A Safe Space for Everyone: Interview with Tattoo Artist Katie Mcpayne

A Safe Space for Everyone: Interview with Tattoo Artist Katie Mcpayne

In this interview with tattoo artist Katie Mcpayne, they talk about the Paris tattoo community, empowerment, and true body positivity.

Like poetic caresses on skin, each illustration sparkles with a unique magnetism...a profound personal touch that speaks to the heart. This is the gift of Katie Mcpayne's work: immersed in concepts of love and compassion, their tattoos are emblems of positivity. With a pure innocence that stands up against violence, their pieces embrace body love in all forms: rainbow ripples of stretch marks, little curls of body hair, streams of scars, curves, and more...Katie has created a special visual narrative that is deeply empowering.

A queer non-binary tattooer, Katie Mcpayne has made it their mission to provide a safe space for everyone. In this interview they talk more about what they love about tattooing, their inspirations, and other people in the tattoo industry creating visibility for those who need it most. 

How did you get into tattooing and was it something you always felt drawn to do?

I've always wanted to do something with my art, but I was never confident enough to pursue this path. One day I decided to quit my Korean studies to focus on my art, and at the same time I saw that the tattoo industry was transforming and a lot of new people were pushing some boundaries, to create new ways of tattooing.... I've always been curious about tattoos, and always admire people with full arm tattoos for example. The more I learned about what was involved in this job the more I liked it. So, after a year on focusing on my art, I started looking for an apprenticeship everywhere in Paris and after around 8 months I found one. The more I learn, the more I like it. Being a tattoo artist is a lot more than being an artist, it's so much more.

Your colorful illustrative style is so graceful and heartwarming. How has your style evolved over the years, and what inspires you to create?

Thank you! I really like playing with contrast and lightness. I started with tattooing in black and blue, because I was really inspired by the work of tattoo artist who were doing this  and then I had some proposals for some custom projects and some projects were colorful and since then I love explore new things. I accepted a lot of projects that weren't necessarily my field, but by doing this I learned to explore and play with colors and this is how it started. 

My main inspiration source is when I’m walking and see beautiful landscapes or life scenes. I love how sometimes just the nature or a window in the street is, or just gestures of the people I observe in the subway, the street.... I’m really inspired by sunsets or sunshine, so you might see some in my future work. Instagram has been a huge aesthetic inspiration; seeing true body posi accounts helps me, freeing myself of how I could represent a body, meaning with hair, with stretch mark, disabled (even tho I still lacking on this field but want to improve !) 

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Who are your tattoo heroes? If you could get tattooed by anyone in the world, who would it be?

The first person that is coming to mind is Jess Chen. I really like her work and she has been an inspiration in pushing myself in trying new things and concepts in tattooing. My good friend Chimaera, too. Her work is so well put and I love her lines, and I would not be where I am right now without her endless support and precious advice. She encouraged me while I was doing my apprenticeship.

Teileigh and Kellikikcio have been some of my heroes by pushing boundaries in the tattoo world and by creating an intersectional place and they are doing a great work by decolonizing the tattoo industry by trying to support queers without forgetting to support black and persons of color, which is still rare.

I would love a piece from so many people, but if I have to choose, I’ve been admiring Stephanie Brown aka Feralcatbox. She's literally doing painting on bodies, her works are so beautiful. I would love a piece by her!

Much of your work is so body and sex positive, and I feel like a lot of your clients come to you for powerful expression and transformation. What does it feel like to be trusted with such an intimate experience? 

I feel so thankful that my work can speak to all those people and that they trust me enough, to do something permanent on their bodies. I love get to know them and they tell me stories (theirs or friends ), and sometimes we get some complicite moments, by joking around or just having good conversations about anything. I love learning new things, and I’m so curious about anything.

I’d love if you could talk about your experience being a black queer non-binary human in an industry that is, still, often very white male oriented. What has it been like, and what steps do you think we can take to keep progressing in positive ways?

It is not easy here in France being black queer non-binary. I am still privileged by being in a heteronormative passing relationship, light skin and cis passing and because a lot of people don’t see the purpose of labeling ourselves, even just by saying I’m black. Like just by saying what I am, sometimes people will think I’m being an opportunist and saying that is just because it’s somehow cool and trendy... Nothing trendy about the fact that the world you live in doesn’t really validate your existence.... 

We, the French, tends to be more colorblind than everything else which is honorable in a perfect world without any discrimination, but the reality is unfortunately harder on non-white people (like...we can even get killed for that....being queer....) and by being colorblind you erase our individuality and our history. And the tattoo industry isn’t exempt of this, since it’s only a reflect of society.

Being non-binary is something that is natural and it feels right for me, but society tends to erase us. A lot of ‘’All female this or that‘’ have many non binary people but we won’t mention it. There is a gender neutral pronoun in France but that isn’t “easy“ to put to use in oral conversations and people just tend to use “ Elle” instead of “iel” because it’s easier....So, unfortunately, even though in every media I do always say I’m non binary, in France most people think I’m female. I guess mostly because French is a really gendered language and it’s really difficult to talk in a neutral way... even a chair or table is gendered.

So, sorry if I lost you, but in France the Black queer tattoo scene is quasi non existent so it feels a bit lonely, and I know really few non binary queer tattoo artist. I feel much more welcomed and represented in the states, and it feels good because I feel less lonely over there. I wish and I feel confident that with time, change will come in France. We are just a bit slow about those things I guess..... And big work has been done about this topic and it feels good.

I think we should try to be more inclusive, and try to create tattoo events mentioning us like ‘’all female AND non-binary people‘’ and opening spaces that want to moves things about like that in the tattoo industry, which I see in the states and UK but I know very few in France: Chez Sibylles in Bordeaux for example....

I think doing some talks about how you can tattoo dark skin, and which colors are the best, what techniques we could use so the colors can pop more....It is something that should be done and I see it done on Instagram and shops (at least in America/Canada) are opening the conversation about this: the best we can do is sit and listen.

Tann, the creator of Ink the Diaspora, is doing great work about it, and Qpoc.ttt is an account that permits me to see myself represented too, and I am thankful for those accounts.

The Parisian tattoo scene is very unique. What is it like being a tattooer there? What do you love about Paris?

It’s really cool being here because, even though Paris is really small, there is really great diversity in tattoo style in the city, it is really freeing. Maybe because I’m living in it, I didn’t know the Paris tattoo scene was unique, so thank you for the info haha.

I love all the museums we have, the fact that streets and buildings have history from sometimes way back in times. I love doing the absolute Parisian cliche, meaning having a drinks on a terrace and just walking around, observing life scenes.

You’re trapped on a desert island. You can only have one book, one film, and one record to enjoy for your lengthy stay. What would you choose?

Oh okay it’s a tough one, I mostly read comics so I guess it would beeee Ghost World Fay Daniel Clowes, I’d choose Scott Pilgrim (because Micheal Cera....) and I would listen to Needle in the Hay by Elliott Smith. 

You’re made Ruler of Planet Earth. What is your first decree?

I would make sure that schools (universities included), transportation (subway, bus), and healthcare is free for everybody.  

Do you have any travel plans or projects coming up that you want to share?

I would love to visit more cities in Europe and America I just need to prepare things ^^ I have nothing really coming up in a few months, apart from trying to do some prints and shirts..... 

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