You probably know her as the tatted international pinup babe that graces high-end fashion and tattoo magazines alike, but did you know this bombshell is in the tattoo industry herself? Currently filling the role of expert judge on the second season of Oxygen’s Best Ink, which airs Wednesdays at 10 P.M. ET/PT, Sabina Kelley has been setting the bar high for this year’s hopefuls gunning for a chance of winning $100,000 and a cover feature in Tattoo Magazine.
We chatted with Kelley about her life as a pinup girl; her tattoo removal shop, Bombshell Tattoo Removal and what it’s like to be one of the sexiest tattooed models in the world.
*Playboy.com: *What are the biggest changes you noticed coming into season two?
*Kelley: *Well, we have 12 artists now instead of 10 and 10 episodes instead of eight, so the season is a little longer! [laughs] We also now have Pete Wentz as our host and world-renowned tattoo artist Hannah Aitchison has come on as a permanent judge on the show too. Those are definitely the biggest changes we’ve had.
*Playboy.com: *What’s it like working alongside Pete Wentz and Joe Capobianco?
Kelley: It’s been great. All four of us get along really well. Obviously it’s rough filming for six weeks straight, but it makes it a lot easier when you get to work alongside people that you get along with! [laughs] I’ve got nothing but compliments on the show so far, and it’s just wonderful to be a part of.
Playboy.com: Are there any crazy things that happen on the second episode that you can dish about?
*Kelley: *They went into a club with Ray J for the flash challenge! I think they painted on tables with black light [sensitive] paint. The skin competition for the second episode was really difficult for the artists, because not many tattoo artists that I know of before this challenge have worked with the black light ink since it’s invisible. You barely see it when you’re putting it in. When the lights go out in a club or something with black lights, that’s when you see it. So for their challenge they were asked to do a normal tattoo with color that would be beautiful during the day that revealed another half of the design when it was in the black light. It was neat because it was very difficult for them, for sure, but it’s a challenge; they’re supposed to be difficult! [laughs]
Playboy.com: In your opinion, what’s the most major misconception about the tattoo industry?
Kelley: That everyone who’s heavily tattooed is a scumbag! The biker scumbag stereotype definitely isn’t always true.
Playboy.com: When did you decide to open your tattoo removal studio?
Kelley: I opened my tattoo removal studio about five years ago. I did it as kind of a plan B for when I couldn’t model anymore, since I have been modeling full-time and I have kids, so I figured I couldn’t model forever, right? I am not a tattoo artist by any means but wanted to find something that could be involved with a tattoo shop. After a while we started to notice that so many people would come into the shop asking about getting their tattoos removed, so I figured that I would go to school for tattoo removal. I loved it immediately, and as soon as I was done I started doing it at Hart and Huntington out here in Las Vegas, but my shop is called Bombshell Tattoo Removal; it’s located inside the shop.
*Playboy.com: *As someone who has a lot of tattoos, why do you think this kind of thing is important?
Kelley: With all the tattoo reality shows, people here are just getting so heavily tattooed. I don’t think a lot of them are really thinking about all the decisions that they’re making right now, those they eventually regret. I’ve explained this part to a lot of people: most people that are heavily tattooed or have tattoos that are racist or crappy tattoos, when they go into a doctor’s office they feel super uncomfortable explaining why they are getting it taken off and ultimately getting looked down upon by these doctors. So I feel like they feel a little more comfortable with me because I am very heavily tattooed and I don’t judge them. So that’s been good for me!
Playboy.com: Can you talk a bit about your Bettie Page tattoo on your shoulder blade? It’s so awesome!
*Kelley: *I have color on both of my arms, so I was going to do color on my whole back but I felt like I would end up looking like Rainbow Brite so I was like, “Nope, that’s not going to happen!” [laughs] I’ve always wanted, before I got tattoos, to do all black and gray. Somewhere down the line I got talked into doing color. So I decided that I was going to do my whole back black and gray, kind of Chicano style but mix it with a bit of American traditional so it still went with the rest of my tattoos. So I put it with a little twist. For example on normal Chicano tattoos you’d put an angel, and I put a pinup angel instead. And the Chola clown girls I did as a Bettie Page clown girl, which goes with what I do in the whole rockabilly and pinup world. So that’s why I did my Bettie Page as a clown girl. And I put a car on there, too: an Impala, which is my car, actually. We kind of just twisted the two styles together to make it really unique and something I had never seen before.
*Playboy.com: *You’re obviously notorious for your pinup career, too. For you, why do you think it’s important to celebrate the female body?
Kelley: I definitely think, especially nowadays for women, I think people should be proud of their bodies and their curves and not have to be runway models with no hips and no boobs; be proud of yourself and what you got. Just be classy, like Bettie Page was, and Bunny Yeager: the classy girl-next-door look while making it sexy. Just not that trashy look! With my modeling, I make it look as classy as I possibly can while still making it playfully sexy.
Playboy.com: You had to get over a lot of negative reception of your tattoos in the beginning of your career. What was that like?
Kelley: There weren’t any heavily tattooed models when I began modeling. There was only one other girl back when I just started getting tattoos also, but it wasn’t looked highly upon. I had to prove myself to the photographers I worked with, and I obviously just started off with one tattooed arm so I could angle certain ways so it looks like I had no tattoos, or they could Photoshop them out. And after I started building my name, people started to trust me more. I still run across it once in a while even though I have a big name now. Where they’re like, “Oh, I don’t know if I want to champ that,” because it’s this whole new look for them. It’s crazy! Playboy is a prime example. I’ve worked with them before, and they were talking about trying to do a heavily tattooed girl edition. I’ve done little stuff with Playboy, but has there ever been a heavily tattooed girl on the cover? Nope.
Playboy.com: What are the sexiest tattoos a man can get?
Kelley: Honestly, I really like neck tattoos on a guy, but only if they’re heavily tattooed. It looks really bad and terribly disgusting if you’re not heavily tattooed, but if it’s the case, it’s the sexiest tattoo on a man.
*Playboy.com: *Lightning round!
Worst pickup line: “Your daddy must be a thief because he stole the stars out of the sky and put them in your eyes.” I swear, terrible!
Most embarrassing moment: I had to do a photo shoot and had to hike up this hill. I was wearing a corset, and we were hiking through these tick-infested sunflowers. I had garbage bags taped on my legs, in heels and a corset, and I totally tumbled and went all the way down the hill. It was super embarrassing because it was already ridiculous because I had to wear garbage bags on my legs because they were so worried I would have ticks all over me. I was like, “Why would you even put me in a situation like that?!” But yeah, probably one of the most embarrassing ones since I tumbled all the way down the hill. Modeling’s not always that glamorous!
Favorite city: Sydney, Australia.
Favorite drink: Jack Daniel’s.
First memory of Playboy: In first grade one of the little boys brought it to school and everybody was looking through it and we hid it in the janitor’s closet. I remember all the teachers asking us what we were doing huddled around the door, and we obviously all looked super suspicious and in trouble. They ended up opening the janitor’s door and the kid got in a lot of trouble.