By Megan McClure
Photos by Zack Gross
Kate Collins wants to take over the world. A tattoo artist at Sick Creations Tattoo in Thorofare, New Jersey, Collins is living the life not many are able to do and is doing exactly what she’s always dreamed of doing. In her quest for world domination, Collins will do whatever she can to get herself and her name out there and is not, in any way, above shameless self promotion, “I want to let people know it is possible to do something you love,” she says.
Bouncing around the country from Vorhees, New Jersey, where she was born, to El Centro, California, located near the Mexican border, Collins finally settled in the City of Brotherly Love where, at nineteen, she was hosting punk rock shows in a basement in West Philly.
Art of the non-music variety, however, was always her calling. In high school, she took college prep courses, in preparation her for her eventual enrollment at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts where she graduated in 2007 with a degree in Graphic Illustration. From there, she put in time as a screenprinter, as well as an illustrator for the Chicago based Quarterly, Venus Zine.
Collins’ work, no matter the medium, has an ethereal yet dark quality to it while still remaining both feminine and beautiful. Her favorite mediums to work in are vast, and include acrylic, spray paint and wheatpasting, a method of adhering her pen and ink drawings to any surface, literally making the world her canvas. Collins’ first love, though, is tattooing. “It’s the best medium I’ve had the opportunity to work with,” she says, “especially since not many people get to do it.”
The most memorable tattoo experience she has had thus far was when a friend asked Collins to tattoo a piece of her own artwork onto his leg. It was a picture she had done of a fox and a beehive, and she says, “All of a sudden it hit me: I’m really lucky to be doing this.” She loves that people want to put her work on themselves permanently and feels a great sense of pride and honor in that.
She always knew she wanted to be an artist, but was constantly met with people who told her she couldn’t do it. They told her she’d be living the stereotypical starving artist lifestyle, which she refused to believe. “Persistance gets you far,” she says, which is something she got from her father. Since Collins was already heavily tattooed by the time she reached college, she thought mastering the art herself was the next logical step.
Once she picked her direction, another stereotype was waiting to slap her in the face – the boys’ club that rules much of the tattoo industry. Finally, after a heavy dose of that aforementioned persistence, Collins found good people that took her under her wing and taught her. “Now I’m really living my dream.”
How many tattoos does Collins have? “Too many to count,” she laughs. She says it becomes an exchange of creativity between tattoo artists, “The tattoos become a way to collect your art,” and says they can add up pretty quick.
Influences include Alfonse Mucha and Takashi Murakami as far as illustration goes. She loves their ability to crossover from fine art to advertising and back again. “Their work can go both ways and still be beautiful.”
Tattoo artists that she strives to emulate are Damien Rodriguez, Rachi Brains and Marcus Kuhns. “I appreciate Kuhns and his outlook on life and the tattoo industry. He’s doing what he wants without the drama that goes along with the industry. He’s trying to make tattooing more of a fine art.”
As far as adopting Kuhns’ philosophy as her own, “I’m trying to get there,” Collins says, “but I’m still young.” At twenty-five, she also says she’s still learning.
Right now, Collins has a solo showing of her work at 1601 Café on S. 10th Street which will run through early December. She’s previously had work up at the Sailor Jerry store at 116-118 S. 13th Street where she participated in the A Sailor’s Grave Art Show in which artists put forth their best tribute to Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, the iconic tattoo artist. Last October, The Autumn Society, alongside the Philadelphia Cartoonist Society partnered to host a Halloween themed show at Proximity Art Gallery in Fishtown. Among the thirty artists displaying their work, Collins’ contribution was a piece entitled Dia de los Muertos.
Pabst Blue Ribbon even used one of her creations for a billboard. She entered the PBR Art Contest, and before any winners were even notified, PBR contacted Collins wanting to know if they could use her entry for advertising. Collins learned of the billboard when a friend called her and told her they’d spotted it along Route 76 near the University City exit.
“I draw everyday of my life,” Collins says, and she loves the different challenges that tattooing presents her with. She likes the interaction with clients and hearing what they want and trying to make it work. Learning the art was a challenge in and of itself at the start.
When Collins started tattooing two years ago, she labeled the initial experience as nerve wracking, saying, “You go through a lot of guinea pigs.” She says it helped her improve as an illustrator, too, because tattooing forces her to think about every little thing she’s doing, especially when there are a bunch of guys huddled around her as she was learning, some with decades more experience than her. “You cannot mess up,” she says and adds with a chuckle, “but you play it cool.”
Collins’ work can be viewed on her website, www.katecollinsart.com