Back in season 8, Salem, Massachusetts based artist Kelly Doty joined the cast of Ink Master. Prior to appearing on the show, Doty had gained a presence in the industry for her bright, bold, and most of all, unique new school tattoos. While on Ink Master, she impressed the judges with her impressive abilities and won three challenges, earning her a spot in the live finale alongside eventual winner Ryan Ashley and finalist Gian Karle. And although Doty produced a number of impressive tattoos while on the show, she was most remembered for forming an alliance with Ryan Ashley, Nikki Simpson, and Gia Rose—who together were an unstoppable girl group that will go down as one of the most successful pairings in the history of the show. Their foursome was so iconic that they went on to star in the spin-off series, Ink Master: Angels, which ran for two seasons.
Now, Doty is back on set as a guest coach this week, alongside fellow veteran Jime Litwalk. We caught up with Doty to learn her thoughts on this season's shake up and perspective on the changing landscape of tattooing as a legendary female artist.
What’s new for you since filming of your original season wrapped?
God, now I have to consider my entire life since then. It kind of seems like that was a million years ago and I was a different person. It was only three years ago and in the grand scheme of things, that’s not much. But, right now, I feel like a grizzled, old cowboy, I’m the Clint Eastwood version of myself now, compared to before season eight.
What were your initial thoughts on this season’s theme for Ink Master?
I’m a fairly outspoken feminist and I end up talking a lot about equality among the entire gender spectrum online. So I think [Ink Master] realized that addressing the concept of gender in a tattoo competition was going to be right up my alley. And they were absolutely right, I was pretty psyched about it.
Do you think it was about time that the show addressed gender head on?
I think in a lot of ways it’s kind of overdue but, I feel that way about addressing gender equality or inequality in any field. I’m excited that they’re addressing it and there are substantial differences between the roads a male tattooer and a female tattooer have. I hope it sheds light on the differences that any gender faces when they’re entering the same work field. Because it’s not a level playing ground amongst every single gender out there and it’s a different game for everyone playing.
And can you elaborate on the different paths men and women take in the tattoo industry?
Right out the gate, the tattoo industry has been a boy’s club for so long. I recently got to watch Kari Barba speak about her journey of being one of the pioneers of female tattooing. And before she started, there were only a handful of notable female tattooers. To even think that you could count on both hands the amount of women in your career path before you started, that’s insane to me. Even when I started, 11 years ago, I’d never been tattooed by a woman. I didn’t know any other female tattooers when I started, it was still a complete and absolute novelty. I’m not discounting the different roads that different men had to face, but the truth is a man never had to face the unique hardships that women or someone on a different point of the gender spectrum had to face. So, getting to see that brought into the light and acknowledging that women have had it differently from what’s happened to men, I’m glad that people are finally talking about it.
As someone who’s been in the industry for 11 years, how have you seen the treatment of women in the tattoo industry change?
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.