Tattooing has a long history with chapters written in places as diverse as the South Pacific, the Middle East, and North America. The style and placement of the illustration has always been significant to the culture, but now in the 21st Century in the US the importance of the symbolism behind the tattoo has begun to slip a bit. Even as late as the 1980s having a tattoo was a sign of a rebellious nature, now it is a sign you had some spare cash. Full disclosure, I have seven tattoos, one on each deltoid, five across the shoulders, and I’m always thinking about getting more.
When I first heard about the reality TV show “Ink Master” I had mixed feelings, mainly due to the nature of reality TV. Fortunately, the show, now in it’s 4th season, serves not only as a showcase for some amazingly talented tattoo artists, but it gives insight into the history and symbolism of the art and the most popular tattoos people get.
Hosted by tattoo royalty Oliver Peck (former Guinness World Record holder for Most Tattoos in s 24 Hour Period with 415), Chris Nuñez (respected owner of premier studio Hand Crafted in Miami, Florida) and rock god Dave Navarro who has been getting inked up for 25 years. The premise of the show is simple: tattoo artists from across America compete to show they have mastered the craft of the tattoo artist. They intend to prove they are an Ink Master.
To do this, each week the contestants are given two separate challenges: the first one is to test their artistic ability, and the second is to demonstrate their knowledge of a specific tattoo style. This means that if a client comes into their shop and asks for an American Classic, a Black and Gray, a Japanese sleeve, or one of the other major styles, the artist can do the work. And, they have to be able to do them well, to the best of their ability. A true Master Tattoo Artist, or Ink Master, can do this because the title of Ink Master isn’t something you just adopt for yourself, it has to come from your peers. Or, in this case, from the expert opinions of the three regular judges and the weekly celebrity guest judge. The best part being that the title comes with $100,000.
The competition is intense and the ego clashes don’t fail to provide the required drama that reality TV is known for. Every week the artists argue over each other’s work and who should have gotten voted out. And this is not manufactured TV drama, these are real professional artists who have been working for a decade or more. The ego level is to be expected, although some crack under the pressure far more easily than others.
Season one only had ten artists, eight males and two females and only lasted eight weeks. Due to the popularity of the show, however, it has grown to thirteen episodes per season with sixteen artists competing. The finale is a live episode where all of the artists and human canvasses return and highlights of the season are reviewed.
13 Tattoo Styles
American Classic: Siimple designs incorporating skulls, daggers, roses, eagles, anchors, and combinations of these done in 4 colors with heavy black outlines.
Japanese: Soft, simple designs with bold colors. Koi, Samurai, Geisha, and Oni masks are all traditional motifs.
Tribal: Polynesian and African mainly. Characterized by bold, curving designs that often narrow to a sharp point. Often rendered in green or black.
New School: Big, bold, cartoony designs with loud colors. Any subject matter can be rendered in New School, although the effects achieved may not be as significant as in other styles.
Black and Grey: Developed in the Los Angeles prison system this style was developed by Latinos who would make ink out of whatever they could (the Bible, usually since it was easy to access and didn’t arouse suspicion) then they would water the ink down to different shades of black and grey. This allowed them to achieve new depths and perspectives that other styles couldn’t match.
Portrait: Photo-realistic artwork is one of the greatest tests of an artist’s ability. To be able to reproduce an image on human skin that you see in a photo takes a lot of practice and discipline.
Celtic: Tight, interlocking knotwork sometimes accompanied by floral designs. Crosses, triskelions, triangles figure prominently in this school.
Anatomical: Authentically reproduced illustrations of bones, organs, and arteries.
Bio-Mechanical: Skin-rip tattoos that reveal gears, cogs, and steel rods beneath the skin.
Horror: Dark, grisly tattoos featuring realistic Grim Reapers, skulls, demons, and zombies. Often done in combinations of black and green, red, or grey.
Dios de la Muerté: Tattoos inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead festival this style features sugar skulls, masked women, and dancing skeletons.
Animal: Real or imaginary, land or air. The ability to outline feathers, scales, and teeth is an integral ability.
Pin-Up: Sexy girls in skimpy outfits. Can be of any time period, but common themes include dominatrix, Betty Page, and sexy nurse/soldier/demon.
Tomorrow I’ll start posting the episode recaps. Some will be longer than others, depending on whether or not I feel like going into detail about the quality of the work, singling out different tattoos for special discussion, etc.