Valentine’s Tattoo Co. (@valentinestattoo)

Valentine’s Tattoo Co. (@valentinestattoo)

Shop Spotlight

October 23, 2018

Words by Shannon Perry

Photography by Shannon Perry

We speak with Shannon Perry (@shannoneperry), owner of Seattle-based Valentine’s Tattoo Co., about her vision for a shop that would provide a “safer space” within the tattoo community for fellow tattooists, collaborators, and clients alike. The result, Valentine’s Tattoo Co., is a remarkable, semi-private studio with an exceptional roster of artists and a refreshing sensitivity for political practice.

When did you open Valentine’s Tattoo Co. and what motivated you to open your own shop?
Valentine’s opened February 14th, 2014—so we’re coming up on our fifth anniversary soon! Initially, it was just me in the corner of a friend’s apparel company that had been set up as a modest tattoo studio. I didn’t have any intention of opening a tattoo shop at that time, especially with only one year of professional tattooing under my belt. I chose to leave the shop where I had apprenticed due to conflict caused by unfortunate personality differences between myself and the owner of that shop.

I knew I needed to find a place where I felt safe from the sexism that still haunts a lot of the tattoo industry. Moreover, the style I was working in back then was primarily line-based, which hadn’t become ubiquitous and accepted by a majority of the tattoo community yet. Most of the feedback I had received from other tattooers in my community was negative. My work was often referred to as “glorified prison tats” or “trendy bullshit.”

A chance conversation led to my getting access to the spot where Valentine’s still exists, but now the apparel company is gone and we’ve got two stories of space filled with amazing tattoo artists. I can still hardly believe how amazing the space and people are, and how lucky I am to be at the helm. With that said, I’ve also never worked harder in my life.

Describe the artists who work at Valentine’s Tattoo Co.. How would you characterize the atmosphere of the shop and the team dynamic?
We’re a very close-knit shop. In fact, more than half the tattooers at Valentine’s also live in the same apartment building! Communication at the shop is wide open, and we hang out when we’re not working as well. There’s also a common view at the shop, politically: a majority of the tattooers at our shop are queer in some shape or form, as well as intersectional feminists, so we’ve created something of a “safer space” for folks who might be intimidated to walk into a predominantly male, traditional tattoo shop. That doesn’t mean we aren’t welcoming to cis men clients or tattooers! It only means that we don’t tolerate sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, ableism, or other bigoted stances from any gender. I’m grateful that more tattoo spaces have been working towards policies like this in recent years.

Our current lineup besides myself includes McKenzie Porritt (@ruffenough), a handpoke artist with nine years experience. She tends to do delicate and graceful images, frequently addressing the body-positive movement and queer politics. Albie Brant (@albiemakestattoos) draws vintage psychedelic and geometric pieces, often focusing on the female form and fashion. Lolli Morlock (@poodles_and_otherdogs) uses a lot of humor and color in her work, which lately has been filled with rainbow gradients and psychedelic berries. Johnathan Fleming (@jrflemingtattoo) from Richmond, VA, is the most traditional of the group, focusing on bold lines and blackwork. He’s been specializing in flowers and plants as of late.

In addition to the five of us, we also have a handpoke apprentice that McKenzie has been teaching, Andrew Lamb Schultz (@andrewlamby), as well as other part-timers that are here from time to time. Our newest artist is Emma Kates-Shaw (@thorn.pokes), a tidy hand-poker who focuses on dainty pieces, frequently with a nature theme. Not to mention the constant stream of guests! We’ve made so many friends that way, and I’m eternally grateful for the sense of community it provides.

"3D" photography by Trevor Crump (trevorcrump.com)
"3D" photography by Trevor Crump (trevorcrump.com)
"3D" photography by Trevor Crump (trevorcrump.com)

How do you think the shop functions in the context of the neighborhood it is located in? Is it designed to solicit public interest, or is the location discrete?
Our shop location is so discreet within our neighborhood that folks often have a difficult time finding it! We’re upstairs in a loft that is not visible from the street, nor are there signs at the entrance to the building. We like to be hidden, both for the privacy of our clients, as well as the safety of the artists. We’re located in the Pike/Pine corridor of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, a bar district, and it’s the least we can do it keep the riff raff out. More than that, however, is the issue of harassment and threats against the staff by conservative extremists after we’ve expressed our political views in the past. We don’t intend to stop talking about social justice issues, so we tend to feel safer in a private studio.

Could you tell us about the types of clients that come here? Are there any notable clients or experiences you’d like to share?
I think we’re very lucky with our clientele. Due to Instagram changing the way people find their tattoo artists, the majority of our clients are familiar with our work and shop culture prior to showing up. It seems to filter out folks who aren’t looking for what we’re providing, and help folks who are looking for a space like ours to find us.

I’ve had the opportunity to tattoo some celebrities over the years, most recently Frances Bean Cobain, which was fun and exciting, especially for a Seattle native like me. Otherwise, my personal clientele is usually great! They allow me a lot of freedom, and frequently by the end of the session we’ve exchanged our life stories.

How did you come to determine the layout and design of the shop? Did you have any points of reference in other studios?
The shop that I apprenticed at was so small and unlike a traditional shop. I didn’t really have a lot of knowledge of other shops style, other than the traditional flash-covering-the-walls places I had been nervous to walk into as a late teen. Actually, when I decorated my shop, I tried to make it feel like a colorful, fun, and friendly place to hang out, so that folks who were intimidated by traditional shops would feel good walking in the door. I didn’t want Valentine’s to look like a tattoo shop—not because I don’t like or respect more traditional spaces—I just decorated the shop how I decorated my apartment: with a million plants and lots of color.

"3D" photography by Trevor Crump (trevorcrump.com)

"I have a place in my heart for the old school tattooers who came up in a different tattoo culture than I did, but progress is always is frightening and offensive to elders, and the way I see it, if we are peaceful, doing no harm, not stealing the clientele of our neighboring shops, and our clients are happy, what issue should be had with us personally other than disliking our style?"

How do you understand the role of your shop in Seattle’s tattoo community? What role would you ideally like your shop to play?
I wish that Valentine’s was more a part of Seattle’s tattoo community. We’re friends with a handful of tattooers and shops in the area, mostly women-owned, but I’ve been hesitant to reach out due to the same folks I mentioned earlier who told me my tattoos were garbage. Actually, multiple local tattooers told me I should close Valentine’s, because I was upsetting the traditional system of tattoo hierarchy. Obviously we can’t and won’t stop. I have a place in my heart for the old school tattooers who came up in a different tattoo culture than I did, but progress is always is frightening and offensive to elders, and the way I see it, if we are peaceful, doing no harm, not stealing the clientele of our neighboring shops, and our clients are happy, what issue should be had with us personally other than disliking our style?

As you've mentioned, working outside of the "traditional tattoo hierarchy" also often means not inheriting the resources of that hierarchy. What are some other referents within and outside of tattooing that inform and sustain your political stance and the shop more generally?
My political stance was mostly determined before I was apprenticed, and I've only worked for women in queer-based shops, so I didn't have to deal with a lot of the gate-keeping a lot of women, POC, and queer folks felt held them out of the "legitimate" tattoo world. I've always been something of an idealist, for better or worse, so I think it's impossible that it wouldn't leak into my shop. I think that vibe tends to attract folks who wouldn't always feel comfortable walking into an all male shop, especially in the wake of the #metoo movement. It's not an easy stance to take and we've had plenty trolls and bullies along the way. However, since we're mostly queer, non-binary, women, or POC, I don't think we get to choose whether or not to stand up for ourselves—our choice is whether or not we want to fight back, and we don't always feel brave enough to do that. Of the confrontations we've had with folks opposed to our political stance, half are left unaddressed out of fear of retribution, which is an issue for marginalized folks in and outside of the tattoo industry.

The ability to create nontraditional spaces is often tied to property ownership. As a shop owner, one of the things that allows you to enforce your vision of a "safer space" is also what makes it difficult to maintain horizontal relations of power within the community that makes up the shop. What are some of your strategies for attending to this situation, or do you find that it is not an issue you or your colleagues often need to confront?
Recognizing my own power within this shop and community, and trying to share that power with the artists and clients within it has always been very important to me as a shop impetus. Keeping in mind that power corrupts 90% of the folks who come into contact with it, I check in with my feelings frequently with a focus on fairness. I still view tattooing as the ultimate privilege, and I've tried to create a space that folks would feel comfortable expressing their feelings, ambitions, and frustrations openly, because as a sufferer of trauma and anxiety, I also need a space like that. A lot of therapy has gone into getting me to a place where I feel I can be confident providing a place like Valentine's, and I'm grateful I've been privileged enough to have the resources to make that happen, though I will never be perfect. Regardless, Valentine's has been the best and most challenging journey of my life, and I am eternally thankful for it.

How would you like to see your shop develop in the years to come?
We finally just hired a manager, so I’m looking forward to focusing on tattooing more instead of administrative work. I’ve got a ton of ideas of what we can do with the shop, as well as what we can do to engage with the community. I’m hoping to start hosting some model drawing sessions, as well as hanging local artists’ work for sale within the shop.

Other than that, it always still feels like a work in progress to me. As soon as I finish one project, there’s another one to tackle. I started with no money, so the construction and remodeling of our space has been a slow process that I continue to pour myself into. My goal is that eventually the shop itself will become a work of art. I hope we’ll be here for years and generations to come.

















Valentine’s Tattoo Co. can be found on Instagram (@valentinestattoo) and online (valentinestattoo.com).