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September 16, 2014

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Q+A: Joey ‘Hollywood’ Hamilton reflects on ‘Ink Master’ win, Las Vegas tattoo scene and what’s in store for the future

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Mona Shield Payne

Tattoo artist Joey Hamilton, who won Season 3 of “Ink Master,” completes a tattooed quotation on the arm of a customer while working in Club Tattoo at Miracle Mile Shops of Planet Hollywood on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013.

Joey Hamilton of Club Tattoo

Tattoo artist Joey Hamilton, Season 3 winner of Launch slideshow »

Joey Hamilton Wins ‘Ink Master’

Joey “Hollywood” Hamilton, right, of Club Tattoo in Las Vegas wins Spike TV's “Ink Master” on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013. Runner-up Jime Litwalk is at left. Launch slideshow »

Las Vegas Tattoo Artist Joey Hamilton

Las Vegas tattoo artist Joey Hamilton on Spike TV's Launch slideshow »

With multiple awards and nearly two decades of experience under his belt, local tattoo artist Joey “Hollywood” Hamilton was an “Ink Master” in his own right before winning Season 3 of Spike TV’s hit reality TV competition series last month. Still, $100,000 and a feature in Inked Magazine certainly don’t hurt.

Now that the dust has settled, we asked Hamilton, who works at Planet Hollywood's Club Tattoo, to reflect on the impact of his win and what’s in store for the future.

Now that you’ve had some distance from the show, what are your thoughts on the experience? What have the past months been like for you?

There’s definitely been a lot going on — a lot of magazine articles, tons and tons of emails from people wanting to get tattooed. I haven’t looked at my Facebook in five days because I still have 1,500 pending friend requests and all these comments. People are still reaching out and being super supportive, which is great, but even when I’m at work, trying to get back to normal and just do tattoos, I still probably take 20 to 30 pictures with people a day. It is a little overwhelming in that sense. And it’s gonna go on for awhile. I’m not saying I don’t like it, but when you’re trying to work and do stuff, it’s mentally taxing to make sure your customer in the chair is happy, plus, the people who have traveled all the way from wherever just to see you.

How has business at the shop been?

It’s picked up a lot. I was already busy before, and it’s kind of our slow time right now, but I’m booked every day until the end of the year right now. The shop already had a good reputation, but I’ve had people coming in say, "Oh, I’m getting tattooed here just because you work here. The other guys have to be good, too," which is very true. We have so many talented guys in there, so I’m glad that people are just coming to the shop to check it out.

A lot of times with these skill-oriented reality TV competition shows, there’s a big winner, but then you never hear about them or their careers again. What does winning the show really mean for you and your career?

It’s almost just like the icing on the cake, you know? I’ve had a great career; I’ve been tattooing 17 years, I’ve won a lot of awards, I’ve got to travel around, I’ve done a TV show before (A&E’s “Inked”). So then to turn around and do it again and actually win a show, I think the best is still yet to come as far as seeing stuff from this. My next year or two years, I’ll probably be traveling a lot, doing conventions, just getting my name back out there in the tattoo community. Because being in Las Vegas, a lot of customers come to you because of the tourists, so I don’t have to travel to go and make money. Right now I’ll be gone once or twice a month from anywhere to London to Canada to Portland to Nebraska.

With such a big tattooing community in Las Vegas, what do you think your win has meant for that scene as a whole?

I think it’s meant a lot for our shop. I know some people from Vegas who are actually trying out for the next season of “Ink Master,” which will continue to solidify that Vegas is a great spot to get a tattoo. And then you have the “Bad Ink” guys. There’s tons of TV shows out there now. I think it’s great for Vegas. I think anything that can help out making it more of a destination to get (tattoos and piercings) done is great. I had a guy fly in from the East Coast yesterday just to get tattooed. I had a lady drive seven hours, get tattooed, then drove straight back. She could’ve gotten it done in her hometown. It’s really gratifying to see that. I’m grateful that they’re seeking me out.

Tattoos and tattoo shops have been the subject of so many reality TV shows in recent years. What impact do you think that’s having on the industry?

I think it’s opened the eyes of the general public to our business. I think most of it is in a positive way. I don’t like the trend right now of all the “bad” tattoos. I don’t like “Tattoo Nightmares” or “Bad Ink,” those kind of shows. Or the ones that try to show the “crazy” tattoo shops like “Black Ink Crew.” I still like the old-school shows where it really shows the shop itself. Not like when “L.A. Ink” started doing all the tattoo stories where people are crying about why they’re getting tattooed. To me, that’s not tattooing. I’m not there to be a therapist and try to hear their story. It’s like getting your hair cut — I’m here to do a job for you, and I want to do it the best I can and be friends about it, but I don’t need to know your life story. I’m not that type of guy.

You didn’t start tattooing until your last year of Air Force service. Had you been interested before then? What first drew you to tattooing?

Honestly, I just needed a job. I got so lucky to get in the business how I did because back then, it was that kind of hardcore apprenticeship, and nobody was really sharing anything. But I was talking to somebody about getting out soon, and they knew I could draw, and he introduced me to his friend who tattoos who was also in the military, so it just kind of worked out. Growing up in Oklahoma, there was never any tattoos. Even in the military back then, it wasn’t like people walking around with full sleeves or anything. I don’t even remember seeing any. But it just clicked. I’ve always loved drawing, so I looked into it, and I was super grateful that it happened that way.

What’s the biggest misconception people might have about what you do — like people who might only know about tattooing from what they see on reality TV shows?

The misconception is that just because I was on a show and I won the show, I’m the best tattoo artist. There are guys out here in Vegas who are just as good as, if not better than, me — Robert Pho, Daniel Rocha ... I work with Chris Garcia and Walter Frank. Those are amazing tattoo artists. There are a lot of great artists out there that you just don’t see. I just got lucky to be on the show. That’s my idea of a show — you take the 10 best guys in a town and compete to see who’s the best one.

This being Las Vegas, do you have to deal with a lot of people stumbling in on a whim with crazy requests?

Yeah, that just comes with the territory. There is a lot of the spontaneous tattoos, but there’s also a lot of dudes who come in and say, “I’ve been thinking about this tattoo for a couple years, you guys look really professional, your shop looks great. I’m comfortable getting it done in here.” There’s a lot of that going on. But there’s also a lot of people who email us way in advance. I’ve been getting emails for 2016.

What’s the most common tattoo request you get? What makes your eyes roll?

Oh, we were doing all infinity symbols yesterday. I didn’t do any of them, but the shop did 11 of them. With the little words in them. That’s a big trend right now. I don’t like doing massive cover-ups. That’s one thing that’s trending for me right now (because of the show). People will send me a huge tattoo that’s already been done, and they want me to cover it up. Like any artist, you want to start with a clean canvas so you can show your best ability.

Your specialty is realism. What does it take to really master that style?

I always credit it to hand-eye coordination. When you’re doing realism, there’s guys who reproduce the photo exactly how it is, or there’s guys that put their own twist on it where they can add background or do things on their own. I feel like I’m that kind of person. I can compose a tattoo really well. I think that that’s the difference between me and somebody who just takes a photo and reproduces it exactly. That’s one thing that I think is misleading — just because you get niched as a realism artist that you can only reproduce something.

Is there a dream piece or design challenge that you hope to take on one day?

Well, I already did a 35-hour tattoo for $100,000, so … (laughs) I just love tattooing, honestly. It’s a great job. My body is wearing down. I’m 45 now and have been doing this 17 years. I can definitely feel the aches and the pains in my wrists and forearms. It’s not carpal tunnel full-on yet, but I don’t know how many years I have left. So I just want to really enjoy doing what I’m doing.

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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