Rachel Williams finds passion for tattoos, commits business to cancer research with Texas 4000

Joe Freedman, Life & Arts Reporter

On a cold January afternoon, Rachel Williams pierced a needle into skin for the first time. Full of uncertainty, she took a deep breath and exhaled any ounce of doubt. In strokes of swift delicacy, Williams led her hand across the rib cage of her inaugural client, creating a flower. 

When she finished the tattoo, the public relations and Plan II junior decided to put all the money she had just made toward cancer research. Williams said this first session served as an important moment in her journey of self discovery, one that would culminate in a cross-country biking expedition.

Through the Texas 4000 program, students bicycle over 4,000 miles from Austin to Anchorage, Alaska. Leading up to the annual 70-day trek, each rider raises funds in support of cancer research. As a member, Williams said her choice to generate funding through donation-based tattoos gives her the opportunity to be both creative and generous, while supporting a cause that hits close to home. Williams has raised more than $1,000 in preparation for her 2023 summer trip.

As an Austin High School alumna, Williams said she first heard about Texas 4000 from a math teacher who was involved in the program while at UT. Williams said she didn’t seriously consider joining until she arrived on campus. 

“In my freshman year at UT, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer,” Williams said. “It gave me a reason to want to make a difference in the fight against the illness, which led me in the direction of the program.”

While most Texas 4000 members opt for more traditional forms of fundraising, such as email campaigns, William’s unique inspiration to use tattoos came from her experience at KVRX, UT’s student radio station, the place where Williams said she found her passion for design.

“When I joined the graphics team for KVRX, I was able to leave my comfort zone,” Williams said. “I’m someone who’s always made art, but has been very shy about it. Through the station, I was able to express myself through poster design, and I met people who encouraged me to get into tattooing and were willing to pay.”

Rylie Jones, graphics director at KVRX throughout 2021, brought Williams on to the team during the fall semester. The public relations and marketing junior received a tattoo from Williams in March of this year.

“Rachel’s art style is really well rounded, so I know I can count on her for whatever we need at the station,” Jones said. “Through the many projects we have worked on together, I have found her to be very observant of even the smallest details, which translates into her art.”

Williams gave her latest tattoo on April 13 to Alicia Rusthoven, a fellow Texas 4000 member and environmental science junior. The fig design was inspired by Sylvia Plath’s 1963 novel The Bell Jar and is located on her right tricep.

“In the novel, the main character sits in a tree, watching figs ripen until they rot, unable to choose which one she wants,” Rusthoven said. “I want this tattoo to remind me to consciously choose a life and dedicate myself to making that life beautiful.”

Williams said she does not have a set price for her work but typically receives $30-50 per tattoo. Before embarking on her trek, Williams hopes to amass a minimum of $4,500.

“I see (Texas 4000) as a potentially life changing pilgrimage, in which (I) can learn a lot about (myself),” Williams said. “I’m glad people are enjoying my designs, and that I’ve been able to combine the things that I love for a great cause.”