Revenge of the Gearhead

Last week on Ink Master we saw the return of St. Marq, one of the most dynamic and innovative artists to ever make his way onto this competition. It was also very close to his last appearance of the season, as it turned out. This week’s Flash Challenge was designed to test contrast, and the artists had to exercise their imaginations to the fullest as they were going to use garbage and a 100kw light to do some shadowplay.

Flash Challenge

Divided into teams by Megan Jean Morris, winner of last week’s Tattoo of the Day we found the typical personality conflicts emerging as strong artists tried to dominate their partners. Ms. Morris made sure to assign her pairings in a way that wouldn’t put her at a disadvantage, nor would it immediately set anyone against her. It worked out well for some better than for others.

Ashley Velasquez found herself paired up with Alex Rockoff  and she quickly recognized that with her Fine Arts background she had a slight advantage over him creatively. Meanwhile Megan Jean Morris found herself working for (notice I didn’t say “with”) St. Marq as they developed a pretty sweet graveyard scene.

Christian Buckingham was paired up with Anthony Michaels who also opted for a horror-show theme. Which left the two weakest artists on the same team, Picasso Dular and Cris Gherman.

Possibly due to a language barrier, possibly due to psychological issues, we found the team of Dular and Gherman on the bottom in this challenge. It does’t bode well for either of them because, while their portfolios show they are very skilled, an Ink Master needs to be able to work under pressure while demonstrating extreme versatility. And these men are not doing that.

Easy Rider by Picasso Dular

Picasso Dular DOES have talent, you cannot deny that.

The Twist

Last season perennial whiner and all-around ass-hat Jason Clay Dunn won the title of Ink Master when he turned in a Nu-Skool Japanese backpiece that, in all honesty, was pretty fucking amazing. His victory, however, came because his competitor Cleen Rock One had a brainfart and didn’t do his tattoo in the assigned style. Tonight, Cleen Rock returned with a major chip on his shoulder. Entering the Loft like a man returning from a stretch in jail, he made it clear that he wanted the title and didn’t care who he had to mow down to get it.

Playing to his strengths he assigned the challenge as Neo-Traditional with the subject matter of motorcycles and muscle cars. A self-professed gearhead these are things close to his heart, and he took every opportunity to try and rattle his competition.

As the winners of the Flash Challenge the canvas assignments were left to Ashley and Alex who, logically, tried to eliminate both of the returning vets by assigning them the most challenging tattoos. Unfortunately, their plan failed miserably since both canvasses were fans of their respective artists.

That's on her BICEP, not her forearm.

That’s on her TRICEP, not her forearm.


Tattoo of the Day

Proving he has the skills to pay the bills, Cleen Rock One delivered a solid tattoo that the judges agreed was the best. Bonus points for residents of Puerto Rico as well.

Cleen Rock One knows how to do Neo-Traditional, no doubt.

Cleen Rock One knows how to do Neo-Traditional, no doubt.

Exit Tattoo

Since he arrived Cris Gherman has made it clear that, having grown up under Communist rule in Transylvania, he has no interest in following rules. It’s a great attitude to live by, if you can make it work for you, but a horrible one for a game show like Ink Master. And it was this refusal to abide by the rules that ultimately sent Cris home today. Contrast was the order of the day, and his black and gray tattoo showed none of that.

In defense of Cris Gherman, the canvas didn't understand the challenge either.

In defense of Cris Gherman, the canvas didn’t understand the challenge either.

I don’t see much of a future for Picasso or Alex either, to be honest. Alex is one of the most brittle and volatile artists we’ve yet seen compete, and Picasso is not familiar enough with his tools to go the distance. Both of them have tremendous skill, but this is not their home studio and neither is truly comfortable in the Loft. Let’s see who drops next.

Tattoos like this don't get you to the Top 3.

Tattoos like this don’t get you to the Top 3.


Ink Master: Bloodsport!

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of tattoos in general, and Spike TVs Ink Master is my favorite reality show. Artists tend to be flaky people, and tattoo artists tend to exemplify that. Considering the history of the art form it isn’t really that surprising, but I expect that will be changing in the next decade since it is becoming more common to have ink, than to be a blank canvas.


I only see 2 contenders.

I only see 2 contenders.


Flash Challenge

This season we have eight new artists, and eight returning artists. When the show began we were only introduced to the new contestants, however. And their first challenge was a three part exercise.

First they were tasked with sketching a nude model. This seems straight forward since 90% of all tattoos begin as sketches. The ability to translate what you see before you onto paper should be a fundamental aspect of the discipline. Yet, for some reason, most of these artists seemed dumbfounded by the sight of a nude woman posing for them.


Damnit, i wish I could draw.

As soon as they felt comfortable with their sketches, they moved on to stage 2 of the Flash Challenge:  assembling their tattoo machines. As we’ve seen before, this is a pet peeve of Peck and Nunez. If an artist cannot assemble their own tattoo machine, then their Master has failed them. A true craftsman should have an intimate familiarity with their tools, and those who do not rarely display the same level of skill as those who do.

Once the machines have been completed, it’s time to move on to the final stage:  translating their sketch to canvas. And rather than force a human to wear some shitty tattoo done by an artist who couldn’t complete their machine properly, the judges once again had the artists use a pig carcass.

Christian Buckingham pig tattoo

This little piggie got inked up.

It quickly became apparent that there were only going to be two artists of the eight who were going to be around very long.

ink_master_bios_011316_CHRISTIAN BUCKINGHAM

Behold greatness


Queen of the Needle









Megan Jean Morris set herself apart from the pack when they were dealing with the nude model. While everyone else was being ultra polite with the naked lady she was very much in control, unafraid to give direction so she could get the sketch she wanted.

Likewise, Christian Buckingham made himself known by being the first to assemble his tattoo machine, something he claims to have extensive experience with.

The Twist:

Now that the artists have entered the loft and see their new studio they learn that they will be joined by other artists as well. Each week a previous Ink Master contestant will return. And they will have the power to dictate the standards for the Elimination Tattoo. First up, self-professed “Tattoo God” Saint Marq, master of black-and-gray no outline tattooing.


It’s hard to be humble when you’re this awesome.

Last season Saint Marq was eliminated far too early due to a particularly strategic play by his former apprentice turned Super Mario impersonator Chris Blinston. Looking to set the pace for the new season Saint Marq set the challenge that the elimination tattoo would be done in Black and Gray with no liner, only a shader. This should have been a slam-dunk for him, and yet, this is what he turns in.

Saint Marq Ep 1

I have to agree with Ashley Velasquez, it really does look like he (she?) is wearing an umbrella.

The Human Canvas Jury decided this was the worst of the day, but I would not agree with that decision. Definitely bad, but not the absolute worst. It was a close call for him, but fortunately he was edged out by this disaster.

Worst of the Day Ep 1

The only saving grace this tattoo has is that it’s on the skull, so the lady just has to let her hair grow out to hide it.

Tattoo of the Day:

Lust by Megan Jean Morris

Lust by Megan Jean Morris

This is why I expect she is going to go further than anyone except Christian. It was a unanimous decision by the judges as well, so she is definitely going for that $100K paycheck.

Christian is making it clear that for him, this is not personal, it is all about the title. Eventually he is going to go after everyone in the Loft, and that is the only attitude that is going to win. Playing nice and giving people softballs is only cutting your own throat, as every competitor should know by now. Don’t let other people rattle you, it will only cause you to deliver bad tattoos (which is a punishment for your canvas) and will ultimately cost you, at the least, $100,000.

It’s too soon to tell how they will do against the other returning vets, but they will definitely outlast the other newcomers.

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.

Tattoo Virgins

Getting your first tattoo is a milestone in your life. Some people do it because they’re young and stupid while others wait til late in their life. There are those who just get a Flash tattoo, some people spend extended periods getting to know their artist before allowing them to draw something, much less pick up the ink machine. Everyone is different, and every tattoo is significant, if only for a brief moment in time. This week the artists were dealing with Tattoo Virgins to demonstrate their adaptability. Not every tattoo turned in was exemplary, but the judges (understandably) didn’t rip them apart. They just asked the artist to explain the work, then they picked the one they thought was the best. There were definitely a couple pieces that were just phenomenal, however.

Flash Challenge:

The judges gave the win to Erik for his pocket watch that completely suited the theme that the client wanted. It’s cute, feminine, and something she can proudly show off for the rest of her life.

Pocket Watch by Erik

For my money, however, the real winner was Cris and his stunning American flag tattoo done in simple black and gray. Seriously, take a moment to look at that flag, notice the stitches, the wrinkles, the stars…that was amazing work, one of the best that Cris has turned in so far.

Old Glory by Cris

And Josh was justifiably proud of his piece, an original work that he did on the fly based on the input from his canvas. This is exactly what a tattoo artist is supposed to do, and Josh is showing that his prowess as a creative person is growing in measure with his technical ability.

Mic Art by Josh Hibbard


Elimination Challenge:

The canvasses all wanted their forearms done, complimentary images that, when combined, created a third image. Naturally this would require two different artists to work on the same canvas, at the same time. Obviously this was designed to test everyone’s adaptability because not only must your work stand on its own, it has to integrate with your opponents as well. And ultimately, you have to give the client something they can be proud of. That idea just keeps getting lost on some of these artists and it becomes apparent when you see the two tattoos side by side the way they were intended to be viewed.

A great example of this was the peacock and mirror done by bitter rivals Emily Elegado and Aaron Is. These two hate each other passionately, and I think that Aaron subconsciously let that slip into his work.

Emily vs Aaron Peacock

As Dave Navarro so eloquently put it “That looks like the peacock saw itself in the mirror and it was so ugly the mirror broke.” No one wants to wear some fucked up shit like that, and I’m just hoping the young lady can get that mirror fixed. If not, she’s going to have to invent a mythology to explain it, and hope no one recognizes it from this show.

Mark vs Don Ships

Notice how the clouds on the two tattoos don’t mesh. They were done in completely different styles and it shows. The idea that the two ships are different isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as noted by the split between Peck who favored Don’s tattoo and Nunez who favored Mark’s. What is problematic is that the backgrounds are so different. Still, you have to admit that it does have a certain charm to it.

Cleen vs Erik Party Skulls

To underscore my point, check out the party skulls done by Cleen and Erik. Each of these is fucking TIGHT, but together they make an elegant pairing that I would be damn proud to wear.

Human Canvas Jury:

It was a unanimous decision by everyone that Jason Clay Dunn, the resident Japanese tattoo artist, turned in a colossal fuckup of a dragon. He’s been complaining about panic attacks all episode, so maybe that was why he dropped the ball, but damn this thing is fugly.

Dragon by Jason Clay Dunn

He was joined at the bottom by Aaron and Julia who had each turned in bad tattoos. Aaron’s was amateurish and poorly executed, while hers was just a tragedy.

Mirror and Feathers by Aaron Is

Angel by Julia








I really didn’t want to see Julia go so soon, especially not with ass-clowns like Mark and Emily still hanging around. Trouble is, that angel is jacked, just look at the eyes or the left side of the head, or the nose. It was a strange choice on Julia’s part to try and do a portrait when her opponent was Josh, the fucking master of portrait reproductions, and she paid for it. Emily tried to paint Josh as a villain who set his partner up for failure, but Julia should have known her strengths and weaknesses enough to know that she wasn’t going to win that contest. She has skill, she just needs a little more training and a lot more practice.

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