EIGHTY-NINE: What drew you to tattoos?
SHANNON PERRY: Growing up, I was rebellious in whatever way I could get my hands on, and tattoos just went along with that. The first tattoo I ever got was actually one I did on myself when I was 15, which is an eyeball with little swirly kind of lines coming out of it. There was a girl in junior high that drew it on her notebook and I thought she was so cool. I basically just copied the idea and tattooed it onto my leg because I thought it was so neat, and I really wanted to be her friend. We never became friends.
EIGHTY-NINE: You have such a specific aesthetic—how did you develop it?
SP: I grew up in the ’90s, and everyone had a tribal piece or like, lotus flowers, or just generally tattoos that I thought I would regret later. I was afraid of getting something that was too stylized for any certain era, so outlines seemed the only option to age well if you’re not operating within the standard traditional tattoo styles. Basically, my style developed out of trying to avoid style, which in turn became a style in itself.
And also just wimpiness. I am a needle-phobic person, and I didn’t want to be sitting there getting a bunch of solid fill for like hours. So it was born out of both being wimpy and trying to avoid style, which sounds like the most passive thing ever, but I really love how it looks.
EIGHTY-NINE: How did you get started tattooing?
SP: I bought a tattoo machine before I was even an apprentice, which I’m not necessarily recommending for people, but I don’t know—I survived. I wanted to have tattoos, but I knew the style that I wanted was kind of hard to get tattooists to do, so I’d have to tattoo myself.
I’m right-handed, so my left arm started filling up with stuff, but I couldn’t touch my right arm. So I started to bring my drawings into a shop on Capitol Hill in Seattle called Alleged Tattoo, and the lady who owned that shop put two and two together and was like, “Have you ever thought about combining these two things you do into a job?”
I initially just turned it down because I figured the life of a tattoo artist would be doing kanji on frat boys and things that I’m not interested in. Then a few months went by and I thought, “I’m being an idiot. That would be like, the coolest job. I’m sure I could find some people that want something else,” you know? So I actually wrote her a letter and said, “Please. I take it back. Please give me this job.” So I apprenticed there for about a year, and right off the bat of course there were a lot of people getting the line-based stuff.
EIGHTY-NINE: Did you get any pushback about being a woman trying to become a tattoo artist?
SP: I definitely have received flack in the tattoo community, but I just try to make my work as good as I can and hope that it speaks for itself. Not everybody is going to accept you, and if some people don’t, in my book maybe you’re doing something right. If everyone was super hunky-dory about everything I was doing, I’d probably feel like I was doing something wrong.
And I don’t know—I’ve never really held back from doing something because I am a woman.
EIGHTY-NINE: That’s awesome. Your jewel tattoos really stick out as particularly unique. How did you get started doing those?
SP: This girl wasn’t sure what she wanted, she just wanted a tattoo. So I asked her to write down a bunch of things that she likes, and from that list I chose hands and a prism.
I had no idea how I would go about the prism. I just sat down and did it, and it was so much more fun to do than I expected. Using white ink really made it pop, and there was a great response to it. I was so proud.
So I was like, if I could do that, why couldn’t I try doing more reflective things? I’ve been exploring it ever since.
EIGHTY-NINE: Very cool. Any tattoos you’re aiming to tackle next?
SP: I’ve been wanting to go into doing chrome—things that have a weird, wavy, warbly reflection, and maybe water. I’m always looking for new things.