Dan Henk: Ink Master
By Dan Henk
So, let’s talk about the new tattoo show, Ink Master. It was originally pitched to me (as I’m sure it was to several artists) by a lady named Lisa. She said, and this is an almost direct quote, “We have people on this show like Jeff Gouge and Guy Aitchison. That’s who we’re talking to. Do you think you can compete?”
I’ll admit, that was very intimidating, but it also gave the show more credibility. If artists of that caliber had signed on, this might be more like the excellent Tattoo Wars, and less like Tattoo Highway. I was interested. The executive producer called me up, and spelled out, essentially the whole agenda. I wouldn’t get paid. I would need to take a month off, fly to New York, and live in a group house with all the other artists. Only if I won the competition, would I make any money.
I told her, “I know how this will play out, I’ll be the crazy ‘tattooed head’ guy, that you string along to the end for ratings, and realistically I won’t have a hope of winning, because I do horror.” She was like “Oh no, I think people are more open-minded than that.”
I’ve been tattooing 12 years. Before that, I had a blue mohawk and spiky leather jacket, bounced through a procession of shitty jobs, and was constantly harassed by the powers that be. I have zero faith in the general public. So I decided not to do it. Just recently, I finally managed to watch two episodes. I had already heard feedback from my friends Bili Vegas and Jeremy Miller, so I knew the show wasn’t quite what it had been talked-up to be, but what I saw, was a train-wreck.
Like all TV “reality” series, it was heavily edited. Bili was talking about how B-Tat wasn’t ready for a tattoo, and they spliced it so it sounds like he is talking about Jeremy Miller. Pretty shitty, but that wasn’t what really got under my skin.
I think the single worst aspect of the whole show, is Dave Navarro (who doesn’t tattoo, and hasn’t even been relevant in popular culture for a decade), giving artists time-lines. “Your tattoo starts now, and if they make you re-draw it, you just better work faster.”
Work Faster? This is permanent art on the skin! Do you really think it is a valid excuse to say, “Well, your tattoo should look much better, but Dave only gave me six hours to do it?”
And then the critiques! I don’t go into the studio and tell Dave how to play his guitar. What is he even doing as a tattoo judge?
And the whole “a true ink master can do everything well?” Societies are considered more advanced when they can specialize. When you need brain surgery, who do you go to, the family doctor that has patched up your kin for 20 years, or the specialist? Usually people who can do everything competently, can’t do anything exceptionally. If I wanted a kick-ass traditional piece, I would go to the likes of Steve Boltz or Eli Quinters. If I wanted some amazingly realistic black and grey, I might go to Carlos Torres, or for something darker, Tommy Lee Wednter. If I wanted some mouth-dropping realism, Paul Acker or Mike Devries would be artist I looked at.
I have personally redirected people who say they love my tattoos, but want a style I know someone else would be much better at. I don’t know how many people I have sent to Steve Boltz because they wanted traditional, and I knew he would rock that out. I’ve had multiple shops down here in Texas send realistic pieces my way. That’s the way it should work. In my experience, the customers are thrilled that you would send them to an artist that does the style they want well, and they come back to you for pieces that are in your field, often with a new-found respect for the medium.
I personally know Shane O’Neil, Bili Vegas, James Vaghn, Jeremy Miller and Josh Woods, a few of them very well, and they are all talented artists. I don’t know where they dug up some of the other people on the show, but they obviously were going for drama over talent. It is an insult and highly unethical to foist someone like “B-tat” on an unsuspecting client that came to a show expecting an “ink master.” It’s pretty embarrassing to see real talent thrown in to fight over the scraps with guys that tattoo like they just bought a kit off e-Bay.
You’ll notice that Jeff and Guy aren’t actually on the show. Maybe there is a reason for that?