Chris Blinston, a former Marine, has the impressive physical presence of a Rottweiler and the subtlety of an atomic bomb. In other words, he's perfect for reality TV.
The artist and owner of Coral Springs' No Hard Feelings Tattoo Gallery is one of the contestants on Ink Master, a show airing on Spike TV. He was pumped to win the contest from the moment he was cast: "When I sat down with my beautiful girlfriend, Audra, right after I received the call, the 'green light' to do the show, we talked about my goals. Audra said if I was going to leave for months, leave my three children, new home, business, and many community volunteer positions, my only goal should be to do my best and win. So that's it. I left Florida for New York in February with one goal: win the $100,000, be the next 'Ink Master,' and give it everything I have, at any cost, and with 100 percent effort."
Ink Master, a competition series now in its sixth incarnation, is judged by local tattoo celebrity Chris Núñez, world-renowned tattooist Oliver Peck, and Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro. The popular show pools from an ever-growing pond of tattoo artists and pits them in competitions that test their skills as artists in general and as inkers in the varied genres of the tattoo world.
"Tattooing has become a huge part of our culture this century," Blinston says. "It is as mainstream as motorcycles and burger joints. There have been a dozen different kinds of TV shows for tattooing; some are reality, some are game-show competitions. This show is real and gets tough, and what happens to the artists under stress, food and sleep deprivation, and social interaction causes real responses of hurt, anger, sadness, and even a fight-or-flight emotion to come out."
Blinston has 18 years of experience as a tattooist, but he got his start while deployed in 1994 with the Marine Corps on assignment with a special-operations unit in Bosnia. There, he whiled away his downtime by drawing portraits of his colleagues to send home to their families as Christmas presents.
Then, he says, "My Marine friends convinced me that getting a mail-order tattoo kit was a great idea. So we ordered it, and I started tattooing in the barracks. I'm a self-taught artist." His skills were sought-after by his fellow soldiers even when he returned stateside, and his first commissions were for custom designs his friends wanted tattooed.
Deciding to pursue tattooing as a career, Blinston got a job at Bad Dog Tattoos in Orlando after his discharge and apprenticed under master artist Mike Carrico to hone his skills. The Nebraska native then returned to his hometown of Omaha, where he opened the first Big Brain shop with fellow Marine friend Smitty. (There's another, Big Brain 2, in Pompano Beach.) Since 2005, Blinston has called South Florida home, and his No Hard Feelings Tattoo Gallery has been an inking staple in Coral Springs since 2007, when he opened it with Ted Mendoza and Gabe Tucker. "The name was conceived while sitting around one day with all eight artists before we ever opened," Blinston explains, "and we wanted the name to reflect a spirit that we all work together as a team, a co-op per se, a real sense of togetherness as an artistic studio that believes in the tattoo and piercing industry and remains friends in and out of the studio."
Though that might be a sweet sentiment to share, Blinston's mettle will surely be tested in competition with a Florida-heavy showing of talent that includes Dave Clarke of Fort Walton's Sacre-X-Pression, St. Pete's Earl Noble, and Fort Lauderdale's Vatican Tattoos' Marisa LaRen and Tyler Nolan, who is a friend and apprentice of Blinston's. "Tyler Nolan is a fantastic artist and a tough competitor," Blinston says. "I had the pleasure of working alongside Tyler for years, and it was a pleasure to go on the show with him. He proved himself to be a formidable opponent as well as a fantastic teammate."
Blinston is not a star chaser; he lets his work speak for itself. His style combines bold line work with color realism. At age 41, Blinston is usually content at home focused on his family, business, and community. But the chance to go national for the title of "Ink Master" and a chance at a 100K prize, plus getting exposure in the industry trade magazine Inked, brought out the toughness he showed as a Marine.
"I made a real choice on the show to go after the higher-skilled artists and not sit back and take the easy road," he boasts. "I challenged and attacked and went after anyone that stood in my way. I wasn't afraid to step up against the best of the best, and I did that with tenacity and vigilance. After 18 years tattooing, I feel safe and secure in my career here in Florida and certainly had no problem throwing my Marine Corps attitude at any opponent I faced on the show."
The series airs weekly on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on Spike TV. As of last week, 14 contestants remained, including all the Floridians. The live finale will air in the fall, with the date to be determined. The show is already casting for season seven at spike.com.shows/ink-master. A spinoff series, Ink Master: Redemption, is also planned. It will offer former Ink Master clients who are unhappy with their tattoos the chance to come in for new ones. That show is set to debut in 2016.