Judge's Corner: Hannah Blogs About Danny's Tantrum, Alayna's Comeback, and Anthony's Farewell

By Hannah Aitchison

Welcome back, campers!

Here in Week 5 of Best Ink, things are really heating up, both from an artistic standpoint and with each of our cast artists on a personal level. Danny's typically-upbeat attitude has started to flag, and it's increasingly obvious he's starting to have difficulty handling the stress of the competition. I'm sure a lot of that can be attributed to his age – I mean, after all, he's a mere 21, yet has accomplished so much in his career for someone so young. Nevertheless, as Joe is quick to remind him, this IS a competition, and there is no room for quitters here. Danny seemed pretty shaken up by Joe's frankness, but to be honest, as much as I like Danny, I would have handled the situation exactly the same way. Sometimes a little tough love is the way to go! For me, the idea of never taking a risk, never learning anything new, for fear I might look like an idiot somewhere along the line – well, let's just say I've managed to look like an idiot plenty of times throughout my career. It's surprisingly refreshing.

This week's episode focused on two different approaches to Japanese-style work: in the Flash Challenge, the artists were “spirited away” (HA! Nerd anime joke!) to a beautiful Zen garden where they were asked to create a 3-panel anime piece illustrating their life. In a huge stroke of perfection, the guest judge was none other than the amazing Chynna Clugston-Flores, creator of “Blue Monday”, one of the best anime-style comic series released in recent years. I couldn't think of a better person to judge this, and while many of the artists had never attempted anime or comic style art, the majority hit it out of the park and did some incredible work. Joe's winning piece really captured his weird and wonderful sense of visual humor and nailed the competition, bringing him a tidy $1k in flash cash!

The Ink Challenge however, proved to be even juicier, focusing on the elements of classic Japanese tattoo. Alayna's last skin walked out, which helped put her in the bottom 3, so she was determined to work with her available time as well as she could. And man, did she ever bring it! Her gorgeous line work and flowing composition were really on display with her snake piece, and the decision to take the initiative and replace the over-used cherry blossom idea with maple leaves was a bold and successful one. It was a great example of a professional collaborating with a skin to create the most effective tattoo possible, and I was impressed, particularly given how few years (3!!) she has actually been tattooing. Even Lara was approaching her skin with a more collaborative and open attitude, asking if she could incorporate her signature mandala in the image and taking her skin's personal preferences into account with the design.

Anthony and Danny, however, were really struggling, with Danny attempting a style that was far out of his comfort zone, and Anthony with the flu symptoms that had been plaguing him ever since the Flash Challenge. I was proud of them both, though – Danny for pushing himself after two straight weeks of being on the edge of WALKING out, and Anthony for persevering through a five-hour tattoo while being on the edge of PASSING out. Kudos to both of them.

However, it wasn't enough to save them from the Bottom 3. Along with May May, the two of them once again found themselves on the dais in front of us judges, wondering who would be sent home. May May's samurai, while a perfectly good concept, failed from both a drawing and a technical perspective, with what should have been a powerful-looking warrior wielding a precision killing instrument. Instead, it could have been something from some weird Samurai baseball league trading card! It looked like the guy was swinging a big, clunky bat and the overwhelming preponderance of background in relation to what should have been the central figure really killed the piece. Frustrating, because again – May May is so talented! However, she really lets the stress of the competition get to her as well, and the results are starting to drag that talent down with them.

In the end, after long deliberation, we decided it was Anthony's time to go home. It was sad, because he's had a couple of really gorgeous and successful pieces in this competition. However, while all of the Bottom 3 have been producing uneven work, we felt that both Danny and May May had more to show us if they were allowed to continue on. Anthony is a terrific guy and tremendously talented, and it was sad to see him go. Hopefully he'll continue to push himself and take risks at home!

The top 3 were difficult to pick from such a solid group of tattoos, but pick them we did – Willy produced another bangin' phoenix, Joe offered a really unique and wonderful approach to the classic koi image, and Alayna really impressed us with her snake piece. Her improvement with this tattoo was enough to sway us in her favor, and she won immunity for next week. Like me, Alayna got a really late start in tattooing, and I'm excited to see her skills develop over the rest of the season!

All in all, it was fun to do an episode dedicated to Japanese imagery. It's a language that I do believe everyone in the tattoo trade should at least have a basic understanding of, even if ultimately they choose not to focus on it.

More soon – see you kids later!

Tune into a new episode of 'Best Ink' next Wednesay at 10/9c!

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