Shawn Manning, 41 year old veteran from the United State Air Force, was diagnosed with Post Tramatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after being deployed seven times in Iraq. But that hasn’t been the end to his story. With the help of counselors at the Beckley Veterans Hospital, Manning has turned his disorder into a business. Patriot Tattoo Studio and Design (PTSD) offers tattoos and skin modification and an alternative therapy for PTSD.
“I started treatment with the Beckley VA, when a mental health counselor suggested finding something that distracted my mind,” Manning said. “Something to refocus me, since I didn’t want to be on prescriptions that caused me to be a zombie.”
At the same time, Manning read an article that said veterans had found some relief for their disorder by incorporating crafts and art into their lives. Thus he turned a love for tattoos into an escape from PTSD. Manning went to see Darren Blankenship at Suckerpunch Tattoo in Lewisburg for his third tattoo, a tribal wedding ring, and he was asked to bring in some drawings and take on an apprenticeship.
“He liked my professional look and demeanor associated with my years of service with the military,” Manning explained. “When I had finally built my portfolio, he (Blankenship) had moved to Bluefield and was tattooing at Timeless Art Tattoo. So with the support of my wife, Melissa, I made the daily trek to Bluefield to chase my therapy and combat my demons.”
Over a four month period of time, Manning apprenticed under Blankenship and other artists T.K. Blackwell, owner of Timeless Tattoo, Joe Woods and Big Al Delp. Manning’s mentors dubbed him the FED, in reference to his clean shaven appearance, dark sunglasses and dessert camouflage backpack. “I apprenticed under these four amazing artists, each one having their own style and experience level. I learned all the state laws and proper ways to tattoo as well as learned the art of how to do a cover-up tattoo the proper way,” Manning said. As the apprenticeship evolved, Manning would joke with his teachers about abbreviations and acronyms and how they are easily remembered. This is how Patriot Tattoo Studio and Design was born.
“Being a patriot, well that was the easiest part of the name,” he said. “I thought since this long road to recovery started with PTSD, and tattooing is a form of mental therapy for our customers … I came up with Patriot Tattoo Studio and Design, PTSD.” Adding design to the title is as much as tribute to PTSD therapy as it is a tribute to manning’s father, Lonnie, who created handmade jewelry under the business name Unique Designs.
“In August 2015, I signed a lease for a building here in Rainelle, with Brandon Black, and we began the construction process,” Manning said. “My mission is to create a professional shop, one that customers will feel comfortable in, clean and sanitary, to give customers something amazing.” According to Manning, he strives to produce everything from memorial tattoos, custom cover-ups and something meaningful. He also wants to be a source of information for first time tattoo enthusiasts. The company offers piercing services with professional piercer Jason Terry as well.
“There have been times when the stress of having a business is overwhelming, “Manning said. “But when I’m tattooing a piece on a customer, it’s just me and the skin. Nothing else matters. Then when the customer looks at their completed tattoo for the first time, the emotions they have, and me knowing I gave them a piece of my soul, in making an idea a reality. That is where my happiness comes from.”