Reality shows based around tattooists, body painters, and people who do other forms of human adornment have become so prevalent that it has basically become a genre all its own. From Ink Masters and Bondi Ink Tattoo to Skin Wars, if you’re interested in watching a show about people getting their skin inked, painted, and/or pierced, there are plenty of options. But none of them would exist without the sub-genre’s first breakout hit: Miami Ink.
Miami Ink‘s big breakthrough star was tattoo artist and model Kat Von D, and TLC saw an opportunity to capitalize on Kat’s popularity by moving her across the country and giving her her own tattoo parlor and related spin-off show. Thus, LA Ink was born, and quickly surpassed its predecessor in both popularity and infamy.
It didn’t take long before LA Ink became less about the art of tattooing and more about the drama that surrounded High Voltage Tattoo, especially in relation to its famous owner. From her high-profile break-ups to accusations of racism and shady business practices, Kat’s career as a tattoo artist, model, musician, and fashion entrepreneur often took a backseat to her tumultuous personal life and diva-like behavior. In other words, despite the initial premise, LA Ink eventually became exactly like every other reality show.
Here are 15 Dark Secrets From LA Ink You Had No Idea About.
15. TLC and Kat Von D each claim they ended the show
In August of 2011, it was announced that the fourth season would be LA Ink‘s last. Both TLC and Kat Von D seemed to be in agreement on that. However, what wasn’t so clear is just whom it was that actually pulled the plug on the show.
A statement issued by the network read, “TLC has decided that the current season of LA Ink will be its last.” It was definitely worded in such a way that TLC was the one who made the call.
It didn’t take very long for the ever-outspoken Kat to take to Twitter and refute TLC’s claims, tweeting: “I love how me deciding not to continue doing LA Ink, turns into it being cancelled.” She later elaborated that she decided she was done with the show after the way it was choosing to portray her break-up with Monster Garage star Jesse James.
14. Aubry Fisher was stunt casting by TLC
One of the highlights of the first season of LA Ink was Pixie Acia, whom Kat was so close with that she got Pixie’s face tattooed on her hip. Kat made Pixie the shop manager of High Voltage, and the BFFs seemed as though they would be the heart of the series.
The honeymoon period would prove to be short-lived. Following a fight between Pixie and tattoo artist Kim Saigh– and other behind-the-scenes drama that viewers weren’t privy to– it was revealed that Pixie wouldn’t be returrning for LA Ink‘s second season. Her shop manager position was taken up by Naheed Simjee in season two, who apparently didn’t shake things up as much as TLC would’ve liked.
So, for the third season, the network brought in a ringer– Aubry Fisher, who had already gained some notoriety as a contestant on the VH1 show Rock of Love with Bret Michaels. Despite the rock-n-roll vibe of both shows, it was clear that Aubry was brought in specifically because she was likely to clash with Kat and the rest of the crew. Her role as a manufactured villain only lasted a single season.
13. Kat was accused of anti-semitism
Despite the fact that Kat was gifted a show all her own by TLC, the truth is that she was actually fired from Miami Ink by her old boss, Ami James. If James is to be believed, Kat was neither professional nor mature about the ending of their association together.
James claims that Kat sent him a headshot of herself, with the handwritten message “Burn in hell,” an anti-semitic slur, and a drawing of a flaming Star of David. Tattoo artist Chris Garver corroborates the story, saying that Kat personally handed him the photograph in question.
Not surprisingly, Kat denies writing the message, and TLC officially concluded that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with any disciplinary action against her. However, James had previously got a lawyer involved and forced TLC to do a handwriting analysis which determined a “99% probability” that Kat wrote the message. How that equated to “insufficient evidence” is unclear.
12. Kat has a history of burning her old bosses
Whether Kat actually wrote an antisemitic note to her former Miami Ink boss or not, it’s obvious that there is bad blood between the two of them and that they didn’t part ways amicably. Given this and other situations that have occurred, it seems that burning bridges with her old employers is Kat’s M.O.
When Kat opened High Voltage, it was within about a mile of her previous Los Angeles employer and that was seen as a major sign of disrespect– especially since Kat had TLC’s help and the associated publicity of a TV show, which meant she would get a lot more attention than the other shop. In an industry built around mutual respect and a code of good faith, the move felt like a deliberate attempt by Kat to drive business away from her former employer, which is frowned upon.
11. Craig Jackman didn’t last because he was too professional
Season three of LA Ink marked a major turning point for the show in terms of making it much more conflict-driven (and, presumably, not having Kat’s personal drama be the entire focus of the series). Along with the addition of forced villain Aubry Fisher, the producers decided to start featuring interactions with rival shop American Electric and its main artist, Craig Jackman.
As it turned out, Jackman and his shop were just a little too good of competition for Kat and company. Jackman had a very professionally-run shop that didn’t have any of the chaos or drama of High Voltage, and rather than stir up a compelling rivalry, Jackman and his shop just ended up making High Voltage look that much worse by comparison.
10. There was a “B-team” that handled walk-in clients
While the show was on the air, you had to wait until the filming day was done to even get in the door if you were just a regular ol’ tattoo seeker. And you wouldn’t be seeing any of those famous artists.
High Voltage had a whole secondary team of artists whose job it was to handle the walk-ins and run the place like a regular tattoo shop when the cameras weren’t rolling. When a typical filming day ended in the early evening, High Voltage would basically flip over into a regular tattoo shop with a whole different set of artists who were never featured on camera.
Just to be clear, nobody is making any judgment calls as to the talent level of the so-called “B-team” of High Voltage artists. They just, for whatever reason, weren’t the ones chosen to be among the cast members of LA Ink. It’s also entirely possible that some simply chose to remain strictly tattoo artists rather than “celebrities.”
9. Using Kat as a job reference does more harm than good?
In a Reddit AMA conducted by someone claiming to have worked for Kat at High Voltage for a time, a tattoo artist claimed that his association with Kat actually hurt his position in the industry rather than helping it.
Due to all the persona drama centering around Kat and the multiple examples of her not conducting herself in the ideal way from a business perspective, the artist says that a lot of doors were closed to him after people found out he had worked for Kat, especially in the Los Angeles area where, he says, Kat’s name is tarnished among the local tattoo industry.
While celebrity tattooers like Corey Miller and Guy Aitchison did just fine despite their professional proximity to Kat, for artists who aren’t already established and world-renowned, it might be best to leave Kat’s name off the reference page of their resumes.
8. Producers actually toned down the drama
Whenever there is a list of secrets about a reality show, one of the entries is inevitably something along the lines of, “Producers ratcheted up the drama for TV.” In the case of LA Ink, there was definitely something afoot regarding how the drama was portrayed– only it was about toning it down instead of ramping it up.
LA Ink definitely presented High Voltage as a chaotic environment full of clashing personalities, and that became more and more what the show became about as it went on. But sources associated with the LA Ink and High Voltage have claimed that producers actually did a fair amount of editing drama out of the show– likely at the request of Kat, who was often the cause of, or at least at the center of it.
7. Kat spent years covering up for a racist friend
Another pal viewers got to see Kat Von D interact with on the show was make-up guru Jeffree Star, a celebrity in his own right who had built up a fair amount of fame through his music career and social media presence. Alas, as it seems to go with most of Kat’s high-profile relationships, her friendship with Star eventually went up in very public flames last year via a war of words over Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, et al.
Among the accusations levied against Jeffree from Kat is that he not only squelches on business deals, but that his “inappropriate behavior” promotes “drug use, racism, and bullying.” Seems like good reasons to sever professional and personal ties with someone, right?
There’s just one problem– Kat also admitted that she spent years “putting up with” and even apologizing for said behaviors – implying that she was fine with all that racism, bullying, and promotion of drug use until Jeffree got on her bad side, and only then did she suddenly have a problem with it all.
6. Customers had to “audition” to be tattooed on the show
While the show might have made it seem as though anyone can just walk in off the street and get a tattoo from one of High Voltage’s celebrity tattoo artists, that definitely wasn’t the reality. In order for a customer to be featured on the show getting a tattoo from Kat, Corey Miller, Hannah Aitchison et al, they had to go through an audition process in front of LA Ink‘s producers.
Despite the obvious requirements– a strong on-camera presence, physical attractiveness, and a willingness to be slightly guided on their “dialogue”– candidates had to have a compelling story to tell about why they are getting the tattoo they wanted. Once selected, the customer would then be filmed as if they just strolled in and were meeting everyone for the first time.
Interestingly, many tattoo artists say that they don’t typically let customers pour their heart out while they’re getting inked, as the artists need to concentrate on what they’re doing rather than be distracted by tales of new children and departed pets. But watching someone getting tattooed in silence doesn’t exactly make for great television.
5. Guy Aitchison gave Rob Zombie his first tattoo
While Hannah Aitchison– who was a featured artist on LA Ink for its first two seasons but was left out of the season three restructuring– is a renowned tattooist in her own right, her brother Guy has a much more impressive history in the industry.
Featured as a guest tattooist on LA Ink from time to time, Guy’s list of celebrity clients on would make anyone envious. But he also has a very special distinction, which is that, at age 21, he had the honor of giving rocker/director Rob Zombie his very first tattoo. Zombie is a celebrity in his own right in the tattoo world for his impressive collection of ink, and to know that it all started with a Guy Aitchison piece has to make the tattooist feel pretty proud.
4. Kat’s Guinness World Record didn’t last very long
While it might not be entirely fair to call it a publicity stunt since the profits went to charity, it was nonetheless a clever bit of marketing when Kat decided to try and set the world record for most tattoos given in a 24-hour period and have it chronicled on LA Ink. By the end, she had tattooed “L.A.” onto 400 people, which meant the successful setting of the world record.
Despite the money that was raised for charity, the glory of being a Guinness World Record holder was something Kat didn’t get to enjoy for long. Shortly after, her ex-boyfriend, Oliver Peck, set out to break her record specifically as an act of revenge, and he successfully broke her record by tattooing 415 people in 24 hours.
For what it’s worth, that act of vindictiveness was soon put to shame when Peck’s record was broken by several subsequent tattooists who nearly doubled that number. The current record stands at 801, set in 2008 by Phoenix-based artist Hollis Cantrell.
3. Many of the tattoos took more time than the show portrayed
In addition to LA Ink giving the false impression that people could just walk right into High Voltage Tattoo and have their torsos tattooed on TV by Corey Miller or Amy Nicoletto in a matter of minutes, it also misrepresented another major aspect of tattooing: how long the inked art takes to apply.
Big, complex tattoos that take up someone’s entire arm or back and have dozens of tiny details typically take multiple visits of several hours to complete. And yet, the customers on LA Ink seemed to be able to get massive pieces done in a single afternoon visit.
In addition to multiple appointments being cut together to look like one, the customer and the artists would both have to make sure to wear the same clothes and wear their hair the same way so as not to give away that the tattoo was taking multiple visits across multiple days to finish.
2. Kat’s lipstick line has included colors like “Underage Red” and “Celebutard”
Kat eventually added “make-up designer” to her long list of titles when she launched the brand Kat Von D Beauty. In addition to a line of various types of make-up, the star of the brand is definitely the liquid lipstick. And, just like everything else Kat is involved with, her lipstick hasn’t been without its share of controversy.
In an effort to put her own personal stamp on her lipstick, Kat gave the shades names like “Crucifix” (deep chocolate), “Damned” (black cherry), “Bauhau5” (deep raspberry), and “K-Dub” (bold fuchsia). But some of the names drew criticism, starting with “Celebutard,” which beauty store chain Sephora pulled from its shelves following huge backlash. Kat also took heat for a shade called “Underage Red,” though that one remains on sale with Kat defiantly refusing to pull it or even apologize for it.
1. Some of Kat’s relationships seemed like publicity stunts
It’s probably not a big surprise that Kat seems to gravitate towards romantic relationships with high-profile partners. That alone isn’t a reason to criticize her, as famous people tend to date other famous people. It’s often easy to make it seem like a celebrity has had an excessive number of relationships, when in actuality, they often haven’t had more than the typical “civilian” has had.
Where things get a little sketchy in terms of Kat’s celebrity boyfriends is that her break-ups with them often seemed to correspond with some LA Ink milestone, usually the beginning or end of a season. She very publicly canceled a planned publicity tour for the show during one of her break-ups with Jesse James, saying she just wasn’t up for it– which, of course, probably brought her and the show even more press than a standard press tour would have.
And of course, the fact that her boyfriends– Jesse James, Nikki Six, Deadmau5, Steve-O– are often also the type of people who you wouldn’t put it past to be in a relationship for their own publicity purposes doesn’t really help Kat’s case in that regard, either.
Do you have any LA Ink trivia to share? Leave it in the comments!
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