"Everyone knows I'm not going to watch it," says California based tattoo artist Heather Sinn, referring to Ink Master, Spike TV's new reality television tattoo competition series that begins tonight, hosted by musician Dave Navarro. As an unhappy contestant on the show, Sinn says it took time for her to recover from what she describes as a "grueling experience."
Though she is accustomed to being in front of a camera, having modeled for years, with appearances in music videos ranging from Prince to Melissa Etheridge, the 42-year-old Michigan native, who co-owns Simi Valley tattoo shop The Tattoo Room (with tattoo artist Danielle Oberosler), hated being in front of the Ink Master cameras. "It was a very tough experience. When I was originally told about it, I said, 'This isn't like some kind of Fear Factor thing, is it? If it is, I don't want to do it.' After I was already there, I came to find out it's a lot like that. I was in tears a lot on the show. It was very hard on me and it was no secret that I was unhappy."
From spending two hours inside a freezing meat locker tattooing dead pigs to becoming sunburned while pinstriping cars on a rooftop beneath the hot summer sun, Sinn says the challenges had nothing to do with being a real tattoo artist, that the contestants were overworked and sleep deprived, and that the judges were mean.
"I wish they'd make a show about the production side of it and show what we were actually going through," she says. "At one point, we were up at night bitching about production and a producer came in and said, 'If you want to go to bed, start talking about each other. None of this complaining about production will air.' We learned that if we wanted to go to bed, and not be up all night, we'd better start talking about ourselves, others, or the challenges."
Sinn was so emotionally disturbed by the experience that she tried to leave the show several times, but producers talked her out of an early departure and they ordered her a masseuse. Despite the demanding conditions, however, Sinn concedes she is a particularly sensitive person who probably should have suspected that the show would not be genuinely artistic. "I mean, the show was for Spike, so really I should have known. I had the hardest time of the group emotionally. I'm pretty fragile."
Sinn, who was born Heather Sutherland, kept her last name from when she was married to musician Ryan Sinn (formerly of The Distillers, Angels & Airwaves). Though she did not fare well on TV, for years Sinn persevered, doing whatever she could to be successful in the male dominated industry of tattooing.
Fifteen years ago, when she first tried to secure a tattoo apprenticeship in LA, she says doors were literally slammed in her face because she was a woman.
Determined to break into the industry, she packed up her car and drove to Florida, where she worked at a tattoo shop and bartended to make ends meet, sleeping 4 hours a night just to learn how to tattoo. Employed by a boss who seemed more concerned with Sinn cleaning the shop's floor than teaching her tattooing skills, Sinn packed up her car once again and headed to North Carolina, where she learned her craft at Dogstar Tattoo under the tutelage of tattoo artist Glenn Wilson. Immediately upon reading a magazine article about San Diego's world famous Avalon Tattoo, Sinn drove back to California and was hired on the spot at Avalon Tattoo where she worked for 12 years before branching out on her own.
While she may not have been fated to be an "Ink Master," Sinn, away from reality TV show cameras, and working out of her own shop tattooing live people instead of frozen pig carcasses, is a much happier ink mistress.