Burnout, working all hours, undercharging for tattoos. Does this sound familiar? Kerry-Anne Richardson (Kezz) is a autistic tattooer of 15 years and owner of Cock A Snook Tattoo Parlour who’s here to help you find that sweet spot when it comes to the tattooer’s work life balance. Read on to find out how Tattoo Smarter can change your life…
What is Tattoo Smarter? Ooof, where do I start, I guess superficially you could say it’s a brand (brand?! Who the fuck do I think I am!) I created to help other tattooers, but to be honest it’s deeper than that. I wanted a way to make a positive impact in the industry that goes beyond making tattoos.
I guess Tattoo Smarter is a way to channel my love for tattooing into a practical form. Problem solving and sharing are my love language/traits of my autistic brain.
Why did you launch Tattoo Smarter? Short version: I was fucking sick of seeing tattooers drown in toxic bullshit and treating each other poorly. Long version: I struggled myself. A LOT and I’ve seen so many other tattooers struggle a lot too…but nobody wants to talk about it.
As much as I love tattooing and the beautiful life it’s provided me, it’s been a fucking hard slog and I’m not ashamed to admit it. There’s an ingrained opinion in tattooing that we should ‘put up and shut up’. Part of why I struggled is the toxic messaging that’s so deep rooted in the industry. What’s accepted as normal isn’t fucking normal. It’s HARMFUL.
Work every hour you have? Hate other studios? Don’t complain!? Don’t charge more than other tattooers? Do every tattoo that comes through the door? Be your client’s therapist? WTF?! No thanks tattooing hun, we can do better.
So, I guess to summarise – I was fed up of being a ‘good girl’ one that’s expected to parrot something like “I turned my passion into a job so I’ll never worked a day in my life”. We need to ditch that narrative asap and start being more authentic.
Tattooing is a hard job and if we don’t look after ourselves it’s a recipe for misery WHEN IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. I made Tattoo Smarter to connect with other tattooers that feel this way too. Others that want better for themselves and each other.
How long have you been running it? Not long at all! I drew the logo at the beginning of May this year and launched my first course, albeit quietly a few months ago. It’s been like a whirlwind. I never expected as much support or traction as I’ve had. Not complaining, it just further cements that’s I’m doing the right thing.
I know your priority is helping tattooers with their self care and boundaries – what are the things that happened in your own life to make you think this was needed? Burnout on repeat. (And I know I’m not alone in this).
I towed the line and tried to do everything the same as other tattooers and I just couldn’t, I had no idea I was autistic and kept having to take breaks from tattooing because I was so overwhelmed all the time.
When I recently came back to tattooing after a break, I had a fresh perspective on advocating for myself. I knew the changes I needed to make to keep myself safe. My systems and processes have been born out of necessity and I realised these processes could help so many other tattooers too.
Why do you think the tattoo industry doesn’t have more regulation and guidance? Because there are still a metric fucktonne of people who directly benefit from their privilege and it being unregulated/under the radar. There are so many people learning from people who don’t know any better and loads of people treating tattooing like it’s a hobby and their clients as friends.
It’s where we get our income so we need to treat it as our business. We need more boundaries between our personal and professional.
The community is fractured and as of yet we’ve not had everyone pulling in the same direction. We’ve also got a lot of non-tattoo people coming into our industry to make money. This dilutes our craft massively and blurs the lines even more.
Why is now the time for change? Not my quote but if not now? When?? Maybe add a ‘fucking’ in there to make it sound like me!
What are the things you personally would like to see change in the industry? Holy fuck where do I start? Racism, misogyny, ableism, gate-keeping, the unprofessionalism, hustle harm (that’s my term for it) the cliqueness, glamourising the grind, the insane undercharging for tattoos?!
Parts of it are akin to a minging car crash I’ve seen happening in slow motion. I don’t want anyone to think tattooing isn’t mint, because it is. But I don’t want to change the good stuff – just the shit that makes it shady and not inclusive. I want tattooers to be healthy and happy (not shells of humans surviving off Monsters and cocaine) with more money in their fucking pockets. I’m not trying to be the fun police, but the most fun is feeling safe and secure in your job.
Do you think covid has changed the way the industry runs? The way the general public book tattoos and also how artists feel right now post pandemic? It has changed a lot. Firstly, over the pandemic so many self-employed and studio owners were let down and not supported financially by our (corrupt as fuck) government. Lots of people are still recovering from that lack of support.
Secondly, it created a bubble, lots and lots of artists suddenly went from booking two weeks in advance to booking out three months. This was because lots of employed people on furlough ended up having spare cash and because nobody did any tattoos for ages, it created an inflated demand.
Unfortunately that bubble is bursting for many and as we head into a recession not dissimilar to 2008/9 on top of the (intentional) energy crisis lots of tattooers/studios won’t be prepared for this or even expect it. Clients are even more so than before expecting much cheaper tattoos because tattooers are undercutting each other and driving all the money out of tattooing. Tattoos are too cheap and they have been for ages – I want to change this.
Ok give us the solid ways that tattooers can connect with you right now and what can they access on tattoo smarter? Both free and paid for resources? I do lots of Q&As in my Instagram (@tattoosmarter) stories where tattooers and piercers can ask me stuff confidentially and I share anonymously. I also get lots of messages through DM, don’t worry I’ve got boundaries with this – I encourage tattooers not to use DMs but this isn’t the same as tattoo clients I promise!
Tattooers can join our Tattoo Smarter community slack chat, it’s completely free and essentially, it’s full of like-minded people in a group you can access on your phone etc. The ethos of this group is to be a decent fucking human, so lots of sharing, supporting and solidarity. I’m really proud of it!
I’ve free resources on why we need enquiry forms and how to make a form better. There’s also a free mini mindset course on boundaries
Paid stuff – a self-employed handbook that includes a checklist. So many Tattooers feel like they are winging it, and to be honest so many fucking are (I’ve been here too by the way). I made this so tattooers and piercers can atleast nail the basics- no more waking up at 2am in cold sweats – it’s only £10.50 ‘n’ all.
Your new course sounds brilliant and you’re right we’re at a point where we’re all moaning about Instagram and have gotten to a point where we rely too much on it. Is this what the course is about? Thank you! Well chuffed! Ok, so since these questions were written I’ve released another course, I told you I was excited!
My ‘protect your Insta income course’ you’re referring to teaches tattooers how to connect directly to their clients without having to be a bloody mime act in the hope the algorithm will ‘pick them’.
So many tattooers just don’t have the time or the will to be fannying around making reels. Letting a social media platform control our income is soul destroying/unsustainable and I see in real time how much it is corroding our mental health. But, we have the ability to take control instead of gambling on likes and engagement. So that’s what the course is: two fingers up to Insta I guess.
But my new course? Oh maaaaannn, this is the one I’m most excited for. I pretty much start vibrating every time I talk about it.
My ‘Get Booked, Bells n Whistles Booking‘ is me teaching tattooers my own personal booking process. Tried and tested and tattooer (me) developed. It does EVERYTHING bar cooking your tea when you get home…
- It takes deposits
- It sends reminders
- It covers all your cancellation policies and pre tattoo info
- It stops you undercharging
- It fucking organises everything so you feel calm and look like a stone cold professional for your clients. I mean not just look it – become MORE profesh. Being professional adds to your value, more value means you can charge more.
- It stops all the time wasting with emails back and forth, I can literally do 20 requests in an hour.
I don’t want to use the word magic but I dunno how I managed before this process. And I’m not a tech person either (I’m a tech-nanna). I’m a tattoo person so any issues and struggles you have had, I’ve made this with those in mind.
My first intake is discounted at £199 for the course to say thank you to those who have supported what I’m trying to do, it starts in November. After that it will be £350 (I know some people think that’s expensive but it’s the same price as some tattoo machines). It’s an investment. The time and stress it saves is INVALUABLE and will make you just as much as a new tattyzapper ever will. Also send me any questions you have via DM if you need more info!
What are some of the ways you protect and look after your own mental health? Having boundaries and being kind to myself. Mycology, I bloody love hunting and categorising mushrooms and writing lists of my finds. Lots and lots of alone time, I need non-verbal days, days without demands and lots of quiet. Not the easiest with having my own studio granted. But having efficient work systems has been one of the biggest changing points in my mental health. Not wasting time and energy on stuff has changed my outlook entirely. I’m so excited by it I just want to share it with anyone who will listen.
We’ve talked about the boys’ club before haven’t we, and how hard it can be trying to cut through that. Can you explain a little more about this part of the industry that the general public might not understand? I guess the boys’ club stuff happens in all industries to be honest as it’s still cis white men as the majority and at the top of everything. So I think most people who don’t identify as this will understand to some extent. Many marginalised tattooers and ones who want to be allys are scared to speak up because it goes against the grain. Big name tattooers and organisers have the ability to end someone’s career just as much as make it, then others follow suit so they “get picked”.
Unfortunately the misogyny in our industry is perpetuated by lots of the women too. This patriarchal bullshit hurts EVERYBODY in the long run.
What’s next for Tattoo Smarter and what’s next for Kezz? Some stuff in the pipeline regarding training that everyone should have, but doesn’t. There’s loads of stuff I wanna do but right now the courses I have will keep me busy. Also I’m in the middle of buying a house.
Is there anything else you want to say about what you do that we haven’t asked you about? I just wanted to tell people to start believing in themselves and to stop comparing themselves to other tattooers as everyone’s tattoo journey is different. The best way to help ourselves is to be proactive and if we are regularly complaining or unhappy we need to realise we have the power to do something about it.
Tattooing can be better if we all pull together. I’m here to help.
Make sure to follow @tattoosmarter for more advice and resources.