How I Got Into Tattooing - The Road Thus Far

Updated: Nov 14, 2019


My mom used to tell me stories about how I'd follow people with tattoos down the beach when I was young, just so I could see their art.


The most frequent reason I got in trouble at school was because I was drawing on other kids (with permission, mind you).


Yet somehow, my family didn't see my life as a tattooist coming down the road.


In 2004, my family moved to Indiana, the first land-locked state I had ever lived in. I took my piles of horribly drawn tribal flash (fancy Microsoft Paint designs) to various tattoo shops in town, hoping someone would give me a shot as an apprentice. Whether due to being a female, young (I was 16 at the time), or my painfully sad attempts at tribal, I was rejected left and right. Just before giving up, I stumbled into a shop called Kutting Edge Tattoo, and met a rough guy that said I could "hang around, and we'll see what happens". Months after showing up daily to draw and observe, eventually I was entrusted with fancy duties such as vacuuming and copying ID's, which evolved into using the stencil machine and cleaning tubes, and even drawing up some designs for him. In October 2005, shortly after turning 17, he announced that I was ready to apply my first tattoo.


A dear friend of mine, who attended the studio almost daily with me, volunteered her leg, on which I did my first tattoo ever. I was INSTANTLY hooked.


My teacher trusted me to put his kid's names on his hands.

Drama ensued in the following years, causing me to leave that studio behind in attempts to save my young career. I ended up in another shop in town, New Breed, where another artist took me under his wing and filled in a lot of gaps left gaping from my first teacher. I grew a lot at that shop and felt that I was truly beginning to grasp the title of "tattoo artist". More drama closed that shop, and I bounced around a couple states in the Midwest including Missouri and Illinois, until I eventually ended up back home, where my journey began. I opened my own private studio, Xenographics, for a couple years, operating as my own entity, but I ended up closing the doors to that adventure when I was pregnant with my son.


Years later, I came to work for someone I met while working at New Breed. I was given room to grow at Crimson Breed, but it would not remain my home.


*August 2019 Edit* My current studio is Tattoo KAIJU in downtown Bloomington, Indiana.

I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has entrusted me with their skin, from the first to my latest appointments.


I've learned a ton of things along the way, so I'll share some of them here:


1. My apprenticeship, though not perfect, was invaluable. Don't skip out on this if you want any respect in this industry. You cannot learn this trade through "school" or online courses. Some of the difficulties that come with an apprenticeship will mold you and teach you both what to do, and what NOT to do.


2. You aren't too good for (insert tattoo subject/design here). While it is true that I have gotten to a point where I have my preferred subjects and very few things I draw a hard line on, I'm an honest worker and, well, I dig the ability to have electricity and water, and sometimes tattoos I don't particularly want to do keep my bills paid.


3. Honesty with clients is incredibly important. If I end up hating a design or subject, I will share that with you. As a paying client, you deserve an artist that cares about your skin and what you will wear forever. If I wake up on the wrong side of the bed and I am just not in a great place mentally to permanently alter your body, you'll know that too. I will always feel that the risk of upsetting someone/having to reschedule/losing a client is better than applying a bad tattoo.


4. The client is not always right. And you have to know how to communicate that if the time arises, and how to do so professionally. It is entirely possible to explain to a customer that their ideas are impractical/impossible without coming across as a jerk. Oftentimes, the key is to have a solution at the ready so you can follow up a negative with a positive.


5. Be willing to learn and change with the industry...within reason. Styles change, various subjects become popular, and I've hated some, and fallen in love with others. I swore that when I started tattooing I wasn't going to be one of these "skulls and roses" artists. Guess what my favorite subjects are...? I was also never going to use rotary machines...my Kwadron Proton pen says otherwise.

This October, I will celebrate 13 years of tattooing. These last couple of years have helped me grow so much, and I feel like I'm finally developing my style, and I'm happy with that. I hope to be doing this for years to come....and maybe one day I'll have another post with more journey wisdom!


If you're interested in reading more about my life as an artist, please follow my social media pages and subscribe to my blog for updates!


Kae Hutchens


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