Kris Richter: Beyond The Ink
By Kris Richter
My artist, B.J. Nigh, talked me into getting my first tattoo. I liked it, so I went back. I liked it again, so I went back again. The next time I went in, he suggested a new tattoo…”Skull flowers!”, he greeted me as I approached his station where he was currently tattooing. “What?” I asked. “Skull flowers! Let’s do a skull flower!” he said…
I went to my first tattoo convention in Council Bluffs, Iowa, about seven years ago with my boyfriend at the time. We got there in time to walk around once or twice before the tattoo contest started. I wanted to take B.J. home a trophy! And I did…I ended up winning first place Best Small Black and Grey for the safety pins on my arm.
When I walked off stage, I was handed a card with a picture of International Tattoo Art magazine. It said I had a photo shoot if I wanted it, with Bill DeMichele, and to be at this room at this time. I was sooo excited! I went to the photo shoot and Bill told me how much he loved all the work I had. He asked me about my artist, and I told Bill that B.J. would be tattooing at the APT in Kansas City the following weekend.
I went home and I was on cloud nine! I called B.J. to tell him the news, and then I went back to normal life. The following Friday, however, I got a phone call from B.J. while I was at work. He said Bill found him at the convention and wanted to photograph me again. So, with almost no money, I made the 3 hour drive to Kansas City. This convention was even bigger than the Council Bluffs one! I met a few people, since I stayed the weekend, and I had a blast.
Bill ended up inviting B.J. to tattoo at Lyle Tuttle’s Old School Tattoo Expo a few months later, in November. We were both stoked, this was huge! This was about the time B.J. suggested the ‘Skull flowers!’. So we outlined the first one, on the ball of my shoulder, a few weeks before the convention.
Now, this was the 2nd Annual Old School Expo, which means it was still held in the City Museum in St. Louis. (It’s now held in the hotel.)
The City Museum was such a magical place! It’s literally a giant play place for kids and adults alike…if you’ve never been, I highly suggest going! To hear the sound of so many tattoo machines, and hear the on-goings of the convention in that atmosphere was incredible!
Our booth was set up in a nice spot, near the door in one of the rooms. The first day, I sat down to get tattooed. I sat for 6 1/2 hours, my longest sit, to complete my first skull flower. I was shocked at the amount of people who continuously gathered around our booth to watch the progress. We finished in time to enter the Best of Day contest, and… WE WON! The rest of the weekend I walked around the convention with the piece everyone was talking about, and it sparked conversations with people who remain good friends of mine to this day.
I think that was about the time I knew that tattoos were for me. Everything about them, I loved. Not just having them, but the people involved, the history behind it, and the atmosphere it could create.
When we got back home, I decided I wanted to expand my skull flower tattoo into a half sleeve. B.J. offered me a job at the shop doing odd jobs, and helping run the counter in exchange for tattoo time. I didn’t even bat an eye, and although I worked full-time, I started part-time at the shop immediately. I continued going to the St. Louis convention yearly (although I did miss one year), and a few others as I could.
I always said that my ideal vacation would be to a tattoo convention. I love the family reunion atmosphere they have, the magic of seeing old friends, the spark of new friendships, and the love we all share of one incredible art form (or craft, or however you choose to describe it).
It’s funny that life has led me down this path. I never intended to end up working in the tattoo industry. I went to college for Computer Aided Design and Drafting. I quit because I wanted to go into public speaking. I was going to specialize in speaking about green building techniques, since that was what I had wanted to design.
On Orlando Rodriguez’s recommendation, I joined Toastmasters, an international public speaking club. You had to write speeches to give, and you would be ‘graded’ by the others in the class to help you become a better speaker. In speech, you’re supposed to write about something you have life experience in, and that you are passionate about. While I wanted to specialize in green building, my speeches always seemed to end up being about tattoos. Keep in mind that the club I joined was in an engineering firm, and most of the members worked there. But they loved it. They always seemed to look forward to my speeches, and they didn’t ever really have much critique for me.
I should probably tell you now, so it doesn’t come as a surprise to you later, that I tend to have crazy ideas and not much fear. So when I had this idea for a tattoo web series that actually showed the REALITY of the tattoo industry, I decided to go for it. Haha, even though I wasn’t sure what that meant, at the time. I was just tired of seeing bad tattoos on people, and the people being so proud of those tattoos. It was like, how do you not see how BAD that is?? And I never wanted to laugh at people, I really felt bad for them…but as I started to pay more attention, I started to see that it wasn’t really their fault. Their only source of information about tattoos was what they saw on tv, and what their friends said. Neither of which are good sources of information, at least about this subject.
I decided that if I wanted to do this right, I needed to do some research and development. I mean, I already had a good basis of knowledge about tattoos, but if I were going to pull off something this big I would need more than that. So in May 2010 quit my job. Yes, my nice corporate job. And I started full-time at the shop, Big O Tattoo, this time for money…not much, but I managed to get by.
I learned a lot while working their full time. I learned that people price shop. They want a sleeve in two hours for $40, and they want it now or never. They don’t need to look at a portfolio, because they just want a small piece…so it doesn’t really matter who the artist is. The artist isn’t going to be as good as Kat Von D anyways. They want and they want and they want…yet they have no clue. Then I noticed that as you tried to educate them, they would always play the magic card, “Well the guy down the street said…”
Imagine if you could respond to those people with, “Yeah, well if you want to know the truth, just go look at **THIS** website, or go to **THIS** seminar…or better yet, look at **THIS** poster on the wall explaining from a credible source that I AM telling you the truth! All of a sudden the guy down the street looks like an idiot, the client is more at ease because they know what to believe, and the whole working relationship improves. **THIS** Is Beyond the INK.
In a few months I will have been at this for two years, though most people have only known about it for one. I work on it every day (seriously, watch the Facebook page) The ‘tattoo ‘web series’ didn’t work out so well for me, since realizing there’s no way I have the resources or money to put together quality, professional episodes. But Beyond the INK has evolved itself into much more than just some show. Artists and collectors alike have truly shown how much they want (and we need) a centralized spot to help educate the masses.
I’m honestly humbled by the show of support I’m getting for Beyond the INK, from artists and collectors alike. It only makes me want to work harder, to make this whole thing work.
So 20 months after I started this journey, I have changed everything in my life and am about a week and a half into my ten month road trip. I am visiting tattoo shops and conventions all over the US and Canada, and video blogging the whole way so everyone can get a taste of the experiences I have. I have a seminar prepared called ‘The Truth About Tattoos’, specifically designed for the general public. I have tattoo shops and conventions allowing me to come in, and promoting it to get a crowd there.
I knew nothing when I started my journey into the tattoo world, almost seven years ago. I’ve learned it, I’ve lived it, and I love it…but something tells me my experiences this far are nothing compared to what this year will bring! I look forward to meeting more people who feel the same way I do about the importance of getting this message out there, and learning from each and every one of them as well.
I will be releasing video blogs the entire way to give everyone a feel for the REAL tattoo industry, and to kind of experience the road trip with me. So log online at facebook.com/BeyondtheINK to stay informed daily, and check back here next month if you enjoyed today’s story. Month One on the road ought to be pretty interesting! (Oh, and feel free to buy a shirt, to help pay for my gas and food habits along the way!)
I propose one that’s ran by the tattoo industry, and not by the corporate world…they wouldn’t get it right, anyways. I spent the last year doing interviews with artists around the country. The one consistent question was ‘What advice would you give to an individual who didn’t know anything about tattoos, when they wanted to start getting tattooed?’ It was remarkable how all the answers were the same…there was a wide range of them, but they were all the same.
So I took those answers, organized them, and broke them down into nine different categories of things that people should think about, know, or consider before getting tattooed. (I have to admit, though, I did add in a category that many clients don’t think is important: ‘Respect: You get what you give.’) That is the basis for Beyond the INK. Straight from the artists themselves…how could you NOT support it?