The tattoo people: interview with Shaun Williams

Nebula Tattoo is a multi-award-winning studio in Burry Port, South Wales. It’s owned and run by William Jones who has been tattooing professionally for over 7 years.

Also tattooing at the studio with him is his apprentice Shaun Williams. I love Shaun’s style of artwork and wanted him to be the first apprentice to feature on the Inkluded blog.

I was able to quiz Shaun about his journey into the tattoo world. A journey from drawing teddy bears for his mam’s fridge, to tattooing permanent artwork on the bodies of people in South Wales.

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Hey Shaun! So let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When did you discover you had artistic talent?

My mam set the artistic standard in my family, and from a young age I was in awe of her animations and caricatures. From then I knew I wanted to achieve a high standard of design myself with my own creativity. I would buy colouring books, and instead of colouring in, I would draw the image myself. The first one I can remember doing was a cowboy teddy bear which I knew was fridge-worthy. Throughout school and college I had friends and teachers compliment my designs and art skills, which had me thinking,.. ‘maybe I AM good at this’.

Knowing I had a passion for art and design, I wanted to try all careers from Fashion, Graphic Design and Product design. But out of all my options, I felt my illustrative skills were my strongest and it’s where I felt most comfortable, so I pursued an illustration degree at The University of Wales, Trinity Saint David’s.

It was during my first year of uni that I started thinking about becoming a tattooist. Having painted on canvases, used charcoals and digital design, I felt that skin canvas was the ultimate challenge. At one point I was close to dropping out of uni to get an apprenticeship, but I thought it best to get my degree first and it was the best decision I made.

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Tell us about how you came to be part of the Nebula family.

With a few months until my graduation I started scouting out the local tattoo studios in my area. I studied the work they were putting out, the artists working there and the shop itself. At this point Nebula Tattoo had recently opened, but a close friend had been getting tattooed by William for a while. So I came along with him for an appointment to secretly check Nebula out. I was really impressed because the studio didn’t look like a traditional studio, it felt comfortable and modern. After speaking to William, I felt confident that he was a level headed guy who was more concerned with producing high quality tattoos, than just getting money through the door. Both William and Jessica were kind and comforting and I felt that this was a team I wanted to be a part of. So by the end of Jon’s appointment, I had booked myself in for a tattoo. And the rest, they say, is history…

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The studio is in Burry Port, a little Welsh town which is in a time-warp where mobility scooters are the primary mode of transport and the blue-rinse dears frequent one of the seven hair salons on the high street. Some might think this is a strange setting for a tattoo studio, but defying all the odds, Nebula Tattoo fits right in! We’ve become known as The Tattoo People and we’re friendly with all the local businesses, especially Brian the Butcher who does me the best faggots this side of Wales. The studio itself is open plan, but cwtchy at the same time. I like that the walls aren’t full of flash, but instead filled with paintings by other tattoo artists such as Jeff Gogue, Sneaky Mitch, Marcus Maguire, Markus Lenhard to name a few.

Working with William and Jessica is great, they’re really supportive of my work and motivating… they even put my designs on the fridge! There’s a lot of harmless banter between us which makes it fun to come in to work in the morning. Being part of the Nebula team is exciting and I feel like I have a promising future as a tattooist here.

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What are some of things you’re learning day-to-day as part of your apprenticeship? 

Since day one of my apprentiship, I’ve learnt more about the business side of tattoing than I thought there was. From customer service and ensuring clients are comfortable and happy, to email responses. I’ve found that it’s important to introduce routine to help the flow of business, bookings and supporting William. Each morning I’ll sterilize and set up William’s station for his first client. I’ll have the client signed in and paid up before sending them through to William and make sure the kettle is on before they even sit down. I’ve already learnt so much about the design process of a tattoo, speaking with the client and establishing the most suitable size, position and content for that person. I enjoy the consultations with clients whereby we go over a variety of possibilities, it’s the first step in building a comfortable and friendly client relationship and it’s a warming thought that they would one day send their friends and family to Nebula because of the work and atmosphere in the shop.

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What is your tattoo style? What are your plans for the future?

After doing a 3 year illustration degree, I have found this is my most comfortable area where I have scope to put my own spin on designs. My short term goal is to complete my apprenticeship and build up a solid portfolio of my designs ready for tattooing clients. I don’t want to rush myself into tattooing skin as the high level of competition out there is enough to drive me to be the best I can be straight away.

I’m inspired by other tattoo artists such as Joao Bosco, Sneaky Mitch and Marcus Maguire and hope that I can develop my artwork to their standard. My biggest aim is to be known for my illustrative work by my peers and my idols, and be accepted by this community.

At the end of a long day, when my creative brain goes to hibernate, I hit the gym as often as I can. William and I have a Thor challenge for 2015 which we train for on our man-date Mondays… but I will win. My girlfriend Carly is the best, she’s been really supportive and is excited for me to start tattooing (her). Being someone who studied illustration also, Carly is understanding of the time I need to draw and develop my skills, and even offers her creative insight. She’s a good distraction when I get wrapped up in tattooey stuff and looks after me, I really am a lucky guy.

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