Editor’s note: This story is part of a series from Startland News highlighting entrepreneurs, businesses, and creators leading revitalization and redevelopment efforts in and around the historic 18th and Vine Jazz District. Click here to read additional stories from this series.
Before Kinesha Glover — better known as Keno G — ever picked up a tattoo gun, she held a pencil.
“I would sit around drawing portraits as a kid,” said Glover, a traveling tattoo artist with her home base at 2000 Vine in Kansas City. “I literally would sketch my siblings, my mom, my teacher, you name it. Doesn’t matter who I’m looking at, I’m sketching and drawing portraits.”
But if it weren’t for some peer pressure from former coworkers, she might have never explored the creative trade at all.
“One of the questions I get asked all the time is, ‘What got me interested in doing tattoos?’” And honestly, I got talked into it by my friends,” Glover said.
Click here to read more about one of Keno G’s first Kansas City tattoos.
In 2008, Glover was working a corporate job at AT&T in Louisville, Kentucky. At the time, she was 25 and had zero tattoos.
She did, however, sketch tattoo designs for her coworkers, and one local shop took notice.
“The tattoo shop that they went to was intrigued,” Glover said. “Like, ‘Who’s doing this? Who’s creating these drawings?’”
Eventually, two shops in Louisville offered Glover an apprenticeship, and her career as a tattoo artist was born.
Fast forward 14 years; she’s now opened a tattoo shop all her own. Keno G Ink hosted its grand opening Aug. 5.
Now located in the lower level of the north building at 2000 Vine, Keno G Ink is the latest addition to that redevelopment project.
Click here to read more about the effort to bring new life to the historic 18th and Vine Jazz District through a new development at 2000 Vine.
Glover — a self-proclaimed “Chatty Cathy” — found out about the space at 2000 Vine from a client in Dallas during an appointment.
Initially skeptical because she had no existing client base in Kansas City, Glover met with Tim Duggan, one of the leaders of the project, and was immediately impressed.
“I really had to get out of my own head of, ‘How can I make Kansas City work?’” Glover said.
Based from Dallas since 2011, Glover also travels regularly to Chicago, Cleveland, and Louisville to ink longtime clients and friends.
The idea to travel was born, again, from some friendly peer pressure.
After completing her apprenticeship in Louisville, Glover moved to Cleveland in 2009, where she actually did her first tattoo.
When she moved to Dallas two years later, her clients in Cleveland weren’t ready to let her go.
“They weren’t having it,” Glover said. “They were like, ‘You gotta come back. Whether you come tattoo at the house or set up at our friends’ shops, you gotta come back.’”
After a trial run on a visit to her native Chicago, Glover decided that she could make life as a traveling tattoo artist work, all the while maintaining her position at a studio in Dallas and developing her client base there.
“I made very minimal money in Dallas and traveled and made lots of money for a weekend or two out of the month, which covered my expenses, so it worked out perfect,” she said. “As my client database grew, I grew.”
Tattoo artist Jack Wheaton — a longtime peer of Glover’s who runs Ncognito Ink in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois — shared his admiration of her ability to travel, calling her work “meticulous.”
“Traveling as an artist is hard,” Wheaton said. “I’ve never met somebody so in control of her work, so organized.”
Wheaton said he loves when Glover comes to his shop to work and expects her studio to be “second to none.”
“I really can’t wait to see it myself,” he said. “It’s gonna be an experience unlike any other — very therapeutic.”
Now that she’s opened her own studio in Kansas City, Glover has enjoyed reconnecting with a city in which her family has deep roots.
Glover’s mother grew up in Kansas City before relocating to the Chicago area in the 1970s. Her mom has since returned, joining her sister and numerous extended family members, who Glover described as “ecstatic” to have her back, too.
“This is now me learning Kansas City as well,” Glover said. “I’m loving thus far what it is, the history, and where I am in this space. I love it.”
As for those friends in Louisville who convinced her to pursue tattoo artistry? Glover said they still remind her how she got her start.
“To this day, the ones who talked me into it are just like, ‘See, we told you.’”
Erin Barham and Matt Buek, a couple from Kansas City, were two of the first clients to get inked by Kinesha Glover on the opening weekend at Keno G Ink.
Barham was familiar with the 2000 Vine project because she works for Parson + Associates, a public relations firm owned by Jason Parson, one of three individuals leading the redevelopment efforts.
When Barham heard about the opening weekend special at Keno G Ink, she decided to book an appointment for her third tattoo, which she’d been wanting for a while. That prompted Buek to book his own appointment to get his very first tattoo.
The two tattoos are connected, though not the same. Barham’s ink is a small bison on her left arm, and Buek had the national park logo — which prominently features a bison — etched on his right forearm.
The “national park enthusiasts” chose the bison as a symbol of their love for national parks and each other, according to Barham.
“It was a phenomenal, fantastic experience,” Buek said. “It didn’t hurt nearly as bad as I expected, and I told them [Barham and Glover] that they screwed up, because now I’m gonna want a ton more.”
Buek described Glover as “an amazing artist,” and Barham credited her for making the experience “very comfortable.”
The couple plan to return, and Barham said she’ll be bringing her mother with her next time.
‘It’s just great for Kansas City that her talent is available to us,” Barham said.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.