Tattoos became an obsession for Katie Shocrylas from the moment she was first inked with a spiral tattoo symbolizing new life and growth. The fine arts graduate now rocks a full backside tattoo of Joan of Arc, and, much like her physical art, Katie’s portfolio has also grown exponentially. In her first years she banged out tattoos for walk-ins at Adrenaline in Vancouver, but now the tattoo artist is working out of a private studio on Main Street with her custom art in high demand. She applies science and math to her illustrations along with a whole lot of colour, creating some of the most vibrant pieces out there. Katie – or kshocs as she’s known on Instagram – partly credits the growth of her career to social media, noting how accessible her work became through views and shares on Instagram, where she currently has 97,000 followers. Technology accelerated her ability to establish a popular niche style, and today Katie’s psychedelic depictions of animals and the environment largely centres around animal portraits bordered with contrasting elements, patterns and shapes. Ditching canvases for skin was a challenge in more ways than one: the daunting permanence of tattooing, the demands associated with serving a steady stream of customers, and a battle of self confidence were three of the largest. Experience has helped her solidly squash her lack of confidence and push her to the next level. Her technique, method and style continue to grow with each tattoo produced, as the colour queen now creates with a refined palette and darker imagery in mind. The collaboration between client and artist is something special for Katie, and she often draws from her background in art therapy and naturally creates tight connections with clients. But art doesn’t have to be meaningful or symbolic, it can just be cool. ‘What does your tattoo mean?’ isn’t a question met with a shudder and nor is the response ‘nothing.’ For Katie ink is ink but a backstory or connection only further encourages her to produce her finest work.
“If I were in your position, I would feel just as you do.”
Artists can be extremely self critical; but I also never want to be too comfortable
My attraction to nature, art, pop culture, and everything around me
Animals heavily influence my work
Concentrated and persistent imagination
My partner, Zoe, and our puppy, Timber's unconditional love
To give my clients a piece of art they can carry with them forever
Solitude and silence
My painting and art school background gave me a lot of direction
Although I enjoy working alone
Tell me about the style of tattooing you do.
It’s hard for me to describe, but if I had to put words to it I would say I do illustrative colour work. I do a lot of animals and nature-based imagery and lots of pet portraits, but I’m always looking for new projects and subject matter.
Different types of contrast is something that I also really try to work with; for example the contrast between sharper lines, straight lines, and then softer more natural gestural lines. And then more recently I’m working on contrasting more neutral tones with areas of really hyper-bright colours to kind of give the eye somewhere to rest. I find that using softer greys and more neutral tones in certain areas makes the bright part look even brighter, so it’s not a total blanket of vibrancy.
How long have you been tattooing?
I’ve been tattooing full time for just over five years now. I went to school and did a fine arts degree at Queen’s University (Kingston, Ont.) for four years too – I’ve been drawing and painting my whole life.
You work out of a private studio on Main Street in Vancouver now - where did you work before?
I was at Rain City Tattoo, which is a custom tattoo shop, and before that, I was at Adrenaline, which is basically Vancouver’s biggest walk-in and custom shop.
Can you talk to me about the evolution of your work and how you came to find your niche?
I guess in a lot of ways I deliberately moved toward this style, but it’s also been a natural progression. When I was at Adrenaline and doing a lot of walk-ins and script – basically whatever people brought me – I started to think about how I wanted to carve out my own place. I started to draw animals the way I wanted to and then eventually started tattooing those. It sort of grew from there and the custom work I’ve been doing has been in a similar vein.
Looking back at my older work, the line work was a little more traditional; over time I focussed on bringing really fun, interesting personal touches to each piece. Colour has definitely been an evolution too. I’m not sure how the bright colours came about – I wish I had an easy answer for that! I honestly draw and tattoo what inspires me, and lucky for me people have responded to it. I think the use of bright colour brings so much life and personality to a piece.
Do you consider colour a major part of your niche?
Yes; there was a point in time when I was using almost every colour in the rainbow in every piece – that’s probably around when my work was really starting to get recognized – but I think I’m slowly shifting away from that. Now I focus more on giving the look and feel of a very bright, vibrant spectrum in each piece, but I’m learning that it can be done using a more limited palette. It’s actually a little more effective in a way. I use colour as a tool and as I progress, I become more familiar with how to use it expressively and more deliberately.
The other part of my style is the interest I have in science. I love biology and nature and patterns in nature. I guess that comes back to the contrast element as well; bringing these really structured geometric shapes – simple ones at times – to contrast with more complicated flowers or animals or fur. I’ve also always been interested in bringing a sort of magical element to my work, and I find that little bits of geometry and an overlay of mathematical patterns or shapes allows me to add structure while also adding a little bit of something unnatural-seeming to contrast with the natural subject matter.
What drew you to the tattoo field?
It’s kind of funny because it honestly wasn’t on my radar or part of my life at all – until it was. Basically when I got my first tattoo I became immediately obsessed with the whole process. Choosing an image and making it a part of your body and everything involved in that from the client’s point of view and the tattoo artist’s point of view, and then also the relationship and interaction that happens between the person getting the tattoo and the person making the tattoo – it all just really fascinated me. At that point, I knew I wanted to be an artist but had no idea how to do that, and with tattooing, something just clicked; it really just seemed like a good fit. I really enjoy getting to know people one-on-one, and then there’s the aesthetic aspect, the artistic aspect, the psychological aspect, and often the sort of healing aspect that is all part of tattooing – I was just really attracted to it.
Tell me more about the psychological and healing aspects.
For some people there’s a large psychological and healing part of getting tattooed and for others there isn’t; from the way I look at it, there’s no judgment either way. I don’t think that getting a tattoo has to be tied up in anything super momentous – simply loving an image is an awesome reason to get a tattoo. But on the flip side of that, for a lot of people, there can be a lot of meaning attached to the images they choose. I’m fascinated by that process of carefully and deliberately choosing an image to forever make a part of your body. The collaboration that happens between the client and the tattooer has so much trust tied up in it that it’s pretty humbling to be a part of. It’s really intimate, and pretty special, and I try to honour whatever it means for my clients. Some people talk a lot about the meaning behind their tattoos and others don’t; for me personally, the psychological aspect has been there for some of my tattoos, and then it hasn’t been there at other times. Some of my tattoos have been way more deliberately planned than others. The process of changing my body with art has, I suppose, been sort of helpful for me; it’s really allowed me in some ways to, I don’t know, make peace with my physical form – not too sound too ridiculous.
I’m looking at a photo of your full backside piece right now and that must've been one that was planned; it’s a very strong image. Can you tell me about it?
I’ve always been fascinated by Joan of Arc and her strength and conviction, ever since I was a child. It’s been the only piece that I’ve known I wanted for a really long time. Steve Moore did it for me – he just finished it up, after about a year and a half of pretty frequent appointments. It was kind of an unreal journey getting to work with and getting to know Steve and sort of watching this image come to life on my body. Seeing it finished now is really wild.
What was your first tattoo?
When I was traveling by myself I got a little whorl; it’s a small symbol that means new life and growth – very stereotypical. I believe the name for it is a koru.
And what was the first tattoo you ever gave someone?
The first tattoo I ever did was on myself – it was just a small heart on the inside of my left ankle. The first tattoo I ever gave another person was actually on my mother, and it was a small ‘K’ and ‘J,’ which are mine and my sister’s initials. That was incredibly nerve-wracking, and she still won’t let me touch it up! She’s like, ‘No, it’s perfect the way it is, and it hurt so much.’
Let’s talk a little about your fine arts background and moving from a traditional medium, paint on canvas, to ink on skin. How was that?
It was challenging. The first year or two of full-time tattooing was exhilarating but incredibly terrifying at the same time. Every day I felt like . . . well, I don’t want people who got tattooed in that time to think, ‘Oh God, she didn’t know what she was doing,’ but I felt like I had so much to learn. I would get so scared before every tattoo. In some ways I think that was a good thing because it kept me accountable and focussed on my technique; I made sure I was doing everything as best as I possibly could, but it was tough in a lot of ways. Obviously working with paint and charcoal and graphite and all of that on paper or canvas, the canvas stays still; it can be reworked, you can erase, you can paint over, you can start again. Working with ink on skin means the canvas moves; it’s not an inanimate flat surface sitting there waiting for you to essentially do whatever you want and take as long as you want. The weight of permanently marking people was the hardest part of that transition for me.
How did you deal with that?
A lot of it was just faking it until I felt it – in terms of confidence. Confidence is something I’ve always struggled with, but I did my very best with every piece, regardless of how big or how small it was, because at the end of the day I needed to know that I was doing the very best that I could. I tried to make peace by putting in my best effort and trying to trust myself. There were lots of ups and downs, lots of struggles with self-doubt and then the technical learning curve too. That’s actually another thing I love about tattooing – I feel like I’m never going to stop learning. Everyone’s skin and everyone’s body and everyone’s experience is so different, and no two tattoos will ever be the same, despite skin type or placement or the image itself. The uncertainty used to terrify me because I didn’t have the experience to feel confident but now it’s part of what’s exciting about tattooing. I’ll always have more to learn technically too, but at least now I have enough confidence and experience to approach it with excitement rather than fear.
Beyond a confidence gained from experience, how else did you overcome your anxieties?
I kind of learned how to work through them rather than trying to fight them. And sometimes I think about the sheer amount of images and work that people in this field produce on a daily basis and remind myself that everyone’s practice is different. I do a lot of pieces that take one session and a lot that take just a few sessions, but that translates into a lot of time drawing and producing and there’s constant pressure to come up with new imagery. It can be difficult at times, and I always try to do something a little different in each tattoo that I do, even really small details, so sometimes the pressure that I put on myself to make everything unique can still be challenging. I focus on what I want, which is that every person that gets tattooed leaves with a special piece that’s just for them.
Where do you find inspiration?
I’m always looking at different sources, and different imagery: I look at other tattoos but I also love looking at the work of illustrators and painters; film or art associated with music, too, especially from the past – I kind of have a thing for the ‘80s. I obviously get a lot of inspiration from nature itself, the colours and patterns especially, and then there’s a certain amount that comes from my own imagination and experiences and feelings, too.
Are there certain artists that you follow or look up to?
Yes, lots, but I’m so bad with names! James Jean is one artist I really admire. He recently did the poster for the new Blade Runner movie. There’s a painter, Erik Jones – I have one of his pieces up in my studio – who sort of combines figurative, realistic imagery with bright almost collage-type work; his stuff is really cool. I’ve also been inspired by Steve Moore, who did my back, even before I started tattooing; the movement, emotion and luminosity that comes through in his stuff is incredible.
It must be neat to see your work ‘in the wild’ - does that happen often?
I hear about it more than I see it, probably because I’m such a homebody – when I’m not working, I’m hanging out at home, or I’m drawing. Lots of my clients will come in and tell me something like they were on the bus and saw a piece of mine, and they started talking to the person because they both got tattoos from me. I think that’s cool to step back and think of how many people out there are walking around with little bits of my art on them. It’s a really unique part of tattooing that there are these living, moving pieces out in the world.
You have an astonishing following on Instagram - was that how you broke into the industry?
Around the time I started deliberately producing the animal-based imagery that I wanted to tattoo, Instagram was sort of taking off; I’d say that’s how my work became known on a wider scale. But it wasn’t deliberate; I mean, I was making an effort to be active on Instagram, but it was when bigger accounts shared my work that made it kind of snowball. Instagram, social media and the way that technology has facilitated information and image sharing has really influenced everything, and specifically made tattoo work more accessible. It definitely made it possible for me to work in a private studio, and I think without it it’s hard to say what things would be like. My following online grew fairly quickly, and I wasn’t prepared for the attention. Instagram’s always been a funny thing to me because I recognize how pivotal of a role it has played in my career, but I also struggle with feeling like the hype is legitimate, you know what I mean? That may just be my own insecurities though. It’s just the way things are now, and it’s great that people can look through so many different artists’ work now and sit with it and really analyze it to get a good overall sense of the art. For me the most important thing is still the quality of my work, not the number of followers I have, and so I work really hard. I hope that shows and the interest I get online reflects the quality of what I’m producing.
Do you think the accessibility of tattoo portfolios online has made a huge impact on the industry overall, in the sense that tattooing has become pretty mainstream?
I agree that it’s become so accessible that it’s no longer this underground thing. I think it’s definitely pushed tattooing into the mainstream, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing!
It doesn’t - it broadens the client base, right?
Yes, definitely. I mean I’ve tattooed every kind of person you can think of, and I think it’s really cool that people from every walk of life are invited into the beautiful and interesting world of tattoos.
If you look back maybe 20+ years, fewer people were tattooed and there was even somewhat of a stigma attached to those who were inked. In general, tattoo style was probably more specific to the type of wearer too; today the art seems to be as vast as the range of people getting tattooed. Would you agree?
The art has evolved so much: the tools, the ink, the machines, everything available has grown so much. And the imagery! Literally anything you can imagine someone is tattooing; that’s really interesting to me. There’s still a place for honouring tradition, but I think the fact that tattooing has expanded to encompass such a vast array of techniques and imagery is great; it’s sort of broken through the stereotypes that used to go along with tattoos.
Let’s circle back to something related to the psychological aspect to tattooing you mentioned earlier - can you tell me about your interest in art therapy and how you’ve applied this to tattooing?
I actually went back to school to do a diploma in art therapy. During my studies I did a lot of work with people in different demographics, including children and teens, and I think art as therapy is really connected to tattooing, especially for me. I think the most important part is how I relate to my clients, because I’ve had the opportunity to delve into using art in a sort of counselling environment. Not that I approach every tattoo appointment like that of course, but I think doing the art therapy diploma really taught me a lot about relating to people on a deeper level and working through different processes alongside them.
Did you initially enroll in this diploma program to compliment your tattoo work?
No, initially after I learned to tattoo I took a break from tattooing – I was young, and I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to continue with it. That’s when I went back to school for art therapy with the intention of working in the field. But while I was in school I came back to tattooing through a friend I made in the program; then when school finished I went directly back into tattooing full-time. Even though I didn’t pursue art therapy as a career it was still an experience I wouldn’t change at all.
You obviously enjoy connecting with people; do you have a favourite kind of client?
I don’t know if I have a favourite client because everyone is so different, and I really value the part of my job that highlights how unique everybody is. A lot of people might assume that the dream client is someone who says ‘do whatever you want,’ but I actually like someone to bring me a pretty clear idea of what they’re after in terms of imagery, but then also allow me a decent degree of freedom. I like a good mixture between the client knowing what they want and giving me the autonomy to create an image the way I’m inspired to.
Can you tell me about some of your most memorable tattoos?
Every once in a while there’s a piece that is kind of magical in a really special way, and one of those that will always remain a favourite of mine is a blue stag chest piece I did for a client. I also just finished up a sleeve on a client that stands out – it’s based on the star tarot card and it was sort of the first large-scale piece that had full coverage: background, foreground, basically all of her skin was colour by the time we were done. I’ve also got a couple of back pieces on the go right now that are great; one is a sort of mother nature-themed piece.
How do you select who you tattoo?
I only open my books a few times a year, just so I can manage the number of inquiries and the mental load that goes along with all that. When I open my books potential clients fill out a form, and I go through each one personally. I read through everyone’s ideas and I select the ones that excite me. For my client’s sake as well as my own I really want to be interested in and enthusiastic about every tattoo that I do; that way I’m producing my best work and my clients are getting the best pieces. People probably think it’s really difficult to get an appointment with me, and I suppose I don’t open my books that often; when I do I try to take on as much work as I can though, unless someone comes to me with an idea I really don’t think I’d do a good job with. Lately I’ve been keeping a bit of a wait list, but it’s basically an overflow from opening my books, since I usually select more pieces than I have time for.
What’s next for you in terms of the evolution of your style?
I’m still very much working with vibrant palettes and bright colours but I’m also interested in finding ways of bringing in a little hint of darkness, whether it be technically with, say, more black in a piece, or subject matter wise. As an artist I want to have a range of stuff I do. I guess there’s a whole other side to the work I’m interested in; I love making magical, bright, whimsical pieces, but I’m also really drawn to a little bit of darker imagery. That’s not necessarily an entire piece being super dark, but having just a little hint of something mythical or with a dark edge. I recently did a piece for a client who asked for a dark wolf in however I chose to interpret that, and it was really fun because I chose to do a snarly wolf piece with all these leaves. I was still able to work with vibrant colours, but it was fun to do something a little heavier.
And what’s next for you career-wise?
Right now I’m getting grounded in this space working privately, and I feel pretty good with where I’m at. Who knows, maybe five years down the road I’ll want to share a space with somebody; it’s really hard to say whether I’ll ever want to open a tattoo shop. Working privately has been really wonderful for me; it fits really well with the way my process works and how I am on a personal level. I’d like to continue working this way for now, but also maybe do a little bit more traveling. I used to travel more in the past, but then I took a break from it while I settled in here. I’d like to try to make a bit more of a point of seeking out guest spots and attending conventions in this upcoming year.