JK Kim’s Rise From Apprentice to Tattoo Studio Owner

Interview with JK Kim
Fine line tattoo artist JK Kim found her calling thanks to a friend. Discover her unique story and the inspiration behind the work.

We had the pleasure of speaking with JK Kim, an amazing woman and tattoo artist who balances running her tattoo studio, caring for her children and dogs, traveling, and collaborating with other tattoo shops. Isn’t that something?

She opened up about her journey into the ink industry, how her talents and style have changed, and where she finds so much energy to manage all the challenges.

This article is jam-packed with inspiration and insight that will help both aspiring tattoo artists and those who have been in the business for years. We hope you enjoy reading this article, discover valuable tips, and be motivated to run your business just like JK Kim!

Getting to Know JK Kim

Getting to Know JK Kim

JK Kim, the owner of Ink & Water Tattoo studio in New York City, isn’t your typical fine line tattoo artist. While childhood dreams of wielding a tattoo gun might be common in the industry, Kim’s journey began with a personal choice at the age of 20.

Her first tattoo, which she got with a friend, sparked an unexpected fire and split her life into “before” and “after.” It started with an interest and then blossomed into a full-blown love for the art of tattooing. It was this passion that led her straight to the doors of Flushing Queens tattoo studio, where she landed her first apprenticeship and began her artistic career.

I realized I was drawn to the idea of creating permanent art on people’s bodies. It felt like a unique and meaningful way to express myself creatively. Determined to explore this further, I started asking around about apprenticeships and eventually found one.

— JK Kim to InkMatch

JK Kim’s Apprenticeship

Almost 10 years ago, JK Kim started her first internship, where she had to sweat a lot. She came in five or six times a week and mostly helped clean up. “My apprenticeship was old-school. I spent days cleaning the shop, scrubbing everything from tubes to machines.”

The second internship was a breath of fresh air because there was a friendly staff and JK Kim finally got her hands on real ink. It became the perfect place to transition from artificial skin to her first tattoo on a human canvas.

Eight and a half years ago, I nervously tattooed a close friend. Sun exposure on their beach vacation right after the work (!) wasn’t ideal, and while inexperience played a part, it wasn’t their finest ink. Every time I see them, I cringe a little, but hey, it was a steep learning curve — and a big step for a budding tattoo artist.

— JK Kim to InkMatch

❗ Note:
Landing the perfect tattoo is just the first step! Proper aftercare is crucial for a flawless result. Head over to JK’s website for in-depth tattoo care info, or browse our aftercare guides for expert tips.

Hardships Faced Then and Now

Building a successful career isn’t always sunshine and roses. JK Kim readily acknowledges the challenges she’s faced throughout her journey.

  1. Kim’s apprenticeship was unpaid, which is rarely discussed but is a major obstacle for aspiring artists.
  2. In the early days, the industry relied heavily on traditional drawing methods (like using the tracing box). The lack of affordable tablets such as the iPad meant extra effort and adaptation for Kim.
  3. Not so long ago, the tattoo industry was male-dominated. Newcomers, especially women like Kim, had to prove their skills and fight for recognition.
  4. Modern challenges haven’t been any easier. Kim has found social media marketing, email communication, and business management in general to be particularly tricky because she avoids being glued to her phone.

JK Kim thought there would be another difficulty associated with COVID because she had just opened her studio when everything started. However, the universe had other plans. “Just opening a private studio, I was worried about rent and people getting tattoos. But somehow, there was a huge boom afterward.” The pandemic, unexpectedly, led to a surge in business.

How JK Kim Found Her Style and Built a Career

A big inspiration for JK Kim was her second internship placement. It was there that she changed her views from heavy blackwork to a light and flowing style of fine lines. JK’s examples were her mentor and other artists who created beautiful fine line tattoos of varying sizes.

Witnessing my mentor and other leading fine line artists in New York City completely transformed my understanding of what tattooing could be. I never realized such delicate work was possible.

— JK Kim to InkMatch

That was how JK met and fell in love with the style. But truly her career began with a funny story. Near the end of her apprenticeship, she landed a seemingly ordinary job, a finger tattoo. The client, thrilled with the results, offered her an opportunity that felt straight out of a movie: a trip to Paris Fashion Week! Excited, JK arrived to find a surprise waiting — a VIP client, a famous actress.

The location, however, was far from glamorous, the roof of a 7-story building with a broken elevator. Despite the unconventional setting and the fact that the actress had to climb steps, JK delivered an amazing tattoo. “That tattoo, which can sometimes be seen in actress’s photos, launched my career.” The experience brought a surge of followers and requests, proving that sometimes, the biggest breaks come in the most unexpected places.

Collaboration With Clients

JK Kim’s calm, relaxed, and friendly approach to her clients is something to be learned from. She doesn’t clash heads with difficult clients, knows when to recommend that a client go to another professional to get what they want, and of course, she has her process by which she interacts and prepares for a tattoo session with a client.

Here is a four-step workflow and preparation before tattooing:

Here is a four-step workflow and preparation before tattooing:

  1. Before scheduling an appointment, JK Kim communicates with clients through an email consultation. She asks clients to send reference photos and their tattoo ideas/preferences.
  2. For clients who are unsure about choosing a tattoo design, JK Kim offers a 30-minute virtual consultation.
  3. During the in-person consultation, she sketches a design based on the client’s wishes and preferences. During the conversation, she tries to better understand the client’s vision and preferences.
  4. After creating a sketch, JK Kim presents the design to the client for approval. If necessary, she makes adjustments based on the client’s feedback.

The Art of Fine Line Tattoos

It is said that the work of tattoo artists can be compared to surgeons because no one would like to hear “oops” during the session. When tattooing in the fine line style, you need to be extremely accurate and confident.

JK shared her recommendations for those who want to master this style. These tips may seem simple or too monotonous, but that’s how professionals get their hands on it.

“As a fine line tattoo artist, I can’t stress enough the importance of constant practice. It’s like muscle memory — you have to keep it going. If I take a break for even a week or two, my hands get shaky when I come back.

“The key to fine lines is precision because any mistakes are super obvious. That’s why keeping your body steady and using the right needle depth is crucial. These are the first things I check when I see my apprentices’ work — shaky lines or inconsistent needle depth will make the lines look messy.”

— JK Kim on the fine line style

For clients interested in the fine line style, there are also a few recommendations to consider, since the outcome of the tattoo depends heavily on proper care during the healing period.

“Fine line tattoos are like picky plants, they need constant tender loving care! Sun is the enemy — fades those thin lines faster than you can say “ouch.” Healing can be unpredictable, too, some of my five-year-old works look amazing, and others whisper faintly. It’s a journey!

“Touch-ups might be needed, but it’s a bit of a gamble. That’s why I tell everyone to keep me posted on healing, send pictures, and stay in touch. Fine line tattoos are gorgeous, delicate little things, but remember, aftercare is key to keeping them looking their best!”

— JK Kim on maintaining fine line tattoos

JK Kim on Current Tattoo Trends

Spotting trends doesn’t require a crystal ball; keen observation and analysis are key. JK Kim masters this intuitively. By following the work of other artists, understanding her clients’ desires, and interacting with colleagues, she forms a unique perspective. So here’s what she was able to conclude for 2024 based on her observations.

✨ Shifting styles

A move from traditional styles (birth flowers, names) to abstract designs and “cyber sigilism” (possibly geometric or symbolic tattoos).

😌 Emotional connection

Tattoos are chosen for how they make the wearer feel rather than for sentimental value.

📱 More research, less impulse

Clients are more deliberate, researching artists and planning tattoos rather than getting impulsive designs.

🚶 Fewer walk-ins

The convenience of Instagram allows clients to find specific artists, reducing walk-in traffic (especially for JK Kim’s style).

Q&A: JK Kim’s Life and Work

While we were talking to JK Kim, we also asked her about other styles she’s working in and she shared that she’s constantly evolving in different directions. We also got to know her a little bit more as a person and someone who knows what work-life balance is all about.

Q: What was going through your mind when you first held the keys to your private studio?

JK Kim: I was excited. It felt like I'd finally found my calling. Coming from a super academic background — my mom's a professor, an incredibly smart lady — I took a different path.


Dropped out of high school, got my GED, and eventually college, but it took longer. So, standing there with those keys, I felt proud. Proud of how far I'd come despite all the years of "you need more school," "get a corporate job," and the like.


Owning that studio — it was a dream come true. I was very happy.

Q: What was going through your mind when you first held the keys to your private studio?
Q: What was going through your mind when you first held the keys to your private studio?Q: You mentioned your signature fine line style, but do you also explore new techniques? Is there a specific routine you follow to stay up-to-date and experiment?

JK Kim: Absolutely! Staying on top of trends involves browsing Instagram for popular styles and seeing what the artists in my studio are booked on.


Fine line isn't a rigid category; it's a style I can adapt. I've incorporated larger pieces with shading and even added some Gorillaz-inspired elements.


Large floral sleeves are rare on my page because most requests are for smaller designs. However, I occasionally get requests for fine line versions of American traditional or Japanese traditional, which I love for the challenge they offer. Social media algorithms punish a lack of consistency, so I can't post them frequently.


But experimentation is part of my process! I practice on fake skin with my apprentices, and I always observe the other artists in my shop to see what they're doing.


Q: How do you recharge and find inspiration?

JK Kim: The city's energy is fantastic for tattooing. Clients come from everywhere, and the accessibility is amazing. But the constant noise and crowds overwhelm me. That's why I frequently take vacations to disconnect and recharge.


I'm not a big tech fan, so being constantly connected drains me. So here I am right now, in the mountains of upstate New York (Editor’s note — JK was there during our interview)! Hikes with my dog, zero cell service, scenic drives — these are my happy places. Travel is another way I de-stress and explore.

Q: What was going through your mind when you first held the keys to your private studio?
Q: What was going through your mind when you first held the keys to your private studio?Q: Which personal tattoo holds the most meaning for you, and is there a story behind it?

JK Kim: That's a tough one — I love them all! But if I have to pick, it's gotta be my kids' names on my hands.


Cheesy, I know, but seeing them every day is a constant reminder of the greatest things I've ever created. I'm incredibly proud of them.


Summary

JK Kim’s journey into the world of ink art, which began with a single tattoo, is a testament to passion and perseverance. We had a great opportunity to see her growth and to get to know her better. We learn about the challenges Kim faced, her thoughts on current trends, the importance of aftercare for maintaining fine line tattoos, and how she finds inspiration to keep her work fresh.

We hope this look at her connecting life and work will be a great guide to the world of tattoos for you!

FAQ

💸 How Much Does a Fine Line Tattoo Cost?

The cost of a fine line tattoo can vary depending on factors such as the size, intricacy of the design, location on the body, and the experience of the tattoo artist. Generally, fine line tattoos may be priced similarly to other styles, ranging from around $50-$80 to several hundred dollars or more for larger and more complex designs.

❓ How To Maintain a File Line Tattoo?

To maintain a fine line tattoo, follow your artist’s aftercare instructions diligently, keeping it clean, moisturized, and protected from sun exposure. Avoid soaking the tattoo, scratching, or picking at it, and consider touch-ups if you notice any fading or blurring over time.

🤔 Are All Tattoo Artists Able To Work in a Fine Line Style?

Not all tattoo artists specialize in fine line work. This style requires a high degree of precision, control, and experience with delicate needles. It’s best to look for artists who showcase a portfolio with strong examples of fine line tattoos.

🤯 Are Minimalist and Fine Line Tattoos the Same Thing?

Minimalist tattoos often incorporate fine line techniques, but they’re not always identical. Fine line style emphasizes the use of very thin lines to create intricate details and delicate designs, and it may or may not be minimalist in overall composition.

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