Kelly McGrath

Feeling Inspired? Share this Artist

“It was definitely a sigh of relief to have gotten through it without any major mishaps.”

Kelly McGrath
Shop: Art Alive Tattoo Studio
Address: 10729 N Main St, Archdale, NC 27263
Hours: By appt. only
Kelly’s adorable kitty Olive.



Kelly McGrath spent her childhood in Watertown, Connecticut. At age 13 her family moved to Madison, North Carolina and now she resides in Hurdle Mills, NC. “I’m truly a southerner at heart! ” says Kelly.

Lady Tattooers: Hi Kelly! Let’s begin with your first tattoo experience…
Kelly McGrath: I got my first tattoo on my 18th birthday, August 22nd. In North Carolina you have to be 18 to get a tattoo and I didn’t want to wait a day longer! haha — The design was a pink and purple diamond that I drew, it’s on the top of my wrist. I still have it and am really fond of it! I find a lot of sentiment in it.

The tattoo was done at Poison Apple Tattoos in Burlington, North Carolina which happened to be the place I received my apprenticeship. Unfortunately, the shop is no longer there. Interesting fact… I actually started tattooing when I was 17, so I was tattooing before I had one of my own!

It was great experience overall! My mentor did it and I was so pumped about my first tattoo and it wasn’t as painful as I was expecting. But I’m still a baby when it comes to getting tattooed. I mean, it’s not too terribly bad but it still sucks!

LT: That’s surprising! Not many people start tattooing before being tattooed.

LT: So tell us about the first tattoo you did…
Kelly: The first tattoo I ever did was on our counter girl at Poison Apple Tattoos (haha) and I’ll always appreciate her for trusting me! I did a cute little Yoshi from Mario Bros on her forearm. I think I used my mentors equipment because it was before I received mine. The whole process maybe took two hours — I was so slow when I started!

I felt awesome afterward and it was definitely a sigh of relief to have gotten through it without any major mishaps. I was so thrilled and knew I was falling in love with the art!

LT: What were your family’s reaction when you told them you wanted to be a tattooer? Did they encourage you? Were they skeptical? Did they support your decision?
Kelly: They were totally cool with it! My family is so supportive! I am so beyond lucky to have a family who supports and encourages my passion for art. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

LT: Let’s fast forward to today. Do you now have a style of art or tattooing you prefer? 
Kelly: I love to do anything girly, sweet and colorful and I’m totally into anything sparkly, outer-spacey, magical or mystical! My absolute favorite tattoos to do are my custom-designed ornamental jewels. They are different than anything I’ve seen and I literally have no reference for them other than my own imagination. As far as art preference, I love oil painting — it’s my favorite medium and I love doing surrealistic jewel art. I am excited to pursue more oil painting in the future and evolve my painting style, it is quite different than my tattooing style.

LT: What inspires you to create these custom designs?
Kelly: I draw inspiration from so many different sources! The feeling of happiness, nature and space, beautiful colors, visions I’ve seen during meditation, and dreams. I definitely draw inspiration from other artists work as well.

LT: What current tattooers or artists inspire you and why?
Kelly: I am inspired by so many other artists!! I love all the lady tattooers doing the ultra girly, cute and colorful stuff. Some of my favorites are Keely Rutherford, Linnea Pecsenye, Rachel Baldwin, Jody Dawber, Tilly Dee… and so many more! ‘Girly’ or feminine tattoos sometimes contain a lot of the same imagery (flowers, hearts, clouds, sparkles, makeup, animals, etc.) so it is really neat to see how each of these lady tattooers put their own twist on the subject matter. As far as classic art mediums go I’m struck by the work of Lifeless Satellite, Ana Bagayan and Jen Mann.

LT: If you could tattoo anyone past or present, who would it be?
Kelly: I would tattoo my father. He was one of the people who encouraged and inspired me the most to be a tattoo artist. He passed away before I could do a tattoo for him. I know he can see what I am doing and is watching me progress and grow as an artist everyday!

LT: THAT’S SO SWEET!

LT: What are your thoughts on social media and has it affected your career?
Kelly: Social media has been great for my career! I love it and am so grateful for the people who keep up with my work via social media.

Lots of my clients find me through social media. My biggest is draw is from Instagram. It’s such a great way for artist to share what they’re doing with not only clients but each other.

LT: Do you think it’s important to have popularity online in order to have a successful career?
Kelly: No, I think a truly talented artist will be noticed and successful regardless of their online popularity or presence. However, I do think that now a days it is important to have at least a portfolio available for people to easily view on the go or at home. I’ve found social media is definitely the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to have a portfolio available to not only people in my area but all around the world, which is super cool!

I started tattooing in 2008, right when MySpace and Facebook were big, it was helpful then but I think social media has become even more of an asset than it ever has been. I’ve met so many awesome clients and fellow artists through Facebook and Instagram, I’m really grateful for that aspect of it.

LT: What are your feelings about the accessibility of reference on Google, Instagram, etc?
Kelly: I think the availability of reference material via the internet these days is pretty neat! Unfortunately, there will always be people who steal work, but it is so helpful for honest artists and clients to get photographic reference for their designs or inspiration for their own unique pieces.

LT: On a different note… Animals? Yay or Nay?
Kelly: Yes! I love all animals!!! Horses are my favorite animal for sure! I have a girl kitty named Olive and a horse named Sugarboy!

LT: What do you do for fun besides tattooing? Any hobbies?
Kelly: Oil painting is my favorite hobby. I have a horse and love to go horseback riding with my family. I also love reading and learning about ancient mysteries, religion, space, and the unknown.

LT: Do you have many tattoos now?
Kelly: Not much, I have 11 tattoos right now but I can’t wait to get more! I’m taking my time though and making sure I can get what I want from who I want. I’m a huge baby and hate getting tattooed — I love having them, just hate getting them done (haha).

LT: Would you ever get your hands or neck tattooed?
Kelly: Personally, I think hand and neck tattoos look the best and are most appropriate on people who are already heavily tattooed elsewhere on the body. I don’t have any, if I ever do, it’ll be down the road a ways.

LT: What’s your favorite tattoo on your body?
Kelly: My favorite tattoo I have gotten so far is my small version of Alex Grey’s work of art titled ‘Polar Unity Spiral’. It is essentially a circular spiral that goes from black to grey to white. It is really meaningful to me. Just symbolizing everyone and everything’s progression and journey from darkness into light.

LT: It’s been a delight having you chat with LT and thanks for sharing your story Kelly!

Leave a Reply