Mr. Koo: How to Turn Your Passion Into a Niche Business

By Prairie Koo

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Who would have thought a Chinese immigrant who cut his teeth as a graphic designer (and also had a knack for drawing in microrealism), would find a niche in tattooing and become one of the most celebrated artists focused on that style of art? Certainly not me.


I always thought of my art as a hobby, a release from the every day. I drew what inspired me and never really saw it as a profitable career–but here I am. I got into tattooing young. I was 17 and my tattoo artist in Hong Kong told me to do my own work because he knew I was [talented] and it just took off. I did it for a hot minute but took some time off to go back to Toronto’s OCAD University to finish my degree in graphic design. In 2014, I jumped back in and haven’t looked back.


People just find me, whether via social media or referrals, and I am able to bring their ideas to life. Every day I am learning about what it takes to be successful. Here’s the honest truth: there is no secret. It’s a grind that takes a lot of patience, creativity, and staying true to yourself. 


Newer artists get stuck in following trends versus perfecting what they’re good at, losing sight of “why” they got into tattooing in the first place.


After nearly two decades of tattooing people from all walks of life, in various countries, here are a few tips for upcoming artists on standing out:


Man with his shirt open revealing a large chest tattoo of a bird eating a snake. There are lights behind the man in a chevron pattern.

Develop a Unique Style 

Create a distinctive and original tattooing style that sets you apart from the competition. Find your “X-factor” whether it’s through intricate designs, or having a signature style that will make clients seek you out for your unique work. At first, people thought I was crazy for blending geometric art with my designs and now it’s a big reason why people seek me out and book me. 


Social Media is Your Friend

Love it or hate it, for the discoverability alone, you need content and social media is the only place to put it. Instagram is where I get the most engagement. I really hate being a slave to the algorithm, but when I make a good video, my DMs and requests explode. This is a no-brainer now, but when we started tattooing, we still had portfolios that were printed, a professional website, and online portfolios. Share your best work, engage with followers, and use these platforms to showcase your talent and connect with potential clients.


It’s What They Say About You

Instead of building a name in the tattoo industry, I targeted regular people and clients. I collaborate with brands instead of other tattoo artists and build a strong reputation within the local community. Positive word-of-mouth and referrals are invaluable in this industry, so focus on delivering exceptional customer service and quality tattoos to build trust and credibility.

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