Judge's Corner: It Felt Awful to Send Willy Home

Once there were 14, now there are four....the Final Four: Willy, Alayna, Darnell and Karly. At this point, Darnell and Willy feel that the game is primarily down to the two of them -- and it very well could be, as each is a solid, confident artist with a diverse repertoire of skills.  But Alayna and Karly have not only risen to each challenge, they’ve grown, and at this point they've shown they have what it takes to compete to the bitter end.

At the tattoo shop, Joe and Pete announce that this week's Ink Challenge would be 3D photorealism. The idea behind the photorealism challenge is to convey something that looks so real on the skin that it can be picked up and lifted from the surface. This is hard for the best of artists. In this challenge, each of the four will be paired in a head-to-head match up with an artist picked for them by the Flash Challenge winner, Darnell!  Time for some strategizing - and Darnell sees the picture clearly.  He feels that ultimately the game will be down to him and Willy but he also wants a good challenge this week, and Karly is just the person to give it to him.  This places Alayna against Willy, who clearly feels that he will walk away with this challenge, hands down.  But there's a fine line between confidence and cockiness -- did Willy finally wind up crossing it this week?  We shall see...

As the skins are brought in to relate what they want to get, one project is clearly not anyone's favorite: a feather.  You can see the blank expressions on everyone's faces as this skin tells of how the feather image is meaningful to her, and everyone is praying they don't get stuck with this piece.  I have to say I shared their chagrin -- feathers are a great concept for interpretation, but as a photorealistic element they are dead boring to do and involve very little opportunity for color use or flow. Feathers in real life are actually quite stiff and uninteresting on their own.  Right away it's a possibility for this challenge to be a big dud for one of the artists.  Who is the lucky person?  Karly!

However, as she has so many times in this competition, Karly takes this liability and turns it to her advantage. She talks more with her skin and finds out this woman has a love of poetry. She comes up with a concept involving a quill pen, a bottle of ink, and ink drops lying near the bottle.  Right away she has all kinds of opportunities to bring this to full-on 3D life - and she takes every one of them.  Way to go, Karly!  It's just another example of how thinking creatively during these challenges is the big difference between making something a struggle, or choosing to work with it creatively and turning it into a real home run of a tattoo.  It really is all in the attitude, something Karly has shown us time and again is one of her greatest personal strengths.


Alayna's skin wanted a heart-shaped box of chocolates in shapes and colors to celebrate her Halloween nuptials, and Alayna designed something charming that truly managed to convey the story while satisfying the elements of the challenge.  She brought in multiple candies that each offered their own technical challenges, and she met most of those challenges head-on. However, we judges felt it could have been even more dynamic had she managed to create a deeper and stronger range of lights and darks in the candies themselves.  It was just this shy of a home run, but nevertheless a truly impressive piece, particularly given the complexity of the image.

Darnell was given a skin who wanted three birth flowers on the back of his arm, and he got off to a roaring start. But by the time Joe got to see it in the studio, Darnell had already added a dense, heavy green foliage background that faded into the skin and instantly prevented it from succeeding as a 3D image. Even after Joe pointed out the mistake, Darnell continued to compound the problem by adding even more (!!) of the dense green background and just making the issue worse.  The piece was beautiful, but if he hadn't managed to make the flowers themselves so successful, he would have completely failed to meet the challenge at all. WOOPS!

Willy's skin was interested in getting a dual-lens box camera.  I agreed with Joe that his choices with color were excellent -- however, I was disappointed to see that his trademark precision and sharpness were completely missing!  The tattoo came across as soft and vaguely out of focus.  Now, you don't need to throw in a bold outline around something in order to use a liner to sharpen elements of a piece, and that was the sticking point with this tattoo.  It appeared like a watercolor piece and, while beautiful, it failed to meet the challenge -- and it got him sent home.

This was a particularly difficult decision for us judges. At one point, Willy and Darnell seemed like clear front-runners for the final three - and last week they were the top 2!  What a difference a week makes...and how clearly it shows how much things can hinge on the smallest of details.  Or lack thereof, in Willy's case...it felt awful to send such a talented guy home on what was in all other respects a really great piece.  But we've reached the point now where even a solid, talented artist like Willy can go home in a real game-changing moment like this one. 

For anyone who may not be aware, Willy apprenticed under the wonderful and amazingly talented DJ Tambe, one of our two finalists from Season 2, and you can see the influence his teacher has had on him.  His work is elegant, beautifully drawn, and technically rock solid - all the ingredients for a great career.  Once he's been tattooing as long as DJ, I can only imagine how outstanding his work will be.  He's passionate about tattooing, and it shows - I'm excited to see where that passion will take him in the future.

And then there were three...tune in next week for the breathtaking finale and find out who truly has the BEST INK!!!  Whew!

Tune into the finale of 'Best Ink 3' airing next Wednesday at 10/9c! 

Read more about: Pete Wentz Joe Capobianco Hannah Aitchison

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