The ''L.A. Ink'' star has fashioned a profitable niche from her tattoo art

By Benjamin Svetkey
April 10, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

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”People don’t get tattoos because they’re bored,” Kat Von D says as she rolls up a pant leg to show off the artwork on her ankle. ”They get tattooed because something monumental has happened in their lives. They get a tattoo to mark an event.”

Judging by the ink covering nearly every inch of her epidermis, Kat Von D — whose real name is the even-cooler Katherine Von Drachenberg — has squeezed a lot of monumental events into her 27 years. These past couple of months have been particularly hectic for the tattoo artist-turned-TV star-turned-best-selling author: She’s just finished a book-signing tour for High Voltage Tattoo — an annotated compilation of her life’s work that comes complete with an intro by boyfriend Nikki Sixx — during which she drew huge crowds (1,700 fans showed up for her March 23 stop at a Barnes & Noble in Huntington Beach, Calif.). Today, she’s back in L.A., getting ready to start shooting a third season of L.A. Ink, the reality series set at her Hollywood tattoo parlor (it’s TLC’s No. 1 program). ”It’s more of a ‘docuseries,”’ Von D says. ”It’s not one of these gimmicky things with people getting voted off an island. I’ve taken a vow to be as honest as possible when they’re filming.”

That vow has made Von D the most popular TV and literary personality ever to sport a thigh tattoo of Beethoven (a hero since her childhood in a small Southern California town, where she took classical piano lessons). She certainly seems to have struck a chord with women; at the Huntington Beach book signing, the females outnumbered the males two to one. ”She’s a huge success in the male-dominated world of tattooing — what a great role model!” gushed one fan who waited nine hours (in the rain) to meet her idol. Von D has been branching out, too, launching a line of skin-care products at Sephora — including, ironically, a ”tattoo concealer” — and marketing her moniker on everything from wristwatches to shot glasses. Somehow she finds time to etch on a patch of skin every so often. ”We get 2,000 to 6,000 e-mails a day,” she says. ”But it’s hard to know if they want to get tattooed by me because they like my work or because I’m now a brand name.”

The Von D brand shows every sign of growing bigger. She’s currently working on a new book, this one telling the tales of clients ranging from rock stars to her own mother. ”It used to be if you were a female and you had a tattoo, you had to be a biker,” she says. ”If you had a little tattoo on your ankle, you probably did some time. But there’s not a negative stigma anymore. Going to the mall today versus five years ago is a totally different experience. People stare at me for totally different reasons.”

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