We had the good fortune of connecting with McKenna Lah and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi McKenna, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I was really immersed in academia when I started tattooing, and I quickly fell in love with the idea of abandoning the rigid structure of my day-to-day life as a student/researcher in favor of something with a lot more freedom. I also just felt like through tattooing, I was meeting much happier people and making people much happier through my work— it was much more fulfilling.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Tattooing started as a hobby for me when I was an undergraduate during the pandemic, but the more I practiced, the more I fell in love. After a few months of practicing on myself and a few very trusting friends, I decided to make an Instagram account to share my work, and to follow and connect with other artists. I didn’t know many tattooers, so I searched for local shops and artists whose work I admired— which is how I found Jelly, the shop I currently work at. It was definitely challenging trying to build a following when I was initially tattooing by myself in a home studio, but I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had kind and trusting clients from the very beginning who have supported me and helped me get to where I am. Once I was booking enough people to overwhelm my home studio, I reached out to shops to inquire about working as a guest artist. I was so new to tattooing and had never done an apprenticeship, so I was nervous, but to my surprise, Liz (the shop owner) immediately got back to me and welcomed me for a week-long guest spot at Jelly. I instantly fell in love with the environment, my coworkers, and the space, and I asked to extend my guest spot— this continued every single month until I became an official resident a few months later, and it’s been my tattoo home ever since! I was so incredibly lucky that my first guest spot ended up being fairly easy to come by, and at the perfect shop— this is not the case for all tattooers and I definitely recognize how fortunate I’ve been in my experience.

Since I’ve been at Jelly, I’ve had a chance to develop my style a lot. I really enjoy tattooing animals, florals, and botanicals, and I think clients come to me because they want something whimsical and delicate. I tattoo a lot of pet portraits, animals in hats, even the occasional meme imagery— the subject matter is often very silly, and that’s my favorite part of my job. I love that I’ve been able to find a niche in tattooing where I can work with people who just want to collect silly art— it shows that tattooing doesnt have to be scary or intimidating, it can be accessible for everyone.

Along the way, I’ve learned the importance of a strong community, self-reflection, and personal growth. I hope to always continue improving and developing my style, and I’m so grateful for the continued trust of my clients and friends who have allowed me to create permanent art with them. In return, I will continue trying to provide a space where every person feels safe and comfortable getting the silly little tattoo of their dreams.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’m from the midwest, so whenever I host people from home, our agenda is usually as follows (from someone who has mostly only gotten to explore the west side): – Getting food and drinks in Venice, either on the boardwalk or Abbot Kinney depending on the vibe, and then a night out at Townhouse or somewhere nearby
– Shopping and eating at the Grove
– West Hollywood bars at night (Hi Tops, Beaches, Bayou)
– Beach day at Playa Vista or Dockweiler the next day, something more lowkey than Santa Monica or Venice
– Bottomless brunch in Santa Monica (1212 on the Promenade)
– Museum day (Getty, LACMA)
– Flea market (Silverlake, Rose Bowl)

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Everybody at the amazing shop I work at (Jelly Los Angeles), but specifically the shop owner, Liz Kim. Without a doubt, I wouldn’t be where I am without her support, guidance, and friendship. She + the iconic group of artists she’s curated at the shop have helped me grow as a person and as an artist, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of this community.

Instagram: @pokingyou.softly

Image Credits
Liz Kim, Em Jia

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