Fame is not something that sits well with Kat. But it’s something she’s had to come to terms with. “I never wanted to be on Star Search. I just saw [Miami Ink] as an opportunity to be a good representation of tattooing.” But despite her well-meant intentions, once she joined the cast, she found herself rejected by a portion of the tattoo community. “Tattooers definitely have their opinions about me or their perception of me, and I felt that a lot of that wasn’t coming from a place of love. There’s nothing that makes me different other than my situation, but I had to come to terms with [that fact that this life] isn’t normal, and from this point on there are just things I can’t do like I used to. I try to separate myself from the tattoo politics. Tattooing is hard enough, and you don’t need other people’s egos affecting your ability to create.”
She doesn’t only have to deal with her dissenters; she also has to figure out how to work effectively with the cameras around. “It’s pretty frustrating. When we’re filming, everything takes twice as long as it would in real life.” To capture enough footage for one hour-long episode of LA Ink, the film crew must film for five days—usually from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. A lot ends up on the cutting room floor. “Sometimes it’s discouraging because I’m doing a tattoo and the chemistry between me and the client is so compelling and for whatever reason, it gets cut. That’s the stuff that’s out of my control,” she says.
Her lack of control over the editorial direction of the show is one of the reasons she’s angry about the most recent season, the second half of which launches this month. “I really hate the direction the network decided for this season. The last thing I would ever want is for people not to take that shit with a grain of salt. And that’s the thing—people believe whatever they see on TV. The network wanted it to be drama-derived, and that was everything I stood against. I was crying every day, like, ‘I can’t believe they edited me saying that. Girls are going to think that’s the right behavior.’ I just have to do my best and, at the end of the day, whatever happens is out of my control. But I still battle with it.”
Cue the entrance of the shop’s new manager, the very blond Aubry (who just happened to be on the second season of Rock of Love), and tattoo artist Paulie, who moved from Brooklyn but never fit in. There’s also the auditioning of new artists Kat had never met, like Amy. The tattooers fans see aren’t, for the most part, the ones who work at High Voltage when the show isn’t filming. But letting go of two of her favorite costars wasn’t something she wanted to do. “They made me get rid of Hannah [Aitchison] and Kim [Saigh]. That was so hard. I told the network, whatever it takes, I’ll do anything. In the end, Hannah and Kim understood it was in no way my decision. Unfortunately, you have the Jon and Kates and all the other attention-seekers that cause viewers to watch the shows, and that’s the direction they wanted.”
To stay content when the cameras are going, she keeps her focus on her tattooing, a passion she discovered at 14 when her friend Oliver Guthrie asked her to tattoo his leg with the iconic Misfits skull. “It was magical. The instant I started tattooing that kid, I was like, this is what I have to do.” Guthrie ended up becoming a tattoo artist himself, and it wasn’t long until Kat got her first tattoo, an Old English style J on her ankle for her then-boyfriend, James. Not long after, she ran away from home with James, taking a bus all the way to Georgia. The bond didn’t last. After a few months, she moved back to California, and they drifted apart. But the tattoo remains. And after fading out of Kat’s life 10 years ago with her wondering if he was still alive, James showed up at the last stop on her book tour for High Voltage. “It was like staring at a ghost. I instantly recognized his voice. I still feel a lot of love for him in those times, but I’m a different person.”