Evan said his piece to camera, explaining what creativity meant when it came to tattooing. It only took three attempts to get it right.
"A human canvas often has their mind set on something that simply wouldn't work from a design perspective, or they want it somewhere on their body where the tattoo won't flow. Any creative artist worth their ink should be able to talk their canvas into something more appropriate and esthetically pleasing."
Finally winning his first flash challenge had been gratifying. None of the remaining seven competitors had envisaged a cake decorating challenge and the curses had been many and varied. Evan owed his skill with a palette knife and a piping bag to his mom. Producing a design based on Wormhole Extreme had certainly been creative and positively inspired. Rodney's steady hand had almost taken out the challenge by producing sheet music and a keyboard in black on white icing. He wondered who would be first to approach him with their ideas for influencing the skull picks. It was no secret Rodney was gunning for Radek and he fully expected a visit from Rodney proposing an alliance; that conversation would definitely make it to air.
Rodney, Ronon and Miko were his biggest competition; should he aim on taking one of them out, or go for the weakest links? In Evan’s opinion, Carson and Laura were the weakest of the remaining artists, Carson’s win at the realistic body parts elimination tattoo notwithstanding. Those two were rivals from way back, and neither could pull off a decent black and grey tattoo to save themselves. An Ink Master should be able to shade a black and grey tattoo in such a way it appeared three-dimensional. Laura’s bright new School critters with their googly eyes were no match for Miko’s or indeed Evan’s own black and grey pieces. He had another piece to camera to influence the viewers so they’d vote for him. In the end, it was an easy decision; Evan wanted to win against the best, so Carson and Laura had better be prepared for whatever he could throw their way.
When the seven remaining contestants settled in the living area for some film-able conversation, the camera operators circled like vultures as Laura got to her feet and pointed first to one and then another of them, saying why she believed they should have been eliminated instead of Samantha, and how it didn’t matter as she was going to win the prize money and all that went with it. She gave as good as she got, answering each of Rodney’s jibes and Carson’s pointed criticisms of her work with enough colourful language that the editors would find it difficult to find enough words that didn’t required bleeping. On her left arm, the tattooed flames from which the phoenix sprang seemed to crackle with every insult she flung at the others, and she even managed to goad Miko into screaming back at her.
Eventually, Evan flung his hands in the air and declared he’d had enough. He pulled himself up from the corner of couch where he’d been slouching and stomped out of the room. The lack of sleep and the stress of being reality TV contestants was getting to all of them.
The expressions on Oliver and Chris' faces when they met the following morning for the elimination tattoo gave Evan pause for thought. It was going to be a doozy. As the judges were testing creativity, it most likely wouldn't be a Japanese tattoo; there were too many rules to be followed. Evan quite liked doing water lilies and geishas, but dragons gave him a headache. He made a mental note to study up on the tricks of good Japanese tattoos, as there had been a Japanese challenge in every series of Ink Master and they were probably due for one.
Dave gave his spiel about creativity, and then the metaphorical ax fell – seven human canvases would be getting their first tattoo, which would feature themselves as the hero of the piece. Seven crazy canvases entered the room. Evan wasn’t the only one who thought the human canvas volunteers were crazy, although he was grateful for the seemingly never-ending stream of people desperate enough to get a free tattoo from a perfect stranger. He wanted that $100,000 prize money to set up his own shop.
"Evan, as you won the flash challenge you have the power to assign the human canvases. Choose wisely. Be strategic."
A bespectacled older man, a woman of about his own age, a man with sticking up hair, a young man who looked barely old enough to get a tattoo, a tall, gorgeous man with brown hair and a ready smile walked into the room…wow! All at once he realized the whole 'waves crashing on the shore' description of the way a wave of lust could wash over someone was true; it was exactly what he was feeling. He straightened up and walked toward the line of people, trying to disguise his suddenly indrawn breath. He hoped the television make-up kept the heat he felt in his face from being obvious. Evan's decision was made; he was going to give this man his first tattoo and it was going to be the best ink of his career. He barely noticed the remainder of the canvases fall into line.
"What'll it be, Evan?"
Dave's voice jerked him back to reality. Evan gave himself a mental shake, reminding himself he was on a TV show and the producers would milk anything thing they thought would bump the ratings.
"What do you want?" he asked the first canvas.
The older of the two women looked him directly in the eye. "Myself, as a witch, standing next to a cauldron of bubbling liquid and holding a crystal ball."
"I always wanted to be a detective, so I want a magnifying glass, a pipe, a violin, some foot prints, and I'll be wearing a deer stalker hat and a cape. There should be a full moon, and a hound in the background," announced the man standing next to her.
"I do not want Sherlock," said Radek to Rodney. "That is impossible."
Evan nodded thoughtfully. "Where do you want it?"
"On the back of my calf."
"No way will that all fit there," said Rodney. "I hope he gives it to Laura."
The object of Evan's desire wanted a beanstalk, with himself as Jack, climbing up to the clouds. It wasn't Evan's idea of a winning design, but he could be creative. He didn't linger, moving quickly down the rest of line, ascertaining where and what the remaining canvases had in mind. Handing out the skulls took less than a minute and he returned to his seat with the others.
Dave invited the canvases to read out the names printed on the bottom of the skulls.
"Laura," announced the old man.
"Muppets for a muppet," said Carson, grateful Evan hadn’t given him the old guy who saw himself sitting in an armchair in Statler’s place as half of Waldorf and Statler. Six hours wouldn't be long enough to complete two armchairs on either side of a fireplace. He hoped he’d get the kid who wanted to be a dragon rider from Anne McCaffrey’s ‘Pern’ series.
The younger woman was next. "Miko."
“She shall not be getting the Mad Hatter’s tea party,” said Miko firmly, aware of the camera recording her reaction. “I will be convincing her otherwise.”
Rodney snorted. “Good luck with that.” He didn’t bother restraining a loud snigger when the canvas who saw himself as Sherlock read out Radek’s name. “I told you Evan would stick it to you.” He rather hoped he’d get the man with the shock of dark hair who saw himself piloting a spaceship. Of course, Rodney would talk him into changing that to something where the man’s features would be more easily seen and there was no way he was going to tattoo a virgin’s ribs; they had no idea of the pain involved and it was a difficult area to work on, even though Rodney prided himself on his ability to tattoo anything anywhere. His second choice would have to be the witch-woman. He didn’t want the stupid beanstalk, even though he knew that would be the one Evan would assign him, as it was the most difficult one to demonstrate any sort of creativity. He was pleasantly surprised when he got ‘rocket man’.
Nobody expected Evan to choose ‘Jack’ for himself. Ronon scored the dragon rider, while Carson was given the witch. The artists and canvases shook hands and headed off to plan their designs.
“Hi, I’m Evan.” ‘Jack’ had a firm handshake and a lovely smile.
“Not Jack?” responded Evan with a grin.
“No, not even my middle name, which is Sinclair, before you ask. Named for my grandfather on my mother’s side,” he added.
“So, why Jack and the beanstalk?” He needed to get a feel of what parts of that particular fairy tale were important to David and why he wanted them permanently on his skin.
“I like beans.”
“And…?” Evan raised an eyebrow. There had to be more to it than simply liking beans.
David, it eventuated, was the last in a family of market gardeners. The business had been recently taken over by a large company. He didn’t like the wholesale use of chemicals employed by the company, and had resigned before they fired him.
Evan murmured his commiserations and handed over his portfolio. “Here, keep talking while you look at this.”
“I’m looking into growing organic micro-herbs and a range of specialty vegetables for restaurants.” David expounded on the expansion of that particular industry, thanks to the explosion of cooking shows as he slowly turned the pages. “That’s amazing!” He reached out a finger to gently touch a wolf that adorned someone’s shoulder blade. “Jack climbed the beanstalk and achieved his dreams. Oh, I’ve no plans to steal harps or geese or anything,” he spluttered as he caught Evan’s muttered ‘Thief’. “It’s a metaphor for climbing to the top to reach my goal. Although a goose that laid golden eggs would come in handy.”
“It sure would. I’m pleased to hear you’re not planning a career as a burglar. Where were you thinking of getting your beanstalk again?” Evan steered him back to the matter at hand. David had said his ribs, but maybe he’d changed his mind after hearing the various, not-so-quiet comments by the artists on rib pieces. He gave a mental groan when David put down the book to fish around in his pockets and finally extract some folded pieces of paper. He knew he was going to need every bit of creativity he could muster; what David wanted was going to be something impossible to achieve in six hours, and it wasn’t going to be easy to get him to change his mind. Bitter experience had taught him people bringing pictures of their dream tattoo were usually inflexible.
“I have a couple of ideas.” David spread out four images.
The first was indeed a rib piece. The trunk of the vine twisted up along a woman’s side, from the trunk at her hip to where delicate fronds curled around her breast. Evan drew a breath of relief. It would be easy enough to talk David out of the very feminine design, given his lack of tits.
The second beanstalk wound up a man’s spine. “I like the colors on this one, and the texture of the vine, but I’ve heard that getting a tattoo along the spine is really painful. Also, if it’s on my back, I can’t see it, and that rather misses the point of me getting it.”
“Everyone’s pain tolerance is different, but, yeah, spine tattoos can be pretty intense. There’s a lot of nerves there.”
“I don’t like the castle on his neck in this one— “
“So, you don’t actually want the clouds or the giant or the goose with her golden eggs?” interrupted Evan.
“No, just me, climbing up the vine. I brought some pictures of beanstalks and the leaves. I thought it might be helpful.” David pushed the fourth sheet of paper in Evan’s direction.
“Thanks,” he replied abstractedly, and ignored it as he picked up a pencil. “I have an idea. See what you think of this.” Evan turned to a fresh page in his sketchbook and began to draw.
“You have six hours and your time begins…now!” Dave announced the commencement of the elimination challenge in the usual way.
The artists and canvases hurried to get the preparation done as quickly as possible; the more time there was to tattoo, the more chance the piece would be finished.
“No, I don’t like that at all,” resonated loudly across the room and the camera operators hurried to gather around Laura and her canvas. “It’s not what we agreed on. You’ll have to change it.”
“I could have told her that was going to happen,” said Evan. “Too much New School in her design for him. Waldorf doesn’t even look like a Muppet anymore,” he explained.
Evan had been thrilled David loved his design. He’d spent hours getting David’s facial features recognizable on the figure that was in proportion the beanstalk spiralling from the thick trunk at his elbow to the smaller fronds spreading around David’s deltoid. David had extremely nice deltoids, in Evan’s opinion, probably from all the digging he imagined would done by a gardener. He’d made sure the leaves were from bean plants and not vines; it wouldn’t do for a gardener to have the wrong type of leaves.
Dave stood in the middle of the room and gave the time check. “Four hours to go!”
“What does your girlfriend think of you getting a tattoo?” asked Evan casually. Their conversation hadn’t as yet strayed into personal territory. “Or didn’t you tell her?”
“No. No girlfriend to tell. No boyfriend either, but I don’t think Jerry would have minded. He had a wolf on his shoulder blade, almost like the one in your book. He also had a tribal arm band, and a—” David paused and worked on stifling a snigger.
“What? Evan put down his machine as David’s whole body shook with suppressed laughter.
“He really needs to get it removed or something.”
“What? What? You can’t leave things there.”
“It’s a…a…bottle of hot sauce…on his low back…and the sauce…,” gasped David, obviously picturing his former lover’s tattoo, “the sauce is being poured down his ass crack. I ended up having to keep my eyes shut every time we fucked. Say, you can’t get him a spot on that other show, where they do cover ups?”
Evan laughed along with David, but shook his head. He had no influence with any of the show’s producers.
“Come on, have a drink of water and let’s get back to it.”
“What about you? Is anyone missing you?” asked David a few minutes later.
“Ian and I split up eight months ago when he moved to New Zealand.”
“Did he have any ink?”
After they’d exhausted the topic of tattoos good, bad and everything in between, the conversation continued desultorily as Evan concentrated on what he was doing, all the while considering the possibility of getting to know David better, much better, after he’d won the title of Ink Master.
“Three hours to go!” announced Dave.
Dave, Oliver and Reggie, Evan’s favorite camera operator, entered Evan’s shop and circled around David. This inspection of Evan’s progress usually made him nervous, but today it was different. David had turned out to be a practically perfect canvas, sitting still as required, as well as being interesting to talk to. His eyes were currently closed and he appeared perfectly relaxed.
“What do you think of those leaves?” Dave asked Oliver.
“The line work is clean,” responded Oliver. “Are you intending to add more veins, Evan? Vine leaves should have more detail. Gives 'em more texture.”
“No.” Evan concentrated on finishing the leaf he was working on.
“Beans, of which this is most definitely a beanstalk, belong to the genus Phaseolus, of which there are around thirty-six species. Regardless of which species Evan is reproducing, the leaves do not have particularly prominent veins. I believe you are expecting vine leaves, belonging to the genus Hedera, which you would know as ivy, or in the narrowest sense of the word ‘vine’, a Vitis or grape vine.” David turned in Oliver's direction and opened his eyes the merest slit.
“David is a gardener,” interrupted Evan hurriedly. “He provided me with the specifics of his preferred type of beanstalk.”
“We'll leave you to it,” said Dave as he nudged Oliver out of Evan's shop, while Oliver shook his head and muttered something that Reggie's microphone picked up. Beans would make it into the final cut.
“How long do you suppose those toothpicks of his last? A day? A week? A month? A year?” David's voice rose as he contemplated the longevity of Oliver's trademark toothpick.
“How about a break?” suggested Evan as David sniggered and sat up.
“A short one would be good. I'll just –” He gestured in the direction of the bathrooms.
Evan took advantage of the opportunity to stretch his legs and back. He left his shop to check out how some of others were doing.
Miko had indeed talked her canvas out of the Mad Hatter's tea party. Her canvas now appeared as Alice in a garden. Evan raised an eyebrow and bent forward for a closer look; the inked 'Alice' and Miko's canvas, who introduced herself as Katie, bore little resemblance to one another. Evan couldn't wait to hear the critique on that one. In a word, the nose was jacked. The eyes were off as well.
“Nice flowers,” he commented, even as he wondered at the butterflies. He couldn't understand it; they bore no resemblance to the beautiful, jewel-colored butterflies he'd seen Miko produce.
“Little bread-and-butterflies kiss the tulips, and the sun is like a toy balloon,” sang Katie. “You know, from the Disney cartoon 'Alice in Wonderland', she added, seeing Evan’s nonplussed expression.
“Oh, um, never seen it,” said Evan. He caught Miko's eye and grinned.
“Payback's a bitch,” she warned him, and turned back to her work.
Rodney had also convinced his canvas to change his mind about his design and its location. Placing the image low on his canvas’ back, Rodney had portrayed the man standing in front of a Tiger Moth biplane. Evan had no trouble making out the old-fashioned flying goggles and helmet held by the man, allowing Rodney to ink the distinctive shock of dark hair. Evan’s fingers itched to touch the wonderfully textured hair on the man’s back and then compare it to that on his head. Damn, it was shaping up to be Rodney’s best piece of the competition; a fourth win would make him even more insufferable.
He and Rodney exchanged jibes for the camera, and then Evan headed back to his shop. David had returned and was waiting for him.
“One hour. You have one hour left.” Dave had to repeat his line three times thanks to a minor glitch with the sound production.
“Technically it’s now fifty-four minutes,” said David.
Evan snorted. “Not good television though. You have fifty-four minutes left,” he parroted. “Wait until we get to the final countdown.”
“You will be finished in time, won’t you?” David didn’t bother to hide his concern in the softly voiced question.
“Yeah. I’ll be going right until the last second, but it’ll be done.”
“Then I’ll be quiet so as not to distract you.”
The final fifty or so minutes flew by and then Dave called out the familiar phrases. “Machines down. No more ink!”
“What do you think?”
“It’s…it’s amazing.” David stared at his reflection in the mirror. Slowly he rotated his arm in and out as he examined his new ink. “It’s like you crawled inside my head and found the very image I’d dreamed of. Every time I look at it, it’s going to inspire me. It’s going to remind me of you.
“Can I…can we…after…?” he murmured incoherently, after checking there were no cameramen in the immediate vicinity.
Evan also scanned the room. In the shop to his left, Radek’s canvas seemed to be content with the final result, even though it lacked a number of his initial requests. The shop on his right had been empty since Kavanagh’s elimination in the second round. “I…yeah.” He and David had talked enough during the six hours to know they were on the same page. “But we’ll have to wait until filming’s finished. Unless your beanstalk gets me eliminated.”
“Not a chance!” protested David. “I’ll find you,” he promised.
“I know you will.”
The atmosphere in the loft was tense; it always was before an elimination. The human canvas jury deliberated between the tattoos done by Miko and Carson, eventually sending Miko for elimination. To nobody’s surprise, Oliver named Carson and Laura to accompany Miko. Ronon’s piece had won tattoo of the day, narrowly beating Evan, whose line work and shading had been particularly commended. The detail Ronon managed in six hours of the kid riding the magnificent bronze dragon was, everyone agreed, outstanding. Rodney protested the critique of his placement on the canvas’ back, expounding on the potential for a ‘history of flight’ back piece, with a helicopter in the sky at the lower rib level, merging into a space background over the shoulders showcasing the original space ship suggestion. Chris reiterated several times the judges could only critique what had been done in the six hours.
The background to Carson’s three McBeth-esque witches, none of whom particularly resembled his canvas, the cauldron’s wobbly lines and the poorly executed flames beneath were deemed worse than either of the tattoos produced by Miko or Laura, and he was eliminated.
Rodney, Miko and Evan survived the remainder of the eliminations to compete in the grand finale. Evan came runner-up to Rodney. David was in the studio audience to cheer him on, after tracking him down and embarrassing him at work by presenting him with a dwarf bean plant in a pot. David took great delight in closely examining each one of Evan’s tattoos, and critiquing them, while Evan became an expert in combining various herbs with beans.