Tyffaine Akkouche talks with London-based hand poke tattoo artist Katie Norkina about her personal style and journey as an artist.

Sitting down in Katie Norkina’s cosy home studio, I can’t help but feel instantly at ease. Her friendly demeanour and charming personality adds to the lovely atmosphere she’s created with stuffed animals in the corner and the picturesque suburban London as the backdrop.

Gaining her tattoo training in St Petersburg, the 24-year-old moved here from Russia earlier this year and has slowly but surely created a following on Instagram, working with many popular influencers in order to grow and reach further audiences. She is now based in the White House Urban Retreat where you can find her poking on the weekends. Being both intelligent and determined, Katie’s self-made success story is one to aspire to.

How did you get started in tattooing?

I never really thought about it actually – I never knew what my direction would be and one day I just sat down with myself and thought about what makes me actually happy. Then I realised the place I’ve always taken comfort from is art and drawing. It was like putting two and two together – I loved tattoos and I loved art, so it just made sense. I immediately started my hand poke training and realised I was quite good!

Why do you practise stick and poke instead of the usual gun method?

Hand poke is just like a normal tattoo except I’m simply manually poking the skin with the needle rather than the machine. For me I hate the noise of the tattoo gun, I want the experience to be relaxing and as pain free as possible. It’s just closer to my style and who I am as a person, the atmosphere that I can create with the stick and poke method makes it more personal to me and the client – like I’m actually working every single dot of their tattoo. I love the process and I love seeing people happy with my work.

What was doing your first tattoo like?

I never used any fake skin or anything like that, I went straight to human skin! My first model was so amazing and encouraging – even though my hands were shaking she still had faith, haha.

The first design was a rose, but I remember thinking how strange it was drawing something for someone and them deciding they wanted this on their bodies for their whole lives. It’s
quite special but I was constantly asking ‘Are you sure you like this?! Are you sure?’ but once I got used to that I had a more ‘Let’s do this’ attitude.

What is your tattoo style?

I feel like I haven’t really found my true style yet; that’s my plan for the future, to do as muchwork as possible in order to find myself in this art. Right now I would describe my designs as dainty, using shading to enhance the realism of them at times. I love doing writings and nature-based designs – I think it’s really important for the tattoo artists to enjoy the design they’re doing, that is when it turns out the best. I try to make my clients feel as comfortable and happy as possible during the process. It’s not just about what tattoo you want but from whom you get it.

What would you say to people who are against tattoos?

Ahh, the typical ‘Your tattoo will look bad when you are old’ – We will all look bad when we’re old! Tattoos are amazing ways to express yourself and actually so many people love tattoos, but I also found many people like the process, the pain is actually nice for some believe it or not.

I also believe tattoos have become a big trend, and as hand poke is quite a basic, stylish thing people aren’t scared to do it.

What should people look for in a tattoo artist?

First think about what kind of design you want, but I would really recommend picking an artist’s personal design as you know this came from their soul. Follow a bunch of artists on Instagram and get to know their style and personality it’s important for the design to be in harmony with the artist. I know some tattoo artists who turned away clients simply because their personalities didn’t get on – you need the experience to be a positive, happy one or it could lead to regrets.

What’s been your biggest struggle as a tattoo artist?

Honestly trying to justify the price to some people is quite hard. There are always a few people who try to get deals and have a lower price, but I don’t know why they think they’re entitled to that. It can be upsetting because that means they don’t value my work as an artist. People in London are a lot more understanding than in Russia though, I was really encouraged to increase my price when I came here because it was so low. My prices start at £50 but the average tattoo is around £90 it’s much cheaper than in a proper studio but at this point I’m doing small, cute stuff so I feel comfortable charging that much.

How did you establish yourself in London?

When I first came to London, I tried finding a studio, but many turned me away because I had just started and all my followers were from back home. Nobody really wanted to help, and it was really hard to get a lot of rejections because although they told me it was due to not having space for me it started to feel like actually I just wasn’t that good. That’s when I thought fuck them really, so I started my own business. I followed a ton of people on Instagram and built a following – it was all word of mouth, friends of friends of friends were coming and that’s how my name went out. My work with influencers is important as their followers trust them and when they see the result is successful they come to me and feel safer getting work done.

What does your future look like?

I would love to open up my own studio in London. I love the concept of it being exclusively hand poke tattoos as it’s not very common. I also want to move away from the scary stereotype of tattoo parlours where the big muscley, heavily tattooed guy welcomes you with a grunt. I want it to be a super relaxed, comfy atmosphere – I don’t think that’s a very common environment when getting a tattoo.

What advice would you give to a beginner hand poke artist?

I’ve actually created a starter hand poke kit for beginners- it’s everything you need to learn how to poke. From instructions on how to set up your station to the actual material you need, even simple designs. I’m selling them for £50, it’s a great gift for someone who is interested in learning this craft! As a beginner I felt too nervous to tell people about what I was doing, but honestly, I’d advise to talk to as many people about it as possible you’ll be surprised about how many people are cool with being a tester model for you especially if it’s for free. Just get as much practise as possible because that’s how you improve.

You can find Katie poking at White House Urban Retreat in Knightsbridge on the weekends. Visit her instagram @HEART.POKE to see more of her designs and booking slots.

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