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Tattoo artist Kat von D is a pop sensation in Los Angeles

Published: March 29, 2009 2:09 pm

Tattoo artist Kat von D is a pop sensation in Los Angeles
Katherine Von Drachenberg is a 27-year-old testament to American possibility. She’s a high school dropout who is the wildly popular host of the Learning Channel’s L.A. Ink,the business entrepreneur who runs her own ultra-hip tattoo shop in Los Angeles,the style icon who has her own line of cosmetics at Sephora.
“She’s not afraid to be who she is,and she’s not afraid of what people think,” says Rhianon Gingerich,28,who brought her mother and her daughter along for the signing of her glossy bio and book of skin ink,High Voltage Tattoo,in Baltimore.

She is an extremely talented artist. She lives in what she calls “the Frankenstein Castle” in Los Angeles,a 1931 Gothic stone structure built to replicate the good doctor’s home in the classic Hollywood horror film.
Right away,she tells us to be sure to speak up,as she’s going deaf in one ear. So is her current squeeze,Nikki Sixx,the 50-year-old bassist for Motley Crue. He perhaps from nearly three decades of playing heavy metal; she,her audiologist says,perhaps from leaning so close to her buzzing tattoo machine for 10 or more hours a day for more than a decade. “When we lay down to go to sleep,we have to remind each other,‘Put your good ear up!’,” she says. “He’ll say,‘I love you!’ And I’ll say like,‘Who’s Lauren?’ “

She was born March 8,1982,in Montemorelos,Nuevo Leon,Mexico,the second of three children born to missionaries for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The family moved to Colton,California,near San Bernadino,when she was four. Her grandmother instilled both love for Beethoven and the discipline of the piano: two hours of practice per day.

She could draw almost from birth,pencil or ink portraits,landscapes,anything. By the time she was 14,Karoline,her sister,had introduced her to punk rock,heavy metal,Metallica,AC/DC,the Ramones. She fell in love with a kid named James,who sported a mohawk. She got her first tattoo,a “J”,on her ankle. She loved it.

Her doting sister helped them run away to Georgia on a Greyhound bus. “I thought it was totally romantic,” Karoline Drachenberg says now. “Of course,I was 16 at the time.” Her parents were frantic. She called home twice before coming home three months later. It was not a happy homecoming. “I left again when I was 16,” Drachenberg says.
She started tattooing at a place called Sin City in San Bernadino. She worked hard and moved to Los Angeles to hone her skills. She put in long days at shops with names like Blue Bird,Red Hot,Affliction. At age 22,she married another tattooer named Oliver Peck. By 2005,she was so well known in the trade that when a reality tattoo show on TLC,Miami Ink,wanted to add a “girl” to the cast,she was the pick.

She partied every night and drank even more. Tequila only. Her marriage broke up,and she was fired from Miami Ink after two seasons. Ami James,the anchor of the show,said Drachenberg wrote an anti-Semitic note to him in retaliation. She said it was a forgery; TLC said there was “insufficient evidence” to say that she penned it,and the incident faded.

TLC authorised a spinoff,this time with her as the lead. She sobered up. She buried herself in her work. She set up her shop in Los Angeles as an expression of herself: Candy-apple-red floors,yellow walls,candles,guitars. She describes it as her “church”. She hired three veteran tattooers to work alongside her. On the show,she comes across as edgy but feminine. The guests who have come in for tattoos have been the wild,the weird,the wonderful: Rappers Eve and Ja Rule,porn legend Jenna Jameson,Motorhead vocalist Lemmy Kilmister,Olympic gold medalist swimmer Amanda Beard.

Her own body is,of course,a walking advertisement for some of the world’s best tattoo artists. She has stars above her left eye (for Starry Eyes,a fave Crue song),gray and black roses across her throat,“Mi Vida Loca” in elaborate script across her back,“Hollywood” as red-lipstick graffiti across her stomach,her dad’s face on her forearm,four of Beethoven,various pin-up queens,skulls,obscenities and Los Angeles symbols.
Her show’s ratings soared. Sephora called last year about creating the makeup collection. She hired her sister as her assistant and her kid brother,Michael,to handle all of her merchandising. And then,suddenly,there was the book and the tour. She’s signed a deal for a second book.
_Neely Tucker,LATWP

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