“I was 18 when I got my first tattoo, and it was done by a friend of mine who was an apprentice and I said I’d let her practice on me. It was a little cat on my shoulder, which I still have.”
“There are some that I had done when I was younger and I couldn’t afford the money for a good tattoo, so I’ve since had them retouched. My latest one is Bart Simpson and he’s on the back of my arm.”
Kathi Burke (28), better known in Ireland as the illustrator Fatti Burke, says she’s never been discriminated against in Ireland because of her tattoos. In fact, as an artist, people experience her tattoos as an extension of her creative self, she says.
“I have a tattoo of George Costanza from Seinfeld because I love Seinfeld, lots of animals and plants, a blackberry, a ladybird, a lamb on my left forearm. I had a lamb teddy when I was born and the teddy has been disintegrating recently so I thought I’d have it as a tattoo.”
“[The tattoos are] playful and I love colour, and it makes sense for me. I just think that it’s a really normal thing. Sometimes if I’m wearing a formal gown, which would be once every ten years, I might think that that gown would be nice if I didn’t have tattoos, but other than that, [no regrets].”
“I’ve found Irish people really welcoming about it. But that’s maybe because I’m an artist, so it’s not a bad thing for me to go into a meeting with a load of tattoos, because people will think oh she’s creative.”
“I went in to get tattoos on my knuckles, and the tattoo artist asked ‘what is your job?’; so I thought he was quite responsible about it. Or a tattoo artist would be wary of doing a tattoo on a person’s neck and face, they’d ask, ‘are you sure about this?’ It’s even more painful to remove those I think.”
Fatti’s first two Irish-themed children’s books, Irelandopedia, published in 2015, and Historopedia, published in 2016, both topped the bestseller list in Ireland.
Her interests are now stretching over the Atlantic and she is currently working on two feminist board books for children – about two great American women. One is about Michelle Obama, and the other tells young girls about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Recently, Kathi moved to Amsterdam, a city which has given her the opportunity to meet an eclectic mix of people, she says.
“There are a lot of graphic designers, fashion designers, industrial designers. It’s quite cool the eclectic mix of people that move there.”
“I’m being exposed to lots of new artwork. The posters and the signage and the Dutch way of looking at things, it’s different to the Irish aesthetics, and there are different typefaces on the signs.”
Kathi, from Waterford, was in Ireland this week to see her very own designs on BIC lighters hit the shelves. She created seven designs which represent different aspects of Irishness, from the Cliffs of Moher to a traditional Irish fry. All seven illustrations are distinct, but fans of Fatti's work will recognise her vivid and playful style.
“I’m delighted because it’s something people can hold in their hand that I’ve designed. So they’ll be in handbags and smoking areas across the country.”
“For the last couple of years, I’ve been so focused on doing children’s non-fiction, and teaching kids, so it’s nice to do something fun with no agenda behind it. This is more fun and throwaway.”
Last year, Fatti added a third book to her repertoire, Foclóiropedia (2017) – a visual introduction to the Irish language. Focusing on children’s educational books is a natural fit for her she says, since she comes from a family of teachers.
“It’s a privilege. One of the best things you can do is teach children. My family is basically all teachers, but I’m the drawing teacher,” she muses.
Fatti's designs can be purchased in pocket lighter stockists nationwide.
Future career prospects and public judgement may have been the worries that kept older generations out of the tattoo artist's chair but it seems Ireland's twenty-somethings feel the tide is changing when it comes to acceptance of body art, at least among their peers.