Three for All

Once again the Judges have decided that the artists are going straight to Elimination. And, possibly owing to the insane judgement last week, there will be no Human Canvas Jury this week. Every artist is going to be judged solely by the regular trio, and the margin for error is becoming razor thin.

Since keeping it fresh is the name of the game, this time the artists were divided into teams of three. Ultimately there would only be four canvasses judged at the end, and to make it really interesting, the canvasses randomly selected their artistic teams. Each team would be doing American Traditional, a test of their ability with the fundamentals of modern American tattooing.

One thing that I’ve seen consistently this season was how artists were razzing each other in front of human canvasses, and personally, I find it juvenile, unprofessional, and extremely distasteful. If you have an issue with another artist, and you want to yell at each other and mock each other’s work, save that shit for the critiques and the privacy of the loft. There is no reason to do that in front of someone who is volunteering their body so you can win the title. It’s especially rude because you can actually throw someone off their game and actually ruin a canvas, as we saw last week. This time, however, everyone was on their best behavior which was a nice change.

That isn’t to say that every team was a love fest, because that is an impossible dream at the best of times. Still, each team pulled together and managed to turn in some decent American Traditional tattoos, the first time in five seasons that none of them were ripped apart by the judges. Still, there was one clear winner, and that was a beautiful Gypsy done by Josh, Angel, and Emily. Well, mostly Josh and Angel since Emily claimed she was mostly incapacitated by endometriosis or early stage cancer, or something. I don’t want to sound callous, but her illness came and went as suddenly as Aaron’s did last episode, and with the same result:  both of them had an easier time than their competitors did.

Josh, Angel, and Emily


It’s obvious the reason this tattoo came out so good because Josh Hibbard was the team captain. Oliver even went so far as to say it was the best work they had seen from either Angel or Emily, and it’s hard to argue especially when you compare the lines on this to the lines on Emily’s Octopus or Angel’s Spartan from last week. Without Josh to carry her, it is likely that Emily would have been dismissed this week.

Next up we had Cleen, Erik, and Ty’esha. At first blush it’s a good tattoo, but then you notice that the proportions are off. The tail feathers are as big as the wings are, which means this eagle isn’t going to fly.

Cleen, Erik, and Tyesha

The next team to be judged was Mark, Julia, and Jason who managed to talk their canvas out of an overly complicated design with a mermaid and sparrows. This clipper ship looks great, but the mistakes on it are in the line work. The mast which has a distinct curve to it and the lettering could have been done better, it’s especially bad because Jason did the line work to recover from his missteps last week when tattooing another clipper ship in the gluteal challenge.

Mark, Julia, and Jason

And finally we had Aaron, Cris, and Don turn in this piece which, compared to the others, is a little lackluster. The judges didn’t mention it, but look at the right side of that bottle, that there is a distinct dent right around the white ring of the lighthouse. It’s nit-picky, but it’s little things like that which will cost you your shot at the title.

Aaron, Cris, and Don

Since the work was done in three’s, the judges couldn’t decide who screwed the pooch. They left that duty to the individual teams, allowing them to send the weak link down for elimination. Most of the teams readily recognized their failures and all went smoothly. With the notable exception of Jason, Julia, and Mark. And this is what really pissed me off; Jason was such a fucking pussy that he flat-out refused to acknowledge that HE was the one who turned in the worst work today. In the loft he makes this big deal about how he’s going to “stand on his sword” because he doesn’t want to be the one who ends someone else’s chances. The judges know he is the weak link, Julia knows he is the weak link, and in his heart Jason knows he is the weak link. He’s just not man enough to admit it, and when it comes time he tries to throw Julia under the bus.

Elimination Challenge:

Ty’esha, Julia, and Don found themselves competing for their place in the competition by doing a special design from Oliver Peck, himself. I love this kind of challenge because it cuts away all of the bullshit and shows who can actually do what. Lines, shading, placement, and color choices are the only things that the artist is responsible for, the design work has been taken care of for them. You live or die on the strength of your skills.

Don vs Oliver Peck

Don turned in an acceptable piece, even if it wasn’t his best work. For me the dark, faded colors do this tattoo in, more so than the crooked outlines. Those are easy to fix, which is why Don didn’t find himself packing his gear at the end of the episode.


Julia, one of the least experienced artists, keeps surprising everyone with her staying power. She’s only been doing this for five years, but she has definite potential, and it shows when the pressure is on. Her decision to shade the teeth black was an extremely odd choice, but that might be fixable. She’s not going to make it to the top three, but she is definitely going to outlast Mark who just keeps turning in subpar work and refusing to acknowledge his shortcomings.

Julia vs Oliver Peck


Ty’esha had the best outlines, but she gave her skull a fucking mustache. Hilariously she even told Nunez that she cut her teeth as a tattoo artist learning to do skulls.  Worse than that, though, she had the skull facing the wrong fucking way. It’s that Day One shit that she keeps fucking up, and this time it got her bounced.

Tyesha vs Oliver Peck

Tattooed Asses

Last week’s elimination event saw Mark making yet another appearance downstairs, this time accompanied by Emily and Ryan. As we all know, Ryan didn’t go back upstairs and the crowd reaction when Mark walked in was unmasked surprise. When Emily walked in, however, several people didn’t bother to hide their disappointment. Angel Bauta, in particular, was so irate that he had to leave the room, first warning everyone else to stay away from him because his outrage was so great it was going to spill over into physical violence.

This should have been the wake-up call that Emily needed. From her first day in the studio she has been running her mouth constantly despite the fact that her skills aren’t nearly as high as either Jason Clay Dunn or Josh Hibbard. People hate Josh because they think he’s an unimaginative weasel, they hate her because they think she’s a vicious bitch with mediocre talent. Given the choice between those two, I would much rather be in Josh Hibbard’s shoes because he has consistently proven he can turn in stellar work.

It’s not easy to deal with the idea that everyone hates you, but if you are smart you’ll take some time to reflect on it and begin changing your ways. It is becoming clear that Emily isn’t smart. She deliberately attempts to sabotage Angel when he has to complete her canvas, but Angel isn’t stupid so he evades the trap she set. His only real mistake, however, was not altering her shitty design and it came back to bite him later.

Emily vs Angel pt 1

Emily vs Angel pt 2

Flash Challenge:  This week the judges threw the biggest curve ball so far:  no Flash Challenge, and Nunez and Peck would be assigning the canvasses. Also, every tattoo was going to be on the gluteus maximus; no exceptions. One cheek per day, six hours of work.

Then, to really shake things up, on the second day of tattooing everyone had to switch canvasses and finish someone else’s design. Each artist had the option to redo the design to put their own spin on it, but the design had to match the original concept.

Human Canvas Jury:  This is the tattoo that the HCJ decided was the worst of the day. I’m not making that up, they really said this was the worst.

Jason vs Mark

Nunez and Peck made it abundantly clear that they did not share that opinion. Nunez specifically said that Angel and Julia should have been down there instead, and it’s hard to argue with that opinion when you look at the work they turned in.

Angel vs Cris

Cleen vs Julia

For the first time EVER the judges ruled that there was NO winner when it came to Emily vs Ty’esha. Ty’esha made a horrible choice with the green mist, a mistake that Emily continued. Still, that wasn’t the only reason the judges we displeased as they pointed out flawed line work.

Tyesha vs Emily



Things were looking grim for Emily because not only was this the second time she found herself on the bottom, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that she doesn’t have the skill to go the distance. Fortunately for her, and unfortunately for the victim, one artist committed the unforgivable sin of damaging their canvas.

Damage by Robbie

That tattoo is not going to heal properly, anyone can see that. And the closer you get to it, the worse it looks. It was a terrible way to go out, but the judges are merciless when it comes to this kind of error, and justifiably so. The young lady who is wearing that tattoo has to live with that damage and it is going to be hard, if not impossible, to fix.

Emily dodged a bullet this week, but her time is running out quickly.


Head-to-Head Games

Flash Challenge:  Lines

This week’s flash challenge involved Flash Tape, a chemically treated tape pyrotechnic that was used to burn an image into an 8’ X 8’ canvas. Everyone would work in teams, and Josh Hibbard, the winner of the previous Elimination Challenge, would be the one assigning the skulls. It’s just the sort of game he loves to play, and he didn’t disappoint. Josh paired up all of the rivals, except for Julia and Ty’esha whose rivals have already gone home. With 90 minutes to design and execute, the challenge was to see how well the teams could make clean, straight lines.


In what was a pleasant surprise, the two most vicious rivals, brothers Robbie and Jayvo, came together to make one of the best images. Simple, but there is an elegance in simplicity that some of the artists forgot about.Robbie and Jayvo

Another team that was able to overcome their mutual hatred was Emily Elegado and Aaron Is who maximized their use of space and took the win easily.

Diamond Star by Emily and Aaron

The most ridiculous work went to Ty’esha and Julia who made the baffling choice to do the absolute minimum necessary for the challenge. Then they decided to really fuck it up.

Wasted Canvas by Tyesha and Julia

Oliver Peck left no doubt that their decision to place the fuse line at the BOTTOM of the anchor, instead of the TOP of the anchor so it looked like a rope was incredibly stupid. This poor decision would come back to haunt them because Emily (one of the most annoying artists ever to appear on the show) was now in a position to hand out skulls for the Elimination Challenge. Their only saving grace was that she would have to make these decisions with the help of her rival Aaron.

Elimination Challenge: Joined by special guest judge BJ Betts, one of the best tattoo artists in the Delaware Valley, the panel was going to be looking for an artist’s ability to ink up clean, ornamental tattoos. And every artists went head-to-head with someone else in an apples-to-apples comparison since all of the canvasses came in pairs in terms of desired design.

Not surprisingly, Josh Hibbard delivers another knockout tattoo. His lines were so clean that BJ actually said they looked like they were lasered on.

Mandala by Josh Hibbard

Human Canvas Jury: They had a tough call to make, and they picked one that the judges agreed was definitely on the bottom.  Eric had a difficult placement, but ultimately it was his linework that took him to the bottom. Still, he wasn’t the one who was sent home.

Lotus by Eric

The tiny irregularities in this owl got Jayvo sent home. It was sad, especially since I personally thought that Emily should have been sent packing. Better luck next time, I guess.

Owl by Jayvo

When the season started I was less than enthused about the Ink Rivals theme that the showrunners had selected. The idea was that rivalries would be settled via elimination as the artists were pitted against each other in apples-to-apples comparison challenges. It seems like this loss may finally heal the bitter rift between him and his brother Robbie.




Roughed-Up Pin-Ups

Guest Judge:  Joe Miangenella

Flash Challenge:  Living Dolls

The artists were assigned a random model, each with her own props, that was going to be body-painted into a pin-up. Our special guest judge, El Cid from HBOs True Blood, was on hand to lend his expertise as an authority on looking amazing. Artistry was the watchword for this challenge, and Jason Clay Dunn stole the fucking show.

Daisy Dukes by Jason Clay Dunn Daisy Dukes 2 by Jason Clay Dunn

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the contest. They then had to use their airbrushed models as a reference for an actual pin-up tattoo. Good or bad, you had to use your own work as reference for something that wasn’t just going to wash off.

The winning tattoo, by a unanimous decision, went to Josh Hibbard who was in the bottom on Pin-Up day in Season 3. Whether you like him or don’t like him, you have to admit the guy puts in the hours and learns from his mistakes. The judges never slam him for the same mistake twice.

Firewoman by Josh Hibbard

Human Canvas Jury:  The human canvasses talked it over and they were as dissatisfied as the regular judges were, overall.  Too many of these Pin-Ups were just awful, really sub-par work by experienced artists who clearly don’t feel comfortable with the genre. The worst part of this experience, was that each artist on the bottom was joined by their rival at the Elimination Ceremony.

Ultimately it was a unanimous decisions that LT, the least experienced artist this season, had to go.

Pinup by LT

Fixing this tattoo is going to be close to impossible, and that is an unforgivable sin.

The Rise of Drama

I don’t watch Reality TV much, mainly because it’s a vapid wasteland for the most part. As in every wasteland, however, there are oasis, and this show is definitely one of them. For the past four seasons the quality of contestants has continuously risen, and the quality of the artwork as well. Unfortunately, it seems that the showrunners have decided that what this program really needed was the kind of ego-driven antics we normally see on other programs that use real people instead of actors.  So, this season they’ve decided to have rival tattoo artists prove to the viewing public who is actually the better artist.

Two of the more interesting rivalries occur between brothers (Jayvo Scott and Robbie Ripoll) and Season 3 vets Jason Clay Dunn and Josh Hibbard. As you may recall, Josh got plenty of flak for trying to win the competition by *gasp* using the rules of the game to his advantage. Specifically he would assign people difficult tattoos and/or canvasses.  Shocking, I know.

If I understand the purpose of the Ink Master competition, however, Josh was only proving who the best actually were, because an actual Master Tattoo artist doesn’t piss and moan about difficult canvasses. They do the job in front of them, and they do it the best they can. This is not to say that I’m in the Josh Hibbard fan club, but I do understand his tactics, and I respect them. He didn’t win the title in S3, but he did help winnow out the weaker elements.

And the weakest element this season is clearly LT who was so nervous he had to go vomit while his rival Ty’esha was taking her turn on their human canvas. Back in the loft he railed against the other artists for insulting his art, but Jason Clay Dunn quickly cut through the bullshit and made it clear:  only bad work gets you sent home. Not your personality, not your experience level relative to the others, not your gender or sexual preference.

First Round:  My Rival, My Partner

Each of the rival artists were paired up and assigned to design and execute a single tattoo on a willing canvas. The purpose of this, obviously, was to see who could get past their animosity and turn in excellent work. Three teams failed miserably, and their canvasses suffered for it.

LT, who claimed to specialize in Black and Gray, designed a Dios de la Muerte tattoo that just came out all kinds of wrong.


Tyesha and LT

Tyesha and LT

Dios de la Disaster

Dios de la Disaster







The judges looked at Mark and Ryan’s tattoo and came to the conclusion that they had fought a vicious war on their human canvas,

Mark and Ryan


Tiki by Mark and Ryan







And finally we had Caroline and Julia, who work in the same shop, trying to pull off a simple skull and roses tattoo that came out very poorly, even to a layman’s eye.


Olivia and Julia



Skull and Roses by Olivia and Julia








Elimination Round

After looking at the bad work the judges decided it was time to split the teams and let them go head-to-head to find out who was actually responsible for the loss in the first round. The catch, of course, was that each member got to pick the style their rival would work in. Clearly the goal here would be to eliminate your rival quickly by giving them a style they weren’t comfortable with. Caroline set Julia the task biomechanical (one of my favorites) and Julia picked Neo-Realism; Ty’esha gave LT color realism while, in a head scratching move, he picked cursive lettering for her. That is some Day One shit, and Oliver Peck was clearly surprised by the choice. Finally Mark set Ryan up for failure by assigning him Japanese, one of the most rigorous styles (and the specialty of Chris Nunez) with Ryan returning the compliment with color realism.

Winner:  LT

Lotus by LT


Winner:  Julia


Biomech by Julia

Winner:  Ryan

Hani mask by Ryan

The artist who had to go home, unfortunately, was Caroline. Her canvas wanted a skull and rose and, rather than learn from the previous day’s experience and show the judges her best work, she failed. The worst part was the same, shitty color for the skull that she did previously. In this competition, there is no room for error.

Neo Realism rose and skull by Caroline