Welcome to Tattoo Confidential, a new Cracked series where we talk to tattoo artists to get an inkling of what it’s like to work within the profession. 

We chatted with Xiaoling Li, also known as Kodsuno, about her incredible work as a tattooer, as well as common misconceptions people have about the profession. 

The New York City-based tattooer prefers not to use the term “artist” to describe herself because in Chinese "we don't use the word ‘artist’ as lightly as people use it in English. If someone calls themselves an artist, ‘艺术家’ on their social media, it sounds really narcissistic to me." She adds that the word needs to be earned, “If we say someone is an artist, they should be someone accomplished and known in the industry, like James Jean, Takato Yamamoto, or Alphonse Mucha."

She’s only been tattooing since April 2021, but her illustration background and extreme dedication to the craft make her an exceptional talent. Despite being fresh on the scene, she’s already cynical about the industry. “Tattooing seems like a ‘dream job’ where people earn money with their art and get mad respect,” she says. “Plus, on social media, it’s promoted that you can be whoever you want and everyone is special and everyone is boss. But that’s dumb. Because with that thought, people feel they are already the shit when they are actually just shits.” 

Above all, she holds herself to a high standard within her profession. “All the good tattooers kill themselves working hard and trying to be better every day,” Li says. “And I strive to be closer to their level.”

Tattooing is more solo work than influencers make it seem.

@kodsuno.l Tattooing is more solo work than influencers make it seem. A lot of artists show themselves smoking weed, being cool, and hanging out with cool friends, but I bet they spend a lot of time by themselves just drawing, Xiaoling Li tells us. CRACKED.COM

Image courtesy of Xiaoling Li/Kodsuno

Clients underestimate how long a tattoo will take.

@kodsuno.l Clients underestimate how long a tattoo will take. Li's tattoo will take 4 to 8 hours, while average clients expect between 2 to 4. There are definitely people who somehow think they can get a whole arm done in one day. CRACKED.COM 1

Image courtesy of Xiaoling Li/Kodsuno

Talented tattooers are harder to find than you may expect.

@kodsuno.l Before I started I couldn't tell what's a good tattoo or a bad one, Li says. Now I can see there aren't a lot of people who can produce great tattoos that will heal to look the same way it looks fresh. Talented tattooers are harder to find than you may expect. She adds, It's easy to put ink in the skin, but the difficult thing is to put ink consistently in a small range of the skin, probably about half a millimeter, to heal well. She estimates only a small amount of tattoos heal according to this standard.

Image courtesy of Xiaoling Li/Kodsuno

Scheduling is the hardest part of the job.

@kodsuno.l Scheduling is the hardest part of the job. It's basically one deadline every day, and I work 5 or sometimes 6 days a week, Li explains. I'm still struggling with it because I cannot always schedule my time that well so I don't always finish the design as much as I want to so then I need to reschedule the appointment. CRACKED.COM

Image courtesy of Xiaoling Li/Kodsuno

Clients will ask for designs way ahead of time.

@kodsuno.l Clients will ask for designs way ahead of time. I will have clients asking for designs half a month or even one month before their appointment, says Li. Right now, I'm actually working on the design I'm going to do at 1 PM today. She thinks it's best to wait to see the design on the tattoo day, her deadline, adding, We can do minor changes, and if there's a big change, then it's best to reschedule. CRACKED.COM

Image courtesy of Xiaoling Li/Kodsuno

Making connections is the most rewarding part of the job.

@kodsuno.l Sometimes you meet these clients, and it's like you've been friends forever, reveals Li. It's a super magical trip of being stuck with them, and you'll tell each other everything. Like, everything. Making connections is the most rewarding part of the job. When that happens, what else is better than this? better than this? This person is getting my art, and we have this connection even if we never talk to each other again for the rest of our lives. CRACKED.COM

Image courtesy of Xiaoling Li/Kodsuno

The tattoo industry still has big improvements to make

@kodsuno.l I hope people can take tattooing more seriously. Some tattooers are not qualified, and some tattooers have more 'vibe' than work. There are a lot of gimmicks and bad tattoos being produced every day. The tattoo industry still has big improvements to make. I hope we could all focus more on the real things: the drawing, the design, the execution, and the long hours instead of the fake things: the lifestyle, the hype, the trend, the look, the idea of you can get rich by doing nothing, the delusion that everyone is an artist. CRACKED.GOM

Image courtesy of Xiaoling Li/Kodsuno

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Be sure to check out even more of Li's work on her Instagram

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