his collection. We have only The Axeman left and plan doing the final design by hand in a few weeks... so stay tuned :-)

Just to show that I can also do other wolves than Nordic... this is a Pazyryk inspired design which I did on Kiri, an archaeology student at the St Petersburg Convention 2012.
It won second prize in the Ornamental competition :-)

And a Haida inspired wolf also done by hand on a client from America over 2 sessions

And the start of something new
Funny, when I was drawing this design Loki came up and asked if it was a fox? I was actually impressed that he could identify it as animal, vegetable, or mineral... let alone a category and subspecies :-) Today while I was tattooing the design, Loki came up behind me again and just seeing the back of the hip outlined, asked if that was "the" fox? :-)

 Update of the finished result


  1. Loki's very intuitive! "out of the mouths of babes" they say right!? Looks great! x Leticia V.

    1. He notices the small details more than the Big Picture :-)