New Canvasses: Ink Master Returns

Ink Master, the best tattoo competition on TV returned last night for it’s third season. Spike brought sixteen tattoo artists to New York to see who was worthy of the title Ink Master. Once again the judges would be Oliver Peck, Chris NuñezDave Navarro, and the viewers at home. Tatu Baby got her second chance that way, her experiences last season hopefully giving her an edge on the others.

This time out, however, the human canvasses will also get to vote on the worst tattoo of the day, an important new wrinkle that will put a second contestant up for elimination each time.

Flash Challenge

The show opens with the contestants arriving at one of New York‘s correctional facilities. They are then told that in order to test their flexibility, they will all be tattooing in the prison, and that they would only be allowed a single needle. Prison Style tattooing, in other words. Making this the very first challenge the judges are clearly testing the fundamentals of a tattoo artists ability since mistakes will be glaringly obvious.


Ally Lee – Oliver thought her tattoo was too large, telling her that single-needle calls for smaller, more detailed work. Not a bad assessment.

Jackie Jennings – Another 10 year vet, her opening effort was a skull and crossbones that maximized the limitations of the single-needle, earning her praise from Chris.

Chris May – No single-pass outlines, but they didn’t tear him up either.

Jason Clay Dunn – Looking like he just got off the bus from Portland, he opens the show with a black rose that earned him praise from Chris due to the single-pass he did when he applied it . 

Jime Litwalk – With twenty years of experience, this New Skool pioneer is going to be one to watch. New Skool artists don’t tend to impress me, so I will reserve judgement. Still, his opening tattoo was top of the heap.

Frank McManus – This guy looks way too young to be competing for this title. His first tattoo looked rough, Oliver calling it overworked.

James Danger – A self-taught artist he somehow never learned that anytime a vehicle/flag/animal is tattooed onto a person, it is always depicted as advancing. Otherwise it looks like the tattoo is trying to escape from the person wearing it.

Josh Hibbard – With 10 years of experience he doesn’t really look like a tattoo artist, despite the ink crawling up out of his collar. His canvas wanted a Japanese demon umbrella. No, seriously, that’s what he asked for.

Demon Umbrella by Joshua Hibbard

Fuck the Japanese can make anything weird.

Kyle Dunbar – After twelve years he apparently learned his craft and for the past six years he has been delivering good tattoos. The one for this challenge would be one of the better ones on display.

ES – A 16 year veteran of the industry he prefers the Black and Gray style. Not surprisingly he seems comfortable with the single-needle and his hourglass/dagger tattoo is definitely one of the better ones.

Maddie LaBelle – She draws a hideously bad spider tattoo, apparently because when she heard “prison style” she thought they meant “shitty.”

Maddie LaBelle

I don’t know what this guy did to society, but Maddie LaBelle is sure making him pay for it.

Made Rich – Another artist who has never done single needle, the judges were not happy with the outlining for his playing cards with script tattoo.

Joey Hamilton – Photorealism is his strong suit, and he completely slams this challenge with an excellent skull.

Craig Foster – Another New Skool artist, he produced an inconsistently done cross that looked rather lackluster.

Mystical Mike – A very young artist he says he has never done a single needle tattoo. Maybe that explains why his tattoo was so boring and amateurish.

Tatu Baby – Back for a second chance at being Ink Master, she has no excuses if she ever finds herself on the bottom.

In the end the judges gave the win to Joey, giving him the power to assign canvasses at the first elimination.

Elimination Tattoo

Since flexibility is the first test, the judges set the artists to doing cover-ups. And the canvasses, in another surprise twist, were the same ones from the Flash Challenge. To keep himself from being accused of sabotaging anyone, Joey keeps the same pairings from earlier. Strangely no one wanted their Flash tattoos covered, although Mike came close with his canvas, Hiram, who was not even remotely pleased with his.

Tops and Bottoms

Jime  has to deal with a canvas that wants a dragon tattoo, something that no one has yet successfully pulled off at Ink Master. Maddie also decides to do a dragon as part of her cover-up.

Tops and Bottoms 

One of the weirdest moments in the history of the show comes during the critique when Mystical Mike tries to defend his tattoo by saying he only brought one machine with him. This floors both Chris and Oliver who cannot understand why anyone would go to a competition for $100,000 and only bring one tattoo machine.

Tatu Baby found herself in front of the judges with Mike, Maddie, and Frank. Not the sort of company you want to keep on this show, and I think it’s obvious that the latter trio won’t be around long.

Gypsy by Tatu Baby

Even with a fucked-up finger, this tattoo by Tatu Baby was still the best.

The other three were all varying degrees of crappy with the human canvasses voting for Maddie LaBelle.

Tattoo by Maddie LaBelle

She meant to make it shitty. Honestly.

The judges, however, were torn between Mike and Frank.

Babboon by Frank McManus

Frank McManus tried to defend this. He failed.

Lion by Mystical Mike

Looks nice at first blush, Then you get closer and start noticing all of the flaws.







Ultimately they decided that the baboon just had no redeeming qualities at all, and so they sent Frank on his way. This allows the other two to survive one more week, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see either Maddie or Mike get bounced next.

Ink Master 2012 Revealed

Last week the three remaining artists were assigned their Master Canvasses and sent home to do a 24 hour tattoo, any style, any subject. This leaves the contestant in total control over their tattoo, on their home turf. There is no excuse for failure.

For the canvasses, this is a monumental decision. One of them will be wearing a $100,000 tattoo, the others will not.

Valkyrie by Sarah Miller

Odin by Sarah Miller











Once you remember that a Valkyrie is a warrior chick the tattoo gains a new depth.

Sebastian had a middle-aged woman for his canvas, and he decided to do a back piece for her. She was a dancer, but he decided that corny bullshit wasn’t for him, so he went in his own direction. On her skin.

Horrible mistake by Sebastian Murphy

Now, this was a risk she was prepared to take, presumably, but still…what a dick move. Doing such a dark, gruesome tattoo on a woman who gave no inclination that she was into that sort of thing was just wrong. She has to carry that shit around forever now.

Steve Tefft walks away with the title after dropping the following masterpiece onto a more-than-appreciative canvas.

$100,000 tattoo by Ink Master Steve Tefft

That is smoking hot, I would love to have something like that on my back.

We got to see season 1 alumni Tommy Helm return with his co-stars from Tattoo Nightmares, a reality show where they apply cover-ups to bad tattoos.

In a final surprise it was revealed that America would be allowed to give one artist a second chance, And that one was fan-favorite Tatu Baby. Now that she has been through this once, she has no excuse for failure on the next go round.

See you next time, Baby.




The Psycho Canvas

NBA superstar and tattoo enthusiast Matt Barnes guest-starred last night as the contestants were judged on their use of color. To make things interesting, judges  Núñez and Peck each drew up a unique tattoo design in the Flash style. Flash tattoos being art that can be done quickly and easily, while still looking good.

Chris prefers the Japanese style while Oliver, on the other hand, is an acknowledged Master of American Traditional. So the contestants were given original works to demonstrate their skills. Each would do one of the designs, allowing the judges an apple-to-apples comparison of technique.

Skull and Dice by Oliver Peck

Skull and Dice by Oliver Peck

Lotus by Chris Nunez

Lotus by Chris Nunez















Knowing that this was a color challenge, each artist approached it differently, and some of them made some very odd color selections. (I’m looking at you, Lalo.)  Still, everyone’s drawing was solid, so it came down to an issue of color choice and proper application.

Tray pulls out a desperately needed win for round one, with Sarah taking the prize for the second round due to her textbook simple top-hatted skull. This leads us to the next challenge:  a Gypsy girl tattoo where these two artists will go head to head for 60 minutes.

Tray was counting on his experience to grant him the win, while Sarah depended on her raw talent. In the end it was experience that won the day and Tray squeaked a victory through, leaving Sarah with egg on her face after loudly and repeatedly claiming victory before the face-off began.

Elimination Tattoo

With the test this week being color, the judges decided to see who could deliver the best New Skool design. A lot of styles make use of color, but this one is the tattoo equivalent of a Bollywood musical, so it seemed like a good test.

Riding high on his back-to-back victories in the Flash Challenge, Tray decides to softball it and give everyone something he thinks they can do well. So he will have an even greater victory in the end. Still, someone has to wear the victim hat, and last night it was Jamie as a canvas asked for a phoenix shooting flames from her vagina.

I’m not making that up, either.

Insanity translated by Jamie Davies

Tops and Bottoms

Nick to the absolute worst canvas last night with a complete nutjob who kept changing her mind about what she wanted. This is where his inexperience showed because he could not control her and ill omens portended for him.

Tattoo by Nick DAngelo


The canvas, Litsa, immediately hated the tattoo once she saw the finished work. His decision to add the magenta spikes set her off, then he continued to cat-fight with her, much to the amusement of the other artists. Not surprisingly, the  judges were not impressed by either this tattoo or his professional demeanor, causing Nick to be sent on his way. The design was bad, the execution was bad, and the way he handled the job from start to finish was bad.

Lalo found himself in the bottom again because of his poor color selection on the day they chose to test color.

Meanwhile, another young tattoo artist, Sarah, proved that, while she may be a bit brittle, she has tremendous talent. Chosen alongside New Skool devotee Jesse Smith, she accomplished what Tray had hoped to.

Kay Kutta has recognized that Sarah does not handle pressure well, and now that she is aware of it, she can correct that personality flaw. It could mean the difference between success and failure.


Tattoo by Sarah Miller

That wacky lizard cop got her the win, and damn if she didn’t deserve it. That is one funky piece of art right there.





Lucky Number 13

After last week’s events, we were left with 13 tattoo artists, four of which clearly will not make it. So that means we can safely concentrate on 9 artists without any real fear of surprises. Flash Challenge The most fundamental aspect of tattooing is the ability to draw a clean line, straight or curved. To see how well the artists can do this, they were taken to a barbershop and tasked with giving custom haircuts. Not surprisingly former jailbird Kay Kutta knows his way around some hair clippers. What was surprising, however, was that Jesse Smith once again turns in googly eyes and giant teeth. Despite the judges already telling him they want to see artistic range, literally, all three of them said something about it.

“Fuck you, Judges” by Jesse Smith

Kay Kutta continues to advance his agenda by winning the Flash challenges. This allows him to select his own canvas, and assign all of the others. He is self-aware enough to know he is not the best tattoo artist in the group, but he also knows that he can learn on the fly and demonstrate improvement. And that is the key to winning this, being able to do what the judges have previously gigged you on. And he is doing quite a good job at that. Elimination Tattoo Now that we know the judges will be testing lines this week, we get to find out which line-intensive tattoo style they will be using for the finale. Oh, and by the way, Richard Stell, Oiliver Peck’s mentor, put in an appearance as special judge tonight. So, you know, no pressure. And did you not guess that this would be an American Traditional tattoo?  They had to include either an eagle or a flag, and all of the canvasses are veterans to boot. The twist, however, came when Kay was personally selected by his canvas, thus nulling Kay’s advantage to select his own. Too easy, right?  So why not add in the factors that the canvas is a virgin…and 80 years old as well. This is Mission Impossible time, any work done could be a masterwork or a complete disaster. Especially since this is Kay Kutta we’re talking about.

Semper Fi

Tops and Bottoms Once again we are seeing artists deriding the American Traditional style of tattooing. And once again we are watching them get savaged for their disrespect for an extremely valid and necessary style. Tatu Baby, Ron, Tray, and Clint were brought down to learn that there was no Tattoo of the Day. The field was so unprepared for the challenge that they were all just considered “adequate” at best.

Tattoo by Ron Givens

Ron was ultimately let go, his skills judged unworthy, a decision that I really couldn’t argue with. 

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