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Art is Skin Deep for Katie Harris

Katie Harris - Tattooing a client

Upon graduating from Cross Roads ISD in 2016, Katie Harris felt lost in what she wanted to do for her career. She knew she needed to go to college, so she chose Trinity Valley Community College to pursue her basics.


“I knew I needed to go to college, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Harris explained. “At the end of my senior year of high school my dad died, so I spent my senior year and a few months after kind of lost and depressed. I was just going through the motions of life and doing what I felt like I had to do.”


As part of her basic classes at TVCC, Harris registered for an online art appreciation class. During the class, Harris had to complete a small sketch project to showcase shadowing when Art Department Coordinator and Professor of Studio Art September Kirk noticed her work.


“I submitted my work for the class and September Kirk would always add comments to our work,” Harris said. “Well, she left a comment on my sketch, and it said, ‘Your work is decent. You should consider taking a studio class.’ When I saw her note, I thought to myself, ‘You know maybe I should take a studio class!’ I never would have been brave enough to take studio classes without her encouragement.”


In Harris’ second year of TVCC, she decided to add studio classes to her schedule. Harris explained that she went to the Advising Office and explained to the advisor the classes she felt were necessary.


“I would create my schedule at home with my basic classes and add in studio art for the upcoming semester,” Harris said. “I took my schedule to an advisor and said this is what I wanted. She was like this is great and handed me a bear sticker as a good job. In that moment, I felt like I had gotten my life together. I even got a tattoo of a little bear to commemorate that moment.”


Once Harris started taking art classes she was hooked. She quickly connected to Kirk, her classes, and the studio.


“There’s just something special about being in the studio,” Harris mentioned. “I would go into her room for classes and wouldn’t leave until I had to go to band in the afternoon. In the studio, all the students would talk about their art and feed off each other. September would walk around the studio and help us. She’s a good teacher. I learned a ton from her.”


Harris explained her test in the studio classes would consist of art critiques from fellow classmates and Kirk. But Kirk allowed the critiques to feel exciting for the students by bringing snacks and making it feel like a party instead of a test. Kirk would ask for students to display their artwork, explain it and how it pertains to the coursework then have fellow students comment and critique the work.


“I feel like our test and art critiques were different with her than they would be at a university,” Harris commented. “I feel like at a university they would be uppity about art education, but September was always genuine and kind to us. She was good at giving constructive critiques and I never felt bad about myself or my work. I always felt like I was getting critiques to make me better.”


During her time at TVCC, Harris submitted artwork to multiple art shows. During the 2018 Spring Cardinal Art Show and Auction, Harris won the popular vote for best of show. She also shared that she would assist Kirk in organizing the end of the semester art shows and assist in the set-up and tear-down.


Harris shared that students interested in an art class at TVCC should give it a try.


“If you don’t think you should take a studio art class because you’re not a good artist that may be the exact reason why you should take a studio class,” Harris mentioned. “The more you do something the better you will get at it. The art classes at TVCC had people from all sorts of different skill levels. Ms. Kirk would always grade us on a scale of what we were capable of and if we were using the skills we were learning. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good artist because she would never compare you to another artist. I really appreciated that about Ms. Kirk and TVCC.”


Harris looks toward an artistic career


After taking all the art classes offered at TVCC, Harris started looking into artistic opportunities that she could start a career in when she decided upon tattooing.


“I started watching a lot of videos and listening to podcasts,” Harris explained. “I found the tattoo artist Bobby Cupparo and I loved his work, but he had a podcast where he would interview other artists. In the interviews, they would always talk about the apprenticeships, and I thought maybe I should look into that.”


Harris started calling and messaging tattoo shops in the Tyler area asking about apprenticeship opportunities and if they would be interested in working with her.


“There were two shops I was interested in,” Harris said. “La Familia because they do amazing black and grey [tattoos] and Hydra Tattoo Company. I saw Derek’s [owner of Hydra Tattoo Company] color work and I really wanted to learn how he does it.”


In early 2020, Harris reached out to Derek Kastning and asked about an opportunity to apprentice with him. At the time, Kastning wasn’t offering the opportunity, but a few days later reconsidered it, reached out to Harris, and asked if she was interested in an interview.


“I went to the interview and Derek was saying ‘It’s going to be hard and you’re not going to make money when you first start. I’m going to be mean to you and there’s no crying allowed,’” Harris explained. “I think he was expecting me to say, ‘Oh no, this is too hard for me’, but I had learned from September that the only way you learn how to get better in art is for someone to tell you what you’re doing wrong. With Derek, I got the vibe from him that he was going to be critical and tell me what I needed to do.


In mid-2020, Harris started her apprenticeship with Kastning by watching him tattoo and assisting in the shop. She first started with line work tattoos then black and grey tattoos then moved into color. The first tattoo she completed was fixing a tattoo previously done by Kastning that needed a touch-up.


“Derek’s a great teacher!” Harris exclaimed. “Honestly, I was just lucky to get the opportunity to apprentice. For some artists, the process isn’t as smooth or doesn’t happen plus it was during the pandemic. Derek’s been tattooing for around 23 years, so he has a lot to teach me. I remember one day, I left the shop, and he called me asking if I could meet him and his wife at a restaurant. I just thought to myself, ‘Oh my god! My apprenticeship is over and he’s going to kick me out of the nest. I’m not ready. I don’t want to go!’ But when I met him at the restaurant, he gifted me my first tattoo machine.”


Katie The Tattoo Lady begins to make her mark


Since Harris has completed her apprenticeship, she’s been tattooing clients from Hydra Tattoo Company in Tyler. Harris, known as Katie the Tattoo Lady on her Instagram, has noticed an influx in clients through Facebook, Instagram, and referrals.


“I primarily tattoo women and we are on an appointment only basis,” Harris explained. “I get to meet a lot of cool people! I get to do a variety of work, so I don’t get bored with my job. I have a lot of people that come to me because I make them feel comfortable and make their needs or wants heard.”


Harris feels hopeful that her career will continue to grow as an artist and a tattoo artist.


“I like who I am now, and I like what I do,” Harris shared. “I feel hopeful for the future because I kind of didn’t have a plan for my life outside of college. Never would have thought I would be here, but a lot of people in my life tell me that this career makes sense for me. None of my family or friends were surprised when I mentioned I was going to start a tattoo apprenticeship or become a tattoo artist.”


Harris feels without the support of her family, loved ones and mentors she wouldn’t be on her career path as a tattoo artist.


“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of Brady – my boyfriend,” Harris said. “You don’t make a lot of money during an apprenticeship. But he supported me and it inspired him to look into a managerial position. Derek really supported me. People that get tattooed by me support me and are excited for my journey. My mom was excited and thought it was cool, she even had me tattoo her. I think my dad would be proud of me and would be super tatted up.”


Harris feels her career and love for art was motivated by three people.


“Art is very important to me and has been a constant in my life,” Harris mentioned. “It was the only thing I stayed interested in. But I’ve had three mentors in my art career that helped me. My art teacher in high school Jennifer Everett, September Kirk at TVCC and now Derek. Ms. Everett helped me relearn my love for art and inspired me. It wasn’t until September said something to me that I thought I could pursue art in college and showed me I could make a career in art. I had been going through the motions of life for a while. September and the studio classes helped me feel awake again. Derek helped change my life and make my career happen. I’ve grown a lot and get to do things I like doing and enjoy because of them.”

Posted Date:
3/22/2024 9:12:32 AM