Page 2 of 3   <       >

TLC Celebrity Tattoo Artist Kat Von D Has a Fast-Paced Life

"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 sits at the bar's baby grand piano, takes off her boots ("I always play barefoot") and starts into Beethoven's Piano Sonata in G. She has a firm left hand, a fluid right. She stops and says: "Do you want to hear a piece I wrote when I was 7? It's so totally Charlie Brown." We do. It is.

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, Calif., near San Bernadino, when she was 4. The family was dedicated, she recalls in her book, to music, medicine (her grandfather and father are doctors) and art. 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.

"It just didn't really work out," Drachenberg says. "There was lots of therapy for everybody. I left again when I was 16."

She started tattooing at a place called Sin City in San Bernadino. She didn't really know what she was doing at first, working with the armature and the machines for lining and shading, injecting the ink under the skin to flesh out the tattoo. But 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; PatrĂ³n preferred. "I was really a lot of fun. People loved hanging out with me."

But, you know, you can't be 24 and drunk all the time. "The drinking went from being fun to functional, you know?"

Her marriage broke up. 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.

<       2        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company