The Decline of “L.A. Ink” (or How TLC Killed The Art of Tattooing)

It seems that TLC has finally come to their senses this week. Not only did they cancel Kate Plus 8, but the cable network gave Kat Von D’s L.A. Ink its walking papers, too.

It’s about damn time.

I have never possessed the stomach to watch an entire hour of programming devoted to America’s favorite fecund shrew Kate — with or without Jon — and her octet. And apparently, their dubious charm has worn out its welcome on viewers, as well. Kate and her brood have been ousted from their once-prime perch atop TLC’s most heavily-hyped shows. They have been replaced by the Duggars of 19 Kids and Counting — a family whose matriarch’s vagina resembles even more of a freakish clown car than the woman Jon Gosselin signs over 80% of his hair plug money (if any) to annually. Kate’s baby-pusher only seated a mere eight while Mrs. Duggar has been able to shoot out twice as many squawling CO2-suckers from under her hood. That’s programming gold in TLC’s eyes right there, bucko!

I, for one, am thrilled to the gills that the show has gotten the boot. It will severely cut back on the opportunities I have to see Kate Gosselin’s smug mug glaring at me from the front page of a tabloid at the checkout counter. Although I’ve never met the woman and have no personal investment in the show, the Judgey McJudgerson part of me feels a twinge of perverse, voyeuristic glee at some evidence of karmic comeuppance for an otherwise non-entity with no real talent besides spitting out eight kids, hen-pecking a husband all the way to divorce court, making nannies lives miserable, and (when she actually had time to “parent”) traumatizing her brood in the public eye.

My feelings on the cancellation of L.A. Ink, however, are mixed.

At first, I was a fan of the show and its predecessor, Miami Ink. I loved the idea of another show devoted to the art of tattooing, particularly since L.A. Ink offered it from a largely female perspective. I loved the thought of a new standard of beauty being introduced. Most importantly, I liked that these shows had the potential to educate people that not everyone who had a tattoo was a sailor, a hooker or a drunken lout who made a bad, spur of the moment decision and got something stupid permanently etched onto their body. Real people put real thought and real care into these portable works of art. These shows had the potential to show the science and the art behind tattoos.

Oh, how things would change in four or five years.

In the first season of the show, it was Kat Von D, Hannah Aitchison and Kim Saigh as three of the principal artists the show focused on working out of High Voltage Tattoo in Los Angeles. To ensure that things wouldn’t be a total estro-fest, Corey Miller, a respected tattoo artist and mentor to Kat Von D, rounded out the cast of L.A. Ink’s first season. Like the early seasons of Miami Ink before it, L.A. Ink‘s first season focused on the artistry of tattooing rather than the soap opera antics of Kat’s love life and running the shop.

Memorable backpiece by Kim Saigh featured on Season 1 of “L.A. Ink.”

That first season, viewers saw some beautiful, colorful and complex pieces done on everyday people who were more than happy to discuss what the piece meant to them. Viewers saw a sense of pride as artists worked out the design and collaborated with their customers on something that would stay with them for the rest of their lives. Some of Aitchison’s beautiful pin-up girl tattoos and Saigh’s intricate, colorful designs that were inked that first season still stick in my mind.

Then Season 2 rolled around and everything started to go to shit. In all fairness, Miami Ink had also begun to become more about the artifice than art, too. While all of the artists on both shows seemed likeable at the outset, subsequent seasons painted most of them as divas of one stripe or another. I found myself rolling my eyes at nearly everyone on both shows, with the exception of Chris Garver. (Garver’s highly respected reputation prior to Miami Ink and his own laid back, drama-free nature may have exempt him from being the unwilling recipient of a “villain edit” by those in TLC’s post-production booth.)

Season 2 of L.A. Ink had introduced a bit of internal politics and back-biting between the ditzy shop manager Pixie and tattoo artist Kim Saigh. In all honesty, I can’t even remember what their little tiff was about. Ultimately, Pixie got axed and my world continued to turn. The recurring theme for the season was snarking at my television set, “Yeah. That’s great. Shut the hell up and tattoo something!”

English Craig: The best thing about “L.A. Ink” Season 3

When TLC didn’t renew Aitchison and Saigh’s contracts for Season 3, things really took a turn for the worse. With the casting (Yes! Casting!) of Rock of Love reject Aubry Fisher as the shop’s new manager, the dippy blonde served as the show’s antagonist until she was eventually shitcanned and an even more obnoxious, manipulative bitch was brought in to stir up some shit at High Voltage. The end result was Kat and longtime friend/mentor Corey Miller having a huge falling out that prompted him to go back to his own shop plus tattoo with another rival shop. Incidentally, the best thing about Season 3 was the rival shop belonging to eccentric “English” Craig Jackman and some of the work done there. Craig’s no-bullshit, no-drama approach to running his shop, American Electric, was a refreshing change of pace from the drama surrounding High Voltage.

Naturally, since English Craig and his drama-free shop weren’t bringing the soap opera factor, Season 4 of L.A. Ink became Craig-free. Apparently, TLC assumed that viewers were tuning into L.A. Ink to see passive-aggressive sniping amongst shop artists and Kat Von D’s myriad of doomed romances. Instead of seeing quality artists tattoo memorable works of skin art, viewers were treated to Kat squealing about how she had found true and everlasting love with Roy Orbison’s son Orbi (Season 2), Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx (Season 3), and motorcycle enthusiast / he-whore Jesse James (Season 4).  Kat did more falling all over herself and gushing about her latest boyfriend(s) than she did actual tattoos.

As for the tattoos, even the quality had taken a nosedive compared to the work done in Season 1. Very few elaborate backpieces or sleeves with a running theme were kicked out in later seasons, replaced by smaller, almost generic tattoos.

Furthermore, Average Joes and Josettes weren’t coming into the shop or, at least being shown on TV getting their ink. (With shop prices now having gone up to $1,000 per hour, who can blame them.) Barring the token tragedy behind a tattooed portrait of a loved one (at least one per episode), the bulk of clients coming in were either famous or “in a band.” If I were to start an L.A. Ink drinking game, I’d be completely in the bag 15 minutes into the show, chugging a shot for every time Kat screeched about how in love she was or for every shaggy haired ragamuffin with a guitar case, coughing his rent money up to the Shop Manager of the Week and proclaiming “I’m in a BAND. I want a tattoo to showcase my love of my BAND.”

One of Kat’s pet humans was unavailable for a photo op.

By the end of Season 3, Kat Von D had devolved from a talented tattoo artist/entrepreneur who had conquered her demons to begin a tattooing empire to an annoying, fickle, and easily-misled diva who was was in love with being in love. New friends and “pet humans” held more sway with her than trusted friends and allies. The man/men she claimed to love one season were replaced with new models at the start of the next, rendering the “undying” love she held for their predecessors null and void.

TLC had helped spark a “trend” and is now more than happy to kill it.

Sure, New York Ink (featuring former Miami Ink alum Ami James) is continuing the not-so-proud tradition of shows loosely based around tattoo parlors with artists engaged in more histrionics than inking. However, L.A. Ink, like its brethren Miami Ink and London Ink, is going the way of the dodo but the damage has already been done.

While the general public is now a bit more educated on the art of tattoo and somewhat more accepting of those whose bodies are adorned with permanent designs, TLC has done tattoo artists and those who genuinely want and seek out quality body art a huge disservice. It’s given license to unlicensed artists to capitalize on the trend and work out of their homes. TLC is further encouraging this by their newest tattoo-themed show, Tattoo School, which allows any schmuck off the street to come in and take a two-week course and magically become tattoo artists.

Shops with actual credibility have used the trend as a license to gouge customers on prices or act in a rude and discourteous manner to potential clients. I’m not saying any artist should low-ball their own worth, but some of the prices for small, not very intricate pieces that have been quoted to friends are ridiculous.

While I have had the privilege of dealing with some extremely friendly and good-natured shops from personal experience and have friends who are avid tattoo collectors that have great tattoos done by great people, I have also encountered some really snippy folks over the phone or artists who show up late for appointments booked well in advance. Some even expect you to take a day off work to book a consultation for a piece that won’t begin until two-to-six months later.

A gander at consumer reviews on Yelp and other sites indicate some shops who give instructions to send artists an idea online via email as a consultation, never to respond with an estimate of hours or cost but are rather curt about telling you to book an appointment in-person at the shop 6 months ahead.

Because tattooing is now trendy, shop owners now deal with every Tom, Dick and Douchewad who wants a huge, honking black-and-grey shamrock tattoo plastered on their cankle and take it out on those who put some thought and effort into their piece and want something well-done. Because everyone and their mother can fall off the sidewalk and into a tattoo parlor, it encourages some of the less-talented artists to half-ass it and kick out shitty tattoos because most people don’t know better.

They just know they want one.

In turn, a lot of artists don’t take the time to better themselves or their craft. For every great one who loves what they do and takes pride in their portfolio, there are three others who phone it in.

Love means never having to say you’re sorry you got their portrait tattooed on your ribcage.

As for tattoo parlors that are home to “rockstar” artists on the scene, some are still gracious and keen to work with clients while others jack up the price and take customer service and satisfaction to a new low.

I’m not one of those people who feels that something like tattooing — or anything — is something that should solely be relegated to the underground or fringe culture. Granted, back in the day (admittedly, long before I ever got any of the six beautiful and rather prominent pieces of body art I currently sport), when you were tattooed and ran into another inked person, you knew you belonged to an exclusive club and had an instant bond with them. You knew what it felt like to go under the needle or to have someone give you the hairy eyeball for your ink. Now, judging by the amount of bad ink I see on a daily basis, it’s become a blight rather than an art, which is really quite a shame.

As always, thanks for nothing, TLC.

5 Comments
  • ken
    December 23, 2015

    Without Corey Miller, the show wasn’t worth watching.

    • Kimber lee
      September 14, 2016

      Very true. I think what kat did 2 him was wrong making him wait she should of said yes right on the spot instead of in gotta put it 2 a vote. She lost out on a great artist

    • em
      March 10, 2017

      Corry was the show for me. Liked Kat Ok…until she started treating him badly.

  • S
    June 15, 2016

    Poor Orbi, Kim and Hannah. The show was at its peak when it was the core 4 doing great and meaningful artistic tattoos, with some spotlight added to their background lives (like Musink, Corey’s vasectomy, Pixie’s surgery, Hannah and Corey’s jam session). The obnoxious and unnecessary fringe characters added later on like Aubry, Liz, and the random ex-junkie girl in season 4 seemed like they were shoehorned in by the TLC execs for added drama. Although I like Kat and think she’s a talented artist, the later seasons were all about her ego and inability to control what goes on in her own show/shop. As much as she claims she has no control over the show’s direction, it’s her show, she’s the headliner, so she’s equally culpable. Just ew.

  • Ramo
    December 14, 2016

    In the beginning the show was AWESOME annnd just went down hill ever since Kat dis Corey and the kicked the other crew out like they didn’t matter and and and it was all about her (kat) no tattoos on little people (not famous). So yeah kool to sucked.

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