Only a few episodes into Season 12 of Ink Master: Battle of The Sexes, one contestant, in particular, has already stood out above the rest: the 27-year-old tattoo artist from Lansing, Michigan, Cam Pohl. He entered the competition with a fiery focus and unyielding confidence, making a name for himself all over the country with his versatile tattoo styles and ability. Cam's focus, confidence, and artistic mastery had put a target on his back since day one of the competition, and the other Ink Master contestants clashed with his straight forward personality as early as episode one.
In Season 12 of Ink Master: Battle of The Sexes, teams of male and female tattoo artists battle against each other to win $100,000 and the coveted title of Ink Master, and Cam is in it to win it all. By episode three, the women's team felt so threatened by his talent and irritated by his confidence that they gave him the hardest design and human canvas for the competition to showcase their knack for legibility to create surrealistic tattoos. Although he was given the hardest design and location of the body for the tattoo, Cam rose to the challenge and proved to his competitors that he is in the Ink Master competition to win.
This talented, young tattooer has been proving to viewers that he has the ability and six years of tattooing experience to back up his confidence. After seeing the backlash he's been receiving on the show, Screen Rant sat down with Pohl to talk about what how he's been portrayed on Ink Master thus far this season, his favorite tattoo styles, and what viewers can expect to see in the remainder of the season.
Tell me about yourself. How did you get started tattooing?
As far as tattooing's concerned, I've always been interested in art itself; I was always drawing rather than paying attention in class... I was going into graphic design at the community college here, but that was for like a whole year and a half before I just dropped out and decided it really wasn't for me. And I was actually walking home one day and just walked by the tattoo shop I'm currently working at now and just walked in, and was like, "Is there anything I can do?" To get my foot in the door sort of thing, I popped in two or three weeks in a row before they're like, "Do you want to mop some floors?" And I was like "Yup."
What was the age when you began tattooing?
21 is when I actually started tattooing. I bought this machine off of eBay when I was 17. I kind of had done a handful of tattoos over the course of a couple years, but then I got "cease and desist" letter from an angry parent, so I couldn't do that anymore.
Were you a fan of Ink Masters before you were asked to be on it?
I had always heard about it. I never actually sat down and taken it seriously. I was always kind of under the impression everyone's always like, "It's all about the drama. It's barely about tattooing." It does show quite a bit. The way it focuses on things is very much how they think the public would respond the best. But after being on the actual show itself, it was definitely a little more eye-opening as to what it takes to actually go through and do well and succeed on the show. It made me a little more interested by physically being on it and having that vantage point. But before that, I hadn't really watched much of it.
So, how did you end up on the show?
I had actually been contacted before about a previous season. Then I was told like a few days before I was supposed to go, they're like, "Hey, this isn't your season. Sorry for the inconvenience, but we will keep you in mind for future seasons." I was all pissed because I kind of rearranged my schedule a little bit... well not a little bit; kind of a lot a bit to even be able to do the filming. I was all mad and salty about, but when they asked me again, I was like, "Hey, OK."
I read that you told Ink Masters that your greatest strength is your versatility. Do you have a favorite style?
I've had such a dramatic shift from where I first started tattooing to now. I've really started to focus on black and grey stuff... black and grey work as a whole. Just really trying to perfect this one thing before I start to worry about moving on. I've been so focused on doing black and grey and everything like that; I had set up everything to basically try to be as efficient as possible. When I went back and did color, it was so different. It's something I still love to do so much; you just kind of put your head down and focus on this one style so much, you turn around and go back to doing what you were doing two years ago, thinking, "Oh I still got it in my pocket" sort of thing. And you do. It's like riding a bike. It was definitely wild to go back and do a total 180 and do what I was doing before. Now, I really love much more like pseudo-realism from black and grey, kind of including neotraditional and floral elements. I really don't enjoy straight up picture-to-picture realism.
In the episodes so far, the women have really put a target on your back and view you as their biggest threat. How did you feel about it?
Honestly, that was like a little jarring; the whole experience of being singled out so quickly and so hard. In my life in general, I've always kind of been boisterous and obnoxious; it's always been very lighthearted and very fun. Because you'll see on the show that anytime I say something or kind of make a jab or kind of make a comment, it's always like I'm laughing or trying to have a good time, and I thought that was pretty obvious. It was more ill-received than I thought it was going to be. Every time I would approach a situation with confidence, people would roll their eyes. It was very strange because I thought that it was always a positive personality trait to have. But then there are the people who are not sure of themselves and not sure of everything they're doing, and really not able to have that same mindset. Apparently that rubbed them the wrong way.
Why do you think the other contestants keyed in on you?
It was pretty easy for them, just because you had the whole opposite team that didn't want me to succeed and then like 80 percent of my own team that didn't want me to succeed. So, it was obviously like a pretty simple choice. It was like low hanging fruit to just be like, "Oh, well f*ck this guy." It kind of just gave them a target to worry about, rather than just focusing on their own work, which in my opinion isn't the best plan.
On that note, which was easier for you: the flash challenges or the tattoo work on your own?
Oh, absolutely being on my own. It's always been a very solo experience for me, just like art as a whole. You just put your headphones on, you look at your piece of paper, and that's what you're doing. It's not like you're gathering insight and help from all of these people. I know there are definitely art styles where you do do that, but that's just never how I operated. I always tried, whenever I'm tattooing, to make it as similar to that environment for me as possible. I've always just been kind of like focused on the task at hand. If I do kind of reach out and ask for advice from someone who's better at a particular style or if I have any questions, I'll do that as needed. But when people come in and start interjecting sh*t and it's not asked for, it's very condescending, especially when I don't view them as a person I respect or anything like that. It's like, "I don't know you, and you don't know me. So for you to come in here, just because the show has put you above me, doesn't work for me."
You tweeted recently that what is not being shown on the show was actually much worse than what made the cut for the episodes. Can you give us an example without giving anything away?
I was actually really worried about episode 4 as a whole because you've always got these people that are like, "Oh, It's all drama. They're focusing on these fake fights." It was really difficult for me to even be on the set of the show, because 90 percent of the people on the show just didn't want me there. During my critiquing of that tattoo, I could hear everyone talking behind me, and at one point, Katie, the current judge, was like "Why doesn't anyone like you?" and totally pointed it all out. It was like everyone went off; it was this whole sounding board... "He's such a mosquito,""He doesn't shut up;" just blind insults. Had nothing to do with art, it had nothing to do with what I was putting out on the show. It was just a personal attack on me because they didn't like whatever they saw in two weeks of knowing me. Basically, like no one was sticking up for me in any way, and it's like I couldn't really say anything. It was a very strange, backed-in-a-corner situation.
Were there any people on the show you thought you could trust who ended up backstabbing you?
There was a part that was kind of funny; like an off-to-the-side sort of thing. Me, Justin, and Laura kind of made a little "Hey man, I appreciate your art. I'll stick up for you when you need it, and you do the same for me." Just like make each others' lives a little easier. But then literally seeing that, when he was like, "He needs to go," you know Justin, Jake, and Fon, were just basically like, "F*ck this guy." And I was just like, "What the hell is that?" I never really connive. I never really went after anyone's personality traits. I never went after them as people. If I ever said anything, it was just like, "I was just really not impressed with your tattoo, I'm sorry." It was the whole premise of the show.
It feels like Ink Master kind of edited it in a way to make you look like the "bad guy." What did you think about that?
Oh yeah, I knew that was coming. That's the thing. It's like, I don't view it like you're the "bad guy;" it's like nobody would really put themselves out there to have a personality and just be who they were. Everyone was so scared of backlash or people on their team viewing them inappropriately. Everyone was just terrified, so they'd never say anything, they'd never speak out, they'd never be the first person to take a step in any sort of direction. It made for a very lukewarm experience, and that's not what I went on there to do.
How do you feel about the way the show portrays you?
I mean, obviously I said all of those things that I said. It sucks because there was one where it cut my response in half, and it didn't let me finish. It was the very first episode when I was just... "All of these people think I'm some pretty boy a**hole - and sure, I might be pretty and a little bit of an a**hole..." Then they cut it. But in reality, I was like, "But there's a lot more to me than that. I hope to portray myself through my art and not just the way I look and act." I though it was going to set up how I was and what I was going for. I wasn't really able to set that up. It's whatever. I knew what I was getting myself into. People still thought it was funny, so whatever. I know I'm always going to rub someone the wrong way. "He's so full of himself." I've been hearing that sh*t my whole life. I'm not going to stand up on Twitter and be like, "That's not really who I am!" It's like, who cares?
What was the most enticing part of the prize for you? Was it the $100,000, the featured story in Ink Magazine, or the title?
I don't think they ever really wanted me to say it - it's not about titles or monetary value. It's more the validation for me, personally. Like, I grew up in a family where "If you ain't first, you're last" sort of thing. The whole 2nd, 3rd, 4th place was never good enough. You've got people saying, "Well, you made it onto the competition; that's pretty good in and of itself," but that kind of just opened the door. That was just the first step. That doesn't equate to an accomplishment to me. I wanted to go and prove to myself, and to the people who basically doubted me, that they were wrong. That's the point I was trying to make - this was the only thing I cared about and it had nothing to do with recognition. It was more for me, more personal... kind of being able to sleep better at night, knowing that you did it. You set out to finish the race that you started.
What can viewers expect to see in the rest of the season?
My mom has been kind of in tune with what people are saying about the show, saying it's not fair or it's sexist or whatever. But in the end, good art definitely does show up, and it's really impressive to see what some of the people were able to do given the circumstances that we were given. In the first probably five or six episodes, you still got people there just to rock the boat, to make good TV. I get that. If you just put 16 super awesome, quiet, keep-to-themselves type of artists, you're going to see some good tattoos, but they want fun TV and they want personalities. So, if you've got like ten tattoos, and they're all amazing... it's like the American Idol auditions. Everyone loves to see the bad ones, the train wrecks; it sheds light on just how good the good ones are, how much better they are. Look, it's f*cking hard what we're doing sometimes, and not everyone can do it, but it does show up. There are some genuinely impressive tattoos that I was like, damn, I did not know you were capable of pulling that sort of thing off.
Who would you consider was the biggest female threat?
Right off the bat, just drawing next to and watching Laura work was the most intimidating thing I've ever seen. Just from day one, I was like, Jesus Christ, she's like an art savant. She's super quick and super intuitive and just knows what the f*ck she's doing. She was always the most apparent threat as a whole, just because of her raw talent.
Who would you consider your biggest male competitor?
I actually didn't really think much of Jason until he pulled out that f*cking moose thing. That thing was sick. That was awesome. He had done some questionable stuff in the past, and then he pulled that out of his a** and I was like, "Oh sh*t!" He's definitely got some really quick, kind of off-the-wall kind of illustration skills, which I think is kind of underrated, because that, for me, a really difficult aspect of working on the show was the time limit, because I'll work on a drawing for eight hours. I love to nitpick. I love for everything to be perfect before I think of putting it on skin. They ask you to cut that time by 75 percent. Then people always ask why you make those choices, because I didn't have time to think.
What did you take away from the show? And what are your plans for the future for tattooing?
I think that's the most interesting part, as a whole. At the end of the day, we are all going home and doing the exact same job as every other tattoo artist. That's what I love about tattooing. The biggest names or the kid who just did his first tattoo are essentially doing the exact same job. There are no tiers. It's just like... we're tattooing. It's that never-ending desire to be better. As soon as you want to stop learning, then you should stop tattooing. Ink Master as a whole was a fantastic learning experience for me just how seeing how other artists work. Dealing with that whole situation has kind of put a spin on what tattooing is and where it's going. It was really nice to work with such a talented individuals. We're all going to go back and doing the same sort of thing; we're given a new perspective and we're gonna go and try to make bigger and better tattoos. I'm definitely going to try and travel more and see what's out there. It's definitely motivated me to sit down with other artists and absorb from watching and working with you. Maybe I'll start branching out a little bit more.