When we first heard of “Ink Master,” there was really only one thought that came into our head — “Top Chef” with tattoos. From its two-challenge-an-episode format to its judging panel to even the “pick up your supplies and go” closing line, this really just felt like we were watching the Bravo series all over again.
Then, we remembered that “Top Chef” is a pretty incredible show. If you are going to copy from someone, why not take the formula that worked for one of the best skill-based talent shows on TV? In addition to this, we didn’t give “Ink Master” enough credit early on for what really matters in a competition like this — the quality of contestants, and the creativity of challenges. Thankfully, this show had both courtesy of everything from heated arguments to challenges that involving created ink for cars, amputees, and people who wanted to cover up past mistakes. Watching artists express their creativity was a thrill on a weekly basis, and for tattoo neophytes it also introduced an element of history and technique to help you understand a bit about the art form — and it is indeed art.
This finale Tuesday night was really a culmination of everything the final three contestants — Shane O’Neill, Tommy Helm, and James Vaughn — have done over the course of the entire competition. First, they had to design a 12-hour tattoo based on some specific guidelines that were put out by the human canvases. With the exception of Shane (who had to stretch himself a bit), these tattoos were designed to fit into the artists’ comfort zones. Following this, there was a twist — the artists also had the opportunity to create a six-hour tattoo that was really whatever they wanted to put on some poor soul volunteering their skin. (We really feel bad for Tommy’s client, who — while the tattoos is beautiful — has to wander around with a face of a woman on her that she may not have wanted.)
Once we actually saw the finished products, we personally ranked them in the following order in terms of quality and variety:
1. Tommy – While we didn’t love his “portrait of a lady” as much as the judges, his first tattoo of a Grim Reaper for the 12-hour tattoo may have been the coolest thing we have ever since on this entire season. It literally looked as though he created a graphic novel on someone’s back.
2. Shane – With Shane, this was a case of two tattoos. His 12-hour creation was as realistic a Buddha as we have ever seen. Meanwhile, he attempted to step out of his comfort zone and use color for his second tattoo — but unfortunately, his skull was not as detailed and precise as it could have been.
3. James – If we were throwing creativity out the window, we would actually say that James did the best job technically out of three. His Japanese-inspired tattoos were both beautiful and complex, and they are things that he loves to do every day. Unfortunately, the judges were looking for some variety here, and not just the same tattoo done twice.
So did the judges agree with us? Not entirely. Rather than looking at these two challenges individually, the panel instead did their best to look at the work of everyone across the season — and with that you can’t deny Shane’s talent or his win. The guy was just so solid throughout, and he never had a disaster akin to his competition. In the end, Tommy’s work before the finale (including some brutal face work at times) was what did him in.
Did you enjoy this season, and is this a show you would love to see again?