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On season 6 of Ink Master, we were first introduced to Katie McGowan, who charmed audiences with her Southern twang and incredible talents. Three seasons later, McGowan returned with mentor Matt O'Baugh and as a team, they took home second place at the live finale. Now, McGowan is back for a third time as one of the veteran coaches for season 12's Battle of the Sexes and is fighting for a shot at $25,000. We had the pleasure of sitting down with the Little Rock tattooer and learn her initial thoughts on the season, her biggest challenge as a coach, and what advice she gave the current competitors.

How were you approached about coming back for season 12?

The way that the idea was pitched to me was this season was going to be a battle of the sexes. They asked if I wanted to be a coach and I assumed that I would get to coach the women’s team. I was super, super excited about that, but the twist was that I was going to be coaching the men instead. At first, I was a little apprehensive because I really wanted to be a coach for the women’s team. I’m a feminist and I’m always pro-women winning. But then, upon further thinking, I really loved the idea of supporting a season of Ink Master that had the most women competitors in the show’s history. I thought it was really cool that this season provided a platform for so many women to come on and show their work. I was just proud to be a part of that.

Let’s talk about that a bit. In the past, there have only been 3-5 women per season and now the competition is split 50/50. What do you think about this change?

The tattoo industry is really male dominated, it’s a boys club. And I feel like the amount of women that have been on the show each season has been reflective of how much of a boys club the tattoo industry really is. It’s not fair, but it’s reality. So, I loved the idea of having half male and female competitors to give women more of a voice on the show. We really are a rising chunk of the industry, we have a voice and an opinion. I discover new female tattooers every day on social media that are kicking ass and it’s really inspiring. Getting to provide that platform for so many women to come on was a really smart move for Ink Master.

Has the industry’s treatment of female tattooers changed since you started tattooing?

I would say that there are still issues with women, including women tattooers, being objectified. I feel that a lot of women in tattooing are viewed by their physical appearance first. Then somebody will look at their portfolio and decide ‘Okay, she’s actually talented.’ I think something that’s really cool about Ryan Ashley is that she’s really conventionally attractive and also super talented. I’m really happy that someone like her has gone through the Ink Master system. It says: ‘Yeah, I’m pretty but that’s not the most important thing about me. I’m also really talented.’

What was the most challenging part of the coaching process?

Being a coach is kind of crazy. As tattooers, in general, we all have egos and our own ideas or ways of approaching a challenge, especially when it comes to art. Trying to wrangle a group of artists together and get us to work on one specific vision is a tricky thing. And working with the men, I wasn’t sure what I’d be dealing with. I work with a group of men back home and they’re pretty easy to work with, so I wasn’t sure if we’d have a similar vibe or not. But it wasn’t as difficult as I was anticipating. If anything, it was pretty fun. I definitely learned that the best method to coaching a team was to get to know everyone and allow the natural leaders to come forward, then allow the work horses to do their thing. I felt like the best way to work as a team is to organically allow everyone to access their place.

What advice did you give the contestants about competing on Ink Master?

I think that the most important thing to do when competing on Ink Master and what I explained to the people that I was coaching is that you have to relax and not get too emotionally attached to a bad critique. We make art every day and people will compliment the tattoos we do back home. So it’s really a big shock to the system when you present a tattoo in front of a panel of judges and they shit all over your tattoo. It hits your ego in a way you’ve never experienced. As long as you receive that critique and improve your work, instead of holding on to it and allowing it to eat at you in this mental and emotional way, that’s the only way you can play the Ink Master game.