Local tattoo artist wins awards

Tattoo artist Steven Jessee preps for a client inside Tried & True Tattoo in Front Royal. Jessee recently won awards at the D.C. Tattoo Expo. Rich Cooley/Daily
Tattoo artist Steven Jessee, 28, of Luray, designs a tattoo on Nikki LeRoy, of Rileyville, at Tried & True Tattoo in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily
Tattoo artist Steven Jessee received second place for this tattoo in the American Traditional Female Tattoo at the D.C. Tattoo Expo recently. Courtesy photo

FRONT ROYAL – Tattoo artist Steven Jessee received first and second place awards for his creative designs last weekend at the D.C. Tattoo Expo.

“I just try to do the best tattoo I can every time, and as long as they’re happy when they leave, that’s good,” he said.

Jessee won first place in the American Traditional Male category. For this, he tattooed a 5-inch sailor girl pinup bust on an upper arm. That design took about four hours to complete.

He also placed second in the American Traditional Female category with an elephant head tattoo made out of different colored roses on an upper thigh. This was about 11 inches tall and took about seven hours to complete.

He said artists from all over the country and a few from other countries compete in these competitions. This wasn’t his first time placing in  competition. He won first place in the American Traditional Male category last year.

In April, Jessee will be traveling to Baltimore to compete in another competition. Toward the end of the year, he will compete in the West Virginia Tattoo Expo.

His passion for art started years ago, but he said it took a while before he found his calling as a tattoo artist. The 28 year old was 19 when he did his first tattoo.

“I’ve been drawing and painting and coloring for as long as I can remember,” he said, “I always knew I wanted to be an artist but I didn’t know how to apply it to working.”

He spent his time right out of high school working odd jobs but couldn’t continue working a “regular nine-to-five job,” he said.

Jessee works at Tried & True Tattoo in Front Royal along with four other tattoo artists.  Before joining the Tried & True team, he owned his own tattoo shop, Shellshock Tattoo Studio, in Luray for 8 1/2 years.

While Jessee is an award-winning artist, he has not had any formal art training outside of a few oil painting classes.

Tried & True Tattoo  holds an art night with other tattoo artists to get new ideas and guidance on their work.

“You’ve got to be self-motivated, because if you’re not, nobody is going to do it for you,” he said.

Jessee explained that great tattoo artists have ambition and pride in the work that they do and push themselves to keep improving.

“You’ve got to keep on changing in order to keep up,” he said.

He added that those coming in for tattoos should be invested in what they want and realize that they may be in the shop for long periods of time.

“If you want good work done, it takes time,” he said.

Some tattoos can be completed in less than an hour, but many need much more time and energy, for both the artist and the customer, in order to get it done correctly.

Jessee said that he has had some pieces take multiple days to complete. He completed a full chest piece in 18 hours, spread out over three days. A back piece took him 30 hours and a full sleeve took him 40 hours.

Over the years, he said he has seen a variety of people come in for tattoos, and there isn’t any specific type of person who gets a tattoo. But he added that there has been a trend in more women getting tattoos than men.

He said that results from Google Analytics website traffic statistics analyzer showed that 76 percent of his clientele were female from the ages of 18 to 35.

“I’ve tattooed anybody, from people who work in retail to nurses,” he said.

No matter who gets a tattoo, there are health risks that everyone should be aware of, but there are precautions that a tattoo shop and the customer can take to prevent problems.

Jessee advises anyone seeking to get a tattoo to check the cleanliness of the shop they want to get it done at first. He recommends that they check out the shop’s bathroom.

“I feel like you can tell a lot about a place by looking at the bathroom,” he said.

Reputable tattoo shops take precautions to reduce health risks as much as possible.

At Tried & True, he said everything is up to code, according to state law.

“Everything that I use is 100 percent disposable,” he said.

He added that “it is possible to have an allergic reaction to a pigment.”

But in these instances, everyone in the shop is certified in CPR, first aid and bloodborne pathogens, and licensed by the state, he said. Licenses must be renewed every two years.

“There is a lot more to tattooing than a lot of people think,” he said.

“I would say the biggest health risk if you get your tattoo done at a reputable studio that uses everything they need to use, is yourself when you leave, taking care of it,” he said.

Aftercare of tattoos is very important to not only the appearance of the new tattoo, but also to the person’s health.

Jessee also recommends that customers check out the tattooist’s portfolio of work to determine if they feel this person will be able to properly design their tattoo at the highest standards of design and cleanliness. He said they should look at the lines of the tattoo and see if there is a nice contrast and clear imagery and if the artist cleans the area properly.

“You don’t want to blindly get tattoos,” he said.

He also suggests setting up a consultation with the tattooist to discuss the tattoo and to make sure both are on the same page about what will happen during the process.

Tattoos are with a person for life, so he advises that customers think through tattoo ideas before putting ink to skin.

State law says that people at age 16 or 17 can get a tattoo with parental consent. Those 18 and older don’t need parental consent.

If the decision has been made to get a tattoo, Jessee said that there are some common trends on what people choose to get tattooed. He said that animals are one of the most popular choices.

“Whatever is trending on Pinterest is what we do a lot of,” he said, “but there’s no telling what someone will request.”

Contact Tried & True at 321 South Royal Ave., Front Royal, by phone at 540-635-TATS (8287), or check out their website at www.triedandtruetattoos.com.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com

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