Ink Master Season 12: Female Tattoo Artists Prepare for Battle

Photo by Jason DeCrow/Paramount

If you’ve followed along with Ink Master over the years, female tattoo artists have always been a big part of the show. They compete as individuals and on teams, they form alliances, and they deal with their fair share of sexist banter and backhanded comments from fellow contestants and viewers.

To date, there’s only been one female artist—Ryan Ashley Malarkey—who’s taken home the Ink Master crown.

On Season 12: Battle of the Sexes, which debuts on Paramount Network on Tuesday, June 11, show producers are pitting men against women as nine female artists and nine male artists face off in the televised tattoo competition.

Pushing Back Against Gender-Based Teams

The female participants on the show say that—despite this season’s theme—gender has nothing to do with success in the tattoo industry.

“It’s not about being a man or a woman—if you’re good you’re good,” says Alexis Kovacs, owner of Electric Cheetah Tattoos in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “It’s having what it takes as a PERSON to become a good tattooer. It’s a hard road and some people have what it takes and some don’t.”

Alexis Kovacs from Pennsylvania competes on Ink Master Season 12

In fact, Kovacs admits that she wasn’t aware of the “Battle of the Sexes” theme when she agreed to be on the show. “I don’t know if I actually would have done this particular season had I known that this would be the theme,” she says. “I didn’t like having to be on separate teams—it made it less about tattooing and more about drama. I’ve always made friends with guys, so it made it weird to have to always be against each other.”

Pony Wave, a tattoo artist who started her career in Russia and moved to Los Angeles five years ago, says that she’s never felt like tattooing should be a competition between men and women.

“I never compared men and women—not in personal or professional fields,” she says. “But I know that in the tattoo industry, women were discriminated against for some time. This show is the perfect opportunity to show that ‘artist’ is a profession without gender.”

Pony Wave, from Russia, wants to prove she can win the televised competition.

Fellow contestant, Danielle (Dani) Ryan, who works as an artist at 1001 Troubles Tattoo in Warren, Rhode Island, says that she was skeptical about this season’s theme at first. Unlike some of her teammates, she has had “zero resistance” building her career as a female artist.

“I was taken on as an apprentice because my mentor saw that I had talent and that I could handle myself. It didn’t matter what sex I was,” she says. “I think the only negativity I’ve come across in the industry was because I’m a new tattoo artist. Not because I’m a woman.”

But at the end of the day, Ryan appreciates the opportunity to be on Ink Master and understands that the theme is meant to reel in viewers with a competitive angle. “I know gender itself is a hot topic right now,” she says. “Eventually, I figured it would be entertaining to watch.”

Despite reservations about being on the show, Dani Ryan competes on Ink Master Season 12

Despite their mixed feelings about the theme, the female artists on this season admit that they worked together to get ahead and lift each other up.

“We were all pretty tight and had each other’s backs,” says Kovacs. “I went into this thinking that it’s every person for themselves, then realized the whole team thing was about being supportive of each other. So, I learned how to be a better team player as the show went on.”

“I support the idea of sisterhood. We have to help each other,” adds Wave. “I will celebrate if the winner is a female artist. I will celebrate her as I would myself and I believe my colleagues will do the same if it’s me.”

Embracing the Challenge of Ink Master Season 12

Ink Master is not just a tattoo competition—it’s a grueling test of overall skill. During filming, participants live together in a house, participate in a myriad of challenges, and put in long, difficult days.

The reality television show highlights the versatility of each contestant’s artistic abilities through a wide range of flash challenges. It also tests each artist’s ability to tattoo in different styles. It’s physically and mentally challenging.

“To prepare, I watched as many episodes of the show as I could and did quite a bit of research in all of the various styles of tattooing, brushing up on some styles that I don’t normally do or haven’t done for a while,” says Kovacs. “I wanted to be on Ink Master for the publicity and to have my work seen internationally.”

Ryan says that she never thought she’d be a part of the television show, due to anxiety and a strong desire to stay out of the spotlight. But when producers contacted her after seeing her work at the Baltimore Tattoo Convention, Ryan says she knew it was time to put her fears aside and go for it. “I decided that it would be beneficial for my shop and my career to get my name out there as far as possible,” she says. “I set aside my anxieties and took the leap.” 

Pony Wave has her own reasons for wanting to participate in the show. As a non-native speaker, she was nervous about how she would interact and communicate with both the other artists and the judges. But she says showcasing her story and her work on such a large stage is something she hopes inspires other people.

“The Ink Master project is my own personal Mt. Everest. I want to show that I can come to a different country, build a career, and try myself in the best show for tattoo artists alongside those who grew up in this country,” she says. “If I am here at this show, it means that I can inspire others to change something in their lives or start something new. There is nothing impossible.”

Other female tattoo artists participating in Ink Master Season 12 include:

The men’s team includes:

Tune in to watch the premiere of Ink Master Season 12: Battle of the Sexes on Tuesday, June 11 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Paramount Network.

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