Love, Art, and Ink From Kazakhstan to Chicago, the Tinder Journey of Tattoo Artist Ashkat Kobekpaev


Without Tinder, maybe Ashkat Kobekpaev would still be working office jobs in Kazakhstan. Instead, he’s a tattoo artist in Chicago whose clientele has included singer Sam Smith.

Kobekpaev downloaded the dating app after hearing about it on the Showtime TV series “Shameless,” set on the South Side while living in his native Kazakhstan in 2016.

Kate Herrington was his first match. She’d soon become his wife and the woman who inspired him to pursue a career in tattooing.

She was a student at the University of Missouri studying abroad in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city. She also downloaded the app to meet new people and practice her Russian language skills. By the time she matched with Kobekpaev, she’d met a few people who became friends, and that’s what she expected with him, she says. But they kept seeing each other, and romance developed.

“He was just so cute,” Herrington says. “He looked like a K-pop star.”

Herrington’s Russian was “terrible,” she says, and Kobekpaev didn’t speak any English. However, with the help of online translation, they stumbled through the awkward moments.

The language barrier didn’t keep them from connecting through art and music, particularly the ukulele. Kobekpaev introduced Herrington to Russian music, and they spent hours and hours together.

They got married just four months after meeting in March 2017. Herrington extended her stay in Kazakhstan through the rest of her senior year and found a job after graduating.

Throughout their time in Kazakhstan, Kobekpaev worked various jobs but craved a more extensive art scene than Almaty offered. He and Herrington had discussed his artistic abilities, and she suggested he give tattooing a shot.

“She found my old drawings,” he says, noting that he was more artistic when he was younger. “She said, ‘Wow, these are your drawings? You should draw more often.’ ”

Herrington says of her husband’s homeland: “Tattoos are not very popular, but he always liked them. So now I was, like, ‘Now, you have the chance. You don’t have to work an office job.’ ”

Herrington worked to support them financially while he perfected his craft. She let him use her as a practice canvas in the early days. She got his first three tattoos.

A tattoo of the pinup model Betty Paige on Kate Herrington was done by her husband Askhat Kobekpaev. She convinced him to try tattooing as a career early in their relationship.
Her husband, Askhat Kobekpaev, did a tattoo of the pinup model Betty Paige on Kate Herrington. She convinced him early in their relationship to try tattooing as a career. Provided

A tattoo on Kate Herrington’s thigh was done by her husband, Askhat Kobekpaev. The two met on Tinder in 2016 and she convinced him to try tattooing as a career.
Her husband, Askhat Kobekpaev, tattooed Kate Herrington’s thigh. The two met on Tinder in 2016, and she convinced him to try tattooing as a career. Provided

“He always seemed happiest when doing something creative,” Herrington says.

Kobekpaev worked as a tattoo artist in Kazakhstan for a few years before the couple moved to the United States.

In 2021, they moved to Herrington’s hometown in Missouri, and Kobekpaev began tattooing at a shop nearby.

“I was able to do something interesting finally,” he says. “I can put my creativity in it. People love it. I can see how happy people are.”

After a trip to Chicago in 2021, they moved to Noble Square, and Kobekpaev got a job at Metamorph Tattoo Studios in Wicker Park. Then, he went to Lucky Kat Tat in West Town, where he works.

Singer Sam Smith’s tattoo done by Askhat Kobekpaev in August.
Askhat Kobekpaev did singer Sam Smith’s tattoo in August. Provided

Tattoo artist Askhat Kobekpaev and singer Sam Smith.
Tattoo artist Askhat Kobwas ekpaev and singer Sam Smith. Provided

In August, in a sign of how far Kobekpaev has come as an artist, he got a direct message on Instagram from singer Sam Smith, asking for a tattoo while on tour in Chicago. The singer now has a tattoo of an angel holding a Big Mac and a McDonald’s cup, thanks to Kobekpaev.

“I started crying because this was just something unbelievable for me,” Kobekpaev says.

He looks back on his life in Kazakhstan and is filled with gratitude.

“What were the chances for us to meet?” he asked Herrington. “I never would have been a tattoo artist. I would have ended up in a factory. I’m just really grateful.”

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