Like many artists, Mike “Kodiak” MacKenzie has family members who like to show off his work.
In this case, though, instead of hanging it on their walls, they wear it on their skin.
MacKenzie has tattooed his dad, mom and grandmother, as well as countless friends and clients, since opening Tattoosmith & Piercing in Everett six years ago.
Those talents got him noticed and invited to this weekend’s Seattle Tattoo Expo for a fourth time as a featured artist.
The Seattle expo is “a big deal,” said event spokeswoman Michelle Leyva. “All of the artists are vetted, so only the best of the best tattooists are at the expo. The expo offers access to the leading artists in tattooing, both locally and from around the world.”
The only other studios from Snohomish County listed online are Mordor Tattoo in Arlington and Tattoo Garden in Everett.
MacKenzie, 29, an Everett native and 2006 Kamiak High School graduate, lives in Stanwood with his girlfriend, dog and two cats.
The cats are incorporated in the tattoo mural covering much of his body.
How many does he have and where?
Find out this — and more — in this Q&A with the artist.
What led to where you are today?
I started drawing tattoo designs for my friends and I in high school. I wasn’t much to pay attention in class. I’d start drawing on the paper rather than doing the assignment. I would draw things that I wanted to get tattooed and then people started asking me, “Oh, can you draw this design for me?”
I started drawing them and decided I should probably start tattooing. I bought a little starter kit off the internet and I realized it was a whole lot harder than it looks. They make it look so easy at the tattoo shop, just drawing on skin, but there’s a technical side to the craft.
I was getting tattooed, and the guy who was doing it was inquisitive about my artwork. He said, “You ever thought about tattooing?” It unfolded from there. I worked there for a couple years before I decided to open my own studio.
I always knew I would do something either artistic or a craft, and this is a good balance of the two. It’s a good fit. It captivated me. I like taking somebody’s vision and putting my spin on it.
How old were you when you got “inked” for the first time?
I got my first tattoo on my 18th birthday. It’s a flying eyeball across my upper back. It’s a design my dad (Rod) had drawn. It was kind of like a culture icon for the custom motorcycle and hot-rod culture. He would do sign painting, pin-striping, big murals on vans and RVs, sides of buildings. Everyone knows him as “Hot-Rod.” He did that for 35 years. He ended up closing his shop down and going to Boeing.
How many tattoos do you have?
Between 50 and 80, maybe more depending on what you count as one tattoo. I’m just hoping one day to just have one big tattoo. I think I lost track after 10 or 20 and stopped counting. I might get a tattoo and add a background to it where it flows into another tattoo.
Pretty much everywhere except my middle and lower back and my butt and the backs of my thighs. I can’t really see back there.
What does your family think?
My mom (Karen) got her first tattoo at about 50, on her shoulder blade. A lily flower. She got her second tattoo about a year and a half ago; a birdcage with a little bird flying away on her wrist. She loves it. She is proud: “Oh, my son did this.”
I didn’t know how my grandma was going to react to me being a tattooer. She would come down from Canada once a year or so and stay for a couple weeks. She was totally supportive. When she came to the shop she said, “I want to make an appointment with you.” I did a tattoo on her shoulder blade (a lily) when she was 72. She took it like a champ.
Her last couple years she spent more time in the hospital than not. She was “the lady with the tattoo.” She couldn’t remember much, but she sure could remember how much she loved her tattoo.
Some people, it’s their excuse: “I’m too old to get a tattoo.” It’s like, “Bull—, you are never too old.”
She was 88. She and another lady in her 60s, they go to church together, and they’d been talking about it, and they both came in and got tattoos.
Any tattoos you refuse to do?
Sometimes young people come in, teens or early 20s, and they want really extreme tattoos. It used to be a statement to just get something on your forearm. Now you have to put it on your hand or your neck or your face to get that shock value.
It’s like a prerequisite. You’ve got to get your arm done before you get your hand done. You’ve got to get a sleeve done before you get your neck done.
I won’t do anything that’s racial or negative in that aspect.
Who should and shouldn’t get inked?
If people are unsure and get peer-pressured in or if you’re on the fence about it, don’t do it. The people who are excited about it, that’s the type of person who should.
What is the weirdest thing or place you have ever tattooed?
I get this question once a week and I never have an answer for it.
So you must get a lot of requests for odd tattoos in strange places?
Not really. We usually get to the strange places after the more obvious spaces are filled up.
What sets your work apart?
Most people comment on my line work and how clean it is. Some people can do beautiful murals, but they can’t do a straight line to save their lives.
What is the tattoo scene like in Everett and Snohomish County?
In Seattle, there’s a lot more hipsters getting tattooed. Young, just out of their parents’ house, getting the trendiest tattoo from the hippest new tattoo artist. Everett is more working-class people, people you can build a relationship with and continue tattooing for years, because they live here and work here.
Thoughts about those tattoo reality shows?
They are good at bringing tattooing to the masses. People who would never in their life set foot into a tattoo shop see a scope into it without leaving their living rooms. It’s good publicity. But at the same time, there’s a lot of misconceptions. They’ll see somebody do a whole back tattoo in one session and that’s just not reality. It’s good for business, but it’s fun to laugh at.
How did you get the nickname “Kodiak”?
My mentor thought that I needed a name to set me apart from the tattooers named Mike and that is what he came up with. He’s from Florida, and I think he viewed me as more rugged Northwesterner and it was fitting.
People would be shocked to know …
I am a cat lover.
Any cats tattooed on you?
I have a portrait of each of my cats on the back of my calves. And then I have a panther on my forearm and another nine lives cat on my leg.
If you could have a drink with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
I would like to get together with any of the old-time tattooers. There are only a handful who are still alive and still into it. Lyle Tuttle is one of them. I would like to know what tattooing was like in the ’50s or ’60s.
(Note: Tattoo legend Lyle Tuttle will be at the expo with his traveling tattoo museum, an exhibit featuring tattoo memorabilia from his global travels and tattooing the likes of Janis Joplin, Cher and The Allman Brothers.)
What are three things in your fridge?
Beer, cold-brew and yogurt — the essentials.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Going on Craigslist adventures. I have this certain list of keywords that I type in. Vintage motorcycles. Motorcycle parts. Vintage medical equipment like my table here. Old tattoo equipment.
And sometimes there’s something I’m interested in that’s just way too good of a deal to pass up. So we’ll get in the car and drive an hour or two away. Sometimes I come home empty-handed, and sometimes with a car. It’s like, “Oh, God, you’ve got seven cars. Do you really need another one?” I’ve got a ’61 Impala, three ’70s Datsuns, a ‘73 Volkswagen. I’ve got a 1927 Model T. I drive two of the Datsuns, the Chevy and the Volkswagen. They’re all in various states of project mode. I like having a bunch of old stuff around to tinker with.
Do you know someone we should get to know better? Send suggestions for The Chat to Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @reporterbrown.
Seattle Tattoo Expo, Aug. 18-20, Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion, 305 Harrison St.; www.seattletattooexpo.com. Hours are 2 to 10 p.m Aug. 18; noon to 10 p.m. Aug. 19; and noon to 8 p.m. Aug. 20. Live music, burlesque, daily tattoo contests, food, shopping and ink. The expo is a family-friendly event. Free for children under 12. Daily admission is $20.