Kivaka: Bedside Manner like a Nun [Guest Column – Stepping Back]

“Bedside Manner like a Nun

“Passion is in all great searches and is necessary to all creative endeavors.”

W. Eugene Smith

You can tell when someone loves their job. You can feel their passion and their excitement, and because of that, you know that they’re going to do the best job that they can. Loving your job makes you want to perfect your tasks, you care about every detail, and you want to learn everything you can about it. IAM:Kivaka loves what he does, and it shows. I’ve read a lot of experiences on BME, and I have to say that there are very few piercers that compare with Kivaka on the amount of positive feedback contained within those experiences. People literally rave about him. Now, I’m not saying that other piercers aren’t as qualified to pierce, or don’t love it as much as Kivaka does, all I’m saying is that his passion for piercing is evident to anyone that comes into contact with him. Just look at these testimonials:

“Kivaka did a perfect job setting up for the procedure. He methodically set out of the tools he would need (similar to when I set up for surgical procedures on animals at work). He also frequently changed his gloves (possibly more than most piercers do) which scored even more points with me. Kivaka was an exceptional artist. Not only did he know a large amount of information about the scientific portion of body piecing, he was very professional. I do not feel that I can properly express in words how impressed I am with his work. Also, he did everything possible to make everything as clean and as sterile as possible. I could also tell he was genuinely concerned wit his client’s safety.

“He was also a very good natured person. He was the kind of person that is rare to encounter these days. When we were ready to start he explained the procedure to me through each step (another quality I really liked). The gentle technique he used when he put the clamps on and when he inserted the needle was AMAZING. The way he pierced my septum was done so precisely and gently it was reminiscent of a surgeon working on a patient. It was like nothing I had ever encountered before while getting a piercing. The procedure was not nearly as painful as I had envisioned — in fact it was rather enjoyable — and I think this has to do with having a skilled artist.” — Bothrops [1]

“This guy is super cool, he’s really calm, knows his stuff, and makes the entire experience comfortable.” — Franke

“If anyone is undecided where they want to get pierced from, Kivaka is the guy to do it. I think he is the best. He knows his stuff and he will not bullshit you either.” — Kevin

“Kivaka impressed me while I was sitting waiting for my friend. He was talking to potential customers who walked into the shop. He really knows about body piercing and is very confidant in himself and his skills. I’ve been to other piercers before and Kivaka is by far the nicest and best piercer out there.” — James

“I refuse to go to anyone but Kivaka, and when my girlfriend decides to get her piercings, nose or whatever I convince her to do, she’s not going anywhere else either.” — Anonymous


David Klaus Pavin Jr. is known as Kivaka (pronounced key-vee-ka) to everyone except his mother and a few close friends. He’s been exposed to tattooing since he was a young boy and got his first tattoo at age ten by a friend of his, in what he describes as a “jailhouse method” with soot and pushpins. He’s been piercing for nearly fifteen years and is extremely passionate about it.

In 2004, he was ranked the third highest person on BME for photo submissions, and while he’s unsure of how many he does in comparison to other piercers, he does a lot of genital piercings.

Kivaka and his friend and business partner Tim (IAM:inkdrtim) are opening a new tattoo and piercing studio in Joliet, Illinois. Tim met Kivaka while he was tattooing at Lake Geneva Tattoo, in Wisconsin. When he decided to open a shop of his own, he asked Kivaka to join him in his endeavor, knowing that he’s a hard worker and that he has “a bedside manner like a nun.” Building it nearly from the ground up, Advanced Studios will have their grand opening on June 1, 2005. The shop will offer quality tattoos and piercings with fair and honest prices, a great atmosphere and love. Kivaka fully admits to putting his heart into his work and says that the difference between a good piercer and a bad piercer depends on two things: “First, The piercer should love what they do and not do it to be cool, and second, they care about the person and not the money.”

Tim and Kivaka painting their new shop: Advanced Studios

I had the privilege of interviewing Kivaka on the phone for nearly an hour, where we talked about his career, the steps he’s taken to make piercings safe for people in the state of Wisconsin, and the ups and downs of being a piercer.


BME:  When did your professional piercing career start?
KIVAKA:  When I was fifteen or sixteen I lived in California and I would hang out in the tattoo shop around where my dad used to live. I told the tattoo artist, a really nice guy named Sam, that I wanted to learn how to do piercings. He’d let me work after school, cleaning his shop and learning how to pierce. When the school year ended, I moved back to Wisconsin to live with my mom and started piercing around the Kenosha area.
BME:  Age sixteen? That’s pretty young.
KIVAKA:  I wouldn’t say I was professional back then, really. I was just some kid piercing, taught by some guy. It takes a while to become a professional. There’s a lot of piercings that are extreme that I’ve never done, but now I think I have a professional attitude and a good bedside manner.
BME:  You’ve done a lot in your career so far, like your guest spots around the country?
KIVAKA:  I used to own a tattoo shop in Illinois with my buddy, but we had to sell it. I’d always wanted to travel around and visit different tattoo shops and learn how to do different piercings. I have done guest spots at Tattoo Jans and Inspired by Ink out of Columbus, Ohio; Carnel Graphix in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Heart of America Tattoo Co. & Body Piercing in Burlington, Iowa, and in several other places around the country.
BME:  You’ve also helped with piercing laws for the state of Wisconsin, creating the questions for the exams so piercers can be certified?
KIVAKA:  About three years ago, I was working at Lake Geneva Tattoo, and a friend of mine was on the State committee and he asked if I wanted to join it with him. I’d never done anything like that, and thought it would be a great experience. We went to meetings and wrote exam questions so that when you want to be a piercer, you’ll have to pass a test in order to be licensed. A lot of states don’t regulate piercings, like in Illinois. The city of Chicago is regulated, but the state’s not.

It’s really sad and I shouldn’t be saying it, but I don’t really care: a lot of people pierce as a hobby, and some people just do it for the money. Then again, even if they’re really, really bad, they’re still learning and they’re trying, so I’m not going to knock them.

Laws are good because it means that piercers will learn what kind of tools to use, and what an autoclave is and other important things. It’s unreal what some piercers don’t know. There are a lot of states that do have regulations and lot of them are tough, too.

When I was on the state committee, I was dating this girl who had two kids, and I thought it would be a good idea to help make it safer for them when they get older and want piercings or tattoos. I wanted to make sure that if I ever have kids, piercing is going to be safe for them: these laws will ensure that if they don’t want me to pierce them, they can go to someone else who’s qualified and knows what they’re doing.

This piercing was featured in the publication Midwest Tattoo News.

BME:  You’ve done a lot of genital piercings on girls. Is there something in the water around where you live? Or…
KIVAKA:  I hope it’s not the water, I’ll bottle that up and put “Kivaka” on it.
BME:  Why do you think you do so many genital piercings in comparison to other piercers? You were talking to another piercer and you asked him how many genital piercings he did a year, and he said he did ten. You usually do around 300 a year, that’s a big difference.
KIVAKA:  Yeah, well, I guess some piercers don’t do that many, I don’t know. I’m nice, I guess, girls like me apparently.
BME:  But is that enough reason for so many girls to get genital piercings from you?

KIVAKA:  I think it’s the photos in my portfolio and my reputation. If someone comes in, I’m not going to be a dick to them. They’re sometimes dicks to me though, and I don’t understand why, I mean, I’m going to take a needle and put it through your flesh, and you’re going to be mean to me? I just smile and take it. I understand that they’re scared — I’d be scared too if I was going to have something shoved though my genital area.
BME:  Do you sell the idea to them? Do they come in for a nose piercing and leave with a hood piercing?
KIVAKA:  No, not at all. They usually come in for me. I don’t like to sell piercings. I’ll turn down piercings if I don’t want to do them. I don’t know why I do it — a lot of other piercers tell me I’m a fool. Some people will come in with a certain tongue and I don’t feel comfortable doing it so I won’t do it — point blank — I will not do it. I’m not going to try to convince them to get another piercing, I just tell them to take their time and think about getting something else.
BME:  Do you do more hood piercings than any other piercings?
KIVAKA:  I do a lot of piercings in general. I never really counted all the genital piercings compared to the other ones. I know I’ve done a ton of genital piercings though.
BME:  It seems like you’ve done a lot of them, you post a lot of pictures on your page.
KIVAKA:  When I do them I usually post the pictures because I think a lot of people like to look at the photos I take, not just the piercings ones, but the other ones.
A couple of hood piercings by Kivaka.

BME:  You’re a very talented photographer.
KIVAKA:  I’d love to take photos for a living, but then I’d have to stop piercing, so that’d be a bummer. I don’t want to stop piercing. I love piercing to death.
BME:  Why?
KIVAKA:  The first time I got pierced, I was about 16, and I got my nipple done by this guy who was apprenticing under a man named Joe, who ran the shop and had been piercing for a long time.

I got my nipple done, and wow do you want to talk about pure pain. He couldn’t get the needle in, even after three tries. Bam, took it out, bam, took it out, bam, took it out. I was sitting there with a Budweiser can in my hand, and was like, “what the fuck are you doing?!” I had gotten tattoos before, but this hurt! Joe came in and he ended up doing it for me instead. It was painful, but it made me want to do piercings and make it a good experience for somebody.

If you come in to my shop and get pierced, I don’t want you to have a bad experience because that’s a memory. I mean, you don’t want to mess with someone’s memories. That’s all you really got in the long run: if you’re a vegetable and you can’t talk or anything, all you’ve got are your memories, so I don’t want to mess with that.

I’d pierce for free, but then I couldn’t afford to eat. I’d love to spend my life going fishing, taking photos and piercing people for free — that’s what I’d do if I could, but I can’t. I’ve got to pay my rent, my internet bills…

BME:  Do you see piercing as a lifelong career?
KIVAKA:  I think I’ll probably pierce for a long, long time. I grew up around tattoo artists, I’m going to pretty much die around a tattoo shop. Once I get all old and my hands are brittle, and I can’t hold a cork or needle or jewelry, I’ll get a pond or an island and just fish.
BME:  Well, with anybody with as much passion with you, I’d hope that you’d continue for a long time.
KIVAKA:  Yeah, I’ve been doing it for a long time, off and on. I took a tattoo apprentice when I was 18 or so, but I was like, “screw that.” I like piercing, it’s fun. It can be hell sometimes, and there are things that can suck about it, but that’s life.
BME:  Every job has its downsides.
KIVAKA:  What a lot of people don’t know is how many weird downsides there are —
BME:  Weird downsides?
KIVAKA:  Say you get some little kid who wants to learn how to be a piercer when they’re still in high school, and they’re thinking that they’re going to be able to do it wherever they want to. They don’t realize that there aren’t many tattoo artists or piercers — you can’t get a job wherever you want — that’s why I think it’s odd when people come in and tell me they’re going to be a piercer. I let them know that they should really think about it, and they sometimes think I’m trying to talk them out of it. I just want to make sure they really know what they want to do. It’s not for everybody.
Various piercings by Kivaka.

BME:  You seem to have gotten a lot of strange things as tips. Easter candy, pierced stuffed animals, cookies, pot brownies…
KIVAKA:  I think it’s adorable and sometimes it’s a little weird. I get some strange stuff. I recently got a mask from the Ivory Coast and it’s really cool. I’ve gotten numerous other masks, money, gift certificates, and even a car — a little beater, like a $400 car. If people want to give me tip, that’s fine, but I don’t really look for them. Have a good time, tell your friends about me, and take care of your piercing.

I’ve also had some weird offers for sex. I don’t really like to get sex like that. I’m not like that. I get really offended if I’m at work and someone tries to grab my nuts and says, “Hey, after this, let’s go.”

BME:  Maybe it’s their adrenaline or something like that, that gets the better of them and messes with their judgment.
KIVAKA:  I don’t know what it is, it’s just odd.
BME:  Am I missing something? Where else could it happen and people get away with it? Maybe it happens in other professions, I don’t know —
KIVAKA:  I don’t know either. Once I was doing this one girl’s belly button, and all of a sudden, she reaches over and grabs my nuts. It’s just not cool, you just don’t do that. That’s sexual harassment. I’m a private person, I’m really quite shy — people just shouldn’t do that to me. It’s not like I’m a stripper or something, though I feel like it sometimes. The girls are cool though, they’re just having fun, I think.
BME:  It’s strange to have that reaction on people.
KIVAKA:  I can’t decide who’s worse — the girls or the guys… some of the guys are ruthless, just brutal. Some of the girls are like, “hey” and they may grab me, but some of the guys just say, “Hey, do you want to fuck?” and I’m like, “Dude! What are you talking about? No, I’m not going to do that.”

I think it’s flattering to an extent. Once, a friend of mine wanted his nipples done, but then decided on a PA instead. Before I pierced him, he said, “Hey I need to ask you a question before you poke me, are you straight or gay, because I want to take you out to dinner.” And he knew I was dating a girl at the time. I like females, they’re soft and cuddly and warm, and they have woo-woos.

I really think it’d be cool to get married. That’d be a cool tip: as long as I say that I want to get married, instead of them telling me that they’re going to marry me.

Kivaka’s tattoo: a physical commitment to his job.

With passion as evident as Kivaka’s, he’ll be sure to have a long, happy career. I wish he and Tim the best of luck with the opening of their new shop.

In addition to his pictures on BME, see more of Kivaka’s work at

— Gillian Hyde (IAM:typealice)

Gillian Hyde (IAM:typealice) is a vagabond, though her roots run deep into Nova Scotian soil. She’s lived and worked on three continents since 2001, and has never lived anywhere for longer than eight months since the age of 16. She loves fonts, puns, being barefoot, and office supplies. Calm to her is the roar of the ocean.

Online presentation copyright © 2005 LLC. All photographs © Kivaka. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online May 9th, 2005 by LLC from La Paz, BCS, Mexico.

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