The Beachcomber: 18 Miles of Styles August 2015

Tattoo Trends and Cosmic Conclusions With Artist Kelly Killagain

By VICTORIA FORD | Aug 14, 2015

These days, perhaps no other accessory says more about personal style than a work of skin art – or, in many cases, a collection. Kelly Killagain is a Tuckerton resident, a 2013 graduate of Moore College of Art and Design in the disciplines of fine art and creative writing, and a tattoo artist at Premium Blend Tattoo in Manahawkin. The Beachcomber caught up with the talented young inksmith to pick her brain for a present-day perspective on the ancient art of tattooing. She will display her work at the upcoming Maker’s Festival at Beachview Farms on Saturday, Sept. 19, so be sure to stop by her booth to say “hey” and maybe contemplate the cosmos awhile.

Do tattoo artists typically adopt a professional moniker (like a pen name/ stage name)? Can you tell me more about that moment in the coffee shop when your professional persona was born?

Not everyone, but some tattoo artists have “stage names.” Probably the most commonly known female ones are Kat Von D and Megan Massacre. I’m not sure why some tattoo artists choose to use a stage name, but a couple years ago I was in a coffee shop having a discussion about my tattoo career. Mike, my boyfriend, sarcastically posed the question “So, are you going to be Kelly Von D?” And jokingly, I replied, “No ... What about Kelly Chaos?” A chain reaction of crazy nicknames emerged, ranging from Kelly Katastrophe to Kelly Killagain, which is a play on my last name, Colligan. Immediately Mike said, “That’s it. You know you have to use that now, don’t you? It's too good.” and I scoffed at the ridiculous idea. However, it didn’t take long before people were hashtagging Kelly Killagain everywhere, so I eventually caved and adopted it. It makes me laugh because I’m clearly a friendly young girl who can’t even squash bugs, but Kelly Killagain is memorable. I personally think having a pseudo-name can be helpful for your brand, and it’s an added bonus concealing your actual name, which helps keep strangers at a comfortable distance from your personal life.

How did you get your start in this line of work?

I was extremely lucky. Ty Pallotta, the owner of Premium Blend and also an incredibly talented tattoo artist, gave me the extraordinary opportunity to learn how to tattoo. He and his wife, Robyn, mentored me and gave me an apprenticeship, which is a requirement for all tattoo artists. Many people I’ve met assumed tattooing was taught in a course at art school, but that’s absolutely false.

Whence do you draw your inspiration for your own art? (And for your sculpture, in particular?) Do you make art for pleasure in your own time?

My personal artwork, no matter the medium, always pulls from notions surrounding the animal world, the human world, and the weird area where the two collide. My sculptures harness my fascination with the psychology behind and the interactions between humans and animals (also known as anthrozoology). Specifically, my Human-Animal series poses questions about our longing for connection, be it people or companion animals.

I like to think I draw, paint and sculpt for pleasure in my own time, but that’s a dreamy way to put it. Being a tattoo artist, I have little free time because I’m constantly tattooing or designing/prepping for my next tattoos. But at the same time, I try to maintain a body of work that is solely mine. Making art is how I process things, so it’s important I continue my personal work that is separate from the work I create for clients. It’s a strange, delicate balance that I’m still trying to perfect.

How busy are you with tattooing?

Pretty busy right now, but summer always is. Everyone wants a tattoo before they head back to college, before they move back to their home state, or before summer is over and they can’t show off their new tattoos.

Is your client base a lot of regulars or one-timers?

I have a nice-sized client base of regulars that continues to grow. I do tattoo one-timers as well, who are always really interesting people. I once tattooed a 72-year-old woman who agreed to get a tattoo of a tiny martini glass if her mother reached 100 years old. I’ll most likely never see her back at the shop, but it was really fun seeing her follow through with her mother’s wish (after calling my black nitrile gloves “macabre”).

How is it different (for you) when you’re working on a client with many tattoos, versus a first-timer? For those who are nervous, how do you create an atmosphere of calm?

No matter if they have full sleeves or if it’s their first time in a tattoo shop, I try to make everyone as comfortable as possible. I also find it helpful to remind people that the nerves surrounding their first tattoo are far worse than the actual feeling of being tattooed.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting his or her first tattoo?

I recommend researching the tattoo shop and artist to ensure you will be getting tattooed in a clean, reputable shop by an artist who has a strong portfolio. It’s also important to make sure you know what it is you truly would like on your body for forever.

How do you handle the pressure of the permanence, of having to make each and every finished piece “perfect”?

Well, anyone who knows me personally knows I am a chronically anxious person. With that being said, I’ve trained myself to concentrate more on making the design as perfect as possible and when it is time to tattoo it, I need to forget it’s permanent and just focus on doing my very best work.

What excites you about a tattoo design? What challenges you? Does anyone ever come in and just give you carte blanche?

I’m always excited by linework/dotwork designs because they are so similar to how I draw in my sketchbooks; it’s really indulgent for me. I also do my best work when my clients give me an idea and allow me the freedom to design whatever I think will look best. I’m also a sucker for any tattoo involving an animal. I think my main challenges are myself, and micro-managers.

What is your take on the current trends? Were you introduced to the stippling and watercolor techniques in school? In what way(s) are they different from the traditional styles, from a technical standpoint?

Currently I think the biggest trends my clients ask for are either small, simple, clean tattoos or watercolor and linework/dotwork designs. I’m actually an absolutely terrible watercolor painter, but I enjoy tattooing the illusion of watercolor paint (which obviously is an entirely different process). In my sketchbooks I stipple portraits of animals, and I use intricate linework in my illustrations. The crossover of applying these techniques to tattooing was a really obvious choice for me.

How popular are these new styles, and how do you think they will fare in the test of time (in popular culture, and on skin)?

I think most linework/dotwork designs, when they’re clean and designed well, are timeless. They also will age well over time because typically linework and gray shading holds up better than color. Even if the dots were to spread closer to one another over a long period of time, they will still create a gradient that gives the illusion of shading. Watercolor tattoos have been said to fade, which can be true in some areas, but if you have linework and/or highly saturated, bold colors throughout your watercolor tattoo, the composition will generally remain the same over time. If some of the lighter blends of colors were to slightly fade at all, it shouldn’t destroy the look of the tattoo. Regardless, please take care of your tattoos and keep them out of the sun or smothered in a good SPF to ensure they remain beautiful for a long period of time.

Every time period seems to have its “in” spot on the body for tattoos (e.g., the ’90s “tramp stamp,” and more recently the inner wrist and hands, behind the ear). What is the “now” location for tattoos, and where do you see it going next?

I definitely believe that the underboob tattoo is the new popular spot for women. Usually these are mandalas, or what I like to call “wedges” of mandalas, since they aren’t necessarily perfect circles. They lie in the area under the breasts and creep up a little in between them, depending on personal preference. More and more people are asking for this placement, even if the tattoo isn’t a mandala. I’m not sure what the next new trend will be, but I’m hoping it stays classy and beautiful and no new negative stigmas for tattoo placements will emerge. I also hope the tramp stamp doesn’t come back. I’m knocking on wood as we speak.

In your daydreams about the universe, what conclusions have you reached?

I have concluded that humans are the weirdest, most complicated, strangest species I have ever encountered. I mean, look at me. I turn balls of dirt into meaningful objects, and I permanently draw on people daily. And that’s just me. Don’t get me started on people on a larger scale – like, how we are the most intelligent species, with all of our technological and biological advances, and yet we still can’t agree to disagree on whether to call them “sprinkles” or “jimmies”? Not to mention we are on just one planet in our one solar system, among billions of other solar systems, in our one galaxy that is among billions of other galaxies, in our universe that is potentially among who-knows-how-many other universes.

What exactly is our role in it?

I’m still trying to sort that out. But I do know that I’m trying my hardest to listen to my gut about what it is I think I’m meant to do. If it’s to make art in various forms and have people engage in it, then I can only hope to do a good job of it while I’m on this grain-of-salt-sized planet. (Did that escalate too quickly?)

Visit or find Kelly Lyn Colligan on Facebook.

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