Shredded Nerves and Bad Covers

Last week Chris Nuñez finally said what a lot of people at home have been saying for three season now “I’m tired of seeing bad tattoos!” This is a competition for $100,000 and this is the 4th year that it has been run. Every episode has been broadcast and you can easily review anything you missed on the Spike TV website. There is literally no excuse that can be made at this point for turning in sub-par work.

With that in mind, the judges decided that starting then they would be bouncing the two lowest-ranked artists each week. Thus we lost Bubba and Keith, which I’m not really sad about to tell you the truth. Neither of the two men really impressed me with their talent.

This week the show opened with all of the artists being led to a graffiti covered courtyard where they are challenged with creating original images to go with a single word that describes the thrill-seeking lifestyle of their human canvas. All of the tattoos had to be done in a graffiti style, and most of them were really good.

Flash Challenge

Sausage takes the win for his extreme skier, although I would have made the character a snow boarder because that just seems a little more extreme than regular skiing.

Shred tatto by Sausage

Yes, it’s a bit cartoony, but graffiti usually is.

Elimination Tattoo

California tattoo legend Freddy Corbin lent his expertise last night as adaptability was tested with cover-ups. I fucking love the cover-up challenges, it is so cool watching the artists try and make something good out of something bad with the end product being seamless. And last night they had their work cut out for them as 8 people showed up with dark-ass tattoos, with one chick needing her pubic mound redone to remove a guy’s name.

I thought that Halo would have given that tattoo to either Lydia or Melissa (whom I really like, although I don’t see her going to the finale) but instead he gave it to Kyle.

One of the artists, when the canvasses were announcing their desired cover-ups, remarked “You never have anything growing out of the vagina” and I would agree with that statement wholeheartedly. There are always exceptions, however, and this tattoo is one of them. I can see myself kissing my way up that tree, no problem. This is just spectacular body art to my eye.

Cherry Blossoms by Kyle Dunbar

Last night we got a bit of a shocker when one of the artists, Jim Francis revealed that he is “partially color-blind” which is a serious fucking handicap for a tattoo artist. And we may not have known about it if he had selected a Black and Gray instead of a full-color, although that decision was taken out of his hands since the canvas had a black tattoo to begin with.

Butterfly Roses by Jim Francis

The color palette in this image is really fucking wonky, and the only explanation is that the tattoo artist is partially color-blind. Holy shit, this cost him $100,000 in this competition, and who knows how much in business. Unless he switches to doing Black and Gray as a specialty, of course.


Tops and Bottoms

The judges didn’t deliberate, they knew who the two best tattoo artists were last night, Halo and Scott, and they didn’t give a shit who didn’t like the latter’s work. Scott is a cocksure asshole, no doubt, but he is a magnificent artist who is virtually guaranteed one of the top three spots

Great A'Tuin by Halo

Great A’Tuin by Halo

Bad-ass monkey by Scott Marshall


On the bottom, shit got crazy.Having won the challenge, Halo was empowered to offer up an artist for dismissal, the human canvasses decided on the worst tattoo artist of the day, and the judges had a third and fourth artist that needed to know they didn’t do their best work.

Halo sent down the most deserving, Jim, the man who confessed (for some inexplicable reason) to being colorblind. And the confession came literally moments after telling Halo that at least his tattoo could be re-worked and embellished, while Gentle Jay just turned in a bad tattoo that couldn’t be fixed. He didn’t tell the judges about it, so maybe he doesn’t care.

How did you know this was a cover-up?  Because it's so blatantly obvious?  Ah, I see...

How did you know this was a cover-up? Because it’s so blatantly obvious? Ah, I see…


The human canvasses sent Ruck down for his blatantly obvious cover-up. It wasn’t just the bad design and composition that doomed this one, it was the fact that it was so obviously a cover-up, and a bad one at that.

The upside down rose drained all of the magic from those horseshoes.

The upside down rose drained all of the magic from those horseshoes.

And Melissa  completely dropped the ball by not being able to do a clean, solid V8 engine block. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t know engines, etc, she knows tattooing, she said it herself. Therefore this tattoo belongs here in the bottom because of all of the poor execution that was needed to make it happen.

Come on, Melissa...even if you don't work on engines you should be able to depict them cleanly.

Come on, Melissa…even if you don’t work on engines you should be able to depict them cleanly.

Here’s where shit gets weird though. After dismissing Ruck and Jim the judges send the others back to the loft with a message directed specifically at Kyle Dunbar. Chris Nuñez wanted Kyle to know that he really, really hated that tattoo and wanted Kyle down in the bottom for it.

Kyle‘s tattoo is not perfect, no, but it’s not fucking awful either. And the other artists, including my favorite for the finale, Sausage, even expected it to make the top four of the day.

Previously we have seen Chris and Oliver deliver high praise and devastating critiques to both Kyle and Tatu Baby, and for the same reason:  both of them were voted back by America, and that shit was going to mean something. Nuñez was going to make sure these two artists turned in their best possible work.

In last year’s finale Oliver asked Tatu Baby who has been yelling in her face for the seven years she has been tattooing?  Who has been chewing her ass whenever she fucked up, because that was Oliver‘s experience as an apprentice.

I’m guessing that Chris had a similar experience and he has previously remarked that every time he dings Kyle on something, Kyle comes back with that deficiency corrected. The harder Chris pushed, the better the tattoos he got from Kyle.

Was this harsh critique tonight, and the pointed message, another manifestation of that?  And if so, has he pushed Kyle, a man under severe stress economically, too far? I guess we’ll find out next week when Kyle apparently physically attacks Chris.


Great A’tuin by Halo

The Importance of Grammar

While I was at the SF Tattoo and Body Art Expo there were numerous in-related contests occurring. One contest that was not, overtly ink-related, was the Hottest Babe competition. The emcee, an older gent named Ink Pimp invited the ladies up to compete…and no one was interested. It took a bit of coaxing and cajoling to get the ladies to join in, and finally he only had six. 
It made me wonder if maybe the tattoo community, now that tatts are more widely seen, is changing. If maybe the culture is becoming less tolerate of things like sexism, and racism. Then I see ads like the one below from Craigslist, and I find myself wondering all over again. 
tattoo apprentice
I’m going to give Big Sean the benefit of the doubt here and recommend some further proof-reading before you post an ad on Craigslist. 

2014 Body Art in San Francisco

I went to the San Francisco Body Art Expo this weekend to check out the ink, learn about the artists, and collect some photos. This was my first time at a convention, so I didn’t know what to expect, aside from great artwork, anyway.

2014-03-28 19.27.59

Black and Gray seemed to dominate the show. Not sure if that is a West Coast thing, a California thing, or just a fluke.

 I collected a ton of business cards so I can keep in touch with the various artists that were on the scene. Whatever style you were interested in getting, there was someone who could accommodate you.



Karl Vittali from Santa Clara, for instance.

Karl Vittali from Santa Clara, for instance.


Or Johnny (L) and Tito (R) from 2 the Grave Tattoo in Stockton.

Or Johnny (L) and Tito (R) from 2 the Grave Tattoo in Stockton.


And if you preferred getting your illustrations courtesy of a female artist, don’t worry, La Nisa is always ready to do some needle work for a willing canvas.

Her European upbringing gives her a different style.

Her European upbringing gives her a different style.


And there were artists present from place like Denver.



Nando "Yeyo" Mondragon (R) and James Dean (L) from Certified Customs in Denver, CO

Nando “Yeyo” Mondragon (R) and James Dean (L) from Certified Customs in Denver, CO


And Arizona

Painted Lady Tattoo

Painted Lady Tattoo

and places further than that.

Andrea Derin (R) came all the way from Italy

Andrea Derin (R) came all the way from Italy

I’ll post some of the photos I took there tomorrow. If I mislabeled anyone in their photo, feel free to contact me directly and I’ll fix that.

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.

The Ink-tastic 5

The contestants were blatantly surprised that Jamie was jettisoned and not Sarah. It is very clear that the lack of ink is what cost him his shot at the title, because he was a more consistent artist than Sarah was.

Flash Challenge

Testing the artists precision they were all challenged to tattoo on the Jaegermeister logo at the same size, or smaller, as done by Oliver Peck. The number of lines in that logo makes it a great choice for this kind of work.

Jesse and Steve were the most impressive, and Steve took the win.

Steve Teft Jaegermeister

Jaegermeister tattoo by Steve Teft

Elimination Tattoo

Bob Tyrell shows up to lend his knowledge of Black and Gray porttraiture to last night’s Elimination. In a nod to recently departed Jamie they mention that Bob didn’t get his first tattoo until just prior to his 30th birthday.

Steve uses his advantage to choose his canvas, the others he leaves up to random chance.

Tops and Bottoms

Steve and Sarah battled for first place with Sarah claiming victory by masterpiece.

Portrait by Sarah Miller


Jesse and Sebastian stood on the edge, each hoping the other fell first. It was vicious, but ultimately Jesse was eliminated.

Tattoo by Jesse Smith