Katrina Jackson, also known as Kat Tat, is the first black female tattoo shop owner in Beverly Hills. However, this is far from her first claim to fame. For the first three seasons, Jackson was a main cast member of Black Ink Crew: Chicago—which took her career as an artist to an internaitonal level over night. We had the chance to speak with Jackson about her new title as Boss Lady of Enigma Tattoo and learn how she transformed her life after TV.
When did you first develop an interest in art and was there a moment when you realized you could turn your talents into a career?
Katrina: I've been artistic from a young age. I think it's something that I inherited from my mother. She was an amazing artist and she used to draw me and my brothers when we were kids. She was a businesswoman, so she never really got to do anything with her talent. I knew I could make it a career when I was 16 when one of my drawings took first place in a high school competition. I got to go on a trip to Orlando to compete with 3,000 other students from around the country. That showed me that my art could actually take me somewhere, literally.
While people know you today as a tattoo artist, you enrolled at the University of Missouri to study mathematics? What made you leave that life behind and start tattooing?
Math and art were always my strong subjects. I ended up scoring really high on the math section of the ACT and ended up getting a huge scholarship because of it. I started tattooing during my free time down at Mizzou, in my dorm room. I would tattoo all of my friends and the other students after class or on the weekends. I became 'the tattoo girl' on campus and literally, everyone wanted a tattoo from me. I started focussing on that more than my school work, but it was paying off. My family saw my passion for tattooing and knew that I was just staying in school to make them happy. Eventually, my father gave me the green light to leave school and I made a promise not to let my family down.
How were you approached to be on Black Ink Crew: Chicago and what was your experience like working in that shop?
When I left school, my first priority to start working in a professional shop and become a tattoo artist. In September of 2013, I started working at 9mag, a shop composed of some of the best urban tattoo artists in Chicago. We formed a bond like no other and really became a family. A year later, we were approached by a production company looking to make a spin-off of the original Black Ink Crew. We didn't know what the show was for at the time, but we were all excited. They came into town and filmed us in our natural element for a weekend—and the rest is history.
How did being thrust into the public eye change you as an artist and a businesswoman?
Being thrust into the public eye was one of the biggest blessings I could have ever asked for and the timing was divine. By the time the show had come around, I had worked really hard to become a good artist and I was ready for the cameras to show the world my talent.
As far as being a businesswoman, I knew that as long as my business was intact, I would be okay with all the other components that come with reality TV. I paid a lot of attention to the behind-the scenes of everything, from contracts to production to networks to negotiations to management. This was something I've never had to deal with when I was just a tattoo artist, so those components helped shape me into more of a businesswoman as well.
What led you to open your own shop and was there an ‘ah-ha moment’ that made you pack up shop and head to Beverly Hills?
I've always been a very positive and bright spirit for the most part, but I realized that I wasn't quite myself anymore. Yeah, we had a hit show in Chicago, but my tattoo work was stagnant, my hair was falling out, I was fighting with my friends, I was drinking a lot and I was being taken advantage of. I felt myself self-destructing as it was happening and I just had to separate myself. I made the decision to move to LA and that's what I did. I was still a part of the show even after I moved to LA, but after certain circumstances I knew it was time for me to cut ties with Black Ink Chicago. I had come to the realization that this TV opportunity was over for me and I refused to walk away with nothing. I took the last of my savings and invested in my own shop. I literally had it built from the ground up and it was the best decision I could have ever made.
What was your process for building a team of artists for your shop and what qualities do you look for from the people you work alongside?
I was so scared when I made the decision to open the shop. What if no one wants to work there? Why would people want to work at my shop if I'm not on TV anymore? I'm not even from LA and I'm opening a whole business here, with basically nothing. But I kept going and I knew I wanted a ship with amazing artists, artists that were better than me and that I could learn from. So I shot high and had to get over my fear of rejection. And to my surprise, almost every artist that I had selected was all for it and super excited. Now, there are six of us and I couldn't have asked for a better team.
What does it mean to you to be the first black woman to open a tattoo shop in Beverly Hills and what does your shop add to this community?
How I ended up in Beverly Hills is so bizarre to me. I was literally driving down Pico BLVD and came across the spot. I took a look inside and even though it was completely burnt down, for some reason it felt right. I know God put me here to serve his purpose.
Black tattoo artists used to be looked down upon in this industry, but that's changing and it's partly my responsibility to keep that progression going. A lot of urban tattoo artists have settled for tattooing in their houses because it's harder to get into legitimate shops. I want to show what we can do when all the T's are crossed, I's are dotted and we come together to grow.
I want to add peace, love, growth and art to this community. People from the neighborhood come and support our events by getting tattooed. Also, people from the local markets come and bring us food, coffe and beverages while we're working. It's really beautiful to see.
In your opinion, why is it important for the world to see more black women owning their own business and who are women that you’ve looked up to over the years?
I think it's important, not just for black women, but young, black individuals period to have ownership of what they do. Diddy said something very profound that really stood out to me, 'Know your worth, if we don't own our culture then we have nothing.'
Some women that I have looked up to are my mother first and foremost, she's the most resilient woman I've ever known, as well as Kat Von D, Nicki Minaj, Michelle Obama and Miranda Priestly (even though she's a fictional character).
Where do you hope to be in one year, five years and ten years time?
In one year, I hope for my shop, Enigma, to be a booming business and one of the most famous and successful businesses in the country. In five years, I hope to own multiple businesses and be in a position to take care of my family. I want to move my dad to the West Coast, so he can golf whenever he wants and I want my mother to never have to work again. In 10 years, I hope to be in a position to not have to work so much and be able to step back so that I can start a family of my own.
What’s up next for Katrina Jackson and what can fans look forward to seeing from you in early 2019?
My main priority right now is to grow my business. My supporters can expect to be able to watch it happen and take the journey with me.