Spike's Ink Master has been rolling on through its current season - so to get caught up, we chatted with Lydia Bruno to ask her what the reaction was when Ashley Bennett quit the show, her own perspective on women in the tattoo industry, and how she got to the point where she ended up in the competition.
When we spoke to Ashley, she explained her rationale behind leaving, and we asked Lydia to tell us what it was like for the other artists to see one of their own exit under those circumstances. The reaction wasn't what you might expect from people in competition with each other. "She actually tried to leave twice. The first time she tried to leave, I sat her down and we had a private conversation about, if you're going to leave, at least leave on a tattoo," Lydia explained, telling us, "Half of us tried to get her and relax and stay."
But we've already established that being on Ink Master is a high-pressure environment that is far from the norm of what tattoo artists are used to. "Once you step into it, you're locked into it. You have to go forward. The only way to go out would be to take Ashley's route," Lydia told us, adding that, "Every day was harder than the day before. Every challenge is harder. For me, it got harder every day."
For her, that meant rising to the challenge of turning out work at a TV pace. "It's hard for me as an artist to do artwork on the fly that my heart's not into," she added. "If your heart's not into what you're doing, and you know you have to do it, it can skew the artistic perspective."
What it wasn't necessarily about was her gender. Tattooing is a male-dominated industry, and so unsurprisingly Ink Master is a male-heavy competition, but just the fact that she's a woman was really irrelevant in the game. "As far as the show goes it wasn't. As far as the actual industry, it is definitely harder," she said. "I got along with all the guys. I work in a male-dominated tattoo shop, so it didn't affect me too much to be around the male side of it. In my mind, I was competing more against the women than the men. It wasn't even about gender."
"Our group, we love each other," she continued. "We got along great in the house. There's a little bit of bickering here and there. But when the cameras were off, we all hung out. We drew together. We shared artwork. We helped each other out where we could. There were a few people that stayed out of that. But in most of our opinions, the artwork stands for itself. Even after the show, we're all really good friends."
We haven't seen a lot of Lydia in the first few episodes that have aired, so we asked her directly: how true is the Lydia we seen on TV to the real person? And who is she, really? She gave us a little background and insight into what drives her. "I was born in London, and consider myself to be an artist since birth," she explained. "My artwork appears to me just as it does to everyone else, new and foreign. I never have a plan [for] how it will end up; I just let it flow from whatever pool it chooses to come from. My mediums include ink, blood, coffee, and fire."
And if that's not cool enough for you, she has a wide variety of other passions as well, some of which might break your brain. "I will be releasing a book of art and 'poetry' as soon as I find the avenue to take to get it published," she told us. "I am also an amateur boxer. I am a child of a mathematician, brilliant innovator and engineer, so math and science have been a part of me since my heart started beating; I like to get lost within theoretical astrophysics, and discussions on the counterproductive daunting task of laying out scenarios for why we are and where we will be."
"I am [also] involved in a new company called Simpli Unique, with the goal of getting otherwise unseen underground artwork and artists into the main stream via electronic device protectors."
Let's recap. Lydia can not only create a brilliant piece of art on your body, but she can also have an informed discussion with you about astrophysics, and punch you in the face if you give her any attitude. Would you want to cross her? Probably not, but we do want to hang out with her.
So with all that she's got going for her, why take a break to do reality TV? "I was asked to do it, and once the opportunity was presented, I knew if i didn't take it on head-first, I would wonder forever," she explained, adding that "I have the utmost respect for all my fellow artists and judges who participated. No one knows the amount of guts and courage it took to put ourselves and artwork out their to be judged by millions. We put our careers on the line - some of us for your entertainment, some of us as a challenge to ourselves."
For her, the motivation fell in the second category. "I'm very proud of myself that I put myself out there and actually followed through with everything," she reflected. "In real life, I'm a very shy person. I'm pretty introverted. And this is a way I forced myself to overcome that whole aspect of myself."
"I truly believe that anything is possible," she told us. "And I have not even begun to climb the mountain of impossible tasks. I truly feel I was put on this earth to change it or shift its consciousness somehow using whatever gifts I was given." With the series giving her nationwide exposure, she's off to a pretty good start.
Ink Master continues next Tuesday at 10 PM ET/PT on Spike; for more on Lydia, be sure you're following her on Twitter (@inkbylydia).