tattoo | art  interview with Steven Jessee by iva kancheska 27/08/2014

Hello Steven Jessee! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions for our magazine. It's a great pleasure to share some of my thoughts with you, so our readers will learn something from you and enjoy looking at your tattoo works. Let's start with some basic info...

Q: How long have you been tattooing? What made you to become a tattoo artist?
A: I have loved art my entire life, from as far back as I can remember I have always had a pencil, colored pencil, crayon or a paint brush in my hand (not so much the crayons anymore). I started tattooing in December of 2006, after graduating from high school in 2005 I started getting tattooed and fell completely in love with the entire process, I just knew that this was a level of art that I had to do, people have asked me: “How do I know if I want to be a tattoo artist?” And my reply is always “You don’t.” I know that it’s one of those things no one has to tell you. If you want to be a tattooist, you will find a way and work as hard as you have to in order to do so.

Q: Becoming a tattoo artist is not an easy process, especially nowadays, when there are lots of new tattoo styles, techniques etc. What was the hardest part in getting into the business? Did you apprentice?
A: Becoming a tattooist is an extremely hard venture (especially when your 18 or 19 years old). It seems (justifiably) that NO professional establishment will believe that some young kid will be willing to commit to all the hard work involved with the learning process (which never ends…) and take things as seriously as they truly must be taken.

I am a predominantly self taught tattooist, but had the great pleasure of learning from an incredible mentor who has been tattooing for the past 30 years or so. The wisdom and knowledge I have received from him has been the most valuable tool I have to date, and with that I say: “THANK YOU, TEX SYLVESTER!”

Other than the nature of simply trying to find someone to teach you, I personally had an extremely hard time getting a business license to operate in the town of Luray, VA. Although the shop and myself hold professional licenses I had to go to town meetings time and time again to get a business license “approved.” I ultimately got my license by 1 vote and I am not here to put yet another blemish on this beautiful art form & would like to take an opportunity share my appreciation for all the folks presenting their work, studios, cleanliness and professionalism in this business.

There are countless styles and there is always someone pushing the bar just a little higher everyday, or doing something new. I am always learning new techniques and trying to make every tattoo I do just a little better than the last, If you don’t stay hungry or you become content with your work you will become stale.


Q: Who is the person you're most grateful when it comes to inspiration?
A: I would have to say that I am truly inspired the most by Brandon Bond, not only for his beautiful work but his work ethic has dramatically impacted the way I approach my work day. For those of you that must be living under a rock and haven’t seen his stuff , Check it out now! Never met you before B, but there ya go…

Q: You do lost of tattoo styles, do you have any favorite?
A: I think every tattooist should be well rounded, but I definitely love to do cartoony color pieces and large black work.

Q: I love the fact that you also do cover up tattoos. Some artists refuse this kind of work... However, If someone get a bad tattoo, here is you to make the things better - love it ;) How much is it possible to do a nice cover on a very bad tattoo? What are some of the possible limits when it comes to cover up tattoos? What people should be aware of? Please write up some basic info about getting a cover up tattoo.
A: Cover up tattoos can range from a very simple design to something quite a bit more complicated, there are all kinds of factors that come in to play when you start to cover an existing tattoo. The size, age, and saturation level of the existing tattoo are all determining factors of what is possible. Basic shapes (stars, etc) letters and numbers can sometimes be the hardest, because they are such recognized symbols that people see on an everyday basis. “scratcher” jobs are usually easier to work with opposed to quality work you may have “outgrown” or simply made a poor decision with, But regardless I highly suggest to seek out an artist you are comfortable with, check out portfolios and the establishment and if you are uncomfortable, leave… The tattoo business is currently oversaturated and there is no reason not to have someone do good work, tattoos are forever. I would also say that the more freedom you give the artist, the better your tattoo will come out (cover or not). I don’t think people fully understand that tattooists tattoo for a living.




Q: Any interesting experiences with the clients? heh
A: Clients are always interesting… there is all kinds of stuff I will definitely plead the 5th on, but I’ll keep it clean. I think one of my most memorable tattoos was on a man who got his girlfriends name tattooed on his chest on his 90th birthday!

Q: At Shellshock Tattoo Studio, people can also get piercings. What are some of the most painful/complicated piercings that people should be aware of?
A: We do offer piercing, and with that said: I would say that there is pain involved with any piercing but especially the genital area, this area on anyone tends to be a warm, damp place (bacteria love warm damp places) and should have special consideration when it comes to aftercare.

Q: Do you also guide your clients about the aftercare process?
A: Yes! Every client receives aftercare instructions with any procedure we perform, we go over any questions or concerns folks may have & complementary tattoo ointment is included with the price of your tattoo. The way any body modification is cared for will have a big impact on the end result & I want anything that comes out of this studio to be the best it can be & to be cared for properly.

Q: Do you have any special regulations in your shop, stuff like people under 18 can't get tattoo/piercing?
- Have you ever meet any crazy mom/dad wanting their kid to have tattoo or piercing? heh

A: Yes, we DO NOT perform ANY procedure on any person under the age of 18, we constantly get phone calls from unruly parents that can’t understand why they can’t “sign” for their teenager to get “all inked up” or pierce their 14 year old daughters belly button… We have signs on every entrance saying things like: “NO CHILDREN” or “YOU MUST BE 18+ TO HAVE ANY PROCEDURE PERFORMED AT THIS STUDIO,” but people think that the sign doesn’t pertain to them specifically for one reason or the other, and then they expect you to refer them to some “establishment” where that is an acceptable practice... “Don’t tattoo kids, people!”

Q: How long it takes to get an appointment for tattoo or piercing?
A: Appointments pretty much depend on my work load, I am currently the only tattooist at Shellshock Tattoo Studio and I work off a first come first serve basis. Luray is a small town, but I keep fairly steady, I tend to get backed up quite a bit around tax return time (like everyone else) and I would also like to add that’s it’s not a bad thing to have to wait a little for good work, but I’m not a procrastinator and will do my best to get folks in with a timely manner, good work is not a rush job and piercings are taken on a walk-in first come first serve basis.

Q: Outside the busy working schedule, do you have any hobbies that help you to get inspired, stuff like painting, graffiti, photography etc?
A: I draw in what “free time” I have, definitely love colored pencils, take photo opportunities and paint when I can, but I think I get most of my inspiration from random ideas... I love when people are like “I want a balloon animal tattoo,” or just anything out of the “ordinary.”

Q: After years in this business, what would you recommend to the beginners? What they should know before they start working as artists and go pro making a living from this job?
A: I would say “hold on tight,” there will be times you love and times you want to quit, times of learning and times of plateau. You have to push through and WORK, WORK, WORK! If you want any success, this is not a career for the lazy! Be disciplined, humble and have respect.

Please share your contact info/website/online profiles etc.
You can contact Shellshock Tattoo Studio at:
21 N. Broad st. Luray, VA 22835 (540)843-2000
Instagram: stevenjessee

I would also like to take the opportunity to give thanks to God, my wife and family support, to all of those who have so far chosen me to do their work, Deann Good, Sam Clawson, Justin Mayhew, Johnny Drain, Deon Mcneal & Mavis Martin.