Interview: Karen Glass Talks Music, Motherhood, and Tattooing
The tattoo work of Brooklyn-based tattoo artist Karen Glass is striking for its blend of traditional Americana and vintage botanical illustration. It’s a combination of bold lines and bright colors mixed into a world of flowers and butterflies—all perfectly placed to adorn her clients’ bodies.
Out of her tiny and cozy studio in Bushwick, called Flowerhouse Tattoo, Glass offers private and intimate custom tattoo sessions, surrounded by her collection of paintings, vintage objects and many plants and flowers. Botanical is definitely her thing (the name of her studio is not a coincidence), and you can smell it in the air as soon as you enter the building.
Not only is Glass both a gentle and determined tattoo artist, but she is also a talented singer, performer, and a mom. Art and creativity surround her life and personality, and we had the opportunity to chat with her about her inspiration, her work, and her many talents outside of tattooing.
FemaleTattooers: What is your background? Where did you grow up? Tell us a bit about your upbringing.
Karen Glass: I grew up in central Pennsylvania. I’m one of seven kids and I was the black sheep of the family—I was always very artistic and independent. I rode horses, played soccer, and performed in the high school plays.
I drew sharpie tattoos on my friends but I never studied visual art in any formal way. I got my first tattoo at 14 by a scratcher in a squat house. I was focused on performing and came to New York City to act and play in bands. I worked for a theater company for a long time before tattooing.
FemaleTattooers: How did you start tattooing and why? Did you have an apprenticeship?
Karen Glass: I loved the experience of getting tattooed. I got a half sleeve from an old friend who owns a Brooklyn shop. I was so sad when the tattoo was finished. I thought the process was incredible, and I was especially drawn to the intimacy of it. I loved the combination of artist, technician, and human connection. I loved the energy exchange.
In 2008 I was lucky enough to have that friend apprentice me. My apprenticeship was about 3 years long. I managed the shop and spent my free time working on my drawing and playing music. My rendering skills were weak when I started—I drew very sketchy and loose, so it took loads of work to develop. I’ll always be working to improve!
I apprenticed with Craig Rodriguez, the owner of Hand of Glory Tattoo. I also learned tons from the artists who worked there. Some of them were very generous with information and supportive of me. I immersed myself by being there all the time and watched how everyone worked. I quickly saw who did well by being prepared and genuinely connecting with their clients. I followed their lead.
Female Tattooers: You specialize in whimsical botanical and decorative tattoos. It all feels very feminine. What do you wanna share with your tattooing and how would you describe your style?
Karen Glass: I grew up in a beautiful valley where it was often very cloudy with lots of rain, so the land was lush and green. My mother always had lovely flowers in her garden. I could hike through secluded mountain trails just 15 mins from my home. That is where my love for botanical comes from. Living in New York, I felt I lost touch with nature. Focusing on botanical and organic tattoos helps me feel a connection to the earth and nature and it became my passion.
During my apprenticeship I focused on drawing roses. I got the most inspired when I started drawing from old botanical prints while using a traditional tattoo aesthetic. Drawing flowers seemed to tap into my inner child, and gave me the feeling of playing in nature. I began noticing flowers everywhere—connecting with them and wanting to draw them. Designing tattoos from nature grounds me in a city where I feel removed from it.
I think of my style as a marriage of American Traditional tattooing and vintage botanical paintings. Feminine and bold—an expression of the balance in me. I care to make everything as custom as possible. I try to get inside my clients mind when I draw to see what they really want.
FemaleTattooers: You are a mom, a musician and artist. How you combine all this and what came first?
Karen Glass: I have always had two different passions at a time. I suppose it’s the Gemini in me. When I worked in theater, I was also playing in bands. When I started tattooing, I kept writing, recording and touring with my bands. When I became a mother, I had to set music aside.
That’s the space I’ve been living in for a while now. motherhood and tattooing. The balance is a constant work in progress, but I find a lot of comfort in having both. Being a mother has given me a greater sense of purpose than anything. And I can’t imagine life without tattooing.
This past summer, my band, Bugs in the Dark, played a few shows for the first time in years. It was fun, but it was a lot at once!
FemaleTattooers: You live and tattoo in Brooklyn…in a great creative place. Tell us more about your studio.
Karen Glass: I live in Greenpoint, right by the water. My studio, Flowerhouse Tattoo, is in Bushwick, upstairs from my husband’s bar, Our Wicked Lady. Being a part of the Our Wicked Lady space is huge for me. There are bands rehearsing downstairs, performances on the roof, and events in the downstairs bar. It’s a real artistic community and I love being a part of it.
There are a couple other female tattooers on my studio floor. We support one another but have the quiet of a private studio. My new space has room for guest artists, and it’s been really inspiring to host other tattooers I admire.
FemaleTattooers: You have always been supportive of the LadiesLadies! Art Show. Do you think it’s important for women to support one another? Or do you think there shouldn’t be a distinction between male and female? What are your thoughts on this?
Karen Glass: I could write pages on this! I absolutely think it’s important for women to support one another. In a society that still has a wage gap and threatens women’s rights, coming together is one of the most powerful things women can do. This is especially true within the tattoo industry. We’ve seen the power of women joining together on social media against sexual assault in tattooing.
Because I played in bands, which is also a very male dominated field, it wasn’t a shock to hear some men say I couldn’t tattoo because it’s too hard for women, or that I would only get clients who wanted me to touch them. At the same time, I had a lot of men (and women) who taught me to tattoo and were incredibly generous with their time and guidance. I am forever grateful. Without them, I wouldn’t be doing this.
The way I see it, the world is full of the best of the best and the worst of the worst. You choose who to focus your energy on.
In such a male dominated profession within a male dominated society, we’re seeing increasingly how important it is for women to support each other and share their stories. It’s through that exchange that we can give each other strength and break down a bit of the patriarchy. To not just survive, but thrive.
FemaleTattooers: Who are some of your favorite female tattooers? And which artists in general do you look up to?
Karen Glass: I remember getting Instagram a couple years into my apprenticeship and finding Guen Douglas. I had never seen such feminine work before and she really inspired me. I love Claudia DeSabe, Tiny Miss Becca, Kirsten Holiday, Cassandra Frances, Wendy Pham and so many more!
FemaleTattooers: We were recently talking about friendship. Do you think such a thing can exist in tattooing or are we all too wrapped up in our lives and ourselves?
Karen Glass: True friendships in tattooing do exist! Two of my best friends are tattooers. And I have a lot of blooming friendships with other tattooers. If you’re open to connection, you’re going to find like-minded people, tattooer or not. For me, it’s about relationships that are supportive and not competitive.
FemaleTattooers: Do you travel often? Attend conventions?
Karen Glass: I work in Los Angeles twice a year. Last year I worked the Austin Invitational convention and I worked in San Francisco for the first time at Seventh Son Tattoo. I have a lot of travel planning to do for this year! Hopefully LA, San Francisco, Austin, Portland, Oregon and maybe a Europe trip. Traveling as a mother is a bit more complicated while my daughter is young, but I am able to do it more each year.
FemaleTattooers: What are your plans for the future?
Karen Glass: I plan to keep tattooing, painting, traveling and growing. I am staying open to see what will naturally happen. I am interested in exploring more work with my intuition and energy with tattooing and art.
FemaleTattooers: What are your favorite things to do apart from tattooing?
Karen Glass: I love playing music, painting and cooking. I love traveling, being at the beach and being with my husband and daughter and dog. I host dinner parties and especially love long one on ones with a good friend.
You can follow Karen at @karenglasstattoo
Photos of Karen Glass by Elvia Iannaccone Gezlev.