Seven 'Til Midnight bra and underwear.
Lea Vendetta learned the give-and-take nature of the tattoo business from her first experience. On her 18th birthday, the budding painter walked into a tattoo shop in southern France’s Montpellier—a university town heralded for its culture and diversity—and requested a small black spade. The shop’s proprietor quickly shot her down. “He implied that I didn’t really know what I wanted,” she explains. “In his mind I should have been there to get something custom, because that’s what he was known for. He said I should come back when I was really ready.” Vendetta did return, the very next day, giving her temperamental tattoo artist full range on a small Celtic dragon. The daring compromise marked the beginning of an unconventionally launched career in body art.
Vendetta continued getting inked at a time when French standards deemed tattoos fit only for convicts and common thugs. But it wasn’t the stigma that drove her stateside; rather it was her (now ex) husband, American Dave “Bastard” Archer, who was pining for the beautiful Florida weather he once knew. Not until moving to the U.S. did Vendetta—with a little provocation from an artist commissioned to adorn her body—pick up a tattoo machine herself.
While competing on tattoo’s most-watched competition stage, Spike TV’s Ink Master, the fiery redhead showcased her artistic flair, flying under the radar of typical reality show theatrics. “I didn’t make a lot of drama on Ink Master, so maybe they didn’t focus on me so much,” she remarks. “But I didn’t do the show for that purpose. I did it to show my talents and to give my clients the best work that I could do.” Still, the production was not without a good deal of stress. The program’s first challenge, which had her and her fellow artists tattooing pig carcasses in a freezing cold meat locker, brought additional strain to Vendetta personally. “I looked up from my work station and there were the judges, Oliver Peck, Chris Nunez, and Dave Navarro. I was like, dude, are you kidding me?”
Vendetta credits Ink Master for teaching her two very important lessons. One, your true character is revealed by how you perform under pressure. And two, her best artwork emerges when clients are able to truly put their faith in her ability. “It’s like if you get into a car with a professional driver,” she says with a laugh. “If you sit back and enjoy it, you’ll probably have a really good ride. But when you start saying things like, ‘Hey, let me take the wheel,’ that’s when you have problems.” —Willie G.