Shane O’Neill is not your average tattoo artist. His ambitions are endless. Instead of just sitting around tattooing butterfly tramp stamps and tribal bands all day, he has taken his art to a whole new level. Armed with a bachelor in Fine Arts from the Philadelphia University of the Arts, O’Neill specializes in realism, portraits, wildlife and horror, but his skills aren’t limited when it comes to tattooing.
“Sometimes it makes no difference that I have a degree, but there are times that it does come in handy. It might be color theory, drawing, drawing and more drawing,” O’Neill jokes. “There is a very common misconception that if you draw, paint or airbrush that you will be a great tattoo artist. That is extremely incorrect. Tattooing is at least 80 percent technical. If you can learn how to tattoo, learn the mechanics of how the hell to manipulate that ink into the skin and have it the way you want it to look and you can draw, well then you’ll be a great tattoo artist.”
And O’Neill is one of those people. From business professionals to the average “hipster,” O’Neill has tattooed every type of person on the planet. His success with his own shop in Middletown, Delaware, has led to a television series on the Spike Network called Ink Masters featuring O’Neill and an arsenal of talented tattoo artists. In addition, he partnered up with J.P. “Smitty” Smith of Big Brain Tattoo in Omaha to present the “1st Annual Best of the Midwest Tattoo Convention” this week.
“Smitty and I have been friends for over 12 years. His tattoo shop’s huge success is a good representation of the large tattoo community in the Midwest. Since there is already a Philly tattoo convention, we decided to bring a quality convention out there; one that really does have a line up of the top artists in the industry nationally and internationally,” O’Neill explains. “Our artists list rivals any convention out there, but tops most. This year we’ll have 8 of the 10 artists from Ink Masters: me, Tommy Helm, Al Fliction, Josh Woods, James Vaughn, Lea Vendetta, B-Tat and Billie Vegas.”
The convention gives the general public a chance to explore everything the tattoo world has to offer and to educate them on what makes tattoo art so enticing in the first place.
“Some peeps are into them for the ‘coolness’ factor like they are living life on the edge and some people are drawn into the tattoo world now out of respect for the art form. That is one of the good things that came out of all these tattoo shows,” O’Neill says. “They have taught people about the high level of artwork that can be achieved through tattooing. Many people had no idea.”
With tattoos more common then ever, O’Neill is convinced they will never become cliché. While he will never tell a client not to get a tattoo, there are a few occasions where he will try to convince them to go in another direction if he feels the tattoo design is not up to par. For the most part, they trust his opinion, another testament to his supreme skill and professionalism.
“I try to steer them in the right direction if I think the tattoo won’t look good. It doesn’t happen too often,” he says. “Most of the time they respect my judgment and listen up. If they still want their hideous design then I probably won’t do it [laughs]. I don’t want my name associated with a bad design. This is an art form, first and foremost.”