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