This week was especially tough on the contestants of “Ink Master” as the competition begins to truly wear on everyone. Despite what looked like her exit on the show Tuesday night, Pittsburgh artist Sarah Miller still remains in the competition.
With a one-in-six shot of winning, the contestants entered the Flash Challenge with smiles and optimism—but that didn’t last long. This week’s challenges focused on dimension or the ability to make a design appear to leap off the skin.
As with many weeks past, the artists put down their tattoo guns in favor of a paint brush with a musical-inspired challenge when host Dave Navarro presented each contestant with a personal guitar from his collection and a challenge to give it a custom paint job. Oh and the little bit of advice: “Do not **** up one of my guitars.”
The pressure was on!
“I really wanted to do a good job,” said Miller. “I think that if he really wanted a good piece of art on his guitars we should have had more time to work on them.”
As with any canvas, Navarro provided the contestants with guidance on his likes—dark and creepy, pinups, supernatural and sexy. Many of the artists took their cues from Navarro’s interest in dark-and-creepy, designing skulls in various forms. Miller originally took the route of pin-up but near the end of the two-hour allotted time she scrapped the entire idea and painted the guitar black with a new design.
Navarro took note of the change and was very concerned.
“I didn't have enough time to finish my design and I didn't want to rush something that I felt poorly represented myself as an artist,” said Miller. “I do regret it a little bit changing my design but I stand behind my decision. I didn't have enough time to finish the design properly and I did what I thought was the responsible thing to do.”
While some of the designs were good, the judges were clearly not happy with anyone’s design. In fact, when they spoke privately to consult on the winner—they made it abundantly clear that no rock star would be seen with these guitars. When the judges returned, they berated the contestants for their lack of quality work so near to the end of the competition. They pointed fingers at recycled ideas from all contestants.
During the judge’s rant, Miller was the first to come to the defense of all the contestants in believing all the contestants have done their best and tried their hardest. Everyone has been pushed out of their comfort zone. Others eventually jumped in but it didn’t stop the tongue lashing they received.
“I saw how much effort everyone was putting into their designs and I thought they did their best,” said Miller. “To be told that you are a bad artist for not being able to perform in an unrealistic time and setting was really hard to take and I saw the others were hurt. I had to say something. The judges are pretty on point with a lot of what they critique but I was pretty bummed from this one.”
Despite their lack of excitement for any design, they chose the winner to be Jesse Smith, who would then have the power to assign human canvases. Basically, he was the best of the worst.
During the elimination tattoo, the focus on dimension continued as the contestants were charged with creating an animal tattoo in any style for their canvases. Animals are believed to have extraordinary powers and these designs would need to really be extraordinary to get the judge’s approval.
“I didn't really know what was coming and everyone was kinda throwing in the towel mentally from the ass chewing,” said Miller. “It affected me a lot as you can see by my finished tattoo. I always try my best so I took this one really hard.”
The contestants would have six hours to tattoo the animal design in a style of their choosing on their canvas. The judges further encouraged the contestants to push their limits and not present work they’ve seen before—that is not how to win “Ink Master.”
This week had another fighter present as a canvas, wrestling superstar Jeff hardy, who wanted an octopus. In addition to hardy, the other five canvases wanted a jaguar, raccoon, gorilla and two canvases wanted wolves—a death sentence to the contestants since their designs would be similar.
As the winner of the flash challenge, Smith held the power of canvas assignments and opted to tattoo Hardy himself even though one of the canvases did want a new school tattoo—his traditional style. Smith assigned Steve Tefft to the new school tattoo which is a challenge for him and typically not in his repertoire, Tatu Baby received the jaguar and Miller, Sebastian Murphy the raccoon and Jamie Davies received the duplicate death sentence wolves.
“My canvas was the darkest of all that were up there,” said Miller. “I was worried that I wouldn't be able to show the detail that the judges were looking for because my color palette was limited to dark and medium tones. White doesn't really show up on darker skin, and to get the fur texture in the wolf to hold up over the years I was really worried about it.”
With only six contestants remaining the pressure was really on to produce quality work. Tefft was able to convince his canvas to change his idea from new school to something more suited to his style after displaying his work, but of all the contestants it was Tatu Baby who had the most stressful session when her client began getting ill one hour into the session.
In Millers room, she desperately tried to get her client to change his mind on the tattoo. Wolves are very generic and for a tattoo competition, she feared it would not demonstrate the best of her abilities, not to mention the clients skin tone posed a greater problem.
“When I was trying to get my client to change his mind, I was thinking about how many wolf tattoos I've done or seen done and what the judges were saying earlier,” said Miller. “They wanted to see something different and if I did a tattoo that they already saw before I knew I was going to be in the bottom—not to mention that there was another wolf being done that day! I want the clients to be happy first and foremost but you are agreeing to get a free tattoo that you normally couldn't afford and you aren't there for your personal well-being you are there to make your artist look better to the public. You are a canvas. If you were that stubborn about getting the tattoo that you wanted exactly the way you wanted it I feel you should find an artist you like and pay for it. After the initial tension I worked things out with my client and he liked the finished product.”
As the judges walked around, it was clear (though unsure of why it wasn’t made apparent before), that the they were gunning for Davies because of his lack of tattoos, making statements about not trusting an artist who can’t go under the gun himself. This problem would become more apparent as the night went on.
“I think that an artist should be judged on the merit of their work and Jamie has been tattooing for over 17 years,” said Miller. “I trust him completely to do an amazing tattoo no matter who was getting it. You have no idea the respect I have for this man, his lines and shading are clean and solid and his work was always consistent. I thought I was going home this challenge.”
During critiques, Smith received positive comments for his great use of dimension and his tricks with the eyes and texture of the skin, but still there were elements he could have show drastic dimension that were major design flaws.
Tefft received glowing reviews from the judges for a solid tattoo with all the right skin breaks and an amazing amount of detail. His gorilla did seem to leap off the skin. Murphy also received glowing comments for a technically executed raccoon in a tree tattoo that would age well. With his use of dimension, the raccoon looks to e coming right out of the hollow tree.
When Miller stepped up, you could see the judges weren’t overly happy. While her wolf was stunning with wispy ends she used a giant black spot above the ear that screamed “cover up” to the judges leaving the judges divided. Davies fared no better with his wolf because while the eyes and teeth were strong, other parts were muted. There was also a huge area of the forearm that was wishywashy.
“Walking into the critique I was pretty confident that I wasn't in the top,” said Miller. “I was pretty calm about it—I did the best I could, I was assigned the canvas randomly so I didn't blame Jesse at all for that. I was my own worst enemy this challenge and it showed. My head wasn't in the game like it should have been and I only had myself to blame.”
“I agreed with everything the judges said,” said Miller. “The background was the weakest part of the tattoo, and I could have done the fur texture a little better on the right side of the tattoo. This was my weakest piece of the competition. I can man up to my mistakes.”
Despite overcoming the odds, Tatu Baby produced a quality piece. Even though she didn’t finish the tattoo, it was beyond her control and what she did finish was amazing. The textures of the fur and blacks were in the right spot and the colors showed amazing dimensions.
In the end, mostly every did solid work, but it was painfully clear that the two wolves were ultimately a death sentence for Miller and Davies to land in the bottom two.
“I think that Jamie did a better job on some aspects of his tattoo and I felt that I did some pretty solid texture in mind,” said Miller. “If we were looking at a report card, we were pretty even. I'd been in the bottom once and one a challenge once. So that cancelled that out, and we had both come in second once so we were even there. It came down to the tattoo that day, and who liked the designs.”
During their private session, the judges were clearly divided on who should go home. Back in the loft, Davies was not happy about the constant comments on his lack of tattoos. While waiting their fate, the contestants thought it would be entertaining to quickly give Davies a pair of sleeves before returning to the elimination room.
“Jamie and Steve were talking in a different room and they came into the common room with sharpies and Jamie said that he wanted to get sleeves,” said Miller. “We all thought it was hilarious and everyone contributed to his Ink Master 2 collage. It wasn't meant to be disrespectful, it was tongue-in-cheek and I thought it was really funny. I think it was Steve's idea originally.”
Ultimately, the judges decided that Tefft and Tatu Baby produced the highest quality work with the judge’s pick of the day going to Tefft.
“Steve had a REALLY tight piece and I liked it a lot,” said Miller. “The plane was the perfect touch and I loved the smoking engine. Baby had a clean tattoo and finishing with her client handicapping her was a real accomplishment.”
Miller and Davies were then left to fight for their life in the competition and Davies quickly began attacking Miller for her large black spot on the tattoo. The judges quickly flipped the page to then comment on Davies lack of tattoos and his impromptu ink while waiting was taken as a slap in the face to the judges.
“I don't begrudge him anything, it was my weakest piece,” said Miller. “He really wanted to stay in the game and if pointing out my weaknesses would have helped him more then more power to him.”
In the end, it was Davies who was sent home and whether it was actually for the tattoo or what the judges took as an insult we will never know. The online community sounded off immediately by criticizing the judges decision. For Miller, reading such harsh commentary from the public is tough but she’s keeping her head held high.
“I learned that you can't take things too seriously or you will get called psychotic (ha ha),” said Miller. “I care a lot about what I do, and I invest my whole being when I do a piece of art tattoo related or otherwise. You can't let the hits you take rock you mentally you have to keep going regardless of the criticisms you get and just keep trying your best. This week, I didn't take my own advice and it almost cost me. Being emotional isn't a bad thing—it lets you come up with better designs and since you are personally invested in the work more than just a preset design. I care about what I do, and I always will.”
Next week should prove to be an amazing episode as the contestants are down to five and it’s (hopefully) Miller’s week to shine with portraits—her true specialty.
“All I wanted to do when I got on this competition was make it to the portrait episode,” said Miller. “I did. You are going to see something amazing.”
Tune in next Tuesday at 10 p.m. to see how Miller does on the next episode and in the meantime don’t forget to vote for her tattoo this week at http://www.spike.com/shows/ink-master.