Linework Founder Kai Ree Tells All
Interview with Kai Ree by Amanda PeukertApril 26, 2022
Longtime tattoo artist and founder of Linework Kai Ree has been in the game for over 17 years. During that time, Kai has owned his own studio and managed four shops simultaneously, all the while being continuously forced to utilize unfit tools designed for other industries. Predictably, this vast technological chasm often rendered Kai’s businesses inefficient. Desperate for a common stance and a solution, Kai shared his concerns with peers around the globe and soon realized this problem was not his own – the need for an administrative tattoo tool was astoundingly universal. Kai took the time to talk about his experience in tattooing, why he exchanged his station for a software startup, and what makes Linework, well…work.
Linework: How and when did you get your start in tattooing?
Kai: When I was around 18, I realized school wasn’t really for me. I attended art school for a while and eventually asked my mother how she’d react if I started tattooing.
She said it was the worst idea she’d ever heard, so I started right away [laughs].
I worked in a studio called Leading Light for about six years and then I started my own studio called Timeless Tattoo.
Linework: Do you still currently tattoo?
Kai: Unfortunately, I couldn’t start Linework and tattoo at the same time. Linework has been a full-time job since 2017.
Linework: How would you describe your tattooing style?
Kai: I’ve been doing Viking, Norse, and old Norwegian folk tattoos like trolls and such for quite some time. I’ve also done a lot of realism.
Though I can do all styles, I’ve always favored black & gray – it goes much faster and I’m admittedly impatient [laughs].
Linework: What’s your favorite medium aside from tattooing? What or who inspires you?
Kai: Charcoal, but I don’t really dabble in other mediums due to lack of time. As far as influences go, I’ve always been a big fan of the Norwegian artist Theodor Kittelsen; he’s a legend.
His stuff has been used for a lot of black metal cover art because of the subject matter and darkness. Adolph Tidemand and Hans Gude have also been huge sources of inspiration.
Linework: Speaking of inspiration, how and why did you land on the name Linework?
Kai: I originally decided on the name Eazy Ink, but my partner Marius Haaverstad suggested the name Linework and it really stuck.
Linework: When did you first realize there was a need for a tattoo-specific business app?
Kai: I was tattooing and operating my own studio in 2017 and found that with all the administrative duties, structuring, and managing, I was mostly just running around nonstop. I didn’t have time for marketing or anything else. I was just stuck.
Linework: Why do you think a lot of tattoo artists are reluctant to adopt some of the emerging industry technology?
Kai: Some people say artists thrive in chaos, but I don't believe that’s true; I think that sounds so much more dramatic than it really is.
It's honestly just hard to find time to learn new systems. I mean, there are so many instances where I tell myself, “I’m going to make time tomorrow to learn this or do that,” but I just never get around to it.
With Linework, it doesn’t require such a daunting commitment – the software is very simple and effective.
Linework: Why is an app like Linework important to the industry?
Kai: Take the barbering and hairdressing industries, for example – there are maybe 1,000 options in terms of available software.
In the tattoo industry, there are almost none.
I don’t think most people understand how huge and unique this industry really is, and that it actually requires industry-specific tools.
Running a tattoo studio or managing your own tattoo business is actually far more complex than it seems.
Typically, we end up having to use generic systems that have very limited, basic functionality – and “basic” doesn’t always mean simple.
To be able to run a smooth tattoo business you have to have a mix of different tools, software, and hardware – Linework solves this by consolidating all of those things into one app.
Tattooing is not taboo anymore; I think it’s finally time the industry and its artists are taken seriously.
And if Linework can take care of the administrative work for studios and artists, that means more time for them to focus on drawing, tattooing, business-building, and making their mark in more ways than one.