Ink Master Season 12: Artists Roll the Dice on Cover-ups in Episode 11

Please note: This post contains spoilers about Ink Master Season 12, episode 11.

Sure, there’s some strategy when it comes to getting to the finale of Ink Master. The artists compete for skull picks, debate about who to send to the bottom, form alliances, and play mind games. 

But other times, it’s all about luck.

On this week’s episode of Ink Master Season 12, luck and skill both come into play as the artists competed in a dice-y flash challenge and strategized their approaches to challenging cover-up tattoos.

To make the evening even more drama-filled, Ink Master heavyweights Nikki Simpson and Josh Payne were back as coaches. And when we say that they were the most dedicated, vocal, and ruthless coaches on this season so far—we’re not exaggerating. 

For more info about how it all went down, let’s get into the recap of episode 11.

Flash Challenge: Dealing With Dice

Dice are usually reserved for games of chance, but this week they were art tools for Ink Master’s eight remaining tattoo artists. In a flash challenge all about detail, the judges tasked the contestants and their coaches to create a legible, intricate image using a whole bunch of black dice. 

The women’s team, banding together under Josh, came up with the concept of doing a UFO design pretty quickly. The ladies wanted to use the opportunity to create a full landscape scene with a foreground, middle ground, and background.

“These four ladies, I’ve never worked with, so I don’t know what they can do and I don’t know what their skill set is,” said Josh. “But I can tell you right now, within minutes of meeting them, they are super motivated and the creativity is there. If we can work together, this can be a hell of a day.”

The men started off a bit shaky, and Nikki used her sway to help them settle on an all-seeing eye design, complete with eyelashes. After some ego-driven arguing about where and how to start taping off the design on the board, the men were off and running. “There’s a lot of different dudes trying to be the alpha male,” said Nikki. 

Each team had to use the different values created by each side of the dice to shape their images. They painstakingly flipped and fit dice into the frames to create dynamic finished designs. 

Both teams executed incredible results, but—even though the decision was split—the women won the flash challenge and were awarded the skull pick advantage during the elimination tattoo.

Nikki Simpson and Josh Payne Get Feisty

Most of the coaches on this season of Ink Master so far have been pretty subdued. Sure, they’ve been there to assist their teams and provide direction, but the majority have stayed out of the ring and let the contestants battle for themselves.

Nikki and Josh both took a completely different approach and went in for the kill right out of the gate—standing up for their teams and players at all costs.

Josh confidently helped the women make design decisions and strongly challenged them when he thought they were making mistakes. But he also started to interfere with the men’s team to try to break some key players—especially Cam. 

“In a competition like this, if you can get under somebody’s skin and their mind is focused on you and not their work, they’re not gonna do the best they can,” said Josh. “If I can come in here as the coach and kind of tweak some things on the other team a little bit, and it helps my team come out with a win, I’m gonna go for it every time.” 

Josh even tried to talk Cam’s canvas out of being swayed into a black and grey coverup tattoo during the elimination challenge—a bold, in-your-face move.

Josh Payne and Nikki Simpson on Ink Master Season 12
Josh Payne and Nikki Simpson return to Ink Master Season 12

And while Nikki stood up hard for the ladies on Season 8 of Ink Master and even went on to host Ink Master Angels with fellow female tattoo artists Ryan Ashley Malarkey and Kelly Doty, she was not afraid to throw the women’s team under the bus to help the men’s team succeed.

She particularly gave Holli and Dani a hard time during elimination judging—criticizing their tattoos in front of the panel of Peck, Nunez, and Navarro. 

“I’ve been waiting for this,” said Nikki. “I know that my skill set is worthy of winning, but I didn’t get my chance when I was on Ink Master. Now, I’m not letting anything get in my way.”

Elimination Tattoo: Covering Up Canvas’ Bad Ink

This week’s elimination tattoo was a tough one for the eight remaining artists. Instead of being given open skin and a large area to design something from scratch, they were forced to work on cover-ups.

The ask was particularly challenging during detail week since the artists couldn’t rely on blocky backgrounds or heavy, black shading to hide the old work. The judges wanted to see cover-up tattoos that didn’t look like cover-ups. Easy, right?

With the skull picks, the women changed their strategy this week. Instead of just going for the tattoos they wanted to do, they focused on the specific tattoos that they thought would trip up members of the opposite team. Josh agreed with this strategy and strongly advocated they use it to their advantage.

But Janelle and Laura weren’t thrilled with the approach. Janelle especially had a difficult time because she was given a cat-themed tattoo that she didn’t want to execute. 

The women gave the toughest tattoos to the Creepy Jason, Cam, and Jake. Creepy Jason was tasked with covering a big Celtic cross on one guy’s back; Cam’s canvas originally asked for a full-color lion; and Jake had to cover up some dark Kanji characters on his canvas’ leg. 

With Nikki’s help, sweet-talking Cam was able to convince his burly canvas to switch the ask to a black and grey lion. Although Creepy Jason battled against the clock, he wound up winning tattoo of the day with his back-spanning owl. Jake and Pon also received high praise during their tattoo critiques.

Laura was the only one on the women’s team to get a really solid score from the judges. Her alien cover-up tattoo looked flawless, but Nunez did warn her about becoming a one-note tattooer on the show. She promised the judges that she would impress them with a variety of work moving forward—not just aliens and robots! After watching Laura excel week after week, we’d be shocked if she didn’t wind up in the finale. 

Dani did a solid stone unicorn tattoo, but the judges called her out for the proportion of the horn in comparison to the rest of the tattoo. And while she tried to hilariously address the critique (“It’s not about the size, it’s about how it’s being used.”), we have to echo Nikki’s clap-back response and say: “Oh, honey…no.”

Cam, Janelle, and Holli were in the bottom this week. Holli was put up for elimination by the men’s team, but it’s likely the judges would have landed her there anyway. Nikki’s priority was clear—keep Cam in the competition at all costs.

Nikki went after Holli’s tattoo hard. She criticized everything about the tattoo. “I fucking hate this tattoo,” she said. “There’s a tree branch growing out of this woman’s ass.” She also railed on Janelle’s jaguar tattoo, saying that it lacked the detail this particular challenge called for.

Janelle went her own way during this elimination tattoo. Josh tried to sway her away from doing a jaguar design. He told her that it was one of Chris Nunez’s favorite animals and that he would rip her apart for anatomical issues. But Janelle decided to go against the grain and take the risk. 

Unfortunately, Josh was right. While we—as regular viewers with untrained eyes—thought Janelle’s tattoo looked colorful and cool, the judges critiqued her technical application. And even though it looked like Oliver Peck was going to give Janelle a pass, Chris Nunez ultimately convinced him that Janelle should be sent packing due to the tattoo’s application flaws.

Janelle Hanson leaves Ink Master
Tattoo artist Janelle Hanson leaves the Ink Master studio.

Many times during this season, Janelle talked about the struggles she faced as a female artist trying to gain traction in a male-dominated industry. She fought to gain respect and recognition and credits her mom with making her a fierce female artist.

“This competition has opened my eyes that each day is a learning experience,” she said. “Before she passed, my mom gave me all the tools that I needed to go further in life. She fought just to live one more second. To give up is the worst thing you can do. So, I’m gonna fight for it. I’m not done yet.”

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