We had the good fortune of connecting with Kiwa Kim and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kiwa, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
As a tattoo artist, it is not always easy to balance life and work. It is difficult for me not to give my all to my work because I am so passionate about my tattooing career and want to provide the best tattoos to my clients. However, it is unsustainable because you will eventually experience mental and physical burnout. As a colon cancer patient in remission, I continuously check my energy level and physical condition. I am aware that if I do not take care of myself physically, I will be unable to meet the needs of my customers. In addition, if I lose my work-life balance, I may become mentally exhausted and unable to design creatively, so I remind myself to monitor my limits to maintain my best state. This balance is difficult to maintain, but I believe it leads to a better situation because I can provide my clients with my best work while also taking care of myself.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
During the first few years of my tattoo career, I primarily designed black-and-gray tattoos to cover up scars or unsatisfactory tattoos and to meet the needs of my clients. After several years, I desired a change of pace. I draw inspiration from works, photographs, fashion trends, social media, elements of Obangsaek, Dancheong, and mandalas, among other sources. At the time, the style of Korean tattoos was unknown to the majority of the world’s population, so I began designing tattoos by combining Korean materials and themes with mandala. After I was diagnosed with colon cancer, I was filled with despair and fear. I worked harder because I wanted my Korean traditional mandala tattoo style to be known even after my death. In my tattoo designs, I’ve created numerous mandalas with the following special meanings: “Everything goes well.” They symbolize my prayers and best wishes for myself and all of my clients. My traditional Korean mandala tattoo style sets me apart from the majority of tattoo artists in the Korean tattoo industry.
In addition to traditional Korean mandala tattoos, I also enjoy performing white ink tattoos. White ink tattoos are distinctive and possess an air of sophistication. White ink tattoos fade rapidly as the skin heals, reverting to the skin’s natural color or becoming a light grey or yellow. White ink is susceptible to yellowing, especially when exposed to sunlight too soon, and prolonged sun exposure without protection can result in a gradual color change. It also depends on the inks used and the condition of the skin. It is extremely difficult for the tattoo artist to design a tattoo with white ink. Nonetheless, when I complete a white-ink tattoo, I feel a sense of accomplishment because I have overcome obstacles.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
If my best friend visits me in Korea, I will introduce him to my fellow tattoo artists. Due to my medical condition, I cannot consume alcohol, but I believe that we could still have a good time by drinking non-alcoholic beverages together. In Seoul, I would also like to give him a ride. I’m not great at rides, but I think we can still enjoy the thrills together. I would like to take him to Jeju Island. There, we can ride horses. We will enjoy the best seafood ramen and barbecue meat. We will also take a walk along the beach of Jeju Island’s beach and appreciate the beach’s beautiful view.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
When I first began my career in tattooing, I learned from four teachers. I learned many fundamental tattooing skills, including how to use tattoo tools and clean tattoo machines, how to design various types of tattoos, etc. After acquiring all the necessary skills, I continued to improve my painting and tattooing techniques and skills on my own. These four instructors helped me establish a solid tattooing foundation.