The Games Go On

Ink Master Episode 5

So, here we are in the 5th week of the series, and six artists remain. They are all talented, no doubt, but it is pretty obvious who the final three are going to be:  Shane, Tommy, and either Josh or James will be on the stage at the end.

Scott Campbell, tattoo artist to New York’s celebrity elite, stopped by to serve as guest judge. This week the criteria would be color, something that Shane O’Neill has not demonstrated ability with yet.

Flash Challenge

In yet another odd challenge the artists were tasked with painting a prosthetic leg for amputees, each of whom has a different horror story for how they lost their limb Considering how expensive these limbs are (one guy said his cost $95, 000) bad work is going to cause some real problems.

Everyone did good work, but there were some notable stand-outs:  Léa, Bili, Shane, and Josh all delivered powerful pieces that were discussed by the judges. Josh color-bombed his canvas with a New Skool tattoo style that wowed the owner, while Shane did a more reserved palette of three colors to make a highly detailed dinosaur to appeal to the  owner’s kid.

It was a classy move that scored him some points with not only the judges, but people at home. There were some people (Josh, especially) who felt that Shane could have done more, but that is the way shit goes.


Elimination Tattoo

American Traditional (the province of Oliver Peck) is the style that the artists would have to work in this week. Known for big, bold outlines and a small color palette using simple designs this style is extremely important to American tattoo tradition. These restrictions were definitely a problem for Bili who, once again, demonstrates that he doesn’t have what it takes to be an Ink Master as he rails against the style because it is “too basic” for his abilities.

Léa, on the other hand, had a difficult canvas that wanted too much work for the allotted time. James also had a difficult canvas who rejected his tattoo at the last minute, forcing him to redesign.

For their part, the judges were less-than-impressed with the quality of work being turned in. Oliver has been doing this for two decades, and he is justifiably proud of his style so he doesn’t have time for excuses about how American Traditional is “too basic” or “restrictive” of artistic license.

American Traditional by Tommy Helm

The real point of contention, however, came in when Bili Vegas nonchalantly mentions that he always uses his time of birth (5:55) whenever he tattoos a clock. This bit of arrogance would have gotten him immediately fired by Scott Campbell who doesn’t tolerate that kind of thing.

 Shane got hammered for his tattoo because while it is technically and thematically correct, the color composition was way off. Without the heavy blacks and bold colors to set it off, it doesn’t fit as an American Traditional. The pleasure the other artists got from this stern critique was unabashed.

 Tops and Bottoms

Bili,  Léa, Josh, and James found themselves in front of the judges for the elimination.

Tattoo by Bili Vegas

 Josh came out top of the heap with an American Traditional that wowed all of the judges.

Tattoo by Josh Woods

Tattoo by Bili Vegas


Tattoo by Léa Vendetta











Choosing between which of these is the worse tattoo, I found myself in the same position as Dave Navarro, siding with Bili Vegas. When Oliver and Chris discuss the actual elements and standards for American Traditional, however, I found my feelings changed somewhat.

Oliver described  Léa’s as a bad Traditional, but both he and Chris agreed that what Bili turned in didn’t actually constitute a Traditional. And it’s not hard to agree with their assessment since Bili did nothing but express disdain and contempt for this style of work.


Ink Disaster Piece

Ink Master Episode 4


Flash Challenge

This time out the judges were examining the artists technical precision by having them all do a bevelled star, one of the most basic tattoos. The catch being the star would be on either the knee or elbow. Special guest judge Todd Weinberger, editor of Inked Magazine stops by to lend his experience. The apples-to-apples comparison of one design will allow us to see how good the artist is at hitting their fundamentals.

Heather, James, Bili, Léa, and Josh all chose to do red/black combos with Josh coming out on top with precise outlines, and clean color as well as good placement.


Elimination Tattoo

Photo-realism is the order of the day and the canvasses have some highly detailed ideas including fruits and vegetables, wild animals, and one guy looking for a memorial to his firefighter father.

Tattoo by Josh Woods

A recurring theme on the show is how the canvasses don’t seem to understand the difficulty of what they are asking for, or how ridiculous some of their requests actually are. From a large number of objects in the tattoo, to color choices, the canvases sometimes make the artist’s job extremely difficult. And this is part of the job, being able to handle difficult customers.

 Shane keeps doing B&G tattoos which is his strong suit, but it is beginning to make other artists wonder how strong his color skills actually are.

 Tops and Bottoms

Josh’s produce look fantastic individually, but collected they lose their realistic appeal. Heather turns in a truly awful flaming fireman’s hat and Bili is undone by a canvas who wants a photo-realistic tattoo of his muscle tissue except no blood.

Léa wins with a magnificent snow leopard that completely redeems her previous work, but I don’t think she is going to last much longer. Heather’s tattoo was her last ruined canvas, she gets bounced for what Todd called an “Ink Disasterpiece.”


Tattoo by Lea Vendetta

Heather Sinn’s “Disasterpiece”

Pasties and a Camel Toe

Ink Master Episode 3  

Flash Challenge

This week we look at shading and the artists ability to use it correctly to create rich, vibrant tattoos. The canvasses wore pancake makeup and white panties. The artists would be using paint this time, instead of ink.

Al Fliction thinks outside the box and paints his model to seem as if she is lit by ¾ lighting.  The interesting part is that the other artists have no idea what he is doing, and they assume he is taking a short-cut that is going to get him slammed. Everyone is surprised, however, when the judges select Al as the winner precisely because he gave them EXACTLY what they asked for:  shading.

Tommy paints on a massive skull that just completely wowed me and the judges. His decision to use the model’s breasts as the location for the skull’s cheekbones gave the image a 3D effect.

Skull by Tommy Helm

Bili did a great biomechanical painting on his model that earned him justified praises as did Shane and  Léa did an excellent skull and flowers piece that earned her some compliments.

Elimination Tattoo

As the Flash challenge led us to believe, this week we will be doing B & G. Al gets first pick, so he picks the darkest canvas in the line-up to do his work. And poor old Bili gets stuck doing another head tattoo as a canvas draws him by random chance.

By this point we are beginning to see who won’t make it to  then end. And Bili is going to be one of the artists who falls by the wayside, along with Lea and Heather. Bili whines too much, and the ladies are both too brittle, and too lacking in skills to make the cut.

Al:  He does a massive wooden cross with some clouds at the bottom to symbolize the Pearly Gates of Heaven. It’s a good work at first blush, but the artists point out some serious flaws, including the lack of good shading.


Tops and Bottoms

Shane comes out on top with his cutlery tattoo, demonstrating his reputation with B&G is well-earned. Bili, on the other hand, turns in an awful Baku (Japanese war elephant) that earns him a severe scolding from the judges. Al and Josh also find themselves down there. Neither of them did the best job of shading, and Josh just had his way too dark.

Tattoo by Shane O’Neill

Strangely they bounced Al Fliction before they 86ed Bili, which was a complete surprise to me.


Tattoo by Al Fliction


Baku by Bili Vegas


Botched Head Tattoo

Ink Master Episode 2

Flash Challenge

This episode opens with the judges asking the artists to demonstrate their ability to make smooth, clean lines. The twist, this times, was that the canvasses du jour were a series of cars. Al Fliction immediately got the connection that the lines they painted on were supposed to flow with the design of the car, just like a tattoo is supposed to flow with the body of the human canvas. And, not surprisingly, his work was one of the best. So good, in fact, that it looked like they were always there.

It’s an interesting challenge, and deceptively simple. All you have to do is paint some lines onto the vehicle that flow with the contours of the car. And yet, most of the artists completely screwed it up. One of the worst examples being the horrible work Jeremy put on the trunk of his canvass. Dave Navarro points out that while Jeremy’s first human canvas wouldn’t stop moving. causing her to leave with an unfinished tattoo, this time the canvas was an inanimate object and he still managed to fuck it up.

Heather continues to be brittle, this time attempting to make a lame excuse for why, after 90 minutes of work, she had nothing particular to show off. Bili went for a minimalist look and that won him the challenge.


Elimination Tattoo

The theme of this episode, as the title indicates, is disaster tattoos. Several of the artists turn in bad work this week, some of them much worse than others. The Elimination Tattoo, building on the foundation of the flash challenge, asked the artists to display their ability to do a tribal tattoo.

Having won the Flash Challenge, Bili decided to take on a guy who wanted a full head tattoo, one of the most painful and difficult areas to work. And this one has to be done in 5 hours, an exceedingly bold move on his part. Unfortunately, his canvas wasn’t able to endure the pain of having his skull tatted up and he had to quit before his work was done.

Meanwhile Shane’s human canvas was having a flare-up of psoriasis that knocked him out due to health concerns. This meant that this week’s guest judge, reality-show star and tattoo mainstay Ton Jones had to step in and volunteer his skin.

Heather turns in a nice red/black tribal and gets the appropriate praise for it.

James: a full-back cross done in black and red with a nice tribal border.

Léa’s back piece, another cross  was finished, but imperfect.

Jeremy:  double-dragon that, on close inspection, doesn’t quite measure up, especially the ripped skin on the left side.

Tommy:  He produces a nice red/green tribal rose for a young lady’s shoulder.

Josh:  Full forearm tribal tatt that splits Oliver and Chris.

Al:  Great tribal lion, unfortunately the lion is sniffing the wearer’s armpit, a major design flaw. Ships, flags, etc all go forward otherwise they look like they are trying to escape the wearer, not move with the wearer.

Shane:  His tribal skull is clean, well shaded, and done in B & G.

Tops and Bottoms

James wins Best Tattoo for his massive, well done cross. Jeremy gets bounced due to his low quality work. His excuse being “I can do New School” because apparently he thought this was “New School Master.”

Tattoo by James Vaughn


Tattoo by Jeremy Miller


Ink Master Episode 1

Episode 1:  Fresh Meat

In the season opener we meet our ten artists as they wait outside a meat packing plant. Shane O’neill, Al Fliction, Lea Vendetta, James Vaughn, B- Tat, Tommy Helm, Heather Sinn, Bili Vegas, Shane Jeremy Miller, Josh Woods, and Shane O’Neill.  Then we’re introduced to Oliver Peck, Chris Nuñez, and Dave Navarro and told why they are capable of judging these artists:  Peck and Nuñez have been doing ink for over 20 years each, and Navarro has been a client for that long.

Oliver Peck owns two shops, Elm Street Tattoo in Dallas, Texas and True Tattoo in Los Angeles. Mr. Nuñez, on the other hand represents the East Coast in his studio Hand Crafted in Miami, Florida.

Flash Challenge

The first challenge is to measure raw talent, and they do it by putting the contestants in a meat locker where they are tattooing pig carcasses with a skull. They get 90 minutes to do whatever they want in order to introduce the judges to their technique.  The reason for this challenge is pretty obvious, even to a layman like myself:  the cold, the unusual canvas, the smell…this is all done to shake the artist up without the risk of them damaging someone’s skin with a bad tattoo.

As we watch the artists work, we cut away to interviews where they are explaining their style and technique, and we gain a little insight into their character. Heather is fragile, Al is egomaniacal, and Tommy thinks like an Ink Master, willing to do any style that a client wants. Only time will reveal if he has the talent to back his thought processes.

Shane O’Neill:  A true master of the Black and Grey school of tattooing, his skull is a jagged, broken thing that fades perfectly into the skin. Not something I would wear, but I can recognize his talent.

Heather Sinn:  She elected to do B & G as well, setting her skull in an aquatic environment with an octopus coiling through it. As the judges examine her work she realizes that color was the right way to go, and I have to agree. The tatt looks muddled and inelegant the way she did it.

Josh Woods: Josh did his skull in a riot of color that really shows of his talent. The blacks are thick and solid and serve to make the purple, green, and yellow leap out at the eye.

James Vaughn:  A Tibetan skull in B & G. The best part about this tatt was the flowers that adorn the skull were done completely by shading, no outline used.

Tommy Helm:  His B&G skull has a little comic flair, he added a tied-on pig nose and ears. Clever and well done on all counts.

Jeremy Miller:  His skull was done in red with purple highlights and the modest slogan “I’m Awesome” on a banner. I think the red was bright and the drawing was decent, but the purple banner looks a bit unfinished to me.

Léa Vendetta:  The French-born tattoo artist decided to work in B&G using a pointillist style to accentuate the work. This is definitely something I could wear.

B-Tat:  His B&G skull lacked sharp outlines but the rose that the skull wore looked fine on it.

Al Fliction:  Al decided to not only do a great B&G skull, he pumped it full of New York attitude and the result was smoking hot.

Bili Vegas:  His skull was done sans outline and used an interesting mix of colors. The work is good, showing a great deal of skill, even if I’m not fully in agreement with his palette.

After reviewing the work, the judges agreed that Josh turned in the most impressive work of the challenge, even if they didn’t personally like the style.
Elimination Tattoo

Since the theme of this episode is Raw Talent their elimination challenge is to do a cover-up of a bad tattoo.   Josh, the winner of the Flash Challenge, gets 1st choice on the human canvasses, and leaps at the opportunity to take the easiest cover-up job. Other contestants remark during cut-aways that this is hardly the behavior of an Ink Master, a position that Chris Nuñez supports.

Jeremy Miller:  Saddled with a female canvas with badly done wings on her back, Jeremy has a lot of work to do in six hours. Things don’t go well, however, as his canvas cannot seem to bear the pain of the inking process, which might help explain why her wings are crookedly drawn. Still, Jeremy doesn’t change her to a prone position resulting in her leaving the set with an unfinished cover-up tattoo on her back, leaving her a mess who can never reveal her back in public.

The worst part about this, for me, was Jeremy’s refusal to acknowledge that perhaps he had fucked up by not repositioning his canvass. Oliver Peck even has to point out that plenty of back pieces have been done with the canvass in the prone position. Jeremy is clearly not an Ink Master in my opinion.

James Vaughn:  The canvas had some message about living, loving, and looking like a dumbass so James was tasked with coming up with some sort of armor to replace this. The job done was serviceable, but nothing spectacular however.

Léa Vendetta:  Her canvas had an absurdly small panther head tattooed on his bicep and she elected to cover it with a massive flame-wreathed skull that look like Eddie from the Iron Maiden album covers. A great idea, but there was so much orange in the tattoo that it looks like it could have used another hour to finish it.

To her credit, Léa is aware of this and makes the case herself. Still, she knew how much time she had to work with, it was her job to manage it properly.

B-Tat:  He draws this amazing Foo Dog to cover the canvas’ bicep, which is currently sporting a badly done Pegasus. Unfortunately the inking job doesn’t come out quite as he wanted and the finished product doesn’t match the majesty of the original design. And that’s being polite about the whole affair.

Tommy Helm:  Tasked with covering up a bizarre Tramp Stamp. (It said “RIP DAD” and, while I can certainly endorse showing your love for you family in ink, I really don’t understand the placement of that particular one.) Tommy delivers a knock-out punch with an old-school microphone and music staff.

Shane O’Neill:  His cover is on the calf, and his canvas is comfortable with the idea of a massive koi fish. The work is clean and elegant, but the drawing has some fundamental flaws that kept him from winning.

Al Fliction:  This canvas had a massive bicep tattoo of an angry dragon wreathed in flames with kanji characters. Not an easy thing to cover up, and Al has got his work cut out for him. In the end it looks like he bit off more than he could chew as Chris points out the sloppy linework, and the messy shading.

Josh Woods:  He had the smallest, easiest tattoo to cover up, and so he did it with a massive, intricate piece filled with color. The problem, of course, is that he took the easy route, something the judges do not look favorably on, so nothing he did would have made up for that.

Heather Sinn:  Remember how I said she was fragile?  Well, I wasn’t exaggerating. When called up for her critique she immediately challenges the judges to do their worst. This indicates that she doesn’t have the confidence in herself or her skills that she needs to be an Ink Master.

Her canvas was an older veteran who had a bad tattoo based on Airborne jump wings. Her means of covering was to cover his bicep with the Statue of Liberty, a clever choice for an obvious patriot. Unfortunately, her work was subpar, and looked amateurish.

Bili Vegas:  His canvas had the Psychopathic Records emblem, a hatchet-wielding maniac, tattooed on the back of her neck. Bili’s cover was a massive eyeball wreathed in flames. A bold, bright tatt that really demonstrated his skill.
Tops and Bottoms

Top:  Shane and Tommy made the top two for this episode, their work clearly the best.


Cover-up by Tommy Helm, courtesy of

Cover-up by Shane O’Neill






Bottom:  B-Tat and Jeremy.  Either one could justifiably be bounced from the show; B-Tat for his fucked-up Foo Dog and Jeremy for his unfinished back piece. The look of disbelief on Chris’ face when Jeremy said he disagreed with Oliver’s assessment of how the session had gone said it all:  Jeremy does not have what it takes to be an Ink Master. He survived this round, but only by the skin of his teeth.


Unfinished Back-piece by Jeremy Miller

Cover-up by B-Tat