Love Spell in the heart of Stifft Station
October 14-20, 2019
By Larissa Gudino
Stifft Station is getting permanently marked by nationally recognized and “Ink Master” season nine runner-up, Katie McGowan. Located on the corner of Woodrow and Markham, Love Spell Tattoo is the co-owned local tattoo shop run by Katie McGowan and Jesse Perez. She’s competed twice on “Ink Master”, falling just short of the winning title in season nine, and traveled between Arkansas and New York this year to coach contestants of season 12’s “Battle of the Sexes.” Being a woman in a male-dominated career choice challenges Katie to embrace her vulnerability, giving her a decade of experience that she now gets to pass onto other aspiring tattoo artists. More than just a tattoo shop, Katie utilizes her position as a young entrepreneur to promote diversity, inclusivity, and empowerment through art.
Becoming a nationally recognized tattoo artist and entrepreneur as a central-Arkansas raised Southern girl sounds like a successful underdog story that hasn’t even reached its climax. “I’ve always been interested in art. When I was younger, I would draw characters that I saw on TV: Bart Simpson, the Rugrats characters ... I loved doing that. It was just a natural interest of mine – drawing cartoons,” Katie said. “Once I got into high school, I started to draw portraits of my friends and be a bit more serious with the subject matter. Once I got into college, that’s when I started to take drawing classes.” She spent her time at a local tattoo shop in Conway at 18 and started her apprenticeship a year later. Three years into her undergraduate studies at Hendrix, she dropped out to pursue tattooing full time.
The road to being a tattoo artist can vary for each person. “A person that wants to tattoo will seek out the tattoo artist that they want to learn from, they show their work, and then the tattoo artist has to trust that the person will take it seriously and will apprentice them usually free of charge. It’s a relationship built on trust. In the last handful of years this has changed, though. With a lot of tattoo shops you can walk in, pay a certain amount and be an apprentice. But sometimes there’s something lost with that – they go in, may not learn much and might not have the same closeness with the educator. Then they get their license and dip and go somewhere else.” Katie said, “I didn’t pay for my apprenticeship. It was something given to me on the basis of trust and loyalty that I would work for the people that apprenticed me for years. I ended up working with them for seven years.” She explained that a benefit to going the paid apprenticeship route is being trained in aseptic technique and bloodborne pathogens – important lessons for those that may be phenomenal tattoo artists, but not properly licensed. She also mentioned that a paid apprenticeship can ensure a place to work for the artist, a feature that can be difficult for those without their own shops.
Women in this field, including Katie, endure being snubbed at tattoo conventions, treated as though they have to constantly prove their worth while respect is freely given to men, and being objectified while promoted. However, women tattoo artists have an advantage. “Oftentimes, I will tattoo women that express to me that they’ve had the best experiences being tattooed when it was by another woman. A large portion of my clientele are young professionals, from their 20s to 40s, and a big chunk of those are women. Even from the very beginning, there’s just a comfort that I can tell women that I would tattoo felt, even just about saying certain things or expressing themselves in certain ways. And women love to support women! I’m about it,” Katie said.
Katie McGowan’s work stands out against others. She attributes her expertise to starting early in life, “I feel like I’ve put a lot of time into the industry,” she said. A decade of professional work, showing her dedication to the shop early on, she added, “I don’t mind to put myself out there, as far as social media, being on “Ink Master”, just being vulnerable in an international competition – whatever I need to do to get my name and more importantly, my artwork out there I’m willing to do it.” Opportunities like “Ink Master” are rare for people in the tattoo industry and without a willingness to put herself in front of an audience with the possibility of failure, Katie McGowan wouldn’t be where she is today.
Speaking of where Katie McGowan is today, that would be the Stifft Station neighborhood in Little Rock, Arkansas. “I’ve lived in and out of this neighborhood for the past ten years. I love this neighborhood. I joke that this is the grungier SoMa,” Katie laughed. “We are literally experiencing this area blossoming right now. Young creatives are not only working here but are opening businesses to create more work. Stifft Station is really special to me … I knew that when I opened my own shop that I was choosing a space where there is more access to diversity. You can tell it in our clientele and our foot traffic. This is the most diverse group of people coming into a tattoo shop that I’ve ever experienced, as far as working in Arkansas. I wanted to be mindful with our crew, Jesse, who I work with, and our receptionist Jordan, that we gave a platform to minorities. Jesse is Mexican and Jordan is African-American and Filipino. After working with white cis-men, that make up 95 percent of this industry, I wanted to create an environment where there are people of color and there are queer people in the tattoo shop. I feel like it makes people feel more comfortable for someone to come in here and ask questions.”
This kind of thoughtfulness about her crew and inclusivity highlights the real reason Katie McGowan loves being a tattoo artist. “When you get to make a decision about how your body is going to look forever, it gives you a lot of empowerment and control. I see it with women a lot of the time, especially with covering up scars – mastectomy scars – you can just see the feeling of empowerment that they feel in being able to have that control over how they look. My clients inspire me for sure.” This response mirrors what Katie McGowan and Love Spell Tattoo is all about: a comfortable environment, trust between the staff and the client, and control in the hands of the client for their own empowerment.
Love Spell Tattoo is located at 2901 W. Markham Street. Their hours run from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Both Katie McGowan’s and Jesse Perez’s portfolios are available at lovespelltattoo.com. For more regularly updated pictures of their work, visit their Facebook page and Instagram, @lovespelltattoo, or their individual Instagram profiles: @katietattoos and @jessepereztattoo.