Making the Gradation

Flash Challenge:  Gradation

Gradation is the transition of color from light to dark, it is an essential characteristic of any tattoo. If you don’t have good gradation, your work is going to be an unreadable mass. To test this skill the artists were taken to a farm where 6’ X 8’ canvasses awaited them. The medium chosen for this contest was blood, because tattoo artists used to make their own ink out of any materials they had at hand. I suspect another reason was because tattooing has a deep, spiritual meaning behind it. No matter what style is used, or where it originated, there is always a deep significance because tattoos are a visual medium. Symbols are powerful things, and blood is a primal force. Testing an artist’s ability to combine these things in a safe manner allows the judges to see inside their heads, further narrowing the pool of candidates who actually have a shot at the title of Ink Master.

Bloody Disaster by Emily Elegado

Emily was not thrilled to be working with blood and her canvas shows her frustration. It doesn’t excuse the poor design choices she made, notably the lack of a hilt on that dagger, but we’ve come to expect poor design from her.

Cleen turned in a nice sacred heart that showed his strength as an artist. The lines are clean and flowing, the transitions are smooth, and the design is a great example of a traditional design.

Sacred Blood by Cleen Rock One

Ultimately the judges gave the win to Mark Longenecker, one of my least favorite contestants. He’s been on the bottom so often he practically has his name carved into the floor, but credit where credit is due, this is a great image. The more so considering the medium.

Blood in the Water by Mark Longenecker

Elimination Challenge:

As you may have guessed from the Flash Challenge, this week was Black and Gray, the Widow Maker. Too many artists come in with little to no experience with this style and it is almost as bloody as American Traditional. To really up the pressure, however, the judges brought in a special guest judge, Tommy Montoya, a renowned master of this style. And as long as he was there, they gave him something to do besides watch. Tommy was going to tattoo Jesus on the Cross for celebrity guest canvas Kenny from .

This would be the work against which all other tattoos this day would be judged. No pressure.

The winner, by a unanimous decision, was Josh Hibbard who finally did a rib tattoo. And he fucking CRUSHED it. Not a surprise to me, really, because this counts as a portrait, and that is where Josh does his best work. You cannot deny that this tattoo sits well on the body and the gradation is superb, just look at the face. This tattoo has fire and energy and just pops.

Jesus by Josh Hibbard

Human Canvas Jury:

Like the panel of judges, they found Jesus’ face to be jarring and it ruined an otherwise amazing work. Cleen is a great tattoo artist, and I fully expect to see him in the final four, but this tattoo was a serious miss.

Jesus by Cleen Rock One

Joining him in the bottom were Emily, Cris, and perennial basement dweller Mark Longenecker, each of whom turned in a bad design.

Jesus by Cris

Jesus by Mark Longenecker

Emily’s luck finally ran out and she was sent packing. She showed good gradation, but other than that, her tattoo is awful. Cris’ tattoo is a series of bad design choices, starting at the abs and ending at the crown. And Mark didn’t seem to understand that gradation was on trial here, so his survival is only because they finally had a chance to get rid of Emily who clearly doesn’t have the requisite skills for the top five.

Jesus by Emily Elegado


Mark doesn’t either, and I’m expecting to see him or Cris knocked out next week.

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