Tattoo TV Shows are a Mixed Bag

Dan Henk tattoo artist Artist, author and regular TAMblog contributor Dan Henk offers his take on tattoo tv shows and what you really need to know…


Tattoo by Frank LaNatra

The TV shows on tattooing have been a mixed bag. I think that’s pretty clear to everyone in the industry.


I have heard plenty of feedback from tattooers who just automatically slag them off, but I’ve also received a lot of carefully considered replies that they have some benefits. I haven’t had anyone in the business tell me they are great, with the exception of the criminally under-watched and underrated Tattoo Wars, but let me go over some points.


There are the shows that artists universally pan, such as the short lived and almost universally vilified “Tattoo School”. Or the sappy sentimentality, bad artwork showcase of Tattoo Highway. In fact, all the shows tend to amplify the drama, from the Inkmasters, to the LA Ink’s, NY Inks, Miami inks, and so forth. Things are pitched and twisted so they highlight what the producers think is the most marketable product. They are all  heavily scripted, edited, and coached. But even with all those caveats, they have created some lasting impressions on the public that are completely false.

Tattoo by Jess Yen

The shows make it sound like a good artist can do anything. This might have been  the expectation in a flash shop twenty years ago, but its a different world now. You used to be able to go to the local doctor for whatever ails you. Now if you want something simple and generic, you go to a clinic. If you want anything more complex, you go to a specialist. Flash shops are the clinics of the tattoo world. If you want great Japanese, you go to someone like Jess Yen. You do not go to a guy that specializes in black and gray portraits, no matter how good he is at  his chosen field. If you want new school, go to someone like Frank LaNatra or Timmy B, not that guy who does traditional. And vise versa. They might all be great at what they do, but they chose to focus on and excel at a style. Respect that.


Large, complex pieces can rarely be drawn up on the spot. They often take hours to design, and most good artists have an extensive waiting list and a million other projects to work on before they get to yours.


Do no be an ignorant twat. It’s a collaboration between you and the artist. Any good artist has been doing it for awhile, and while he will take your ideas into consideration, he will need to tell you how it will work best as a tattoo. That means that some ideas that a customer has in their head might need to be modified, or might not even work as a tattoo.

Tattoo by Nikko Hurtado

Tattoos do not need a story behind them. You can have a tattoo simply because you like it. You don’t need to have some long novel wrapped around the idea, and your artist isn’t your psychiatrist. He or she does not need to hear all the intricacies involved.


The cover up shows have given the impression that anything can be reworked into the piece of your choice. That is not the case. That top layer of skin is blank, it gets saturated with ink, but when it heals, it will shed all that ink. That means the original, if it’s dark, will pop back through. You don’t see this on the shows, which show you the cover-up the moment it’s done, but it will be a different story when that tattoo heals.


You do not need a black line around everything to make it last. You need strong contrast, and too many artists don’t put enough, but that thick black line around everything is a myth.

Tattoo by Timmy B

Having tattoos in the public spotlight has taken away quite a bit of the stigma. A much larger group of people get more extensive tattoos and debut them in an increasingly accepting public. I know there are some people that complain about the loss of the “underground status” tattoos had in the old days. You hear the same thing about everything. Music was better back in the day. Or movies were. Or whatever.

Hey, I get harassed less by cops, and potential landlords don’t bat an eye now. That loss of an underground thing doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the new false impressions some of the public is susceptible to. Don’t be one of those guys.

-Dan Dan Henk

Dan Henk is an award winning tattoo artist, illustrator, painter and author. In his spare time he’s also a contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine. He can be found at and look for him on Facebook  and Instagram – Find and FOLLOW him.

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