Pioneer Profile: Collin Kelsey of Live Free Tattoo


If you talk to Collin Kelsey about how he became a tattooer he’ll probably tell you at some point “I went to college in Boston” before leaving that behind in pursuit of his life’s passion.

And that’s cool. Lots of people attend college for a little while before they realize that something else is looming larger in their heart and mind. It’s not terribly unusual for someone to change course and pursue a dream.

It’s a little more unusual, however, when you find out that that “college in Boston” is actually Harvard.

Now, I don’t have the statistics for how many Ivy League educated tattooers there are floating around, but I think it’s safe to say the answer is almost none.

Collin was always into tattoos. His grandfather served in the U.S. Air Force on a Navy carrier, and Collin remembers being enamored with his traditional sailor tattoos even as a young kid growing up outside Atlanta. It wasn’t until he was entrenched in a culture in Boston that some might call “stuffy” that tattooing became a passion. While his classmates were off doing whatever it is you do at Harvard (rowing? Quidditch?) - Collin was getting tattoos. When he realized he had lost all his enthusiasm for the evolutionary biology classwork he was doing, he kissed Boston goodbye and migrated back south, scoring an apprenticeship with Jason Kelly at Live Free Tattoo in Atlanta in short order. After years of learning from some of the best artists in Atlanta, Collin started tattooing at Live Free, where you can find him today.

Collin and I met at the shop. I was getting tattooed by Jason regularly while he was apprenticing, and over time we became friends. Some of my most meaningful tattoos have come from Collin’s hand.

My favorite is probably the “Slow Down” tattoo on my wrist. Whenever I see it, I’m reminded that every now and then I need to take a step back, no matter what I’m caught up with. I have this reminder thanks to Collin.

If you live in Atlanta or have the pleasure of passing through, and you want a souvenir that you won’t lose in a junk drawer, go visit Collin at Live Free Tattoo. Visit his Instagram page to see some examples of his work and find out if he’s going to be traveling to a city near you soon.

Until next time,

- John, Founder of IGWM

Pioneer Selects: Collin Kelsey

Currently Reading: “Everything I look at now is mostly picture books, either old Japanese prints or something similar that inspires my tattoos”

Currently Listening: “I’ve been playing the new Barr Brothers record a lot this year, the new Death Cab is cool, and we blast Power Trip all the time at the shop.”

Favorite IGWM Product: “The Don’t Tread on Me Ring is super cool. It hits that special place for me.”