Apprentice Life: Becoming A Tattoo Artist

You Can Visit Shannaan at Sideshow Tattoo in Gerogetown Ontario

If you know me well enough you know about my Nintendo bad guy tattoos. Well, this is the girl who did them. She rules, she causes me pain, she is hilarious and is a soon-to-be great tattoo artist. Get to know her.

Shannaan Greeley starts her Monday morning with a blue Monster energy drink and a Belmont king-size cigarette at 1 p.m. This is how she prepares herself for a day of causing pain to customers.

Greeley is learning to become a tattoo artist at Sideshow Tattoo in Georgetown, Ontario. She is an apprentice learning under the artist Rachel Telles, who has travelled the world learning to tattoo, settling in this small town to open her own tattoo shop.

At the age of 18, Telles spotted her talent working with her at a local counter-culture shop, and offered her the chance to become a tattoo artist.

“I was scared, I was so nervous about it,” Greeley said.

“I wanted to do something with art, but I didn’t see it happening. I had a plan with school. I had a goal, I wanted to go to school for social work, and this just fell in front of me, out of nowhere.”

“I jumped at the opportunity,” she said.

She sits in the corner of the shop office, taking phone calls from customers curious about getting a tattoo. She is scribbling down notes, and chatting about the various artists at the shop.

She has been working at Sideshow un-paid for three years, and only within her last year has she been making money tattooing customers.

This is how she makes ends-meet while being an apprentice, answering the phones and acting as a receptionist.

Sideshow is a converted tanning salon in Georgetown. It has a main lobby which is covered in art and movie posters, with separate rooms for every artist.

Greeley’s room is a light purple, coated with thank-you cards from customers. A little glass table sits in the corner with her silver tattoo machine, a black stool, and a large black massage bed where her customers lay.

The tattoo industry is unique, with plenty of money to be made for established artists. As for Greeley, she only tattoos customers that are comfortable with her limits as an apprentice. It will take many years for her to progress into a full-fledged artist.

When she began her apprenticeship, she was only assisting other artists. She moved on to drawing, to tattooing grapefruit, to finally working on real skin. She loves what she does, and is determined to do something incredible with the gift she has been given.

Her current work has been on small tattoos, such as video game characters, roses, and butterflies. She focuses on her technique and being comfortable with her machine. She is progressing towards bigger and more elaborate works of art, and it will only take time for her to improve.

She isn’t making much money now, but within the next two years her clientele will grow, and she can charge however much she wants to tattoo a customer.

Today at Sideshow she is touching up a Polish eagle that she tattooed a year ago on the hip of a customer. It is one of her earliest pieces, but is considered intricate for an apprentice.

The buzzing of the needle is loud, and her customer winces as the black ink is pushed into her skin. She is wearing dark purple gloves, and the tattoo machine vibrates loudly in her hands.

Her lip is pierced, as well as her eyebrow. Her ears spaced out with giant orange plugs. Her right arm is heavily tattooed with locks, keys, elephants, and seahorses.

But right now, she is completely focused on the art in front of her.

Life is beautiful is tattooed across her chest, partly concealed by her black sweater.

“It’s a reminder that no matter how bad things get, there is still beauty in the world if you look for it,” Greeley said.

“I like how my tattoos make me feel. They show my personality, and document points of time in my life. It’s art, and they look great,” she said as she patiently tattoos her customer.

“This is on you forever. People see it and look at you completely different. It’s expression and it’s a beautiful thing,” she said.

She admits though, that her job is frightening. Customers trust her to put artwork on their bodies, and Greeley wants to provide art that her clients will love for the rest of their lives.

“This is all horrifying, putting something permanent on someone’s body, Greeley said.

“I’m learning on someone’s skin and they are trusting me to do a good job.”

Greeley is determined to succeed, and her career will progress as her artwork improves.

“I’m around so many amazing and talented people that it helps my learning experience. I get to learn from them, I can ask questions and all their information is at my disposal.”

“We are a family here and I love it. Together we’re all a little bit crazy,” she said.

“But who isn’t?”

  1. Tattoo artists seem to have a lot of fun at their jobs. The average training period for a tattoo artist is two to three years.

  2. Very great article! Really.

    • Charlie Nguyen
    • October 27th, 2010

    I want to become a tattoo artist but I’m not confident of my skills. I was told I should go to college or university to increase my skills in art. Is this better for me ?or should i take an apprenticeship?

    • Alana Feltis
    • December 23rd, 2010

    I’m highly confident in my skills as an Artist, i have a portfolio. . And would love to Apprentice as a tattoo Artist, but I’m not sure how to go about it.

  3. That is a good tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere.

    Short but very accurate information… Thanks for sharing this one.
    A must read post!

  4. It should go without saying that getting a tattoo on a whim or a
    dare and especially when drunk is not a good idea.
    For a guy whose job description involves the occasional punch to the face, even he is not
    immune to the pain that can be associated with getting tattooed.

    Then again, you can also go for the Marqueson tribal tattoo

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