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My mission is simple: Get inked. It’s a task handled by more than 200 tattoo parlors in the Los Angeles area. But not all are created equal. There is ink and there is

LA Ink.

Walking into High Voltage Tattoo is like discovering another level of cool. Every brightly colored pink wall is lined with skateboards, vintage autographed guitars, throngs of photographs, music memorabilia, and captivating artwork. The shop is just over a year old, but it feels as if it’s been a Hollywood staple for much longer. It’s easy to see why High Voltage, made famous by TLC’s breakout hit show LA Ink, has become the “it” tattoo parlor of Los Angeles. I’ve come prepared to meet some of the most outstanding artists in the business, and, with luck and hopefully just a little pain, I’ll walk out with an amazing work of art to call my own.

High Voltage Tattoo is the brainchild of Kat Von D, one of the most talented, sought-after tattoo artists in the world. The former star of TLC’s LA Ink sister show, Miami Ink, Kat decided to return to her L.A. roots to embrace new challenges and to create a place of her own.

Anyone who walks through these doors is free to be themselves, and that is what she’s truly proud of.

“I want to make people smile. When you get tattooed, it’s supposed to be a party. … We’re not a corporation; we’re a tattoo family, so different rules apply,” Kat says.

That tattoo family has grown considerably due to the success of the show. The original four -- Kat, Corey Miller, Kim Saigh, and Hannah Aitchison -- have been joined by four other artists and a slew of shop assistants who make the shop run like a well-oiled machine.

Corey, a renowned artist in the business, balances doing the show
and working at his own shop, Six Feet Under. Kim and Hannah are distinguished veterans who hail from Chicago and specialize in bold, colorful illustrative works.

“Faces and figures are really fun; they offer a lot of possibilities for light and color and form. They become design elements in themselves,” Hannah says.

Kim agrees. “This season, I got to do a really funky Medusa head with a lot of bright colors, very much my style.”

The show, currently in its second season, has heightened the demand for these artists’ services, but the quality of work they do and the chemistry between them is their definition of success.

As I sit down with Kat in her office, which in contrast with the shop is a quiet sanctuary, it’s quickly apparent that though she has striking modelesque features, it’s her warm, conversational nature that makes her immediately appealing.

“I have these tattoo journals that I keep, and after I tattoo someone, I write a little bit about them,” she says. “I’m trying to teach myself to really listen and take as much from the situation and write about it.”

As we discuss the intimacy that goes along with giving someone a tattoo, she allows me to flip through one of the journals.

“They are like little bibles,” Kat says.

Each one is handwritten with something like a quill pen, which make sense as I scan her office, a decidedly singular place of business that resembles Beethoven’s lair. The classical music playing in the background, candles everywhere, and journals and books lining the shelves make me realize I am standing in a true artist’s studio.

Kat is extremely close to her family, and it was her grandmother who turned her on to the arts and introduced her to the works of Ludwig van Beethoven, which she immediately fell in love with. Exposed to the punkrock scene as a teenager, she still counts music as her number one inspiration. And as musical inspirations go, the natural medium between Beethoven and Sid Vicious can be found in classic rock.

“To me, AC/DC is probably the world’s best band,” she says. “They created a style, which is [one of] the hardest things to do as an artist. So I gave the shop a lightning-bolt AC/DC vibe because it goes perfectly.”

Hooked on tattooing by the age of 16, Kat worked in various shops around Los Angeles, honing what would eventually become her signature style of fine-line black-and-gray lifelike portraits. Playing by her own rules and very much a rebel, Kat built her reputation not only on amazing natural talent but also on her extreme work ethic. She’s a self-proclaimed workaholic, and her days consist of shooting new episodes of LA Ink, tattooing all night, working on a new book that showcases her body of work, putting together a makeup line, and, when time permits, spending precious moments with her rocker boyfriend, Nikki Sixx. Even though she has become her own brand, the 26-year old keeps an admirable perspective.

“I feel really grounded; I remember where I come from. Status, money, and fame aren’t the most important things, and it’s easy to get sidetracked by them.”

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That is also the perspective that reverberates through the shop. But even Kat admits you are only as good as those you surround yourself with -- which is why she has surrounded herself with some of the best in the business. Luckily, my pain will be inflicted by one of them.

I’ve asked Kim to do the honors, and she has been gracious enough to work me into her schedule (Kat, Corey, Kim, and Hannah all have year-plus waiting lists). Just as she is on the show, Kim is easy to talk to, down-to-earth, and extremely perceptive. We quickly discuss the Celtic cross design I want; I’ve brought in two different designs with traits I like. In a quick 20 minutes, she returns with a sketch that’s fused both of the designs perfectly. As I lie down on the table, she is honest, which I appreciate.

“I’m not gonna lie; this part isn’t going to be fun,” she says, referring to the spot on the lower ridge of my hip bone that I’ve chosen. As she begins, I recall from my first tattoo experience that the outline is the worst part. Some things never change. However, when it truly hurts, she lets up just enough to make it bearable, an example of the intuition and skill of a seasoned artist.

An hour in, the pain has numbed a bit and the anticipation of what it will look like begins. The shop is constantly alive with people, and they come over to see what Kim is working on. Everyone is friendly and talkative. The music blares a collective mix of mostly old metal and punk. The environment is true rock and roll, and I suddenly find myself smiling at a memory an old-school Metallica song evokes.

It’s easy to see why getting a tattoo is considered a therapeutic experience and why most clients share intimate details of their lives. In just a short time, Kim and I have discussed everything from inspirations, relationships, the show, and the 2009 line she’s designing for Vans to yoga, art (her boyfriend painted the portrait of Kat I’ve been staring at for nearly two hours), and just how fate can change your life in the most unexpected ways.

“When the show came along, I’d just gotten divorced and was living this really quiet life by myself in Chicago. I’d always wanted to move to Los Angeles but had never had the courage to do it. This has been the most amazing experience, and I’m so glad I listened to my gut,” she says.

To distract me from the pain of the shading Kim is doing, I observe a young woman across from me who is getting a tattoo on her ribs, known as the most painful place to get inked. Even Kim hasn’t gotten one there yet.

“I want to, but I just don’t know if I can do it. I’ve seen many a guy vomit while getting that done,” she says.

“Really?” I ask.

“Yep. But it’s definitely the new ‘it’ place to get one.”

For coloring, I’ve given Kim only the guidelines of green and blue, my two favorite colors -- the rest I’ve left up to her. The last five minutes are by far the worst, and I find myself grinding my teeth harder. But the pain is worth it. The finished product is everything I wanted and more. The blend of colors is so vibrant, and the detail put into each line surpasses my every expectation.

I walk out of High Voltage with a giddy high usually reserved for special occasions. LA Ink certainly showcases impeccable work, but when the cameras are off, the dedication and precision don’t stop. My memorable experience has most likely spawned an addiction. I certainly see another tattoo in my future, maybe even a Medusa head.

Tattoo regret?

While the art of tattooing has come a long way, one thing remains the same: you may change, but the tattoo won’t. so if you’re rethinking that skull and crossbones or that name of so-and-so who turned out to be not so, well, you know, it might be time to look into your options. the clear choice for many is laser tattoo removal, but it’s not for everyone. it can take one to 10 sessions to fully remove a tattoo, which can be a very painful process. another and slightly less agonizing method involves at-home removal creams like tat b gone and tattoo-off, which have proven to be effective without scarring or damaging the skin. to find out more, visit these sites.

www.drtattoff.com
this laser-removal process has prices starting at roughly $50 a session for one square inch or smaller, which is a tattoo about the size of a postage stamp. prices increase as the size of the tattoo increases ($144 per session for three square inches, $270 for six, etc.)

www.tatbgone.com
it takes three to nine months for this tattoo-removal cream to produce effective results; the cost is about $300 for an amount that will last you six months. trial kits are $74.

www.tattoo-off.com
another tattoo-removal cream, this one claims to take eight months to fully work and is $339 for an eight-month supply or $65 for a starter pack.