Tattoos can be decorative, symbolic or pictorial but no matter which type of tattoo you want, you must trust your tattoo artist. We spoke with Kelly Borders, owner of Honor & Grace Tattoo, about how she became a tattoo artist, what you should know before getting a tattoo and her expertise in tattooing post-mastectomy.

What do you love about Savannah?

Everything!  I moved here in 2009 solely because I thought the trees were so pretty.  Savannah was always a city I looked at from a distance because I never thought you could actually live in a place so beautiful and not just visit.  Boy, was I wrong!  And the diversity here is unmatched, you’ve got everyone from all walks of life and we seem to just add our own thread to the Savannah fabric.  I met my husband here and we had our daughter here so Savannah will always have my heart!

What attracted you to becoming a tattoo artist?

It was actually all by accident!  I was working the front desk at a shop in rural Georgia and became a body piercer in the down time.  That’s when Kat Von D and Miami Ink blew up and the guy I worked for saw that there was a market for female tattooers.  I’ve had no art training since 3rd grade so everything I know how to do I learned through tattooing.  I apprenticed for about 2 years and then went out to New Orleans and Charleston before coming to Savannah.  Tattooers usually go through an apprenticeship that can last anywhere from 1-5 years and is often times unpaid, you’re getting a career in exchange for cleaning the shop and knowing how to do all the tasks forwards and backwards before getting a machine in your hand.

Any advice for someone who is looking to get their first tattoo?

Definitely look at portfolios!  I always encourage clients to shop around and do consultations, find someone who fits your vibe!  If you don’t get along or you get the heebie jeebies from someone, move on!  This is definitely a relationship built on trust and you want to go into it knowing that you made the right choice personality wise and from an artistic point of view.  You should NEVER feel pressured, unsafe, or disrespected during the tattoo process, this isn’t the 80s where that attitude is acceptable!  And once you found your artist, give them a few ideas and let them run with it, we always have more fun and do The things our best work when we are given the space to make your tattoo awesome!

Do you have a specialty or something that is unique to your shop?

I specialize in Japanese, large color, and cover up tattoos.  I haven’t really found something I couldn’t cover up given that the client was flexible with the design.  But what I’m ‘known-for’ in town is my work with post-mastectomy breast cancer areola restoration.  We are the only shop in the low country that offers this service and we work closely with the plastic surgeons in town to put a happy end on a very long and arduous cancer journey.  Basically after a client is cleared from their plastic surgeon they get referred to us and I tattoo a realistic 3-D nipple on the breast.  I will tell you no two women are the same and I feel so honored to be able to do this for them, it’s definitely my calling!

The things that makes you feel most accomplished?

Just being able to stand on my own two feet and provide a space for others to take care of themselves and their families. I’m not real big on praise so just being able to open the door every day at 7506 White Bluff is an accomplishment for me!

What are some crazy tattoo requests?

I’ll just say I’ve tattooed EVERYTHING. And I mean EVERYTHING.

As a woman owned business, do you have any advice for other women who are looking to start their own company?

Do it! But do it with a support system if you can. Let people lift you up when things start to get crazy, because if 2020 has taught us anything is that the crazy times do come! Make connections with other women business owners, create that community, it’s so valuable!

If you had one night to spend in Savannah…what would Kelly Borders do?

I would go to bed because I’m a mom and I’m constantly tired, haha. No I would definitely get dinner at Alligator Soul, probably go for a ride on the ferry, and then definitely go to bed, I’m lame!

More about Honor & Grace:

Established in 2019, Honor & Grace is the home of Kelly Borders, Val Cabanilla Vigil, and Chelsea Beckworth located at 7506 White Bluff Road in Savannah.  H&G’s mission is to provide the most exceptional tattoo experience in the low country and to tailor that experience to the individual needs of our clients. Striving to exceed all levels of attention to detail from the consultation to the final product, there is a warm, welcoming, eco-friendly environment that encourages participation from clients to produce a piece of artwork that clients are proud to wear for the rest of their lives. H&G believes that tattooing can heal, celebrate, and honor all of life’s events.