Meet Your Merchant: Inked — Grass Valley tattoo artist Cory Norris is known internationally |

Meet Your Merchant: Inked — Grass Valley tattoo artist Cory Norris is known internationally

Cory Fisher | Staff Writer
Cory Norris, tattoo artist and owner of Classic Tattoo Studio in Grass Valley, works with a customer.
Laura Mahaffy/ |


Classic Tattoo Studio

115 Sout Church St., Grass Valley


Facebook: Classic Tattoo


Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

Cory Norris was just 3 years old when he first picked up a paint brush. Both his parents were artists, so there was never a shortage of art supplies around the house. From that point on, Norris’ passion for art only seemed to grow. He took art classes while attending Union Hill Elementary School and Nevada Union High School, but he didn’t really hit his stride until he moved to Santa Cruz at the age of 19.

While taking art courses at Cabrillo College, Norris happened to sit near a classmate who was a tattoo artist.

“He liked my artwork,” said Norris. “He asked if I was interested in being an apprentice and offered to set me up with the proper training. Tattooing definitely requires apprenticing. Beyond the art, you’ve got to learn the technical side.”

After learning the basics of the art form, Norris dropped out of college, which he still claims is the best decision he ever made. But he knew he still had a lot to learn, so he began researching some of the best tattoo artists in the country.

“I found a very reputable shop in Baltimore,” he said. “I wanted to learn from the best, so I moved back there. The best part about that experience was learning a broad spectrum of styles and techniques. I was influenced in different ways by each artist.”

Norris wasn’t messing around. He rented a tiny apartment above the shop and spent a full year working seven days a week, all the while socking money away as he perfected his craft. Not having the option of solely sticking to his signature style, the daily challenge was to create images that suited the many tastes of customers who walked through the door. Today, Norris attributes this early experience to his artistic versatility, which has since earned him a reputation for being “the artist who can do anything.”

But one day, when a bouquet of flowers showed up at the Baltimore shop from his girlfriend, Norris knew it was time to pack up and head home to Nevada County. It wasn’t long before she became his wife.

In February 1998, Norris opened his own shop, Classic Tattoo, above Long’s Bottle Shop on Colfax Avenue in Grass Valley. Again demonstrating his unparalleled work ethic, Norris spent yet another year working seven days a week.

It paid off.

The more tattoos Norris created, the more people saw his extraordinary work. Thanks to his background as an accomplished oil painter, he quickly became known for his brilliant colors and ability to mix inks in order to create that perfect hue. But business really took off once he began attending tattoo conventions around the state.

Today, 19 years after that long year he spent in Baltimore, 44-year-old Norris is known to many as a “tattoo artist’s tattoo artist” in the industry. His immaculate shop is now located on South Church Street in downtown Grass Valley, which he shares with two other tattoo artists, Alycia Harr and Eddie Zavala. In addition, Norris’ father, Jerry Norris, oversees the day-to-day demands of ordering supplies, scheduling appointments and answering the phone. He has a “full body suit” tattoo — based on Japanese mythology — that his son has been slowly working on for the past six years.

“Some people collect paintings,” he said. “But I like having my son’s amazing artwork on my body.”

These days, well-known tattoo shop owners in Reno, Sacramento, San Francisco — and beyond — regularly travel to Norris for their own personal tattoos. With appointments booked more than a year out, clients have been known to travel from Texas, Oregon and even Italy to get time on the table with Norris. His Instagram account boasts more than 61,000 followers from all over the globe.

“Cory is pretty prestigious in the industry — it’s a huge honor to work with him,” said Harr. “He’s very art-focused. I’ve always looked up to his work — this is a wonderful place to grow artistically.”

Military veteran Kyle Green of Vacaville has been coming to Norris since 2012 and has monthly appointments booked through 2018. One of his prized tattoos is a wolf on his leg with a dagger going through it. He was “thrown to the wolves” as a young man, he said, then became “leader of the pack.”

“My buddies in the military are amazed by the color and art of Cory’s work,” he said. “We call him Cory the Wizard. Instead of showing him an image, I usually tell him what I like and he comes up with his own interpretation. I’m always blown away — he’s a true artist. What also sets Cory apart is how humble he is. He’s a very genuine person.”

Aside from his daily passion for creating inspiring, vibrant images, Norris said some of his most rewarding recent work has been creating realistic, three-dimensional-looking nipple tattoos for breast cancer survivors.

“It’s very moving — they look in the mirror and say, ‘I feel whole again,’” said Norris. “But overall I love this art form and being able to express my creativity through this medium. There’s really nothing like the smiles on people’s faces.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at

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