Artist Stories

Kan is entering her second act

Inspired by fiction and theater, Kan weaves human narratives into her tattoo work.

Kan grew up in a small town in China before landing in Shanghai for University. Born to teachers, Kan was always this crafty and studious, qualifying for some of China’s best science programs. But throughout her childhood, it was art that held her interest. She developed a love of anime and created fanfiction in her spare time. When it came to applying for university, Kan had to break the news to her parents: she wanted to study art. “I made a whole Powerpoint and I gave them a presentation,” she says. “This is how my family communicates.”

With her parents’ blessing, Kan pursued theater studies and playwriting. “I think I have the most unique Asian parents in the world,” she says. “They're very supportive of everything I do.” 

Kan’s mother also seeded an interest in her to travel the world. Though her mom hadn’t traveled much herself, she had briefly entertained settling in New Zealand. “She created the kind of imagination for me for other countries,” Kan says. “I’ve always wanted to live abroad.” When it came to applying to graduate studies, she followed that dream to Glasgow. The decision was easy: Her favorite band at the time was from the Scottish city—and it was cheaper than London. There, she often browsed dating apps—but not for the reasons you’d expect. “I used Tinder to practice my English with different guys,” she says. “I never went on a second date.”

While Kan loved her new life in Glasgow, she became depressed at the end of her first year of her program. “It got to a point that I had to live on pills,” she says. She took the experience as a sign that something in her life wasn’t right. Her friends encouraged her to pursue tattooing. “I gave it a try,” she says.

This was when Tinder would come in handy once more.

“I saw a guy who said he was a tattoo apprentice so I matched with him,” Kan says. “I was like, ‘Hey, bro, how did you get that apprenticeship?’” She followed her match’s path and sent her portfolio to every studio in Glasgow. “When I got an apprenticeship, I dropped out of my PhD,” she says.

Kan cut her teeth in her apprenticeship where she developed a foundation in tattoo safety. It was one of the most eye-opening parts of the experience. “Most of the tattoos I got in Shanghai were in a living room while the artist was smoking and his dog was on my lap,” shae says. “In Glasgow, it was a different standard.”

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Her apprenticeship also taught Kan the fundamentals of using a machine and working with customers. Moving to her current studio, however, has helped her develop as an artist. “If you want to keep growing, you have to experience working with different artists with different styles in different studios,” she says.

Through that growth, Kan is expanding her sources of inspiration. She’s moved by poetry, literature, and theater and much of her work is derived from her own experiences. “ I also get inspired by my failed love life sometimes,” she says.

Through her work as an astrologist, she’s also exposed to other people’s stories. These help her bring her work to life. “I really like to have a narrative in my designs,” she says.

Stories connect Kan to her canvas, too. “It can be easy to forget it's a human body you're working on,” she says. “You have to actually know what your customer is going through.” It’s one of the most challenging aspects of the business for Kan, who describes herself as socially awkward. To combat this, she tries to build an emotional connection with each person. “When I'm making a design, I kind of feel like I'm going through it with them,” she says. “You have to be a part of it.” 

While Kan’s parents have always been supportive, tattooing was a hard swallow at first. “They're trying their best to accept it because they've seen how much I enjoy doing it,” she says. Kan was no stranger to this reaction, though. Throughout her path towards a career in art, friends and family warned her. “They were like, ‘you have to be prepared that you're going to starve,’” she says.

Recently though, Kan’s mom started sharing her daughter’s designs with friends. “Now I have a whole bunch of appointments in China when I go back,” she says.

For now, Kan’s still incredulous that she’s making a living as a working artist—and not starving. “I want to learn as much as possible,” says Kan, who’s only been tattooing for a year. She feels fortunate to be at her studio where she can experiment with new styles under the guidance of more experienced artists.

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