So this week we were down to The Magnificent Seven...Willy, Joe, Darnell, Lara, Alayna, Karly and Romeo. Each of these artists has had at least one moment in the sun, and they've all managed to show some serious chops when it comes to the challenges. This week, however, was a real gamechanger. So far our strongest overall competitors week to week have seemed to be Willy, Joe and Darnell...but now the tides are turning. Lara has managed to survive elimination almost exclusively by sticking to her guns as far as her very unique style and approach to her work, but now Karly and Alayna are starting to push into the forefront and it's beginning to look like they're both serious contenders for the long haul.
What a difference a week makes! Wasn't it only last week that Joe made some rather (ahem) interesting comments about how he viewed women in general, and female artists in particular? I think the word "lazy" may have been employed...well, I'm a big fan of Joe's work and there's a lot about the guy that I like personally, but I do have to say, I kinda wanted to give him a good smackdown after I heard that. The tattoo trade is full of incredibly strong and accomplished female artists and, if for no other reason than attitudes like his, "lazy" is about the last word I would use to describe them. Women in our business have traditionally had to work against much more difficult odds than men in order to be taken seriously and distinguish themselves.
BUT - I do think hearing this from Joe really served to galvanize Karly and Alayna into pushing themselves even further than before. The work they turned in this week was especially impressive and gorgeous, and I loved seeing how they almost went out of their way to really kick some ass in the Ink Challenge.
For the Flash Challenge, the artists spent a gorgeous California day on the beaches of Malibu, working with none other than the great Laird Hamilton to create a group of stunning custom-painted surfboards. I loved seeing the end results on this challenge! The surfboard is such a great shape to work with, and it's the most canvas-like surface the artists have been given in a while so there were fewer limitations to what was possible with the final piece. Laird particularly liked the bold, graphic quality of Karly's piece, especially the eyes!
The Ink Challenge gave each of the artists a chance to bring their own distinct flavor to a group of ocean-inspired tattoos. The results were gorgeous. We were more won over by Alayna's beautiful mermaid, which played to her personal strengths with pin-up and figurative designs, by Willy's exquisite underwater scene took the usually-mundane dolphin image and created something really special, and by Karly's take on the angler fish which showed us her abilities with a more realistic style than she's shown us in the past. It was truly impressive! It was a real achievement for her, and won her the Ink Challenge as well. Score TWO for Karly this week!
[embed:render:file:335021:full]Something that keeps surfacing for the judges as well as for the other artists, however, is Lara's continuing proclivity for putting a mandala in each piece she does. Granted, it's one of her personal style marks and helps to define her work and make it distinctive. I give her a lot of credit for retaining her style, irrespective of what the subject matter is --- however, I also wish she'd learn to temper the idea of imposing that single look over everything she does -- at least in this competition environment. One of the purposes of the challenges is to push the artists outside of what they typically find comfortable, and to encourage them to think outside the style they usually would work in, to take on new approaches and push themselves creatively. It's frustrating for them, to be sure, but I'm also seeing how excited the artists can get when they try an approach that's different or uncomfortable -- and it works.
From the looks of the ink challenges, though, I'm not entirely sure Lara shares my enthusiasm for pushing the comfort zone thing. During judging, Joe describes her as potentially a "one-trick pony with a limp" -- and it would be a shame if she let her insistence on staying within her own framework serve as a limitation to how far she can go in the competition.
It certainly put her in the Bottom 3 this week, though, along with Romeo and Joe. Joe's ambitious cove-rup tattoo was on a darker-skinned man, and included the kind of smaller, tighter detail and pale, opaque colors that I can say from experience will not hold up well after healing on skin this dark. Darker skin requires bolder shapes, lines, and strong use of light and shadow to keep a tattoo looking good, and an artist of Joe's experience should know that.
Romeo's piece was very soft and pretty - but unfortunately it was a little too soft, with little to no definition in the central image of the seashell as well as the unsuccessful solar flare - and unfortunately, it was enough to send him home this week.
Romeo has had a few really strong pieces in this competition overall, and what seemed like a fairly open attitude about learning and building on his skills. However, I think that this is where his lack of overall experience was what got the best of him -- it seemed as though the critiques hit him kind of personally after a while, and you could see the deflation in his face when he wasn't named to Top 3. I do think that experience helps to give an artist a slightly thicker skin and the ability to take a critique and use it more as a tool for growth. After all the creative ups and downs we've seen from him in this competition, I was really sorry to say goodbye to Romeo! He's a flexible artist with a tremendous amount of potential and he's developing a really solid set of skills. Also, he's just a super sweet guy who seems to truly LOVE what he does, and that will help to take him far in the tattoo business. I hope he keeps pushing himself and growing as much as he can.
Next week, we’re down to just six artist. It'll be interesting to see how this new, growing Karly/Joe rivalry will develop...do I see a cage match somewhere down the line?