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Like its predecessors, season 12 of Paramount network’s Ink Master brings an exciting twist to shake up the competition, and entice audiences to tune in week after week. This go around, the name of the game is Battle of the Sexes , and for the first time in the history of the series, the competition will be split evenly between men and women. In prior seasons, only 15 to 30 percent of the shows contestants have been women. However, now it’s time to see what happens when the genders are put head-to-head. And to fit the show’s pattern of bringing back former contestants, season 12 will host a different set of coaches every single episode. That’s right, many of your favorites will have the opportunity to lead the contestants to victory, or at least, keep them out of the dreaded bottom four. We had the pleasure of catching up with eight alumni who will be returning to coach this season, and learn what they really think of Ink Master: Battle of the Sexes.

How has the treatment of female artists in the industry changed since you started tattooing?

“I feel like being a woman in the tattoo industry isn’t as much of a novelty. I remember when I first started, on a good day, people would come in and say, ‘Wow! You’re a tattooer? Good for you!’ They’d be really surprised that I wasn’t just working the front desk. Somehow, I put on shoes and I crawled my way out of the kitchen, then found my way to a tattoo studio. On a bad day, I had people say, ‘I’m not going to get tattooed by a bitch,’ or they’d throw my portfolio or they’d laugh at me. In one instance, I remember a guy looking at my drawings before his tattoo, and then taking them over to my male coworker, asking him if he could vouch for me that I could actually do the tattoo. Coming from that when I first started, to now having a successful career; having been able to prove myself in front of such a huge audience; and seeing other women showing what their road was like—that’s amazing. It’s like night and day from when I started.” Kelly Doty, Season 8 and Angels

Were you surprised by the level of talent you saw as a coach this season?

“I’m lucky enough that young in my career I was blessed to work with a female artist named Sarah Peacock. She was one of the early women that found their way through this industry, and paved the way for female artists to be accepted in our industry. So me having that insight and being able to work underneath someone as amazing as she was, allowed me to see that there really is no difference between a man and a woman in the final product. There was no big surprise, I never thought ‘Wow, these women are better than I imagined they could be.’ It was just awesome to work alongside such energy and so many outgoing people that were really hungry.” Josh Payne, Season 10

How does social media positively and negatively impact female tattooers?

“At the beginning of my career, I wasn’t well known and Instagram wasn’t a huge thing, so your image wasn’t as important or exploited as it is now. Because now, we can share the way we look all over the world, and people have really loved the idea of a beautiful woman doing tattoos, no matter how the tattoos look. If you’re going to be really successful, it’s a lot easier to do it if you’re really attractive. There’s always going to be a stigma where women have to come off as being presentable in a certain way, to be appreciated as beautiful. It’s been an interesting ride balancing appearance and career, because the more time goes on, the more people focus on appearance, and that shit’s fucking annoying. It really doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day, no one is looking at me. They’re looking at the tattoo that’s going to be on them for the rest of their lives. Our beauty will fade, but my tattoos won’t.” Nikki Simpson, Season 8 and Angels

What are the major differences between male and female tattoo artists?

“When I grew up, I was more of a tomboy, so I never quite understood the girly girl thing. I think I fit in a little bit differently than a lot of the women who’re getting into the industry, but I think overall, girls are a bit more open to learning or asking for advice, listening, and applying it. I feel that if you have drive, ambition, and talent as a woman, if someone sits down and shows you something, you learn a little bit faster. I’ve noticed guys are a little more do it yourself; they do trial and error. They’ll ask for advice and then, as you’re answering, they’ll answer their own question. That’s not typical across the board for everybody. There’s such a broad sampling of different personalities, learning abilities, and talents in this industry, and it’s very interesting to see where people fit in.” Sarah Miller, Season 2 and 7

What were your initial thoughts on the theme for season 12?

“I think when you watch the earlier seasons of Ink Master, you see that it was very male driven. And it wasn’t until season eight that you saw that there was a strength in the female artists out there. I think that what you’re going to see with Battle of the Sexes is exactly how strong women can be, and that [tattooing] isn’t a completely male-driven art form. The ladies out there are just as strong as the guys, even though the guys have had control over it for quite some time now. I think what this season has to offer is something that we haven’t seen on Ink Master before. I think we’ve seen a battle of the sexes in a way, but to really make it men against women is awesome. What you’re going to see on this season is that you think you might know how it’s going to play out, but it’s completely different. The challenges are super difficult, it will be a fight to the finish, and for those who make it to the end, the win will be well deserved. ” Sausage, Season 4 and 7

“The tattoo industry is really male-dominated and I feel that the amount of women that have been on the show each season reflects how much of a boy’s club it really is. It’s not fair, but it’s reality. So I love the idea of having half female and half male 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 we have an opinion. Getting to provide that platform for so many women that come on is a really smart move for Ink Master . There is still an issue with women, especially women tattooers, being objectified and judged by their physical appearance first. Then someone will look at their portfolio and decide, ‘Wow, she actually is talented.’” Katie McGowan, Season 6 and 9

How did growing up with a mom who’s a tattoo artist make an impact on you?

“[Growing up with a mom who was a tattooer] set the tone for my entire life. I was six when we started our business. It’s funny, because whenever I tell someone they’re like, ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’ It’s just my life, it’s what I grew up knowing. All I’ve known was the tattoo industry and the tattoo world. I grew up as a little kid watching her tattoo and then I started tattooing, doing conventions, and developing my own life in the tattoo world. It was definitely cool to watch her, and it put me where I am today. Who knows where I would be? Would I be a tattooer if it weren’t for her? Probably not.” Duffy Fortner, Season 6

Why should audiences tune in for the premiere of season 12 of Ink Master ?

“With every new season, there’s such an amazing batch of new tattooers that people might not have had the opportunity to see or hear of. Every one of these guys is almost the underdog, they’re all trying to do their best, and show what they’re capable of doing. Seeing that ‘coming from behind’ story is really going to show this season. I think anyone who’s a fan of tattooing, and a fan of the underdog, should definitely tune in and watch. ” Jime Litwalk, Season 3 and 7