Coloring Inside The Lines

Oxygen's Best Ink crowned a winner last night, and Teresa's victory didn't surprise me (though the editing did a good job of pre-selling DJ as the winner). I like her and I think it's the right call, but at the same time, it's hard to care, because one problem with shows like Best Ink and Shear Genius is…okay, Shear Genius had a LOT of problems, starting with hosts who couldn't pronounce the word "stylists," for the love of little apples. Anyway: one problem the shows shared is that, because the competition is geared towards how well and satisfyingly the contestants can change a person's physical appearance, you won't get a wide range of volunteers -- especially not for permanent body art. A bad bob, it'll grow out. A tat, you have to live with it.

Best Ink's "skins" had extensive ink already, almost without exception -- and that in turn means that the volunteers 1) can manage their expectations and won't get super-bent if a tattoo isn't perfect, 2) have worked with artists before and are probably more likely to listen if the artist has suggestions or doubts, and 3) know their pain tolerances. As informative as the judges could be about things like line weight and color saturation, I'd also like to know a little about the artists' ability to manage different kinds of clients. Why not a challenge with all first-timers?

Because Best Ink is pretty good, for what it is, and the aforementioned limitations due to the constraints on the skin pool…I get it. I'd most like to see every artist have to do the same art on the different clients, which is obvs impossible, because good luck getting all 10 volunteers to agree on one tat for everyone. But the show really has to push itself on its challenge concepts, because what it also is…is the same thing every time. Five hours, usually the outside of the upper arm, usually full color. Why five hours? All six of mine combined took five hours -- why don't we see the artists doing smaller work sometimes instead of pantsing around with the Flash Challenges? The nautical star you'd see in the back of the interview segments is a popular piece. You could find 5-8 peeps planning to get one; tell them if they can wait a few weeks, they can get it for free; and give the artists 45 minutes. It's closer to what artists spend their real workdays doing, and it gives you a better idea of how well they execute on everyday art.

Not every idea is practical, but the show could get more creative within its limits. The lead photo here is a good example. The top arm, Figure 1, is mine; my brother Dave liked the bird, so I treated him to one for his birthday -- but the artist for Figure 1 had moved to Atlanta, so we had to Xerox my arm, and a different artist used that to ink Figure 2. It isn't uncommon.

Top-of-the-foot tats: not uncommon. Usually intricate, always painful, would make a fascinating challenge, but we didn't see a one for those, or for white-ink-required tats, or for fixing/inking over older or crappier art. Full-body tribals: also not uncommon. We didn't see those either, and the production likely didn't want to have to edit the days of footage (with a week in between each sitting), but body ink is much more diverse in its conceptions and rationales than what Best Ink chose to show us. As a result, each episode is the same non-drama every time, worrying about the time, a mild disagreement with the client about location that turns out fine, blah blah. Nothing against the skins who want photorealistic tats of their kids, but I would rather see an all-text-tattoos challenge, or all parolees who would like their prison-gang ash-and-safety-pin jobs turned into doves. Hell, pick a bunch of skins with terrible ideas and see who can make the best of the bad jobs.

I don't always share the judges' taste, but I bet they'd be down with a lot of these ideas, and have good insights. It's a good team, and Pete Wentz is okay too, stiff during scripted bits but chill and knowledgeable elsewhere. Best Ink is better than most at sticking to the work, and I like that. But artists this generally competent and judges this experienced shouldn't spend week after week doing variations on the same half-sleeve, because it's boring for them and us.

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