INKED: You just received word that you and Hannah Aitchison will not be returning to LA Ink. What happened?
KIM SAIGH: The producers decided they’d replace us because we didn’t fit the profile of the characters they were looking for—which is a good thing because, thankfully, we don’t have a lot of drama in our lives. It’s actually a sigh of relief because I can go back to doing what I really love doing, which is tattooing and practicing yoga without the stress of the show hanging over my head. There were times when it was fun, but for the most part it was awkward, and it feels good to have the freedom back that tattooing has always afforded me. I believe we got out just in time without losing our integrity.
What were they looking for, a lesbian relationship?
Hannah and I were considering having a lesbian relationship to keep the show interesting, but then we decided that we’re both straight and it probably wouldn’t work. [Laughs.] No, we’re both straight. I’m totally kidding.
You got the news the day before yesterday. How do you feel about it today?
I feel great! I had one of the best yoga practices ever today. I feel like a fucking demon crawled out of me. I feel not weighed-down anymore, and it’s definitely a good feeling. My only stress is where I’m going to tattoo, but I’ve already figured that out.
What’s the best thing you got out of the experience?
My number one experience was meeting Shawn Barber. [And] getting out of the rut in Chicago, feeling uninspired—and now being reinvigorated to make art. I love all that goes on here in L.A.
Your boyfriend is painter-tattooer Shawn Barber. He got you by using the oldest trick in the book: painting your portrait. Every guy in America should write this down.
[Laughs.] I’m not answering!
This is useful for men everywhere to know.
He’s painted a lot of portraits! We just happen to get along tremendously well. We see eye to eye on everything.
And he painted your portrait.
It didn’t hurt.
What was the worst part of the TV experience?
Having to cut my yoga practice short every day was the worst thing, having to rush through that. [Laughs.] I’m laughing because it’s totally true. Having to rush through my yoga practice every day has definitely been the worst part of the whole experience.
You’ve gone from metalhead to yogini.
I was a total metalhead. I still am—always will be. When I really started listening to music and listening to metal, it kind of lit a fire under my ass. My mom was super religious, and I remember she would watch 700 Club and these televangelists, these shows on backward-masking and how heavy metal was evil and all this stuff. I was probably 8 or 9, and I remember them showing the cover of Black Sabbath’s Black Sabbath and being totally haunted by that image … seeing it on TV and not being scared of it at all, just wanting to hear it.
How did you get started in tattooing?
I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland in a town called Westlake. It was very white collar, right wing, con- servative. Everybody was Republican. I was just a troublemaker, a lost sort of kid. In high school I started thinking that being a tattoo artist might be something I’d be good at. About a year after high school I walked into a tattoo shop with a friend I had drawn a design for, and the guys at the shop really liked it. They offered me an apprenticeship.
What was that shop like?
It was like an assembly line. On Saturdays it wasn’t uncommon to tattoo 60 people. Now I feel like the best way to learn is to do high-volume simple tattoos. You really work on your technical skills, and it was also a crash course in dealing with people because you’re dealing with so many, and so many different types of skin and personality types. You learn how to comfort people really quick. Everybody was really uncomfortable because they knew I was new—I looked like a baby and I was a girl, so I had things stacked against me. The needle grouping I was working with and the stencil application process were all super old-school. It was the hardest way I could have possibly learned. But I’m glad because I had to learn how to use a single needle. Everything since then has been a step up.
You worked with Guy Aitchison from ’96 to ’99. What was the atmosphere like then compared with now?
At that time, there were only a handful of artists doing groundbreaking things, and he was at the forefront of it. He was blazing the trail. Now that it’s opened up to so many more people, there are a bunch of people who are doing really groundbreaking things. Or they’re pushing boundaries—they’re not necessarily the frontiers-men or the progenitors, the pioneers that Guy was, but they’re still pushing the craft as far as they can. People like Nikko Hurtado and Jeff Gogue—there are so many tattoo artists doing such phenomenal stuff. If I were starting out now, I don’t even know if they’d let me in. I feel lucky that I got in when I did.
You ran your tattoo studio, Cherry Bomb, in Chicago for 10 years. Are you starting another shop?
Yes. Rachel Larratt from BME zine and I have decided to open our own workspace together.
What will you call it?
Hannah and I were talking about it. She’s going to work between there and Chicago. We had all these names going around. Hannah said, “Call it ‘Honeybutter.’” I was like,“What?” [Laughs.] How about “The Righteous Sisters,” huh? Maybe “Pink Skull”? We want to bring back nerdiness—me and my fantasy art and Hannah and her pinup girls. I know I’m cheesy, I know I’ve listened to Journey and Hawkwind for years, and my artwork looks like it’s out of fairy tales, and I’m fucking fine with that. That’s totally okay with me, and if people want to make fun of me, that’s fine. I had fun with it. That’s all that matters.
What would be your ideal tattoo shop?
In Chicago, I enjoyed having a shop that was off street level. I’m not a big walk-in person. I like the idea of people going there with a solid intention and coming out with a tattoo they went in there for, not just going in on a whim and getting tattooed, or not having people stroll by. Maybe that’s a bad business idea, but I don’t care—that’s never been a concern of mine. My major concern is that the environment promotes creativity and is comfortable. It should be a sanctuary for the artists to work and do the best work they possibly can.
Your line of Vans is another new thing on your horizon. How did that come about?
My friend Frankie Orange is a tour manager and tattoo artist who now works with a lot of bands. He said, “If you’d ever be interested in doing some Vans, I can run it by my friend Kurt Soto, who’s a Vans rep, and see if he’d be interested.” So he did, on a whim, and Kurt thought it was a good idea. I think they wanted to work with a female artist. I did 10 rough sketches of ideas that were sort of my style, and they were excited about them. The overall theme was definitely very girly, iconic, fun, and colorful. The shoes come out in June; the apparel and accessories come out in July. There are bags, jeans, a sweatshirt, a T-shirt, a belt, and four different shoes.
Do you think tattoos have to have underlying meaning?
I really don’t, because I think it is a marking of a time or a place, and sometimes people get tattooed just because it looks cool. That’s why I can never put a definition on something that people get. There are things that are obvious—like a memorial tattoo, something that’s quite blatant—but why do people get sacred toasters? Because they love toast or because they want something that’s ’90s- fantastic and shiny metallic on their arm?
Like that eyeball tattoo on your shoulder that Corey Miller covered up with the purple rose?
That was ’90s-fantastic. It was my cheesy idea that he executed beautifully. Actually, that tattoo held up so well. It didn’t spread [and] it didn’t fade, which is really good testimony to his skills. But I’ve seen a few purple roses on women’s shoulders.
Does that piss you off?
No, it just makes me think they’re not original. I definitely understand someone liking the way something is laid out on someone’s body or liking the idea, but, yeah, it’s totally bad juju to copy someone else’s tattoo. I guess it’s not as bad as seeing stars on some girl’s face.
Have you seen that?
I have. Get your own ideas.