The first-ever woman to win the Ink Master title, Ryan Ashley Malarkey is bringing her extensive tattoo knowledge to return as a judge on season 13, Ink Master: Grudge Match. The adorable and likable tattoo artist that is covered from head to toe in ink herself, is now a household name in the tattoo world thanks to her signature black and grey surrealism tattoos.
Ryan graduated from the Fashion Institute in New York City and worked as a designer and artist for a private label company but left in 2011 to pursue tattooing. With a background in fashion, Ryan is able to take her artistic skills with beading and lace and apply them to her skin art, producing inspiring designs. Before making her debut on TV, she graced the cover of Inked magazine as their cover girl. Since winning, Ryan has starred in the spin-off - Ink Master: Angles - which toured around the country to find local tattoo artists. This versatile artist and quirky TV personality will be returning to TV with Ink Master: Grudge Match as a judge alongside other Ink Masters Cleen Rock One and DJ Tambe.
Ink Master: Grudge Match, a spinoff of the original show, will bring former Ink Master contestants who have unresolved grudges and pit them against each other in a head to head battle. Whether the goal is to squash personal vendettas or to just a friendly tattoo battle, two tattooers will vie for the top spot. The Ink Master alumni battling it out could be faces from any of the previous seasons. Some of America's best tattoo artists will be going face to face for a chance at redemption, to win $100,000 cash prize, a feature in Inked magazine, and the coveted title of Ink Master. With Ryan bringing her fun personality and experience to the new challenges, it is sure to be one of the best seasons yet. Screen Rant has had the chance to sit down and chat with the winner of season 8 of Ink Master, Ryan Ashley about how she got started tattooing, the stigmas about being a female in a male-dominated industry, and extraterrestrials.
Tell me some background information about yourself, how did you go from working with a private label in NYC to tattooing?
Oh, that’s a big one, Well, basically since I was a really little kid I loved designing for the human body. You know when I went into fashion, I thought I would like design for the human body - on fabric. Then after working in the fashion industry for almost six years I realized that I wanted to be more hands-on with the people that I actually designed the artwork for. You know, I didn’t want to sit at that cubicle all day every day and have somebody else put the name on the work that you know I strived so hard to put my heart and soul into this artwork. You work for a label and they put their name on it; it was just so impersonal.
I started getting tattoos around this time and I was spending a lot of time with friends of mine who were tattoo artists and shop keepers, and I was finally exposed to the lifestyle they lived and I saw how happy they were and I realized that’s what I wanted. That's what I wanted to be. So, I went for designing for the skin to designing on the skin. I left my job, I took the plunge and left everything behind.
Fans are super excited to see you in the role of host with this new series. Could you give the fans a little background on what Ink Master: Grudge Match will entail?
Yeah, totally. Grudge Match is basically the next chapter in Ink Master. It's basically a bunch of people coming on, going head to head with rivals they had on their season. In Ink Master when these artists compete a lot of the time stuff does get really, really personal cause as artists you know you put your heart and soul into the artwork that you do, and tattooing is no different. So a lot of the times somebody will go home before another person and they feel like it was a bad move or not deserved and people really want to call back other artists who they felt like took their opportunity and took their chance so the show, in a lot of the episodes, it gets really serious and it gets really personal because people are basically fighting for their integrity as an artist. They are fighting to set the record straight and people really bring it.
What do you look for when judging a tattoo in the competition?
Well, you know, regular Ink Masters - the judges that they have, they are judging on our line, shading, color saturation, how solid the tattoo is, longevity, background, and style. For us, we judge on pretty much a similar basis, but since these artists are coming back basically with a second chance to show the world who they are as artists and who they are as tattooers, we really want to see something special. DJ and Cleen and I, we traveled the world in the last few years and we’ve seen a lot of tattoos. We’ve seen a lot of very good tattoos and because of that, we want to see something really special. You know, we want to see who can really deliver and show us something really unique that we haven’t seen before and have it be solid with solid outlines, solid color. We want to see a tattoo that looks confident. We want to look at a piece of art that looks like it was made with intention. And of course, we want it to be fun.
What did it mean to you to be the first woman to win the title on Ink Master in season 8?
I mean it was definitely cool being the first woman to win, but being a woman never had any importance on my workload or how hard I strived or my integrity as a tattooer. I always just wanted to be treated equally. In no way did I want myself being a woman to separate me from the guys. If anything its been upsetting to me that I’ve been so separate from the other, you know, Ink Masters, because it's like yeah I am the first woman to win, finally. We deserved it for so long, but I don’t want that to put me in another category because I am equal to all of those dudes and all of those dudes are equal to me.
If anything, I am striving for men and women being equal in all plains - especially in tattooing. I think the thing I am most proud of is I was a representative that its possible, but I don’t like to move forward and keep separation from myself and all the other winners because ultimately, we all went through the same challenge. We all woke up in the same loft every day, we all had the same adversities in front of us. We all had the same opportunities. For me, I don’t feel that being a woman made it any harder or any easier.
As a female tattoo artist have you come up against any social stigmas since it is a male-dominated profession?
At the very beginning of my career when I was just learning how to tattoo, my apprenticeship was really brutal. I went through a lot of really unnecessary, inappropriate, sh*t because I was a woman. That was just so ridiculous and hurtful and degrading, but it made me strong as hell. It made me so strong and I don’t know if I would have been as strong now if I didn’t face all those harsh realities so quickly in my career. And since then in our industry, I’ve always been treated from everyone - from men, women, from old-timers, newbies, you know I have only been treated with respect.
If somebody has a problem with me being a woman then they have a problem with women in general. I think that women every single day have to face adversity. They have to fight for men to take them seriously and equally and that’s not our fault. Unfortunately, it’s those men who don’t see it correctly who you know are going to be left behind and be missing out on beautiful people because times are changing with or without them.
Is there any interesting advice that you’d give to a young tattoo artist just starting out?
People ask me this all the time and all I can say is do things the right way. You’re not going to regret doing things the right way. You know, get an apprenticeship, study under a really knowledgeable, talented tattooer who knows what they are doing and apprentice the right way. Don’t try to go on YouTube or any of that crazy sh**. Have a lot, a lot, a lot of respect from the very beginning for this industry that has come such a long way. Make sure you are choosing someone to teach you that understands you and that respects you. Just make sure that the environment that you put yourself in is going to be healthy for you in the long run.
Tattoos have always been around since the early days of man; why do you think the popularity of tattoos has skyrocketed so recently?
Honestly, I feel like people are always intimidated by the unknown and for so long tattooing and the tattoo industry and everything that comes along with it was so unknown it was so taboo. People would be so intimidated to walk into a tattoo shop. And now because of the shows, a lot of the mystery is taken away and I think that pop culture, people are able to see that you know that tattooers are just regular people. They are just normal people that work hard, that are artists. We are all different and there is a different type of tattooer for everyone. I think when you take that mystery away people are more comfortable with becoming part of the club. I think it’s just making people be able to be more aware.
Speaking of the unknown- A bit of fun now, I’ve read you are into anything that has to do with the Extraterrestrial Life, care to elaborate?
Yeah! There’s a lot of sh*t out there. I started getting into the extraterrestrial realm and everything when I was eight. I had an experience when I was little that changed me forever. My mom remembers it, I remember it and ever since then my mom not only believed me but she saw the effects it had on me and was there for it and everything. So, since then we have been researching together, she’s always understood and supported me. I’ve researched my whole life and met a bunch of other people that had similar experiences, and for a really long time as a kid I thought that I was f*cking crazy cause of what I saw and so as a teenager, I NEVER talked about it. Because, first of all, when you’re a girl teenager named Ryan Malarkey you’re made fun of and I lived in a trailer park with a single mom.
So, when you come out with these crazy extraterrestrial stories people think I am a f*cking nut. So, I kept my mouth shut for a long time and then when I got a little older and comfortable with myself, I started opening my mouth a little bit and actually starting conversations with other like-minded people. What I found is, you know, so many people have had so many crazy experiences and there are so many things left unsolved and unsaid. It's just amazing to be able to be comfortable enough and confident enough to have a conversation about things that can’t be explained. These days I feel like there is more evidence proving that they are here and that they do exist then evidence proving that there not.
Lastly, where do you find your inspiration whether it is the inspiration to tattoo or the inspiration to run your own business where does it come from?
Well, um, all over the place. I do this thing like a lot of artists I’m sure do; I basically go through phases, right, like recently my most recent phase is jewelry tattoos. I love jewelry tattoos. And now my next phase is going to be something completely different. But it's really based on my lifestyle and where I am at in life - what esthetically catches my eye, what interests me.
I always say how like Picasso had all those different periods. You know he went through his blue period and he went through his impressionist period and he went through his realism period. For me as an artist tattooing its really, really similar. It just depends on where I’m at in life and what I’m feeling. A lot of my inspiration comes from furniture - I love antiquing. I love antique stores and garage sales. Just to see what people throw away is like that sh*t is so beautiful. It’s amazing to me that those artists were able to create all of that out of nowhere, it's so inspiring.
Ink Master: Grudge Match airs Tuesdays at 10 pm EST on the Paramount Network.