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Exclusive interview with Ink Master Angels star Kelly Doty: ‘Creepy cute’ with a side of Helheim

Kelly Doty
Kelly at work in the studio creating art with her own unique style

Kelly Doty resembles her art — with large expressive eyes, flawless skin and a technicolor range for her hair.

The effect makes this New Englander and Ink Master finalist from Season 8 stand out in a cast of fantastically appointed tattoo artists serving as mentors/judges on Spike’s spinoff, Ink Master: Angels.

The women of last year’s Ink Master made an impression, and their spinoff series is set to be another hit for Spike.

A Connecticut Yankee, Doty now calls historic Salem, Massachusetts, her home, a paranormally rich and occult-ish little detour in the North Shore of Boston.

Kelly’s tattooing style is what she calls “creepy cute” with haunting and spooky illustrative female faces adorned with a pop-ish surrealist edge. Pretty horror work revealed in oversized expressions that throw off the undercurrent of malevolence, mischief, and mayhem.

In the realm of pure work ethic, Doty is cut from a similar cloth as her Ink Master: Angels peers — Ryan Ashley, Gia Rose and Nikki Simpson.

All of them have an entrepreneurial bent, but Doty and Ashley seem most joined at the hip in their appreciation for the darker arts, spells and the paranormal, oddities and dead, unusual things lesser appreciated found in nature.

The new series on Spike is harnessing girl power like no one’s business and setting the four women loose on America as they comb city after city finding talent, then challenging and even competing against the one who will eventually win Ink Master: Angels.

That winner will then head to the big Magilla: the next season of Ink Master.

We spoke to Kelly about her love of the craft and other surprises.

Monsters and Critics: The Helheim Gallery, can you tell me a little bit about it, how it started and what it is exactly? What do you sell there? Is it the art prints, original art?

Kelly Doty: Yeah, absolutely! So Helheim Gallery, we started it. It’s me and my best friend since we were 12, Kristin Welch, we’re the owners, and our other two best friends are artists at the shop. Britt [Whitman] and Jess [Brown].

So it’s really just an excuse for all of us to hang out all day. It’s a gallery/tattoo studio so when you first walk in it’s a big art gallery devoted usually to darker kind of art, shockingly. Our first show was also gore-themed. But then it’s also a tattoo studio and we have a pretty consistent stream of guest artists that come through and it’s been absolutely amazing.

We were worried that, moving to Salem and opening up a shop, that we might not be well received by the locals. But everyone has just been so supportive. We’ve got Salem Ink and Black Veil Tattoo and they’ve helped us so much. Plus the local Arts Council, Creative Salem. It’s incredible.

M&C: Are there any notable tattoo artists, or anyone that loves to come and visit you?

Kelly Doty: We are kind of tucked away. Because while we love meeting new people, we’re also so viciously socially awkward. We’ve essentially hidden ourselves in a corner.

But now since doing Ink Master and doing Angels, there’s definitely a lot more people that are seeking us out specifically, and that’s really cool. We’ve got a pretty good relationship with the Satanic Temple. That’s somewhat notable I think.

M&C: So, socially awkward. I’ve noticed that you’ve said that a couple of times in some interviews.

Kelly Doty: Oh sure.

M&C: Yet here you are, you’re this big TV-star and you’re hanging with Ryan Ashley, and Gia and Nikki. You have a huge profile now on reality television. How do you drive the socially awkward part of you to this newfound fame?

Kelly Doty: Luckily I am used to making decisions that put me in awkward situations. So this is no exception. It’s cool because I feel like you find anytime you have a group of people you start to…not pick up the slack for the others, but you fulfill a role where the others can’t.

And when I’m so deeply socially awkward and I’m just blabbering and falling over words and talking about blood rituals at weddings, which I did recently, it fell flat, there’s somebody else around you who will step in and be like, ‘What she means is not blood ritual, she means a Halloween celebration’ or something. Just to save you.

Honestly, I just keep my friends around so that they can save me from my own stupid mouth.

M&C: So I know that you apprenticed and learned your craft in Connecticut, where you’re from. How did you get to Massachusetts? Have you become a Masshole?

Kelly Doty: Oh man. I feel like the Masshole chooses you. I grew up in Connecticut, raised by my mom and my grandparents. So my grandparents had a place in Western Mass too, so I kind of grew up in both places.

But I have a ton of friends who have shops over in Western Mass, like in Northampton and Easthampton. So we didn’t really want to open up a shop in Western Mass, just because we didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.

We also really wanted to be back in Massachusetts. No one wants to be in Connecticut, so Massachusetts was the obvious choice. We all love it up here. And half the shop is from Massachusetts, full-blown.

So we went to Salem because it’s close to the airport. It’s a place that we’ve always visited and [we] feel really at home. We tattoo almost entirely spooky people, and so naturally, all spooky people want to go to Salem.

M&C: Has your traveling maybe opened your eyes to try other styles?

Kelly Doty: Yes, I’ve definitely gotten a lot of influence from traveling. I feel like I got a ton of influence from New Orleans, and I’ve been down there a lot. I learned about the Casket Girls. That was a huge thing, when I first heard about the Casket Girls of New Orleans and hearing that story, because more than anything I feel like I’m really influenced by stories.

So anywhere I go, if I can learn a little bit about the area there’s usually some kind of folklore or something that I can really get behind and illustrate that. But mostly I just love illustrating stuff.

But yeah, going to Paris and getting to see the gargoyles on all the cathedrals — that was a huge one too.

M&C: Did you go underground to the catacombs to see all the piled up skulls and skeletons?

Kelly Doty: No, I miss it every single time! I’ve tried so many times. This year, I’m gonna do it. I swear to God I’ll do it this year.

Oh and Norway. Going to Norway and the obvious…all of the mythology and folklore from Norway. I mean our shop is called Helheim Gallery for a reason. We love Norse mythology. But between that and the black metal scene, and using that as an influence too. If you’re open to it you’re going to find influence anywhere.

M&C: Sure. One of our new sites is called the Paranormal Papers. Is there a particular story, or phenomenon, or paranormal event or place that amazes you that you can tell me about?

Kelly Doty: Yeah, actually where I grew up in Burlington, Connecticut, there’s the tale of the Green Lady Cemetery.

Basically, it’s your classic tale of a man who leaves and he never returns and his beloved wife drowned herself in the swamp. That old chestnut. So now there’s a cemetery right near where she supposedly drowned herself, and it’s right next to a bunch of all these swamps and it’s also near a dump.

So the combination of the dump and swamp gas will actually make a green mist occasionally.

And there’s this one tree that everybody says she inhabits because the moss grows on the wrong side of the tree. It’s supposed to grow on the north side, and it grows on the south side of the tree. And it’s kind of in the figure of a woman.

When I was little I was obsessed with it to the point I gave myself a bladder infection about it. Oh man…I’m going for it, I’m going to tell you about this.

You know the whole Bloody Mary thing…if you say her name in the mirror three times that she’ll come in and she’ll pull you into the mirror?

Well, in my hometown we have that but it was for the Green Lady. And everyone said that if you said her name three times in the mirror while the lights are off she would come and get you.

So I was so freaked out by bathrooms and the fact that they had mirrors in them, that I would not go to the bathroom. And finally I held it for so long that little baby Kelly gave herself a bladder infection just because she didn’t want to be dragged to hell through a mirror.

M&C: Have you done a tattoo of the Green Lady for anyone?

Kelly Doty: I have not because I would only want to do it on somebody from my hometown. I have one person that I might do one on. But mostly I want to get one. That’s the tricky thing, cause I don’t know any other tattooers from my hometown so I’ll have to just stretch my limitations on that one.

M&C: What’s the worst job you had before you became a tattoo artist?

Kelly Doty: Not many. I worked for, I think, eight or nine years, something like that, at a music store. And that was my only real job other than little summer jobs here and there. But I thought it was going to be like Empire Records, and as it turns out, it was not.

M&C: Give me a one or two-word description to describe Ryan Ashley.

Kelly Doty: Elegant poltergeist.

M&C: Gia?

Kelly Doty: Snow White.

M&C: Nikki?

Kelly Doty: A demonic Selena.

M&C: Ooh I like that.

Kelly Doty: Yeah and I feel super right on the money about that one too. I’m going to go tell her I said that…she’s gonna love it.

M&C: Such a fun interview. I want to thank you so much…

Kelly Doty: Yeah if I can think of any other stories about urinary tract infections I’ll let you know.

M&C: What’s the next tattoo you’re going to get?

Kelly Doty: Next tattoo I get is probably gonna be reworking, I’m getting a giant back piece from my favorite artist Tom Strom, and it’s a giant Krampus. So we’re probably just going to work on that.

M&C: Krampus like in full, your whole back?

Kelly Doty: Oh yeah, it’s already started. It goes from my neck down to my butt.

M&C: Christmas-y for sure!

Kelly Doty: Yeah!

Ink Master: Angels premieres Tuesday, October 3 at 10pm ET/PT on Spike. Don’t miss our interviews with Kelly’s co-stars Ryan Ashley Malarkey and Gia Rose.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
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