Yes, I’m ashamed to say we watch reality tattoo TV

Caitlin and I have been watching the various tattoo reality shows on TV, which currently means NY Ink (featuring Ami James formerly of Miami Ink), and Spike’s Dave Navarro hosted Ink Masters, which is sort of a “Top Chef” or “Project Runway” of the tattoo world. Ink Master actually kind of stands out as a show because it has a lot of talent (you can see the cast bios and portfolio samples here) on it competing for the $100,000 prize. Except for one unfortunate guy that goes by “B-TAT“. We are literally talking scratcher-level stuff. I have no idea how they expected him to hold his own against the other artists, many of them top of their game. For example, the first challenge was tattooing a skull (of your own design — you could do anything you wanted as long as it was skull-themed) on a pig carcass. Here is the piece of junk that he did:

I wish I was pulling your leg but I’m not. It’s embarrassing, a tattoo artist that’s completely incapable of drawing a skull. I mean, the average child can draw better than that. It’s nuts. It became clear that he was one of these people that can’t draw at all but decided to become a tattoo artist anyway, with the reasoning that the job is mostly tracing (and admittedly it can be — there are many “tattoists” that can lay down a solid piece of flash but can’t draw an original creation to save their life). The second challenge, which was also the first elimination challenge and the one that got him kicked off the show, was a little better but it was still crap. The challenge was to do a cover-up, and he did some foo dog flash (while it seemed like everyone else drew their own custom work) with no changes of his own thrown in. Here’s how that went:

It might not be totally obvious in the photo but the tattoo is completely chewed up and will probably heal poorly, to say nothing of the horribly inconsistent linework (look at the curves and curls), incompetent symmetry, horrible shading, and so on. This guy wouldn’t even be a good tattoo artist in prison.

We’re suckers for reality TV here, I’m sorry to admit, so I’m sure we will keep watching the show. But it does have potential. There are one or two duds remaining to be kicked off, but beyond that, I’d feel confident recommending almost everyone competing to friends looking for a tattoo artist. We’ll see how the “drama” aspect of the show evolves. I suspect that some of them — “Al Fliction” springs to mind — may end up being more embarrassed about their behavior than “B-TAT” was of the tattos he did.

I could also fill pages snarking about Ami James. First of all his so-called “old school” behavior toward his employees is completely reprehensible in my opinion, but given the level of tattooing he does, he’s in no position to be judging (or teaching) others. He’s capable of doing a solid, black-outline, flat traditional tattoo that would have been acceptable in the mid-nineties, but he’s way out of his league in the modern tattoo world and doesn’t seem to be improving. For example, on a recent show a woman came in wanting a custom tattoo of butterflies all over her back. Here’s what he did to her:

I truly hate slagging someone’s tattoos, especially when they have a “deep” emotional meaning or purpose for the wearer, and I’m not going to say it’s an outright crap tattoo, but I will say that it’s a lazy, uninspired, sloppy, poorly thought out, badly laid-out tattoo that is way below the calibre of what people should expect these days. Like I said, this is a tattoo that you’d get from a street-level shop in 1995. Caitlin sums Ami up in one word — “mediocre”. However, he starts ever episode saying that his vision is to have his shop and his artist roster be not just the best in the city, but the best in the world. Tattoos like this are not going to get it to such a level. In fact, they’ll keep it from ever getting there. I feel aweful saying that, I hate being mean to people. But Ami doesn’t seem to have any trouble dishing out criticism on his apprentice, so maybe I am only the truthful voice of karma.

Other than that I had a disquieting day. I was sleeping in the front room of our studio rather than upstairs in the bedroom loft because the stairs are unneccessarily unpleasant. Normally I am an early riser but somehow today I slept until 10:30 and I would have slept longer had Caitlin not woken me up because she was leaving for work. Since then I’ve had a pounding headache, which on one hand is rare for me, but on the other hand I have been having them more often lately, feels like all the time. I can actually barely type and keep misspelling words, more like shuffling the letters into a randomized order, and keep pressing the spacebar in the middle of words. It helps a bit when I close my eyes to type oddly. Maybe I’m imagining that, but I am definitely not imagining how much my head hurts. And I’m sweating like crazy, gross, I know. Still feel dizzy, mentally tired, disoriented, confused, and… well… you know, here’s how I don’t feel: I don’t feel like complaining. So enough of that. Hope I make it through another night, because I still have a lot to do.

I also made a gigantic 16,200×8,400 pixel collage of my paintings and uploaded it to the custom fabric printing site Spoonflower and ordered a couple of yards. I think we’re going to make big floor pillows out of it or something. Not sure. But it’s inexpensive enough to justify the experiment. If it turns out nicely I may do some more with it. I’m also slowly chugging away on some software that converts my WordPress blog (or anyone’s I suppose) into big journals suitable for on-demand printing. I’m looking forward to turning my blog into a book. I was actually thinking that someone should write a Facebook app that at the end of the year takes all the photos you uploaded that year, arranges them into a scrapbook with people’s comments and all that, uploads it to an on-demand print company, and sends you this awesome yearbook. I’m sure there are millions of people who’d absolutely love to have that sort of 21st century photo album. Maybe this already exists. If it doesn’t, maybe I should write it… Unfortunately I have more good ideas than time.


  1. HJP wrote:

    omg, that “B-TAT” guy is so much better than most of the stuff I see down here, especially the foo dog. I’m serious, OKC just legalized tattooing awhile back and the best artists we get are ones coming in to be featured at a shop or convention, not much in full time talent here. If someone was walking around here with that foo dog they would be getting compliments too. As for the skull, it’s still better than most stuff I see here.

    The butterflies are kinda cool. I really wanted this done across my left chest like they were breaking through a slit in my heart and flying out. I ended up with a single butterfly that looks like crap (this was years ago too) because I was talked out of multiple butterflies because ‘they would blend together’. The person doing the existing butterfly drilled my skin to deep and blew a bunch of lines and then used too many colors. I’m thinking now my only option is blackwork to cover it, and even then I have nobody here good enough to do the work, sigh…

    Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Permalink
  2. Dan Jones wrote:

    The skull tattoo B-Tat did was ridiculous. I just looked him up on Facebook. He is now promoting himself as a “celebrity tattoo artist” and “one of the top 10 tattoo artists in the country.” Wow.

    Friday, January 20, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink
  3. Shannon wrote:

    HJP, I’m not saying that girl won’t be happy with her butterflies. However, it’s blas´ work that is way below the calibre of a modern top artist. It’s boring and uninspired in my opinion, and from a conceptual and graphic design point of view, weak at best.

    Dan – That’s shocking. Totally delusional.

    Friday, January 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  4. emily wrote:

    the girl with the butterflies other ink on her back – a cherry blossom tree with a snake – was done by Corey Miller of LA Ink fame in season three… maybe she is collecting television show tattoos….

    Friday, January 20, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Permalink
  5. Dave of the Dead wrote:

    I was wondering how that guy got on the show myself. It’s sad that they couldn’t have filled that slot with someone on par with the rest of the cast. I really feel sorry for the guy who got stuck with him. Sure, there is a certain level of risk involved with being a competition style show. That being said, you would hope the producers cast an appropriate level of talent. The competition is refreshing, though. The old format was stale. 3 tattoos wedged between car commercials.

    Friday, January 20, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink
  6. KER wrote:

    So, who are the best tattoo artists in north america?

    Friday, January 20, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Permalink
  7. HJP wrote:

    Shannon – I didn’t mean she wouldn’t be happy with it, I understand what you are saying and I’m agreeing with you here. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I wish my circa 1995 butterfly tattoo had turned out so nice – notice what year I mentioned. ;-)

    Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 12:41 am | Permalink
  8. Twwly wrote:

    Holy fuck.

    We’ve only ever made it through about 3.6 minutes of Kat Von D’s show.

    Those tattoos are AWFUL, sincerely: What The Fuck.

    Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  9. We watched InkMaster last night and it was so bad! First of all why Dave Navarro as the host? hasn’t he hosted enough things? apparently he needs more money from horrible reality TV! and his tattoos are hardly amazing tattoo artwork! I realize i have only been tattooed since 2004.. for the past 8 years.. but i choose my artists very carefully and now have one i LOVE and trust and who has tattooed for over 17 years and loves what she does and respects the art form completely! so much drama in all the tattoo reality shows but i guess that’s what brings the crowds and crowds of people that watch them! i have to say though out of all i’ve seen this has to be one of the worst! (Josh Woods is from here in Nashville–well, he tattooed in Atlanta first and now is in Nashville, TN) and i cannot believe what some of those artists did to actual real people! how do their normal clients sit there and let them tattoo that crap on them.. i hope they have cheap rates!…. end of long wordy tattoo rant!

    Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Permalink
  10. I agree with everything you said. Been watching Ink Masters too, and while I love watching artists work, not sure if I’m down with tattoos as “timed competitions”. Yikes!

    Friday, January 27, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink
  11. kate wrote:

    i have to say, as an artist myself who pays attention to line work and shading, kat’s portrait tattoos are on point.

    i have never been impressed by ami’s tattoo work, or his ‘abilities’ to apprentice people. i am reminded of a friend’s episode where phoebe was teaching joey how to play the guitar without learning to read music or touching an actual guitar.

    you get there with PRACTICE. i don’t see how making someone wash your car helps them learn to tattoo.

    Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink
  12. Shannon wrote:

    Kate – Exactly. Practicing tattooing and drawing is great. Practicing washing a floor? Not so much.

    Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Permalink
  13. Phil wrote:

    I’ve also been sucked into watching this show. Some work is good, some is not, and I always assume the “personalities” are encouraged to say dumb shit to induce drama.

    I won’t miss Al Fliction. He did have some nice art, but looks like he…er…”borrowed” some:

    Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink
  14. Phil wrote:

    Also, not sure how true this is:

    Drawing by Filip Leu:

    And then:

    Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink
  15. Taryn wrote:

    It’s just straight up weird that they’re trying to make tattooing about the fame and drama rather than the actual work. I’m also glad I’m not the only one who thought those butterflies sucked. I don’t watch the show super regularly but I did happen to catch that episode. Super SUPER lame.

    Monday, February 13, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Permalink
  16. Angel wrote:

    I love butterfly tattoos just got one on my foot similar to hers just black ink.

    Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. TV pulp and some substance « Aniareads Weblog on Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    […] Still lots of buzz about the ‘Ink Master’ show. The most interesting, IMHO, so far, though, was a blog post on the subject by Shannon Larratt. […]

Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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