D, Kat Von
D, Kat VonCareer
Tattoo artist and television personality
B orn Katherine Von Drachenberg, March 8, 1982, in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico; daughter of René Drachenberg and Sylvia Galeano (both missionaries); married Oliver Peck (a tattoo artist), 2004 (divorced, c. 2007).
T attoo artist, Sin City Tattoo, Los Angeles, 1998-2000; tattoo artist at Blue Bird Tattoo, Pasadena, CA, Red Hot Tattoo, Arcadia, CA, Inflictions, Covina, CA, True Tattoo, Los Angeles, c. 2000-05; appeared on TLC’s Miami Ink, 2005-06; star of TLC’s LA Ink, 2007—; owner, High Voltage Tattoo, 2007—.
T attoo artist Kat Von D inked her way into stardom in 2005 as a featured artist on the cable television program Miami Ink. After two seasons, she returned to her hometown of Los Angeles and opened High Voltage Tattoo, which serves as home base for a spinoff show called LA Ink. Highly popular, LA Ink captured 2.9 million viewers during its 2007 premiere, making it TLC’s most-watched pre-miere since What Not to Wear debuted in 2003. For Von D, a twentysomething who began tattooing friends at 14, the show represents an opportunity to share her art medium with the world and improve the image of the industry.
Like many of the people she tattoos, Von D is a living, walking canvas; she is covered in ink that stretches from her face to her ankles. Roses circle her neck, Beethoven graces her hip and portraits of Mexican actresses Maria Victoria and Elsa Aguirre round out her shins. A piano sits on her ankle. Von D’s favorite tattoo is a series of stars on her left temple, including one on her eyelid, inspired by the Motley Crüe song Starry Eyes. “I think people should just get a tattoo that they want to look at forever,” Von D told the Los Angeles Times’ Amy Kaufman. “People read into the meaning behind every tattoo, but in reality it’s just aesthetics. It’s something you do because you have the power to alter your body.”
The future body inker was born Katherine Von Drachenberg on March 8, 1982, in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico. Her parents, René Drachenberg and Sylvia Galeano, both hailed from Argentina but were busy with missionary work in Mexico when Von D was born. Her father was part German, while her mother was of Spanish-Italian descent. She has an older sister and younger brother. When Von D was four, the family moved to Colton, California. She is fluent in English and Spanish.
Von D drew incessantly as a child, inspired by her grandparents who were painters. “I’ve been draw ing ever since I can remember,” she noted on an “Artist Q&A” posted to the TLC Web site. “My mom actually saved all my drawing and sketches since before I can remember.” Besides sketching, Von D took an early interest in music. Her father’s mother, once a professional pianist in Germany, introduced her to music by Beethoven and Chopin. By age seven, Von D was taking piano lessons. Fascinated by Beethoven, she studied historic composers, painters and sculptors. She counts da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Caravaggio amongst those who inspire her.
As a preteen, Von D discovered punk rock. Many of the punk rockers she befriended had tattoos and, at age 14, Von D decided to get one. Her first tattoo was an old English “J” inked on her ankle—it stands for James, her first love. Around this time, a friend asked Von D for a tattoo. After procuring a crude, homemade tattoo gun, Von D inked a Misfits skull into her friend’s skin. The Misfits were a popular punk rock band.
As a teenager, Von D ran away from home. Speaking to People’s Jessica Herndon, Von D said it was hard for her “really strict” parents to understand her behavior. “For their daughter to be tattooed, drop out of high school, and be rock and roll—they thought I was possessed by Satan.” At 16, she landed a job at a professional tattoo shop called Sin City Tattoo. “This gnarly biker dude hired me, and he knew I was underage but he didn’t care,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “There was a lot of trial and error, because the art was there but the skill definitely wasn’t.”
Over the next several years, Von D worked at various Los Angeles area shops, eventually landing at True Tattoo in Hollywood where she met tattoo artist Chris Garver, an accomplished and well-known inker. The opportunity of a lifetime came along in 2005 when the two were asked to appear on Miami Ink, a new reality television program on TLC aimed at following the lives of a troupe of tattoo artists as they opened a shop in Miami. The only woman among the group, Von D garnered attention for her unique tattooing style—she leans toward realism, inking intricate, fine-lined black and grey portrait-type tattoos. Outspoken, and often sporting glittery blue eye shadow and cherry red lips, Von D reeled in viewers; however, after two seasons and a falling out with a co-star, she left.
Von D was not off the air for long. She set up her own West Hollywood shop, High Voltage Tattoo, and was back in business with a spinoff called LA Ink, which debuted in 2007 on TLC. When the show is in production, the shop is closed during the day for filming. In the evenings, it opens for walk-ins. As a prominent LA inker, Von D has tattooed many celebrities, including actress Jenna Jameson, actor Jared Leto, comedian Margaret Cho, as well as band members from Metallica, Slayer, and Incubus.
In 2004, she married tattoo artist Oliver Peck but was separated from him by the time LA Ink aired. Following the breakup of her marriage, Von D dated a number of men, including Whitestarr drummer Alex “Orbi” Orbison, son of rock pioneer Roy Orbison. Von D has two sphinx cats and drives a 1951 Chevrolet Deluxe, which she purchased at the age of 18. It is the same car her father had as a young adult. She often skateboards to work, though.
In December of 2007, Von D set a Guinness World Record for most tattoos in a day. In one 24hour period, she inked 400 people as part of a fund-raiser for Vitamin Angels, a not-for-profit agency that works to eliminate childhood blindness caused by Vitamin A deficiency. During the event, everyone got the same tattoo—an “LA” logo—for which they paid $20. The event was featured in an episode of LA Ink.
The television exposure has brought Von D a ton of new clients, many of whom come for memorial portraits of loved ones. Speaking to Garage magazine, Von D summed up the experience. “I think that some of my new clientele is searching for some closure to help them deal with the loss of someone and they truly believe in me. I mean, nothing beats the way someone thanks you and hugs you the way these people do when I’m done with their tattoos. People are so appreciative and it’s made me realize my role in tattooing and I’m cool with that!”
Bust, October/November 2007, p. 18.
Chicago Tribune, October 29, 2006, p. 1 (Home & Garden).
Garage, May 3, 2007.
Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2008, p. 1E.
People, September 3, 2007, p. 136.
Straits Times (Singapore), January 9, 2008.
“Kat’s Press Kit Biography,” Kat Von D, http://www.katvond.net/bio.html (January 27, 2008).
“Kat Von D Tattoos 400 People to Save 32,000 Children in 24 Hours for Vitamin Angels,” Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS196282+08-Jan-2008+MW20080108.tif (February 16, 2008).
“LA Ink: Q&A with Kat,” TLC, http://tlc.discovery.com/tv/la-ink/qanda/kat.html (January 27, 2008).
“Miami Ink: Meet Kat Von D,” TLC, http://tlc.discovery.com/fansites/miami-ink/bio/kat.html (January 27, 2008).
“Miami Ink: The Kat Corner,” TLC, http://tlc.discovery.com/fansites/miami-ink/kat_corner/facts_print.html (January 27, 2008).