We recently connected with Kelly Taylor and have shared our conversation below.
Kelly, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. Have you been able to earn a full-time living from your creative work? If so, can you walk us through your journey and how you made it happen? Was it like that from day one? If not, what were some of the major steps and milestones and do you think you could have sped up the process somehow knowing what you know now?
If you would have asked me a few years ago if I thought I could make a living solely from creative work, I would have laughed and assured you that it was just not in the cards for me. I have been a licensed tattoo artist for almost 5 years, but I have only been tattooing full-time for one year, and have been a business owner for even less. Building a clientele is a very slow process, or at least that was my experience with it, so committing to tattooing full-time was not a possibility for several years. I had rent and bills to pay so I couldn’t just hope and pray that I’d be able to make ends meet. The logical solution for me was to have a full-time administrative job to pay for the necessities, and tattoo part-time in the evenings or weekends to pursue my passion. This was what my life looked like for years… working 7 days a week, always stressed and being stuck in an office that I felt I could never escape.
Once I received my body art practitioner license, I started working in a large, well-known tattoo shop. They were kind enough to let me work part-time hours, however the pressure to quit my office job was always there. I didn’t feel like I was in a place, financially, to give up my security blanket of regular, guaranteed paychecks. The shop, on the other hand, insisted that the only way I would grow as an artist would be to fully dive in and commit to the craft. They were absolutely right, but I wasn’t ready.
A year went by before I moved to a very small tattoo shop for a change of pace. This shop consisted of myself and one other artist who had no issues with my desire to work part-time, and didn’t pressure me to work more than I was able. I stayed in this full-time office job/ part time tattooing pattern for another 2 1/2 years… and then the pandemic hit. I was let go from my office job and I had a major decision to make. I could either rush out to find another administrative position, and continue on this path that left me feeling depleted and unhappy, or I could try to give tattooing a real chance and see what comes of it. I decided to take a risk, and dive in.
I was so nervous that I wouldn’t be able to book enough clients to make ends meet, but I was quickly assured that everything would be just fine. This pivotal moment felt like the Universe pat me on the back and pushed me in the right direction. Within a few weeks, I was booked a month out. Every time I would start to worry about not being able to make it, more clients would schedule appointments. This risk turned into a beautiful reminder that I was capable and I was ready. I worked for 5 months as a full-time tattoo artist before I decided to take another risk – a bigger risk! I was doing so well with clientele that I decided to start my own business and open a private tattoo studio. Every time I would start stressing about the cost of studio furniture, or paint, or flooring or anything that was going to be required for me to open a shop, more clients would schedule. This steady stream of trusting clients fueled my belief that I was making the right decision and that I could be a business owner.
I opened my private tattoo studio 8 months ago and it really just keeps getting better with each passing day. I am so fortunate that I had the opportunity to try something out of my comfort zone, because the outcome has been so rewarding. Sometimes I wish I could have listened to the artists at that first shop I worked for, and committed to tattooing sooner. Then again, I think you can feel when you are ready for something and when you are not, and it is important to follow your intuition. I don’t have any real regrets when it comes to the timing of it all, because I think my experiences with work over the past several years helped prime me for working for myself. If things come too easily, they are harder to appreciate.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Kelly, and I am the owner of Kelmonster Ink which is a private tattoo studio in Portland, Oregon. I specialize in botanical tattoos and love working with color-realism pieces. If it is something you can find in your garden, I want to tattoo it! This can range from roses, to foxes, to snails etc.
I never thought I would grow up to be a tattoo artist! My reason for getting into this industry is an odd one because it was fueled by a negative experience. Since the age of 15, I had always worked in customer-service related jobs. I loved to draw and paint in my spare time, but I never thought I would be making a career out of art. It wasn’t until I went to get my second tattoo at the age of 22, where my entire life path took a drastic turn. I had a very negative experience with the artist I was scheduled with in every way imaginable. This artist agreed to a flat rate price for the tattoo, but then changed their mind at the end of the first session and decided to charge me double their original asking price. In addition to the financial miscommunications, they used purples and yellows when I asked for brown and black. As if that weren’t enough, after 8 hours of getting tattooed, I was left with only an outline and was told they didn’t want to finish it. So there I was, out of money and left with an outline that no other artist wanted to touch. It is very common for tattoo artists to respectively decline working on tattoos that are not their own work, and I understood that, but it didn’t make the process any easier.
After this wild experience, I thought to myself… I can draw, and I work in customer service. I know how to treat people better than the way I was treated. I bet I could do a better job and put out positivity to negate this bad energy. So I bought a sketchbook and decided to draw every day for one year. If at the end of the year, I felt more confident in my art, I would pursue tattooing. I pretty much did just that, and by the end of the year I noticed a lot of progress just from consistently practicing. I then decided to follow through with my plan of becoming a tattoo artist and striving to give my clients the most positive experience possible.
I think what sets me apart from others is the tattoo environment I have created. I often hear from my clients that my studio is very cozy and relaxing and that they don’t want to leave! I often play relaxing music in the background while tattooing and it is quite common for people to fall asleep during their appointment. I try to make people feel safe and happy every day.
For you, what’s the most rewarding aspect of being a creative?
The most rewarding part of being a tattoo artist is being able to create a design that will truly speak to my client because they are going to carry it with them for the rest of their life. I may spend one day tattooing a design, but that person is going to have that design through every experience moving forward, which is a crazy thing to think about. The idea that I can change lives by making people feel better about themselves is a truly amazing gift. Tattoos are more than just a piece of art on skin, they can make people feel more confident in who they are.
When you create a piece of art, tattoos or otherwise, you are essentially giving a piece of yourself to the person receiving it. To pour all of your love into a piece of creative work is a powerful thing, and I get to do this daily. Artists make a big impact on lives, long after they sell their work, and that is beautiful gift for all creatives.
How can we best help foster a strong, supportive environment for artists and creatives?
Word of mouth is so incredibly important for artists! If you like someones artwork, tell your friends, family and co-workers! You can also share their work on social media because social media plays a large role in how many people see our work. It may seem like a small thing to tell your friends about an artist you noticed, but you never know what those connections may lead to. I would say about half of my clientele come from word of mouth so spreading the word is a wonderful way to support each other.
- Website: www.kelmonster.com
- Instagram: kelmonsterrr
Just me and my camera :)