Drawing since an early age, world-renowned tattoo artist Katherine “Tatu Baby” Flores was born to etch awe-inspiring designs on skin. She got her first tattoo as a young teen, and it was love at first prick. Inspired by her tattoo artist, young Katherine ditched her interest in animation, picked up a tattoo machine and hasn’t stopped slinging ink ever since.
Tattooing for over a decade now, the Miami-based artist with Colombian roots has built an impressive, award-winning portfolio. Tatu Baby has also appeared on Spike TV’s hit reality tattoo competition show “Ink Master” twice (the second time was by being voted back on the show as the fan favorite). And, most recently, she became a new mom to four-month-old Deniro Roman Soto.
We caught up with Tatu Baby to talk about her career in body art, the differences between being a female, Latina artist in the tattoo industry back then and now, and life as an ink-slinging mommy.
What was it about tattooing that inspired you to pick up a tattoo machine?
When I was very young—I had just turned 14-years-old—I got my first tattoo. When I saw the artist drawing the tattoo something clicked in me. I could draw. I’ve been drawing since I was born. So, why not tattoo? Shortly after, a friend of mine helped me make a homemade tattoo machine, and I took it just as a hobby. You know, when you’re young and you’re just experimenting with things. It wasn’t until I was 19 that I decided to take it professionally.
What motivated the decision to go pro?
Well, I tried a different career. I actually went to school for computer animation, but I guess it was the challenge of tattooing that I loved the most. When you tattoo something, there’s no eraser—there’s no going back. You have to do it right the first time, and I just love doing it more than anything else I’ve tried. Also, it was something that was permanently on somebody else’s body that is representing my work. So, it was something of honor and the challenge of it altogether.
You mentioned making a homemade machine and working on folks when you first began, but how about when you first made the decision to go full time—did you seek out an apprenticeship from a professional tattoo artist in the industry, or did you continue learning on your own?
Fortunately, I was very lucky and never messed up anybody’s tattoo. I was young. I was uneducated about how the tattoo industry worked, so, no—I never looked for an apprenticeship. I pretty much had friends that didn’t care that let me tattoo and practice on them. It worked really well. By the time that I decided to go into tattooing professionally, I already had sort of made a name for myself, and I started working at a very prestigious shop, which was Chico’s Marked 4 Life [in Miami, FL].
The tattoo industry is mostly made up of male artists. Was it difficult breaking into the business as, not only a female artist, but also, a Latina artist?
When I first started, we didn’t have [TV] shows or anything like that. It was something that wasn’t as big as it is now. I felt like it was really difficult for me in a sense of having certain respectful clients and artists at [tattoo] conventions. One, I was very young. I didn’t have that many tattoos myself. I was Hispanic, and I was a woman. I remember this one time I went around the beach looking for a job, and they didn’t ask to see my portfolio. They just judged me off what I looked like, which was crazy because my work was as good as the portfolios they had at their shops. A lot of people gave me the cold shoulder. But, thanks to Pride and to Chico’s Marked 4 Life, because they’re definitely the ones who helped me out a lot during my early career.
Aside from Pride, was there another artist at the shop that took you under their wing when you first started there?
I was a big black and grey artist. I had already practiced a lot with it. It was Hector Arriaga who actually inspired me to do a lot of color. Working together we learned a lot from each other. He definitely taught me a lot.
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