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We Interview Cat-Centric Tattoo Artist Kapten Hanna

Considering a cat tat? This Seattle woman talks about artwork, preparation, trends, and aftercare.

Kezia Willingham  |  Oct 6th 2016


Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our July/August 2016 issue. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

There are few things that bring me more joy than cats, tattoos, and the people who love them. I talked with legendary tattoo artist Hanna Sandstrom, aka Kapten Hanna, of Dark
Age Tattoo in Seattle, to get more insight into the creative process between cat lovers and their tattoo artists as well as tips on preparing for a tattoo appointment. (We’ve interviewed Hanna before, asking her about her own animals and involvement in animal rescue as well as advice for pet owners seeking tattoos.)

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How popular are cat tattoos?

Pretty popular; people get tattoos of what they love, and pets are pretty high on the list. Also, classic designs like panthers and tigers have always been popular. I think people like them for the strength and classic qualities.

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Is one more popular — big cats vs. domestic cats?

I’d say about 50/50. I probably do more pet cat tattoos than other tattooers, and I built up a bit of a reputation as a pet portrait tattooer.

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How difficult are they to render?

It depends on the piece – the placement, size, and design. A photo-realistic portrait, for example, is harder than a simple drawing.

What are the best spots on the body for cat tattoos?

Again, it all depends on the design. I always like to work with the body, so a classic sleek tiger descending can look great down a hip/thigh for example, working with the length of the space. A cute cat face portrait is a rounder shape, generally, so it can look great on a forearm or a calf.

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Describe the creative process, if you will.

For portraits, specifically, I always need a clear, high-reso- lution photograph to work with, but I always like to pick my clients’ brain about what they love and what stands out for them to try to customize it to them.

What makes a good photo or piece of artwork you can use for reference?

For a photograph, a clear, sharp photo in high resolution; a three-quarter view is a great angle. I usually ask for a few favorites, since not every photograph is right for a tattoo.

For artwork I do mostly custom work. Many paintings don’t always replicate well as tattoos since the original medi- um wasn’t intended for skin.

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What makes one piece more enjoyable than another for the artist?

Definitely when the client trusts you and your artistic skill and gives you clear specifics but lets you have some creative freedom — that always makes for the best tattoos as well.

What tips to you have for clients selecting an artist to design custom work?

Take your time, and research someone whose style you connect with. Not every tattooer does every style. And pay for good work; don’t pick someone just because they are cheap, because the tattoo will be with you forever.

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What suggestions do you have for coming prepared to an appointment to get a tattoo?

Eat a good meal before, even if you don’t feel hungry, because your body will need the energy for endorphins. Don’t be hung over and definitely not drunk. Wear comfy clothes, as you’re most likely going to be there for a little while, so even bringing a book is not a bad idea. And you can always bring a snack or treat if you start to feel light-headed or tired.

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How long is the average healing process for a tattoo?

It all depends on the person, but generally about two weeks — sometimes longer, sometimes faster, depending on the piece and the person.

What do you recommend to promote healing?

Most artists have slightly different suggestions, but for soap I recommend unscented liquid soap. I personally use Dr. Bronner’s, and for aftercare lotion I generally recommend Aquaphor.

How can people keep their tattoos looking good for years?

Just like you should with your skin: drink water, don’t smoke, moisturize with a non-petroleum-based natural skin lotion, and use natural sunblock.

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See more of Hanna’s work by following her on Flickr, Instagram, and Facebook — or contact her at Dark Age Tattoo in Seattle if you want to get a tattoo of your own pet.

About Kezia Willingham: Also known as the Breadwinning Laundry Queen, Kezia lives with her family, which includes a pack of rescued cats and dogs, in Seattle. Kezia’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Seattle Times, xoJane, and Literary Mama. She has an essay in Blended: Writers on the Stepfamily Experience by Samantha Waltz. Kezia is also a professional member of the Cat Writers’ Association.