Jeff Shea. The epitome of sex, drugs and rock and roll. He is as real as you can find in the superficial world we reside in. What you see, is what you get. I had the opportunity to chill with him at several functions, including his famous Broken Dream Cruise. He invites hot rods, bikes, pin stripers and cool people to chill at his pad. Even with torrential rain and cold temperatures, he threw one hell of a bash. I am sure we will be featuring more of Jeff’s art, cars, bikes, and his wife Heather’s amazing skills in the future.
THBC: How did you get into tattooing?
Jeff Shea: I was playing in a rock and roll band and working at UPS. After I got my first tattoo, I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and started getting more and more tattoos, as the band was doing better. I was going to college, and I needed a job that worked with my school and band schedule, so I started working with Miss Mischa, who is in Cali now. It’s been a great life. By the time I finished college, I had my own shop. That worked out pretty good for me. I finished school in 1997, the same year my daughter was born. John, that works for me now was one of my students, 11 years ago. Kind of funny.
THBC: What are your favorite types/styles of tattoos to do?
JS: I like the traditional old school. They are the best designs, they hold up over time. There are some people out there that are doing some great detail work, but they don’t hold up over time. Hard to beat an old school tattoo, as they are designed to be as clean and as simple as possible and wear the best. The most popular now is the old traditional tats, because they are timeless.
THBC: How many tattoos do you have?
JS: I don’t know, not enough. Hopefully one day, just one. The piece I am having done now is my chest, that sucks, because that hurts. (Interjection from Matty: it’s not that bad.) The older you get the more it hurts. (Matt: oww...)
THBC: What was your first tat?
JS: The first one I got was a Stray Cats cat. I had drawn it when I was 16. I went to see the band. They were punk as hell back then. There wasn’t a rockabilly movement in the states yet, so they wore crazy pompadours, played upright base.. pretty damn cool.
THBC: First you did?
JS: I did my first tat on my good friend Tom Stants. We did it in my mom’s kitchen when I got all my equip. He was smaller than me, so I know that if I messed up, and he was mad, I could take him. But the first one was awesome. The next 2, 3 kinda sucked. Its one of those things, the moment you think you have it licked, it teaches you otherwise. I guess that is why I love it so much. Always learning. And I always learn something from the person in my chair.
THBC: What will you be learning from Matt today?
JS: That I probably don’t want to get my chest done.
THBC: What is the most painful spot to get a tattoo?
JS: Probably kidney, ribs, anything where there is a major organ underneath. The pain that kicks out is the body’s defense mechanism because that deftone level 5, something that is really hurting, is probably getting your ribs tattooed. If it is something you can handle, i.e. deftone level 2, is probably your arm. But everyone is different. The skinny little girls can have no problem, then the big jocky guys are the ones that pass out.
THBC: Have you ever had anyone pass out?
JS: Oh yeah, sometimes it is a game with me..
THBC: Can you tattoo them if they are passed out?
JS: No, you can’t tattoo them if they are out.
THBC: Then there is no point in getting them to pass out, right?
JS:Yes there is... it puts them in check. I have 18 year of experience. I learn something new each day. Then there is someone who has watched an hours worth of tv, which makes them an expert and they try to tell me how to do my job.
If they weren’t my customer yesterday, I don’t need them today. I am in this for me.
I am here to take the customer’s idea, and try to do everything in my power to exceed their expectation. That is why I love doing this so much. The smile on their face, when I take the idea, beyond what they even imagined.
THBC: Is there anything you don’t like tattooing?
JS:I am pretty lucky, I have been enough of a dick over the years that I only tattoo things I enjoy. I don’t want to bullshit you, but if I don’t feel it, I can’t force it. It would be like asking a musician to play something they don’t feel. Doesn’t mean that the person has a bad idea, just that there is someone out there more qualified to do it. I don’t like tribals. I don’t think there are a whole lot of people in the states that are in a tribe. If you are, and that is your heritage, then its great. A lot of people now days get them because they think they are cool. All they are doing are rigging on someone else's culture. To me, that kinda sucks, because I think the whole point is that tattoos should be personal. If you are not individual enough to come up with your own ideas, then you don’t need a f#$king tattoo. You’re just a poser.
THBC: What about Rat Fink?
JS: To be honest, the Rat Fink is not all that original. But I can take a different approach to it. At Wholeshot, we like to say that we never do the same tattoo twice. I can do the rat fink 20 times, and each one will be different. Approach it different, change the light source, different poses, positions.
THBC:Have you done all of Matt’s tattoos?
JS: All his arm, I gave him his first. (Interjection: I get all my work done here at Wholeshot though. Not like I bring him money or anything...)
Matty helps me. He scratches my back, I scratch his.
THBC: What are your influences?
JS: I was always drawn to record cover art. Punk rock records, Stalls, all of that. I always drew as a kid. At 14, I was painting a lot of leather jackets for the guys. When you are painting a leather, you treat it with the same respect as you do when doing a tattoo. Directly, leathers are a person’s protection, their skin. It is an honor to do someone’s jacket. I did a lot art posters, rock and roll shows. Met a lot of people that influenced me, like Mark Arminski. Mark used to tattoo. I met a lot of Detroit artists, playing in the band. I met a lot of people in the industry. I can’t complain, this has been a really cool life for me.
THBC: Do you have any regrets?
JS: No, I don’t have a lot. I have sacrificed a lot of things in life because I have chosen this career. But I do not regret it at all. A lot of people have regrets for me. But, they can shut up. I do what I want. I don’t dwell on their decisions, I wish they wouldn’t dwell on mine.
THBC: How old were you when you did your first tat?
THBC:What did you practice on?
JS: Grapefruit, and stupid friends. The friends kept coming back, so I figured I must be pretty good. My mom really wanted me to be a teacher. I am an artsy guy. This is what I do.
THBC: What kind of art do you like to do?
THBC: What about pin striping?
JS: I went to Autorama with Randy Kings, and we were walking around on setup night, and watch him stripe a Vette for an hour or so. I didn’t ask a lot of questions, ‘cause I know how irritating that can be. So I thought that could only help me in my tattooing. So, Randy had a pin striping brush, and he brought it up to the shop, and I kinda locked myself in the barn, and striped everything. It was about a year before I striped anything for real. I wanted to make sure I was good at it.
THBC: Do you do it commercially?
JS: Not if I can help it. I started it as a hobby, now it is 50% of my work. It sucks because it used to be a hobby, now it is just more pressure. I need a new drug...