Q&A with 'Best Ink' Judge Hannah Aitchsion: "I'm the Nice, Encouraging Mom"
Hannah Aitchison returns to the Best Ink judge panel for Season 3, and the pin-up queen is getting us all excited for the new line-up of contestants and challenges. With 17 years of tattooing under her belt, the Chicago tattoer brings firm, but kind academic criticism to the table, and she tells us she loves being the "mom." Scroll down to read a full Q&A with Hannah all about the changes in the tattooing world, about her judging style, and about the Season 3 talent! Tune into the premiere Wednesday at 10/9c!
What about this season differed from previous seasons?
I love the challenges from an artistic perspective! I think the art team went out of their way to do interesting things with materials and settings. It made it visually interesting. Really cool locations, a lot of interesting eye candy to look at.
Also, last season I think it was distinguished from the get-go who the strongest competitors may were. We had the chance to watch them duke it out in a professional and sportsmanlike fashion. In this season, everyone is a wildcard. There are a lot of chances for people to surge ahead unexpectedly, a lot more surprises.
It’s totally different to tattoo in the environment of Best Ink than in a studio. What can a tattooer learn about real life tattooing from being on the show?
You learn to be prepared for anything, and not to let a change in the game throw you off. Every day is a wildcard, you don’t know what you’re gonna get, and that’s what happens in real life, too. Even with artists who work by appointment only, you have to contend with a client who has a change of heart, or who is difficult to deal with -- it doesn’t make them a bad person, it just makes them more challenging. So, if you say: “this isn’t what I do at my shop,” I say GOOD! That’s why there’s a prize at the end!” I think a good takeaway is: it’s good to push yourself. If you don’t, you’re not maximizing your potential.
What kind of a judge do you consider yourself? How do you compare to Joe? Sabina?
I’m the academic one! Somebody has to come at it with the visceral id, that’s Joe. Then, there’s the layman’s viewpoint, that’s Sabina, and then there’s me the academic. I’m the nice encouraging mom. I tell them to come back and fight tomorrow….buuuut… next time look at your line work. I think that’s my role. I enjoy the role of teacher a lot.
How do interpersonal skills help or hinder a tattoo artist?
Well, speaking from experience and having a reputation as someone who is pleasant to work with, I can say there are a lot of repeat clients that come to me because they feel comfortable. Some people think it’s all about the art and so it’s easy to dismiss the rapport. But for the client it’s about the whole experience. Yes, the art is very important, but irrespective of how good it is, if their experience wasn’t good, they don’t have a good memory of that piece.
What is it about pin-ups that interested you?
What’s not to like? Pin-ups are beautiful girls with a little sass, with elements of danger and flirtatiousness, and a sense of humor. It’s what men like to see in women and what women like to in themselves. When a woman gets one, it’s an ultra-ego, a way to show off an element of her personality she identifies with. If a guy wears one, he’s looking at his sense of an ideal. And men idealize them…the majority of the time...in a positive way. You’d be surprised how many men get their wives as superhoes. It’s sweet! And there are male pin-ups too! They’re not as common but they’re fun to do.
Joe said there were a lot of young tattooers this season. Do you see any major changes over the generations of artists?
Oh yeah! Absolutely! I’m sure a big part of it is the advent of social media and more opportunities to share your art. I think there is more opportunity to make a living now, it’s less of a financial risk. Honestly, it’s a little bit easier to get into the business now, because business is broader. But there is so much good art out there, you can’t reject an entire generation of talent. I think we can all learn from each other, and the entire community of tattooing will get stronger.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming tattooers?
Something I always tell young artists: don’t try to push yourself into a niche off the bat. By doing that, you’re dismissing experiences and skillsets of all kinds. It took me a long time to become a niche artist with this genre. I always enjoyed it. I always thought I was fairly good at it. But I can basically do anything else. There’s nothing I can’t do. I think the specialty needs to occur organically.
What should viewers look forward to the most in Season 3?
I think viewers should look forward to having their expectations turned on their heads. It’s like watching Game of Thrones: anyone can die at any time for any reason! You really never know.
Check out Hannah's ink portfolio!
Tune into 'Best Ink 3' premiering Wednesday, Dec. 4 at 10/9c!