Tricks of the Trade: Tattoo Titans

Tattoo Titans (Photo: CMT)
Tattoo Titans (Photo: CMT)

What do you get if you take Studio Art 101, Chopped, and a desire to ink up your body? CMT’s Tattoo Titans, a surprisingly educational new competition series.

Tattoos do nothing for me, so it surprised me how much I found myself enjoying CMT’s new competition series Tattoo Titans. This show has adapted the competitive ink-slinging genre to the Chopped model, creating a much more palatable entry into the world of tattooing. There are no season-long character arcs, no stretches in creating “new” challenges, no need to introduce twists: it’s four contestants doing what they do over the course of three rounds for $10,000.

What can someone who knows nothing about tattooing learn about the craft? Here’s what I picked up from last Thursday’s premiere:

  • Customers are known as “skins.” I mean, I get it, but there’s an unsettling Hannibal Lecter tone to that terminology.
  • The quality of the interview has an impact on the quality of the tattoo. After the parameters of the challenge are explained to the contestants, they meet with their clients to discuss what the tattoo will look like. I’m not sure how much in the loop the clients skins are, as some have only a vague notion of what they permanently want to add to their bodies. As the first round shows us, the artists who are less in-depth in their questions struggled in the area of creativity of execution. The ultimate winner of the episode asked his client for the story behind her tattoo, which answered a number of design issues with a single question.
  • Critiques are taken seriously. The evaluations after each round are where this show shines. Both the contestants and the panel of judges look at the creations with a critical eye, but not in an unnecessary negative fashion. The criticisms are constructive, include the use of on-screen markings to indicate what the judges are describing. What I found most interesting about the evaluations was how working on a three-dimensional canvas was not discussed, despite the increased difficulty in working in such a medium.
  • Economy of color has many effects. Each round of the competition is timed, ranging in two to four hours. That time includes the interviews, pre-drawing, and the actual inking. As time ticks down, the contestants have to adjust strategy to complete their works without creating a blotch. Many of the time-saving strategies involved the use of color, such as using certain combinations to create more of a pop while skimping on other colors because there would not be enough time to create the desired outcome.

Even if you have zero desire of ever getting a tattoo, the educational component of Tattoo Titans is fascinating. The stakes of the show are at an appropriate level and most of the content of an hour-long episode is interesting. When it gets to the actual inking you can probably fast-forward, but the critiques—which comprise at least half the show—are well worth your time.

Tattoo Titans airs on CMT (not sure why, but okay) Thursdays at 10pm.

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    About Mike McComb 669 Articles
    Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it "TV Camp." After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: