Kirk Boutte is the owner of Effum Bodyworks LLC as well as a visual artist, philanthropist, and onesie connoisseur that has been tattooing for 20 years and breaking barriers when it comes to tattooing dark skin and loving thy neighbor. His zany personality, love for humankind, and reputation for being an expert on bringing all colors to life on melanated skin have made him legendary. However, a closer look at who he is and what he stands for can lead one to becoming a bit more serious about finding and following their own purpose in life because of his inspirational journey.
Q: First off, I love, love, love learning where artists began their journey; so, tell me, where did your love of art start?
A: I’ve always been an artist. My parents encouraged me, especially my mom. My mom was a teacher for 30 years. She’d get me to draw things for her classroom, and other teachers would see and ask her about the things I drew, which led to me drawing for other teachers too. I also took art classes in high school and went to the Art institute of Houston where I got an associate degree in Visual Communication.
Q: Ahhhh; so, is that how your journey to tattooing started?
A: No, I never wanted to tattoo. Once I graduated, I wanted to go into my lane of designing ads, logos…more of the business aspect of things. It didn’t work out because of me: I’d always get told that I was over-qualified, but I didn’t look the part. I ended up designing for a local company, but I had to wear a turban to cover my locs and long-sleeves to cover my tattoos. But, even though I hid the visual aspect, I was still me personality-wise. So, I ended up getting fired and moved back to my mom’s house just to work “normal jobs” until something else hit.
Q: Okay; okay. How did your journey of tattooing start?
A: Well, one day, I was just walking in the middle of the hallway at my mom’s, and, out of the blue, I heard a voice say, as clear as day, “You need to be tattooing.” This was in 1998. I was deathly afraid of needles. I still am, but that message stuck in my mind for a couple weeks. I went out and bought a lot of tattoo magazines and saw an ad for tattoo kit costing about $1500. I asked my god sister to help with the money for the equipment, I ordered it, and, then, I let it sit there for a couple weeks. One of my friends had a cousin that used to tattoo people while he was in jail. So, I learned the basics from him and started tattooing on my friends after. I also used to do a lot of research at libraries and things like that.
Q: How did it transition into the amazing business that it is today?
A: Now, back then, it was very taboo to get a tattoo, and you had to go to a shop to get them. There were maybe three in the city. You had to search for them, and it was usually at a sketchy scene with old bikers, dogs, and other shit like that. So, when people started finding out about me tattooing, they would come to my mom’s house. It got to the point where they’d come at all times of the night. So, I said I can’t do this anymore, and, luckily, a friend decided to let me tattoo out of a room in his barbershop. Then, one day, I was riding down Government Street, and I saw an empty tattoo shop with a “for sale” sign on it. I was able to get that building by that October, and it’s been up since then. I was there for about 15-16 years before they started gentrifying the neighborhood, but I’d already secured my second building by then. So, it didn’t stop things.
Q: Do you do commissions outside of your tattooing?
A: Not so much because I never really knew how to charge for that stuff. I felt like I couldn’t tell somebody to give me $100 for something I created in one hour. As an artist, I’m creating all the time, and I don’t tattoo celebrities. I tattoo the common people, people that may only make $400-$700 a week. I’m not about to take all their money for one tattoo because I’m a creator. I can create more. Now, I could be wrong, but I believe that people who charge millions of dollars for tattoos haven’t truly found their purpose because you can’t profit off your purpose. If you do, it’s not your purpose, it’s your job. I find purpose in other things. I get to help people that go through things all the time, and I’m allowed to do that through tattooing.
Q: Speaking of purpose, I know that It Takes A Village has been a big part of that purpose. How did that philanthropic work begin?
A: It was an evolution. I started noticing how much money I was making, and I started looking around at ways that I could help. First, I started donating to different causes. Then, I started taking it a step higher. One fact I want to point out about that that a lot of people let discourage them is that, when you start something, you can’t expect it to be big all of a sudden. You have to be consistent. With It Takes A Village, it could be a flood, a hurricane, or whatever, but we would be out there. When we started, it was about 10 people. Then, it went from 10 people to 20, from 20 people to 50, and from 50 people to 100. It was an evolution that shows that you can be a difference in society if you want. Sometimes you just have to realize your inner power. If you can change people’s lives, why not do it? When you do, it becomes infectious, and you want to do more.
Q: What are some ways in which people can support your efforts, whether it be art or philanthropic?
A: They can send energy, pray for me, send monetary donations, whatever they want to do. I know, anytime I ask for monetary donations, I tell everyone to just give me $1. I can turn that dollar into something. I remember there was once a guy that was out of work and had an interview lined up. I was able to give him a week’s worth of bus fare. He disappeared for a couple of weeks but reappeared later, happy to show me his first paycheck. So, you never know how something so small can impact someone’s life.
Q: What can people look forward to from you?
A: If you would go back to 1998 Kirk and tell him he’d be doing what I’m doing now, he’d laugh and say, “Not me!”. I just follows God’s word; I do my work through him. So, I don’t know what will exactly be next, just that, whenever the need goes up, we (It Takes A Village) will try to meet it. During the pandemic, we’ve been making sure that people have hand sanitizer, gloves, etc. We also were able to do a village baby shower for single mothers who couldn’t afford their own and gave out some boxing scholarships as well. Also, as someone with a son with Autism, for Halloween, it was important for me to start the initiative to give blue buckets out for those with special needs to let people know to not judge them during trick-or-treating. So, it really depends on the need.
Q: In what ways can people keep up with you, the shop, and everything else?
A: They could follow @Effumlife for the shop and my personal ranting spot, @Kirkworkx for my personal tattoo page, and @ItTakesAVillageBR for my 501c3 non-profit on Instagram. They can follow all three if they want. There’s also our website, ItTakesAVillageBR.org, but it needs a little updating.