After each of the tattoos Kat inks, she puts her feather quill pen to paper and writes about the experience, recording that person’s story in her journal. “A friend of mine once asked, ‘How do you deal with all the death and heavy stuff?’ If I don’t get my thoughts out I carry them with me, and that stuff can fester. I went through a really gnarly depression last year learning how to balance it. The journaling has helped me process a lot of those thoughts.” The world will get to see some of these private musings when she publishes a year’s worth of entries in a second book, scheduled for release this fall. Kat will personally select and footnote the entries and photograph each person.
Of course, Kat doesn’t just give tattoos. One of the most recent ones she received was a portrait of musician and friend Johnette Napolitano, done by Dan Smith of High Voltage. “I used to drink through my tattoos a lot. I think that was a major part of getting this far. Because now, as a sober person, it’s definitely been a challenge getting tattooed. I suck at it.” She drank an entire bottle of tequila just before getting her back tattooed with the words “Mi Vida Loca,” but recommends that people don’t drink when they’re getting inked. “You’re probably not going to make the best choice if you’re under the influence of something. Aside from that, it’s really annoying for the tattooer. It’s hard to do a straight line when someone is puking on themselves.”
And perhaps her most well-known tattoo, the one of the Hollywood sign written in red lipstick, involved another tattoo no-no. “I totally ripped that off some cool rocker chick. I was working at True Tattoo and she came in. She was like, ‘I want to get the New York Dolls logo, but instead of saying New York Dolls, I want it to say Hollywood.’ I’m like, that’s a genius idea. I ended up getting it. I never thought I’d run into her again. But then I did at the Beauty Bar and I’m like, ‘Oh, hey,’ with my fucking midriff showing. I’m trying to hide the tattoo, but I’m sure she’s seen it. If I saw her again, I’d be happy to do it for her. We can be twinsies.” That tattoo is just one of the many that will compose the bodysuit she’s working up to completing, minus the chest. “Eye contact is important, and if you’ve ever had a conversation with a guy … I think boobs are distracting enough.”
But despite all her connections with the glamorous life and the fact that she stars in a hit show on television, Von D remains a very private person. She built the Monastery because she wasn’t comfortable shooting models she didn’t know at her house. The conversations she most enjoys with her clients are those that happen off-camera. And when not at work, she’s usually focusing on one of her many projects, be it her makeup line with Sephora (she’s involved with everything from selecting the color palettes to designing the product packaging), the documentary she’s been filming about love, death, and tattooing, the singing lessons she’s been taking, or just taking the time to draw and play Beethoven on her piano.
When she does go out, she prefers to surround herself with family, her boyfriend, and her few close friends—those who know her by a different name. “When I hear someone call me Katherine, I know it’s probably a friend or family. It’s weird to say, but I am not Kat Von D.”