Kat Tat has been tattooing for 15 years, and she shows no signs of slowing down. Best known for her role on VH1’s Black Ink Chicago, the Chicago native has created a name for herself as an incredible talented tattoo artist, reality television star, and now business owner, relocating to Los Angeles to open up her own shop called Enigma in Beverly Hills.


If that’s not enough, Kat Tat now adds mother to her impressive resume. The 32-year-old welcomed two kids into her life, in partnership with her husband Jamie Lee Collins who plays in the NFL. This is a full circle moment, as Kat Tat was first seen tattooing Jamie on Season 1 of Black Ink Chicago. 



On the 55th episode of Shirley’s Temple, I sat with Kat Tat to discuss going broke moving to LA, Nipsey Hussle’s influence, tattooing her husband Jaime Collins on Black Ink, how they started dating, her parents’ divorce affecting her positively, love for cooking, being bullied into a C-section, reality TV affecting her mental health, Nicki Minaj coming into her shop & more!


Congratulations on Black Ink Los Angeles!

Thank you, it’s been a long time coming.


How does that feel? Anyone that’s followed you throughout this journey knows this is your dream come true. 

Thank you so much, it feels great. Even for TV to come back around, everybody doubted me when I quit Black Ink Chicago. We were a hit show at the time. But yo, my dreams, my goals go further than this. Follow me to LA, or don’t. I stayed true to that, and now we’ve been open 5 years. The TV opportunity came back around, so it’s dope as hell. Proof that you’re supposed to stay true to what you want to do and not compromise that for anything. 


When you first moved to LA, you said you went broke? 

Yeah, I did. I spent all my money moving here. I thought I was going to be booked up tattooing, I wasn’t. So I had to sublease my apartment, go back to Chicago where I was booked up. Do a bunch of tattoos, get my money back up. Refocus, regroup, then come back. 


You were scrapping quarters for toilet paper and eating noodles?

Literally, and this is after being on TV for years. TV is not everything. People think just because you’re on a TV show, which was a hit show at the time — literally I thought I could move anywhere I wanted and be booked up. I thought it was gonna be easy moving to California, and it wasn’t. It was an investment that I made. Look, I’m gonna spend all my money on this move and make it worthwhile. 


Even when I did go broke or run out of money, I didn’t give up on that. I subleased my place. I found somebody who could pay the rent there and live there, go back to Chicago and get my money back up. I had to make it make sense for me. But it was never oh I’m giving up on this, I’m moving back to Chicago. Let’s regroup, refocus, and try again. 


You did a Nipsey Hussle tattoo day when he passed. How did his passing affect you? 

It was one of them feelings that puts a cloud over everything. Me being new to California and living here, really getting into his music and seeing what he’s trying to do for our culture —for him to be taken away so tragically, it was devastating. It was absolutely devastating. Even the event we had, I was staying true to a mission. His mission was always being business-minded, really being independent, ownership and things. For me to even use my location and my business to commemorate him and everything he represented, it felt good. A way to keep his mission alive.


Walk me through the process of Jaime Collins getting your portrait tattooed on him? Who’s idea was it? 

It was definitely his idea. Kevin came to do it. I didn’t want to see the picture that he picked. I didn’t even really want to be too much around, so I just came in at the end. It was real special. It was dope as well. It was all him. He’s like “I want this right here, super visible. Ain’t no covering it up.” Every time we’re out and around him, even when we argue, there’s my face. Let’s get over this. [laughs]


What was your first tattoo at 16? 

My first tattoo, it’s a little old school rose with a banner around it. It has my name and my parents’ name. Kathleen, Katrina in the middle, then Kenneth at the bottom.


Did they take you to get it? 

No, my mom did help me draw it. I’m like “mom, can I get this tattoo?” Because I started working. I said “if I pay the light bill this month, can I get this tattoo?” She’s like “shit, yeah.” So she helped me draw it, I went and got it. A year later, I had to go live with my dad. I was so scared that he was gonna see it and freak out, because my dad was the disciplinary [one]. The only thing he’s mad about, he’s like “why is my name at the bottom? I’m the man of the household, why is mine at the bottom?” I’m like, my bad. But he wasn’t trippin’ about the tattoo. 


Are your parents together? 

No, they divorced when I was 3.


Shirley’s Temple has a focus on mental health. How did that affect you? 

I don’t think that it affected me in a negative way. Growing up, people always say “oh, we stay together for the kids.” People stay in miserable situations for the kids. But for me, I got to grow up seeing my mom happy and my dad happy. And I’m happy. I couldn’t imagine growing up in a household with two miserable parents. You go home, you’re feeling that negativity and that hate. If anything, it did me some good.


That makes me happy because you don’t really hear that a lot. A lot of people get affected negatively. 

Yeah, it’s important to speak that perspective. Because to stay in a miserable situation, just for the kids, is only going to hurt the kids in the long run. They can feel that.


My favorite video that you ever posted is you eating chips while your mom’s in the background with the kids all over her.

[laughs] My babies and my nephews, my mom is so happy right now. Both my parents, they really get to bask in their grandparenting. It’s beautiful. 


What’s your favorite dish to cook? 

I don’t have one favorite thing. I want to say catfish and spaghetti is a good go-to, or macaroni and Cheese. Any type of pasta. 


What’s your man’s favorite thing you cook? 

He loves when I make chili. He will eat chili all the time. If he has a request, it’s chili or tacos. That’s his favorite thing for me to cook here. 


Were you a fan of football before meeting Jaime? 

I was. My dad and them played college football. I wasn’t a huge fan, but I could watch the sport with my dad and my brothers and get into it. The contact was real explosive, but being with Jaime, now I know so much about football that I never knew before. Watching games is different with him because he taught me so much about the technicalities of sports. 


How proud are you watching your man play football?

I love it. He’s had a very successful 10 year career and I want him to have his flowers. Because he’s pro-bowler, two times Super Bowl champ. And he’s so humble! He’s so modest. If you met him, he’s big as hell so you might think he’s an athlete. But he does not give off athlete. He’s straight good man. I try to big him up any chance I can, so he really feels like he did this shit. 


That’s beautiful too, because you’re really humble also.

Thank you. Yeah, we understood each other so much. He even keeps me grounded. Even going back into TV, it’s different when you have a partner who gets it. 



Did you guys go back and watch your Black Ink episode when you first tattooed him?

I watch that clip all the time. I brought it up not too long ago, I put it on Twitter. But he didn’t even watch it back then. When I show him the clip, he kind of laughs. I think that’s dope as hell because he’s always been so respectable. That was Season 1. I remember when I hit him up, like “hey they really want me to do a celebrity tattoo. Will you come on?”


Oh you asked him to come on?

Yeah. Because it was Season 1 of the show. We weren’t a hit yet. We didn’t even come out yet. It was “hey Kat, do you have any celebrities that you could tattoo?” I’m like “yeah, one of my old clients. He just won the Super Bowl, let me see if he’ll come on.” So I called him like “hey, will you come and get this tattoo on the show? They’ll fly you out.” He’s like “yeah, I got you.” He came on, supported. Now fast forward, I get to film with him as my husband? It’s crazy. It’s so wild.


When he came back for that fifth tattoo, who made the move? 

He’s always been a super quiet man. When I tell you, every tattoo — and I get a lot of  big clients there. A lot of them are always flirty, but he was very quiet. Very respectable, about his business. “Look, I’m coming to get this tattoo,” and boom. So we never had too much conversation, it was always I put my head down and get to work. In 2020 when he came in February, he was more talkative this time. Talkative, real friendly. He’s like “why your pretty ass still single?” I’m like oh you do talk? 


So I guess you could say he made the move. Because he flew in to California to get that tattoo, we kissed that night. When he left, he’s like “I’ma call you.” He literally called me every single night. We FaceTimed every single day, didn’t miss a beat. Then we started dating. 


Who went in for the kiss?

I’d say it was both of us. Maybe me. We were vibing at the shop, the chemistry was there. I had finished the tattoo, he stayed after. Everybody was at the shop hanging out. Everybody got to vibe with him, because all they know is boss lady and me working. So they were kicking it. They seen the chemistry, it was a vibe. It was a little shop afterparty. It was great. 


Were you guys long distance for a while? 

We were, but flying back and forth, it was easy. We were definitely long distance. I’d go see him every other week. During off seasons, he’d come see me. The pandemic happened, and we spent so much time together. So much time together, it was crazy. Our first time hanging out, our first date lasted two weeks. Literally. The pandemic happened, we got to spend a whole lot of time together.


How does it feel to be a mom so young? 

It feels great. I don’t feel like I’m that young. You are young? I’m 32. I always felt like I’d be pregnant by the time I was 28. I got pregnant. I was 29. I’m telling you, I’ve always known how my life was going to go. But I’m loving it, it feels great. To have them so close, back to back. I want more. I want at least one more, so I’m trying to get it out the way.


Was it hard having a C-section?

It was scheduled, so the whole process wasn’t hard. But afterwards, that recovery was crazy. Had I known what I was going to experience afterward, I would’ve never let them bully me into a C-section. Because my first one, he was big. He was real big and he got stuck. They’re like “oh, your first one got stuck. You need to have a C-section. But if you don’t want to have a C-section, get induced a week early.” Okay, I’ma get induced a week early. 


Towards the end of my pregnancy, they’re like “he’s measuring really big. Do you want to hear the risk of what happens if he gets stuck too? If you can’t get him out?” But my first one got stuck, they did what they had to do to get him out and he was fine. They’re like “oh, you want to hear the risk?” They literally said “no, you should have a C-section.” When once he was born and I saw his build, they were built so differently, I know I could’ve pushed him out. Jackson was wide, he had these big ass shoulders. When they handed me Jacoby, he was so narrow. He weighed more, but they were built different. 


I wish I would have just done more research because they don’t tell you all of it. They make it sound like you just walk in, get a C-section, get cut out open. “It’s great, women do it every day. You’ll be just fine.” It’s not that. Thank God, my baby’s here. He’s healthy. I didn’t want to risk anything happening. Once they told me that there’s a risk that he wouldn’t be okay, C-section. But now in hindsight, if I’d have had a doula or a midwife or somebody there educating me, but I didn’t. I had these doctors jamming down my throat why I need to have a C-section. 


I’m still stuck on Jackson getting stuck. 

This was my first birth, so to me it wasn’t traumatic. But apparently, it’s classified as a traumatic birth. He was coming out, then they cut me. They get him out, my husband couldn’t cut the umbilical cord because they had to hurry up and rush him over to this table to make sure he was okay. I remember looking up at Jamie, he was looking all scared like “what’s going on?” I’m like what’s going on? 


The doctor cut me, but I didn’t feel it because I had the epidermal. But he stitched me back together. He’s shaken up like “yeah, he got stuck.” It’s called Shoulder Dystocia. They handed me him within 5 minutes, I got to hold my baby. It was a beautiful experience. Moving forward. I had different doctors because I was in different states. This doctor’s like “you really want to experience that trauma again and go through it?” To me, it wasn’t traumatic. 


Was it a white doctor?

They were all white. Finding a black doctor was hard, especially because me traveling and bouncing back and forth. Finding a doctor that would take on a client who also sees other doctors was hard, so I was very limited. Even me finding the doctor’s office that I gave birth, they tried to cancel me at first in Florida. I’m kind of bitter at the whole American health system. But I got through it. My baby’s here, he’s healthy. 


When I was walking out the hospital, the nurse that was pushing me out the hospital, she’s like, “yeah, I got 7 kids.” She did them all vaginally. She’s like “honestly, they do way too many C-sections in this hospital. It’s really a scheduling thing for them.” I was livid. They literally cut me open so they could make it to their dinner plans?


She needs to speak up!

Yeah, it’s crazy. But I try not to be too down on him. At the end of the day, my baby’s here and he’s healthy. And that’s most important. But it’s still, more people need to speak up about it just like you said.


How are you doing? How’s everything? 

I’m doing good, I’m in a good space. I can remember not being in a good space for a long time, so I can honestly say that right now I’m in a good space. 


Reality TV can set off anxiety and depression regarding body image and financial status. It affects their overall outlook on life and causes mental distress. How has reality TV affected your mental health?

I can agree with that, 100%. It goes even beyond the financial and your body image, you get caught up in so many people’s perception of you. Your own friendships, you have trust issues because you’re filming with people. You got fake friendships, you got real friends, you don’t know what’s real anymore. It completely screws up your perception of reality. Reality TV will legit screw up your perception of reality. 


For me I was honestly at my worst space, I can see it. It’s a reflection, it’s all over me. Season 2 of Black Ink Chicago, when I had the short blonde hair. I didn’t know really who I was. I was letting producers get in my ear and tell me what I should look like. They literally encouraged my platinum blonde hair. And I got long, pretty hair. Cut it off. 


They had you cut your hair?

They didn’t, but I cut it. They’re like “go blonde. You could be this and this,” just talking in my ear. 


How old were you?

I was 24, 25. For me, that was a really hard time. Straight alcoholism, drinking every day. Your job is to go to work and get drunk, every day. Have conflict and make good television, that absolutely spilled into my personal life. The best decision I could’ve ever made was to quit and move to California, as far away from it as possible. 


But the show was such a blessing at one time. I’m not going to talk about “oh, I wish I never signed up.” It was a blessing, but I knew when the time was for me to be done with it. It was no longer serving me, at all. 


I’m so proud of you for taking advantage of that and starting your own shit. Now you have your own show. 

Thank you so much. It’s incredible. I appreciate that. Mental health is definitely important. It’s important to cut off things that are negatively affecting your mental health.


What do you do for self-care? 

I do things that make me happy right now because I’m back in it. I do get stressed out dealing with things within this industry or just day to day. For me right now is going home and looking at my babies. Touching them and spending time with them, those are God’s gifts. So being present, being the moment. Because all that other stuff, even social media and this rat race, it’s not real. People let it affect them, in their real life. 

Photo Credits: Shirley Ju