Artist Katie So On Coffee, Tattooing And The Pleasure Of Being Spooked

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From fine dining rooms and comic books to the more permanent art of the flesh, Katie So is busily making a lasting impression on our city. Not only is she the deft hand and haunted soul behind several autobiographical comics (seen recently at the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival, aka VanCAF), but she’s also “ghostmeadow”, one of the group of talented tattoo artists working out of the Chinatown shop called Black Medicine. If tattoos and comics aren’t your thing, you still may have seen her work on the walls of Gastown’s Pidgin restaurant, and maybe even have tasted her culinary collaboration with Chef Wesley Young. Triple threat aside, she’s also unapologetically honest with a sharp-as-hell wit. Get ready to dive into the inner world of…

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What neighbourhood do you live in and what makes it home? I live in Cedar Cottage, not far from where I grew up. I like it because it’s quiet and nobody is too cool to be there. I can walk to the corner store in my sweats and greasy hair and not worry about running into somebody.

Sum up your art in ten words or less. “The person who made this definitely cry-eats.”

What’s the food that you turn to when you’re feeling depressed? I actually have a lot of trouble eating when I’m in a bad bout. And I have a bad habit of not eating until late in the day, and all of these things really don’t contribute to mental stability. My indulgence is definitely chips, though.

Describe the view from your workspace. I’m not good at working in my designated workspace. I often work in the living room because it’s bright and I’m surrounded by plants.

Favourite artist? James Turell is one of my all time favourites. His work made me think about art as a sensory experience and how that varies for the individual.

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Coffee or tea? Coffee in the morning, tea in the evening. I have a pretty serious caffeine addiction. I only need one coffee, even half a cup is enough. But if I don’t have that, I get bad headaches. I tried to quit in university but I ended up throwing up and had to get a ride home. It was like that scene in Trainspotting…It felt like my skin was shaking. So I slept for 12 hours and didn’t feel right until I had a cup of coffee. I’ve never messed with quitting since.

What keeps you up at night? Crippling regret for whatever unsavoury thing I said that day.

Dogs or cats? Cats because they’re bad bitches. They’re domesticated by choice and can survive on their own if they choose, it’s pretty cool.

Shoe of choice? White sneakers or business witch boots.

The Vancouver restaurant you wish was open 24 hours? There’s not a specific restaurant, but I wish more places could deliver 24 hours. I’m not out that much but the amount of nights that I just scroll through restaurants in bed, drooling over what I can’t have is pathetic. I’m a glutton for punishment in the most ironic sense.

Best meal that you have or wish you have eaten? The sea urchin paté at the Mackenzie Room is pretty damn fine.

The story you haven’t told but want to? My best friend from high school ran away to Europe with a boy, and cut ties with everyone. I have a comic that’s a surreal version of that experience that’s been on the back burner for a while.

Tell me about the weirdest or most surprising source of inspiration. Showers are always a good break during a rut. I also like gardening because I can tune out and don’t have to focus on anything work-related. I guess my answer is: finding inspiration in the moments I’m not working.

How do you prepare for VanCAF? Printing some new comics, and reprinting some old ones. I have some shirts for the first time, screen printed by my friend Ben Knight. I just got back from the Toronto Comic Arts Festival so I’m already pumped.

Biggest myth about comics? I don’t know about myths, but I know it’s very difficult to explain indie comics to someone who’s never heard of them. I usually have to clarify that I don’t do political cartoons and there aren’t any superheroes at the conventions, just even bigger nerds.

Favourite comic artist? That’s so tough, but right now probably Jillian Tamaki or Eleanor Davis. The duality of such emotionally-driven writing and stellar drawing skills is such a beautiful thing that I am a sucker for.

How did your collaboration with Pidgin come about? Pidgin reached out to me, and I put a show together in about two weeks over Christmas. It was pretty intense but I took the opportunity to try out some new things. It was cool to work alongside Wes and see my art in delicious food form.

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Favourite tattoo artist? I hate questions like this because I like so many artists that do such different things! I love the abstraction of Paolo Bosson, who I had the pleasure of meeting last year in Zurich. Hearing him talk about his process really blew my mind and made me think about art in a new way, which is a pretty incredible feeling. And anyone at Black Medicine is great, obvs.

How did you get into tattooing? Years ago I met Daniel Giantomaso and Joel Rich (the owners of Black Medicine) through comics. When they started tattooing, I went to get a tattoo from Joel. I’d never seriously considered getting into tattooing because I found the culture very intimidating and I couldn’t afford to apprentice (thanks, student loans). But Daniel and Joel were making their own way through the process of learning to tattoo and it opened up a whole new avenue to create art, which was really inspiring. So the three of us learned and worked out of a private studio for a while, and cut our teeth at flash events organized by Adam Sterling Vincent. Eventually, Joel and Daniel joined forces with Pacific Rhythm to share a storefront space for a short time before they expanded the space into what Black Medicine Tattoo is now…and the rest is history.

You have a very distinct style – how long did it take for you to develop it? I consider that a huge compliment because developing style with distinction has always felt like a struggle. But I think style is inherent and, no matter what, the way someone translates their thoughts is personal and distinct. Even if you feel like it’s not coming through, I think people will get a sense of it, if it comes from a genuine place.

All of your art has an element of darkness to it. At the risk of sounding cliched: is it difficult to tap into that ‘dark place’? I’ve had that air of melancholy for as long as I can remember. I’ve struggled my entire life with depression and mental issues. Only in recent years have I started to really examine and isolate these traits, but it’s always been a catalyst for my work because it can help me process feelings or thoughts that I wouldn’t know how to express otherwise.

How does the process of creating a piece of personal artwork differ from making a tattoo? My personal artwork is so self indulgent, it’s embarrassing. Creating a tattoo is about someone else, but it’s also translating their idea into a piece of art.

What is your dream tattoo? To have on myself? I don’t usually think too much about the tattoos I get, but I’ve been thinking lately I’d be into getting a dragon. Like a classic Chinese dragon. But getting tattooed in the summer sucks – or at least that’s what I try and tell myself.

What can we expect from you in the next few months? I’ve been working on more gestural, abstract mark-making. It’s an uncomfortable departure from precise drawing, but I’m enjoying the experimentation. We’ll see if I work up the courage to show the work this year. It can be hard to tell if abstract work is good or is just a mess.

If you can only accomplish one thing in 2017, what would it be? A kick flip would be cool.

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What are you most looking forward to this summer? Gardening and hanging out in my hammock. ‘Hanging out’ – get it?

Tell me about a superstition you have. Superstitions are impractical.

Do you believe in ghosts? I wanted to be a parapsychologist when I was a kid. I had a hefty collection of books on that stuff that I purged when I was a teenager and I really regret that. I have my share of stories, but no proof of anything. I’m sure there’s much more than what we understand within the dimensions we can perceive.

Is there life beyond Earth? On one hand, I think there’s no way we’re the only ones existing within the enormity of the universe. On the other hand, I could see how we’re just an insignificant anomaly. Or this is a simulation, which doesn’t really change anything.

What was the last live concert you saw? Run the Jewels. The testosterone was so palpable, I’m pretty sure I grew back hair.

Your all-time best Halloween costume? One year I was “Plaid To See You”. I was just glad to see people and I was wearing all plaid, head to toe. That night I ran into a guy dressed as Father Plaid but I was too afraid to go talk to him.

What game did you love as a kid? I liked to walk around the house with a mirror under my nose. It was like walking on the ceiling. Walking up and downstairs was always especially challenging.

The different career path that you could have gone on? Something in props or set decoration in theatre or film. I wanted to be an actor when I was a kid, but realized early on that only white girls get lead parts. Too real? Too true.

Three films you would gladly watch again? Tampopo. Ace Ventura 2. Paterson.

Let’s say it’s been a long week, and it’s finally over. What’s your drink of choice? Doobs before booze, but I love a good whiskey sour.

Best whiskey sour in the city? I don’t think I’m qualified to answer that, but my favourite bar is the Brickhouse. It’s got genuine charm that you just can’t replicate, and its a breath of fresh (well, kinda dank in that lived in bar kind of way) air compared to the minimal watering holes that are the norm now. Not to say I don’t enjoy those places either, but there’s something about a bar with grime, both on the walls and the people, that just gets me.

What, without a doubt, makes you laugh or brightens your day? I like reading ghost stories and conspiracy theories. Anytime that I’m feeling particularly crummy, I’ll do some reading, get spooked and feel a little comforted.

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What are you the most proud of? I watched all of The Sopranos in 6 weeks.

What are you the least proud of? I watched all of The Sopranos in 6 weeks.

The strange talent that you possess? I’m pretty good at karaoke.

What’s your go-to song? We have a pretty serious karaoke set up at my house. We’ve got a tiki bar and we set up a projector and go all out. But I also like the British Ex-Serviceman’s Pub for a good karaoke time. The three tricks to successful karaoke is knowing at least 80% of the song by heart, choosing a song under four minutes (2-3 mins is ideal) and to dance a little while you’re singing.

The strange talent that you wish you possessed? I would like to be able to do the splits.

If you had a motto, what would it be? Can’t stop. Don’t want to either.

Scariest situation you’ve ever been in? Going to parties is pretty scary.

The thing that creeps you out? Forgetting flip flops at the pool and having to walk bare foot in the change rooms.

Your favourite curse word? Fuck.

Least favourite word? Cartilage.

What object of no monetary value will you keep dearly until you die? Sentiment is a dangerous thing.

The most beautiful place in the world? I think we live in one of the most beautiful places. There’s something spooky and romantic about the ocean and the lush rainforests here that can’t be beat.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? I’ve never been anywhere in Asia, so I’d be into that.

The one technology you couldn’t live without? I feel lost if I’m not wearing a watch.

The best way to go, in the very end? I want to walk out into the woods and then, after I kick it, animals can eat me and I’ll turn into dirt.

How would you like to be remembered? Probably with an abandoned crypt that stoner teens can go hang out in to do rituals and make out.

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