The Stars Of 'Ink Master: Angels' Talk Female Collaboration And Fierce Competition

Since time immemorial or at least since Kelly betrayed Sue back on the first season of Survivor, reality TV has positioned women, be they aspiring models, housewives or daters, as catty adversaries competing over men or for a place in the spotlight. Tears, finger-wagging and table-flipping have long been the order of the day. The feminist notion of women lifting each other up to achieve greater success for the group than they could as individuals rarely factors into the recipe for reality TV success. This makes what happened on season eight of Spike’s hit tattoo competition show, Ink Master, all the more noteworthy. On a network largely aimed at younger men and known for mixed martial arts, action movies and shows like Bar Rescue, a group of four women from the male-dominated tattoo industry banded together to destroy their male competition by producing high-quality work and staunchly championing themselves and each other in the face of sexist criticism. And, unlike almost every other alliance we see on competitive reality shows, this one held strong until the very end of the season. Wonder of wonders, the other shoe never dropped. One woman finished fourth, two others made the top three; one of whom, Ryan Ashley, became the first woman to win Ink Master.

The powers that be at Spike are no dummies. They’re trying to recapture lightning in a bottle by building a new show, Ink Master: Angels, around Ashley and fellow contestants Kelly Doty, Nikki Simpson and Gia Rose. Angels, which premieres October 3, features the four artists traveling around the US, where local tattooers will face off for the chance to tattoo head-to-head against one of the Angels. Beat her and you secure a spot on season 10 of Ink Master.

I caught up with all four Angels stars last week to ask them about what life has been like since Ink Master, how they’ve built their careers in the notoriously tight-knit (and masculine) tattoo industry and what sparked their unexpected sisterhood.

“I was really worried it would be like me reliving high school, trying to pick out where I ate lunch and that entire hell raining back down on me,” Doty, the resident wit, jokes about her time on Ink Master. She, along with the other women, says that their alliance came about organically, the result of sharing close quarters, getting up early to do their hair and makeup together and, most importantly, respecting each other’s work.

“We were each other’s support system in that environment, because it is a very difficult scenario to be in. We all definitely respected each other and found each other to be very talented, very driven women, so we identified with each other in that way,” says Simpson.

“We became friends because none of us wanted to put each other down to bring ourselves up. We became friends because we all felt we had been through similar struggles and we understood each other,” says Ashley, who cites the bond she forged with her fellow competitors as an even bigger prize than claiming the Ink Master title itself.

Lest you think their reality TV experience was all friendship bracelets and hair-braiding, nothing could be further from the truth. Simpson in particular had no qualms about going toe-to-toe with male competitors threatened by female success, despite being one of her season’s youngest competitors and a relative newcomer to the industry.

“I wasn’t there to see my work kicked down or see other people put in shitty scenarios. If I see another person who is a great artist, who has put everything they have into the competition and that person has my back, I’m going to stand up for them,” she says.


Things & Ink interview with Artist Gia Rose

Sofia from Geeked Magazine talked to tattoo artist Gia Rose for us about tattoos, being a female artist and her battle with cancer. Read her interview below and don’t forget to check out more of Gia Rose’s work on her Instagram.  

Sofia: “Having been diagnosed with a chronic illness – even though not dangerous/deadly – it affects my everyday life, I draw a lot of strength from the artist Frida Kahlo who suffered for more than 30 years, but has never let her health deter her from doing her art. When I decided on getting Frida tattooed on me I knew I wanted a woman to do it. I remembered seeing the awesome portfolio of tattoo artist Gia Rose from Art Machine Productions in Philadelphia, so I decided to look her up. Sadly she was off work on medical leave due to cervical cancer, but hopefully she would survive it, get better and come back to work as soon as she had recovered. Thankfully that happened and today I have the most wonderful tattoo I could have ever asked for, full of meaning, passion and female strength. Here are some questions I asked Gia about her amazing turbulent and brave journey.” 

Tell us a little bit about your background, how did you come to be a tattoo artist? I consider myself an accidental tattooist. I pretty much stumbled into my apprenticeship with all the excitability and ignorance that youth offers!  After a few years of being a general misfit and vagabond I landed myself in Asheville North Carolina. I always drew and never fancied myself an artist but liked the idea of learning a trade, so I hastily put together a portfolio of sketches and drawings and threw myself at Miss Kitty, who owned Sky People Tattoo (a private tattoo studio that no longer exists), but she still tattoos in Asheville! I know now that getting an apprenticeship like that is not the norm and pretty difficult these days! I did my apprenticeship for a year, then left to work in a street shop in New Orleans. After that I pursued a degree in Illustration in Portland, Oregon. That’s the short of the long. It’s been a long journey!


What’s it like being a female artist in the tattoo industry? To be frank, it’s awesome. In the beginning, I definitely felt the differences in what being a woman meant. It meant I had to work harder, push harder, strive for more and be very careful about who I dated. We live in a patriarchal world that still subjugates women and uses them as a commodity. So we face these challenges in our daily lives in all fields. So in all actuality, I would argue that the tattoo industry may offer more benefits to women, mainly the fact that I make the same amount of money as my male co-workers. Getting into tattooing is hard for anyone at first. But once past those gates and once you establish your skills and place in the industry, there’s a whole world there to support you.

I did my apprenticeship in 2003 and I’ve seen girls explode into the tattoo industry with such awesome creativity and skills, it’s been so cool. I’m very proud to be a female artist and I feel very supported by the guys. Yes, there is the “sex sells” aspect to this industry, but that’s in ANY industry, tattooing just has no shame in it. So it’s hard at times, we do indeed have to work harder, but I think it’s just hard being a girl in this world sometimes.
Which is why I love Things&Ink magazine, us ladies gotta stick together and celebrate what we bring to the table.


Where do you get your inspiration? Other female artists, and a lot from fashion  collections and jewellery artists, as well as artisans and crafts people. I find so much inspiration from Instagram! I like pulling things from life and peeking into people’s personal curating of the world around them. Sometimes I’ll design a tattoo completely around a piece of jewellery I saw.

Your life has been brutally interrupted and affected recently by cancer, how did this affect your work, your life as an artist and as a woman?

Holy hell. Cancer blows. But it’s also a really great gift once you find your centre. You don’t just learn about yourself, you learn what you’re fucking made of!

I was diagnosed in January 2014 with an aggressive cervical cancer. Uninsured like most American artists, I found myself very alone and very afraid. I refused to wait to even see someone, so I did something I will never ever regret doing. Via social media I went public and reached out to my tattoo community for help. We also had a fundraiser that raised over 30K to help me in my fight.  Through Tattoos Cure Cancer and tattoo artists all over the country I was able to get the best care possible. I had a radical hysterectomy in February 2014 and found out in May that at this time, due to fast acting and early detection, no further treatment is necessary. I’m 100% convinced my industry saved my life.  I will never have children but in a way, I feel like this gives me more drive to push myself as an artist and reach out to other women survivors and continue to add my efforts to making people feel beautiful and strong.

Every January (cervical cancer awareness month) starting this year, I will be donating proceeds from my tattoos to someone battling cervical cancer like I was. This has been the most humbling experience in my life. The tattoo industry has made me so proud.  Tattoo artists are some of the most generous people on the planet.

It’s definitely made me a stronger artist and person. Life’s too short to fuck around.

How did you feel about tattooing Frida Kahlo on me? I LOVED it. This was seriously a bucket list tattoo for me. Frida Kahlo is one of my personal artist heroes and I find her radiating such beauty and strength!  I hope I captured it well. It was also very empowering to get the opportunity! This is my second colour portrait so it was challenging, which I like and I’m very happy with it.  My stuff is usually very illustrative, which I think this tattoo is, but it works.

I love it. Hands down one of my favourites.




Ink Master: Angels Interview with Artist and Judge Gia Rose

Gia Rose is an artist that was easy to root for on Ink Master season 8. She was a fun, smart and a great tattooer with a lot of cool tricks up her sleeve, so we were happy to hear that she was going to be joining Ink Master: Angels with Ashley Ryan Malarkey, Nikki Simpson and Kelly Doty. These four women forged the first all female alliance on Ink Master, but not only that, they also created a life long friendship that has spawned a spin-off series that will take them across the country looking for more great tattoo artists.

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