Shell Valentine is best known for her incredible Disney tattoos — Bambi, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid — you’d be hard pressed to find a tattoo artist alive that takes a crack at these animated classics with as much perfection as Valentine. Characterized by their bold lines and incredibly feminine color palettes, Valentine’s work is just about as close as you can get to the Magic Kingdom without having to pay for a pricey resort. Given her enormous talent one would assume that Valentine was always destined to be a tattooist, but that's not how life works. It was only after a stint in the graphic design field that she found her calling.
After working at Dangerzone Tattoo as the resident shop manager for two years, Valentine began her apprenticeship at the encouragement of her bosses. While she can’t remember the exact moment her love affair with tattoos began, she says her initial introduction was by none other than Pamela Anderson. “My first real WHOAH! moment that I can remember, was looking through a TV Hits Magazine when I was like maybe 7 or 8 years old, and seeing roses and thorns tattooed around Pamela Anderson’s ankle,” says Valentine. “I had this, Holy shit! That's so awesome, I want to get that when I'm old enough! moment, and that was the start of it.”
Valentine tattoos in the traditional style with a feminine twist. Pastel colors, nostalgic references to the ‘90s, and just about everything cute you can possibly think of make up the majority of her work, and she says that she prefers it that way. “I love girly-traditional because I get to make things super bright and colorful, or soft and pastel and girly and cute,” says Valentine. “It's just so much fun and so much of the subject matter is stuff I enjoy or grew up loving so it makes it feel less like work, and more like just doing what I love every single day.” And it shows — looking at Valentine’s work is like peering into the heart of a ‘90s kid who loves nothing more than puffy, scented stickers, Disney, and roller skating birthday parties. Her enthusiasm and passion for not just her craft, but her subject matter, shines through from the tips of Daria’s periwinkle blue hair, all the way down to Ralphie’s red footie pajamas.
During Valentine’s 10 years of working in the tattoo industry, she has seen an enormous shift in perception. “Tattooing is so much more accessible to everyone, not that it wasn't before, but the level of social acceptance has changed so much,” says Valentine. “Twelve years ago when I got my first sleeve it was frowned upon, especially being a woman with such visible tattoos. Now, I feel like if you don't have a tattoo, you're the odd one out.”
While many artists feel like the ever changing climate surrounding the industry, in particular the use of social media, has changed it for the worst, Valentine disagrees. She likes to think of social media as a useful tool that encourages people to do research to find an artist whose style they particularly vibe with. More so than that, she likes to think of it as a way to gain constant inspiration and insight from her peers.
More than anything else, Valentine says that her biggest motivator are the customers. “I want to be able to give my customers 110% for every piece, knowing there are so many amazing artists out there, and yet they've chosen to come to me gives me the determination to try my best for every tattoo,” she says. “From a name on a wrist to a full sleeve, I want my customers to leave happy with the piece they received. I just want to work hard, stay relevant, give people good tattoos and spread a bit of colour and cuteness in people’s lives.”