TRUCKEE, Calif. - Right in the heart of Truckee, an artist is at work.
Neil "Smiley" Manos has been a tattoo artist for 14 years. Originally from Huntington Beach, Calif., Manos found himself in Truckee five years ago, after traveling around California. Living with his new wife and Truckee local, Ashley, Manos opened his own shop, Smiley's Tattoo, in February 2011, after commuting to Reno for several years.
When asked about how he got into tattooing, Manos explained his friends used to ask him to draw out their tattoos for them.
"One friend someday just said, 'Hey, why don't you learn to do that?'" he explained.
So he did. Manos is becoming known for his script writing, but added that he's a well-rounded tattoo artist. He prides himself on his portrait and realism work, as well as his work with bright colors.
"There's not a lot I don't like to (tattoo)," he said of his work, adding that people can come in with any idea in the world, from people to animals to writing, and he can create a tattoo for it.
Manos works with men and women of all ages, noting that his oldest client was an 84-year-old grandmother, who got a traditional rose tattoo, after carrying one with her for 50 years. He added that one of his most prized works includes a full T-shirt of exotic cats.
Smiley's Tattoo prides itself on cleanliness, as well as providing a comfortable, inviting atmosphere, Manos said.
"Cleanliness is the most important factor," he said.
Manos explained that he wants his shop to be as clean and sterile as a doctor's office, yet also feel warm and inviting like you're visiting a friend. The shop tests its autoclave sterilization machine regularly to ensure it aligns with California state law health regulations. Manos has also received training on cross contamination and other safety measures. Notably, the parlor is ADA compliant.
The tattoo shop stands out against competitors, offering organic pigments, free of chemicals and nickel (which often cause infections). The shop also uses a rotary tattoo machine. This machine uses an electric motor to power the needle, as opposed to a spring machine that uses magnetism. The rotary machine is 30 percent faster than the spring machine, and runs more evenly over the skin causing less trauma to the skin, allowing for faster healing.
Manos explained that he doesn't want people to feel intimidated walking into his shop, whether they are getting their first or 15th tattoo.
"I want everyone to feel welcome," Smiley said. "(Getting a tattoo) hurts less if you're comfortable."
Working alone, Manos added that he makes an effort to get to know his clients and exactly what they want in their tattoo. Customers usually schedule a consultation to get ideas down, then drawing the initial design takes anywhere from a day to three weeks, Manos said.
"I draw what (the customer) is thinking," he added.
After the drawing is done, clients schedule a time to get the tattoo done. Smiley charges by the piece, unless it's a larger piece, then it is by the hour. Walk-ins are also accepted for smaller tattoos.
For first timers, Manos suggests putting a lot of thought into your tattoo. Not only will it be a lifelong work of art, but also a bookmark, serving as a constant reminder of that place in time when you got it, along with where you got it.
"Think really hard about what you want," he said. "It should definitely mean something to you and have a (place) in your life."
With winter on the horizon, Manos is expecting to be busy for the next few months. He noted that winter is actually the best time to get tattooed, allowing for the piece to heal properly, out of the sun and water. Smiley's offers locals discounts, as well as discounts for referrals.