She was always referred to as “tat girl” when walking around the University of Missouri-Columbia’s (Mizzou) campus, but now the rest of the nation knows her as Kat Tat Girl. I had the privilege of meeting Katrina as we were both pursuing our undergraduate degrees at Mizzou. You couldn’t hold a conversation with Katrina without her grinning from ear to ear the entire time: a very kind spirited woman but very diligent about her work. Much like the rest of #BlackMizzou, I would make an attempt to get a tat between classes and work, or whenever that refund check would bless my checking account.
As time progressed, I could see how Katrina’s passion for her artistry grew beyond the walls of campus, and witnessed the day she made the decision to leave Mizzou and pursue tattooing full time. After arriving back in Chicago, it wasn’t until 2014 that she joined Ryan Henry (owner), Phor (artist) and Van (artist) in opening 9 Mag Tattoo Studio. In honor of his late sister, Nova Henry and niece, Ava Curry (who were murdered back in 2009), Ryan Henry opened 9 Mag and has developed a highly reputable name since. Kat, who is considered the “little sister” of 9 Mag as she is the only female artist in the shop, has much of the traffic in and out of the studio attributed to her but can be quite hard to catch as her appointments book up for weeks in advance. VH1’s Black Ink Crew: Chicago is the spin-off from Black Ink Crew: New York (aired in 2013) that documents the day-to-day operations of Black Owned tattoo shops. With the media portraying Chicago as America’s very own city full of turmoil and strife “Chi-Raq”, 9 Mag seeks to highlight the unity of urban entrepreneurship and the transparency of overcoming personal struggles.
So how did Kat go from higher education to ink parlors? Read below for my interview with VH1’s Black Ink Crew: Chicago star as she tells her story of dropping out of college to becoming one of the most talented tattoo artists in the game.
Was the nickname “Kat Tat Girl” given to you or was the name self-made given your profession?
Walking around Mizzou’s campus everyone would refer to me as the “tat girl” because at the time I was tattooing any and everybody I could in my dorm room. So when it came to making a Twitter account, I thought KatTatGirl was fitting lol.
Considering art has always been a passion of yours, when did tattooing necessarily become a passion for you? Do you remember the first person that you gave a tattoo?
I knew I wanted to be a tattoo artist from the time I got my first tattoo at 17. When I got to Mizzou, nobody knew me so I introduced myself as a tattoo artist from Chicago, even though I had never even held a tattoo machine before. I had everybody so hype waiting on my tattoo kit to arrive! The first person I ever tattooed was a friend of mine in the STP (Summer Transition Program), he had a jacked up tattoo and was gonna let me fix it. Everyone came to my dorm room to watch. Right before we started I had quietly told him I had never done this before, but he didn’t care. So we got right to it.
When first preparing to go to the University of Missouri, did you already have an idea of what you wanted to do? How was your college experience for you while you were there?
I knew I wanted to be a tattoo artist but my other passion was math, and that’s also the field that landed me my scholarship. I was gonna be a high school math teacher. I had it all planned out. I’m like I can teach during the day, grade papers then tattoo at night and during winter and summer breaks. Yea right lol. Tattooing took up most of my time and interest, so my grades suffered. And it didn’t take me too long to realize that if I wanted to be great at tattooing, I would have to dedicate 100% of my time to it. So I spent most of my college years as a half a*s student and a half a*s tattoo artist. But I had so much fun in college and learned a whole lot about life, education, relationships, and friendships along the way. Mizzou played a huge role in the person I am today and also a huge role in my career.
You majored in Mathematics. Was this something you were already naturally good at?
I’ve always loved math. I was in the math Olympiad as a child and was also a Mathlete lol. I would be the only student in some of my high school math classes to get a perfect score on tests. I was never a really good student, and my overall high school GPA was low, but I ended up scoring a 29 on the math component on the ACT, which landed me my scholarship at Mizzou for students with bad grades but high test scores.
What was your “it” moment where you made the decision to drop out and pursue tattooing full time? Were family and friends supportive of this decision? Do you have any regrets?
I knew I wanted to drop out after my freshman year, but my family insisted that I go ahead and finish school. The real reason I stayed at Mizzou so long was because I was in love. The guy I was dealing with at the time also convinced me that it would be a good idea to do both, but I knew in my heart I was down there for the wrong reasons. I had my “it moment” when I was a senior, and everyone was reaching their goals and getting ready to graduate. I felt like a bum. There was no way I would graduate on time because of my poor performance, I had switched majors a million times. My tattoo work wasn’t at the level that I knew it could potentially be. And I was completely sprung over some guy who was doing his own thing. I was lost and I was miserable. My father is the biggest advocate for education in my family and I knew how important it was to him that I graduated. But he knew I had been unhappy for a while and finally gave me the green light to come home. I have no regrets. Mizzou prepared me for the journey I was about to embark on and I’m so so grateful that I had the opportunity to go there.
How soon after did you start tattooing full-time in a shop after leaving Mizzou?
During my breaks home from school, I would tattoo at a shop right down the street from my house in Harvey, IL called Victory Tattoo. So when I dropped out I started working there right away. Then started working at another shop in Steger IL. I was balancing working at 2 shops before we opened 9Mag.
I watched an interview where you mentioned how small the female tattooist population is? Do you feel that people take your profession seriously as a woman and an attractive woman at that (prior to Black Ink Chicago)?
When I first started tattooing, I knew for a fact people didn’t take me seriously. In the beginning, it was more about “oh damn a girl that tats.” And people would come to me just for that reason. But I busted my a*s to get my work to a level where it speaks for itself and it doesn’t matter who or what I am. People just want the work. I’m happy I did it the right way. Different outlets would reach out to me before I was even a professional, just because I was a girl. I didn’t want to put myself or my work out there on a higher scale until I knew it was my best. Thankfully, Black Ink Chicago came around after I was already established and putting out amazing tattoos.
How did Black Ink Chicago come about? Were you always on board?
By the time the production companies found us, the guys and I had already formed a remarkable bond. We were grinding together, learning from one another, going through life together, and most importantly putting out great artwork. So when we heard they were interested in us, we were all super excited. We didn’t go to any casting calls and we weren’t trying to get picked up for a show. Somehow they found us. That was an amazing feeling. We were all on board since day one.
There is no denying that you are beyond talented with the ink. How would you describe your style? Who inspired you to commit to this profession?
I’d consider myself a well-rounded artist and sufficient in most styles of tattooing, but my signature style is realism and soft shading. I’m inspired by a lot of powerful female influences, but when it came to committing to tattooing as a lifestyle, Kat Von D was my biggest inspirations. I used to read her books when I was in school, wishing I had to courage to say “F” everything that isn’t tattoo related lol.
If you weren’t a tattoo artist, what else do you think you would do?
I have no idea what I’d be doing if I weren’t a tattoo artist. I’ve always been involved in some creative activity since a child. From doing nails in my kitchen, to making jewelry, to redesigning old clothes. So if I didn’t end up being a math teacher I’d probably be some type of designer. I just recently designed a bracelet that was featured on Fox hit TV show Empire, that was pretty dope.
With reality TV, I know we only see what producers want us to see. So much is filmed and cut out of the final product. Do you feel your role is portrayed in a way that you anticipated? What is something you want viewers to know about you that the show may not air to us?
You know watching the show back, I can honestly say I’m 100% being myself. For some reason I had in my head that the show would never air. So I wasn’t too pressed about having my makeup done, or being fly everyday, or acting out of my character. I think I’m pretty chill on the show so far, it didn’t hit me that I would be on national TV until after we had already filmed the whole season and the commercials started airing lol.
To other women aspiring to be where you are, what is a piece of advice you want to give them?
I’d tell other women to go hard for their dreams, stay focused, work hard, and never be afraid to shine.
The first season of Black Ink Chicago crew has ended, but you can catch up with Kat and the rest of the Black Ink Chicago Crew on Hulu.
Follow Kat on IG/Twitter @KatTatGirl