Tattoo studio to boardroom

Tattoo studio to boardroom Kelly Rothschild image

Photo by Lacey Burns, Evilution photography

Art. It’s such a short word, yet philosophers have been pondering and categorizing its meaning since its existence. To define art is comparable to defining life; one would receive as many different answers as one would ask as many people. As time progresses it has become increasingly more difficult to agree on what art is, how to express it and what ought or ought not to be classified as art. Just as society, art will remain debatable and an ever-changing subject.


Today Publications and Toronto artist Kelly Rothschild (Owner of Machine Gun Molly’s ) will tackle one art form, that may or may not be an acceptable norm today, as opposed to ten, twenty or fifty years ago: Tattoos.

From over an hour of conversation, Kelly has made it clear: Tattoos or tattooing is art and can be a rewarding and unique way of expressing oneself and having a life-long art piece or pieces on one’s body. At the same time, Kelly, who herself has several tattoos, takes her work seriously and says that tattoos are personal and should be carefully thought about before having any done.

 “I see a lot of young people who have full sleeves and maybe that wasn’t planned out as well as it could have been. There’s a bird there, a key here, a heart there, and then a bunch of stars and dots in the background to fill it all in. It’s like a bunch of stickers and nonsense in the background – that I’m not a big fan of, but each to their own.”

After five years of working in street shops, Kelly moved on and opened up her own private studio.

“Street shops are sometimes impersonal. You go in, you pick something off the wall, you get it and you leave. It’s not what I wanted.  Okay, you want the symbol for strength, and I get it, that means something to you, but I’ve done it seven times this week and it’s starting to drive me crazy.”

Even though the income in street shops was great, it’s the challenge and freedom to create unique art that Kelly craved, which resulted in Machine-Gun Mollys, her own private tattoo studio.

Karen Hume celebrates her 50th birthday with a few new tattoos from Kelly!

Karen Hume celebrates her 50th birthday with a few new tattoos from Kelly!

“My clientele now are serious about art and they have a plan and they have a concept. There’s a lot more involved in pieces that I have been working on for years. When the client doesn’t know what they want, we sit down, communicate and work together. It’s a joint effort. “

Occasionally, a client comes in with an idea of what they would like but do not have a specific outline of what the end result should look like, and Kelly accepts those challenges readily. She spends one-on-one time with the client discussing and drawing. Once the tattoo is in her head, she gets excited to put it to paper:  “I love when my brain hurts… and I’ve got to make it happen.”

Kelly realizes that she’s lucky to be making a living from something she loves. The fact that people will have her work on their body forever is a huge compliment to her. She does not want to become overconfident and lazy, admitting that she is nervous with each tattoo she starts.

Despite enjoying her work, Kelly has her boundaries in terms of what she tattoos and what parts of the body she will tattoo, reminding clients that it is ‘life altering’. She will not under any circumstances tattoo anyone who is below 18 years old and she stops tattoos at wrists and the collar bone, except on regular clients who are already heavily tattooed.

“As much as tattoos are much more acceptable today, people will still look at you sideways  It doesn’t necessarily hold you back but you have to understand there will be consequences.”

Luckily, Kelly rarely refuses clients as most seek her out because of the art she creates and her only advertising is word of mouth. The only reason for refusing to tattoo someone would be that it would be offensive or threatening to someone else, or that there is no connection between her and her client.

Considering tattoos used to be associated with deviant behaviour, Kelly says that her clientele is diverse.

“This week I tattooed a firefighter, a woman who is a research scientist at Sick Kids hospital and a stay-at-home mum, but I get clients ranging from real estate agents to death metal band members, it’s always interesting. Sometimes I’m not even sure what they do and it’s my fault for not asking, but I focus on the project at hand and I can get quiet and lost in it.”

She says, however, that people tend to ‘care less and less’ about the visibility of tattoos on their body.

To people considering having a tattoo done, Kelly advises to think it over first, and to do your research.

“It (tattoo) doesn’t have to be this epic meaningful deep thing, it can just be pretty, it can just look good and it doesn’t have to have a story behind it. It’s personal preference.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as how often the autoclave is spore tested, to see the certificate from the testing company and if anyone hesitates to give you this information just leave. It’s your right. If they do not have an autoclave and use disposable tubes, make sure they are in sealed packages and that the equipment and needles are unwrapped in front of you and thrown away before you leave. Look at the artists’ portfolio to see whether it is consistent or not. If you want a certain style, find someone who focuses on that style, don’t force it. There should be open communication back and forth.

“You’ve got to go with your gut. If you don’t feel comfortable or you feel judged, go somewhere else.

“It should be a positive, comfortable experience, no matter what. 

To speak with Kelly about your next art piece, reach her at through her website at or call her direct: 416.825.2494

Do you have tattoos?  How do you view people with tattoos when you encounter them, especially women?



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