Shelby Downey is taking big strides within the tattoo industry, strides that are earned and well deserved. Having just realised her goal of opening her own shop, SheKnows Ink, we caught up with Shelby for this week’s Tattoo Artist feature. Get to know more about her as an artist, her shop, and her work here.
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Full Name: Shelby Downey
Shop: SheKnows Ink
Years tattooing: Just over 3 years
Tattoo style: Illustrative, fine detail work, but I’m an all rounder.
Hourly rate: R850
Give us a quick introduction to the tattoo artist, Shelby?
I am from a small town, East London in the Eastern Cape, I’m a lot smaller in person than people think I am, I like sushi, I spend most of my time outside work with my dog, I love bad jokes and I’m good at riddles.
Where and how did your journey start into becoming a tattoo artist?
I was studying graphic design, and dropped out after just 6 months when I realised it wasn’t for me (the corporate side to it) and my mother actually suggested I look into getting an apprenticeship.
I was familiar with getting tattoos (I got my first one when I was 16) but I had never actually thought of pursuing it as a career, but it turned out to be the best thing I could have ever done. I did my apprenticeship through BlackRose Tattoos, under the mentorship of Dwayne du Preez.
What goals and aspirations do you have for yourself within the industry?
I hope to inspire people, and to change the stigma behind tattoos and the industry. I’d also love to tattoo abroad and do my bit to try make the world a slightly better place.
You’ve just opened your own shop, SheKnows Ink. How did that opportunity come about and how long had it been in the workings?
I had set it out as my 5 year goal to open up my own shop, and I have achieved that goal within a mere 3 years. I was occasionally looking at places online to just “keep an eye out” but wasn’t actively looking for a shop space, and then I found this one, and it was perfect. It was a complete bare canvas – when I say bare I mean it, no flooring, ceiling had to be replaced, walls were a disaster etc – but the potential was there. Everything just kind of fell into place, and within just over a month of around the clock renovations and sleepless nights, SheKnows Ink opened.
Now that it’s complete and open, how does it feel to run your own shop?
It feels fantastic. It is hard work, and very stressful, but so rewarding. Being able to come into work every day into a space that I have designed and put my soul into, is a very rewarding thing. The team I have working at SheKnows Ink is also wonderful and I couldn’t have picked a better bunch of people to work with.
How would you best explain the vibe and artists of SheKnows Ink?
The shop has a very welcoming, friendly, bright, clean, open and warm atmosphere. The people are fantastic and very enthusiastic, we are always having a good laugh, and you’re guaranteed to leave with a smile on your face (from getting your dream tattoo and also from the happy vibe of the shop). There’s never a dull moment with us. Even once the shop is closed for the day, if often takes us a lot longer to leave, as the shop just has that energy of wanting to be there.
What style of tattoos do you enjoy creating the most?
I love to do illustrative, fine detail, black and grey semi realism work the most probably. I guess anything that is high attention to detail.
What do you feel has been one of the most influential evolutions in the tattoo industry that makes it what it is today?
I would say that the most influential evolutions in the industry, besides the new technology and equipment, is definitely the people. I feel as though we have a new generation of tattoo artists that are constantly trying to push the boundaries of the industry through the art in which they are creating. A few years ago there wasn’t such a diverse selection in styles and techniques. I remember getting my first tattoo and the guy doing it used a 9 Round shader for script, and said that was the smallest needle grouping that there was. Now we are pushing such fine and intricate detailing that once would have been considered impossible to do. The new generation of tattoo artists are striving to create actual works of art on skin, and we are doing it.
What does the industry mean to you?
The industry can be a tough one to be in, and it’s not for the weak minded or faith hearted. But, for me, it means everything. Being able to do something every day that sets your soul on fire, where you can be yourself and create art, sometimes even help somebody through something, I can’t see myself doing anything else, and I wouldn’t give this industry up for anything or anybody. I have met so many incredible people through the industry, some whom I now consider family.
How do you make sure you keep progressing as an artist?
Being an artist, and a creative, finding inspiration is very important for me, whether it’s from my environment or the people I spend time with. I feel that you have to always want to better yourself, to keep growing and to keep pushing your boundaries as an artist and person. As soon as you get compliant with where you are, whether it’s in life or your career, that’s when things start going wrong. I feel you need to continuously keep learning, asking questions, have adventures, feed your soul with inspiration and that way, you’ll make progress each day.
What advice would you give someone wanting to get their first tattoo?
One of the most common things I hear from first timers, or people who are unsure of getting a tattoo, is that they are unsure of what to get because they are scared they won’t like it after a few years. My advise for that, is to get something meaningful to them, something that tells a story or has significance behind it. That way, even if in years time they aren’t so sure on the imagery anymore, they’ll still love the meaning behind it, and it will still be special to them. I would also suggest finding a tattoo artist that they are comfortable with, this will put their mind at ease, and also make them feel more comfortable and confident when getting their tattoo. Otherwise, just go for it.
For anyone wanting to book an appointment with you, what’s the next step?
Well firstly, check us out on social media @sheknows_ink. Then email, phone or WhatsApp with ideas. If we need to schedule a consult, we can do so, or we can book you in straight away. Simple, easy and exciting.
Tattoos By Shelby Downey
Photos by Alexander Wolf Photography.