Season 4 of Spike's tattooing competition Ink Master is off to a crackling start, with talented tattoo artists fighting to be named the best in the game. Ashley Bennett was one of the hopefuls, and she joined BFTV last week to discuss what it was like for her to go through the reality TV gauntlet - and about her unexpected decision at the end of Tuesday's episode.
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't seen yesterday's episode of Ink Master, this interview reveals a key moment from the episode.
"I loved watching the last three seasons, and figured I'd go for it!" Ashley told us. Yet once she joined the cast of Ink Master, it was a hectic experience. "There's a lot going on while filming," she added. "Far too much to be worried about the camera!"
She has six years of tattooing behind her, but that still placed her on the lower end amongst the season's roster of competitors. Did that disparity concern her? "Yes and no," she said. "Yes, because obviously the more years under your belt usually means more experience, but as you see on the show, that’s not always the case!"
The artists featured on Ink Master are as unique as the works of art that they create, so we asked Ashley how she would describe herself and her style. "To understand my art, you would have to have an appreciation for classic tattooing. I like doing tattoos that look like tattoos, not just a transfer of a picture. A lot of people tend to think nowadays that photorealism is the only kind of tattooing that should be done, and I just don't agree with that," she explained.
"Thankfully, there is a decent-sized group of people in the industry that appreciate traditional tattoos and are still keeping the style alive. I put my own style on my tattoos, so they're my own twist on the traditional tattoo style. My favorite saying is KISS, meaning keep it simple, stupid!"
So we know what she brought to the competition; what did the show teach her? "First off that you need a strong set of brass balls to make it through this competition!" she told us. "And secondly, to not judge people by their appearance, because that's what I did when I first got there, and everyone actually ended up being really cool."
Yet being in front of the Ink Master panel was definitely not cool. "It was pretty nerve-wracking," she admitted. "Being in the line of fire with a group of other people - fellow tattoo artists - watching [it] plus being filmed, it had me in knots! When they gave me feedback, it was pretty even but [there were] definitely some curveballs on other people's work!"
Things came to a head for Ashley in yesterday's episode, when she opted to walk away rather than continue to put herself through the grind. Looking back on that moment now, does she stand by her choice to depart? "Yes," she said. "I don't regret my decision at all. I met a bunch of amazing people and for that I am thankful, but this competition just isn't for me.
"The criticism on my work dug at hard me to the point where I was literally sick every day. I barely ate and ended up losing a couple of pounds," she revealed. "I guess I'm just not as competitive as I used to be. I missed home a lot as well. I can make excuses as to why I left all day, but in the end, it was the right decision for me."
Ink Master continues next Tuesday at 10 PM ET/PT on Spike; for more on Season 4, you can also read our interview with artist Roland Pacheco. For more on Ashley, you can also follow her on Twitter (@ashleybtattoo).