Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | 5:04 p.m.
Las Vegas tattoo artist Walter Frank faced the toughest challenge of his career to get into tonight’s finale of Spike TV’s “Ink Master” reality TV competition airing live from New York. At stake for him are bragging rights, an Inked Magazine cover and centerfold feature and a $100,000 prize he has earmarked for his children’s education.
Walter, known industry-wide by his nickname “Sausage,” is the only person other than the TV camera crew to have seen his work of art. It took him five extraordinary seven-hour sessions in a secured room at his workplace, Club Tattoo in Miracle Mile Shops of Planet Hollywood.
“I was exhausted. It was as if I’d been behind the wheel of a car nonstop for 35 hours,” Sausage told me. “Nobody has seen it. Not even the dancer-model I tattooed it on. It will be seen for the first time in full on the live broadcast.”
Walter’s boss, last season’s “Ink Master” champion Joey “Hollywood” Hamilton from Club Tattoo, flew with him to New York on Sunday and will be there tonight to root him on to a hoped-for victory. Joey will perform a tattoo on the show on a human canvas selected from viewer submissions on Twitter.
The journey for Sausage began when 17 of America’s top tattoo artists competed in extreme challenges for host, judge and rocker Dave Navarro and tattoo icons Chris Nunez and Oliver Peck. Each week on the wild ride, one artist has been sent home. Now just three remain. Sausage competes against Matt Hixson and Scott Marshall.
I talked with Sausage as he packed for his flight to New York on Sunday:
What was the most difficult task they gave you so far? Bobbing up and down around the Statue of Liberty or having to cover up the breast cancer survivors?
The toughest one out of those two would be the Statue of Liberty. We were on a rocking boat, we were seeing the left side of her and then five minutes later we were seeing the right side of her, so it was really tough. Mentally, the breast cancer survivor challenge was extremely tough because you were dealing with people who had really waged the war on their femininity and their ability to just take on something that is so devastating and then turn it into a positive.
That challenge was extremely rewarding. The Statue of Liberty challenge, though, was super tough to complete. We had five minutes going in a circle around her to remember every detail of the lady.
The emotional drama that goes on in the show, and I am somewhat familiar with how reality TV programming is put together, but are tattoo artists fiery by nature anyway?
Yeah, I think so. I think we are an emotional bunch, and we like things a certain way in order to make sure we are able to perform at our best. We’re sensitive and always want to be told that our stuff is awesome, and as soon as you try to poop on someone’s party, a lot of energy comes out. So, yes, I would say that anything you saw on there like people firing jabs and what have you — all true.
You seem to me, though, to be the gentleman among the contestants.
Of course! If somebody wants to fire off at me, they can if that makes them feel better, but ultimately my character is I’m a big boy, I’m an adult, I’m a father, and the last thing I really want to show on TV is my son seeing me just rip into somebody. I just try to take things with a grain of salt.
What advice did Joey give you before you left to start the series?
Joey told me to just do exactly what I do at work and that whatever comes your way, do it to the best of your ability and just knock it out of the park. Because we are such a high-volume store and we get people in from all over the world, we literally do everything that is done on the show.
That is a huge advantage for me, so he was just like, “Don’t let anybody else get to you. Do what you have to do. Stay smart. Keep your head in the game, and you’ll do well.” And that is exactly what I did.
With 17 of you starting out, did you have fears at any point? Was there a worst week where you feared you would get eliminated?
Yes, there were several occasions. The aquatic challenge was very tough. I had a very tough client that day. I thought I was going to go home on the demon challenge because that guy was a real “winner,” and the snake challenge, I thought I was going to go home because we are the Top 5, and Melissa (Monroe) had pulled out something really strong and I didn’t feel that mine was as strong as everybody else’s. Several times throughout the season, I thought that it was my demise, that it was the end.
And here you are now in the top Three! The pressure is really on. When did you start doing the full back of your human canvas for 35 hours?
That process actually started in February. We had five seven-hour sessions three weeks apart.
So on Tuesday, what do we see you doing in the last hour of the show?
You see me sweating and competing to try to make sure that I tell the judges that I am the one that they should choose as Ink Master. No tattooing will be done. All of the back pieces will be finalized, so when my canvas walks out on the stage, you will see the 35-hour tattoo completely healed and in all its glory.
Now you have no idea come Tuesday night of what your competitors have completed, correct?
Correct. I have absolutely no idea. All I can do is survive.
And what have you created for your 35-hour back piece?
I can’t say anything about it as far as anything that it deals with. All I can tell you is that my human canvas sat like a rock. I couldn’t have asked for a better back piece canvas. She sat for 35 hours almost without moving once. She had some very minor pains and weakness from it. She was a supreme trooper.
She’s a Las Vegas girl. She had only one previous tattoo just on her left hip. This was by far her biggest, longest undertaking. It is an entire back piece from the lower part of the neck to the top of her backside and stretches from left side to right side, shoulder-to-shoulder from neck to just the top of her hind end.
Wow. Was that physically exhausting? How long of a rest do you need after five seven-hour sessions. How do you feel after something like that?
After my very first appointment, I was extremely drained. After my very first session, I was able to get the entire outline done. And then I did some black shading on her that took just under seven hours, and on the way home I was literally falling asleep behind the wheel. Almost like I had just driven seven hours to some place.
It was super, super draining, and then when I got home I was so physically bushed that I slept like a baby that night. It was probably the first time in a long time that I slept that hard. It was extremely draining, so basically you start at 7 in the morning and wrap up around 3 p.m.
And so they filmed all of your artwork here in Las Vegas?
Yes, it was all filmed at Club Tattoo. We were in the back room, everything was quarantined and cordoned off by security. It was like my own little private studio.
Has Joey seen it?
Joey has not seen the final. He saw the first bits and pieces. He will see it also for the first time on Tuesday. It’ll be the very first time presented to anybody on Tuesday. My model was Teresa Sharp, an Electric Daisy Carnival DJ club dancer, and what’s really interesting is that she’ll never really be able to see it properly, maybe from a photograph or from reversing mirrors.
But the coolest thing about this particular piece is that it is very “her.” When I went in and decided to do the back piece, it’s not really what I wanted to do. I was like, “OK, if this is what you’re going do, you’re gonna like it. I really dealt with her on a client level.” Almost like she came in the shop and was like, “Hey this is what I wanna do.” Because ultimately she has to live with it for the rest of her life.
I know that I am competing for $100,000, but if she wears this and she loves it, she will carry herself way differently than somebody who is like, “Man, I don’t like anything they put on me.” So it is a really beautiful piece that mirrors her and just beams her essence, and I love that fact.
So let me ask you an oddball question for an amateur here. If you’re a doctor, you can specialize in ear surgery, you can specialize in plastic surgery, you can specialize in throat surgery. What can a tattoo artist specialize in like you? Can you say I am a back specialist?
I think that I am a unique snowflake in a way because of the fact that I don’t really feel like I specialize in anything. I really do just all sorts of tattooing. If I could do anything, if I could specialize in anything, I would say I specialize in detail.
I think my attention to detail in tattoos sets me apart from everybody else because it puts a different dynamic on that particular tattoo. It gives it something fun to look at. It’s a lot deeper than just a flat tattoo. If I have a specialty, I would say it’s in detail.
This was your first TV experience. Are you over the nervousness of it now?
Yes! You forget about the cameras pretty fast. But of course I will be nervous on Tuesday night. I’ve got my future in the balance, you know? I’ve done this entire competition for my family. The money is going to go for my children’s schooling. And I want to invest it so my money works harder for me than I have to work for it. This is a very, very, big deal, and because Joey did so well last season, he’s a little of a competition, too. So I’ve gotta make sure that I follow in his footsteps, and there is only one winner.
We hope that is you celebrating at 11 p.m. in New York on Tuesday.
You know, I have heard of all these people who are screaming at their TVs like it’s a football game, so I can honestly tell you that with all my fans and followers that if I am able to take this home, if I am able to bring the hardware home, there will be a huge celebration back in Las Vegas.
SPOILER ALERT: “Ink Master” airs in the East and Central time zones three and two hours ahead, respectively, of the West Coast broadcast here in Las Vegas. Accordingly at 8 p.m. PT, we have no choice with nationwide coverage but to post the winner at 8 p.m. on Twitter @robin_leach. If you want to keep the tension and surprise until the 8 p.m. airing, please turn away from Twitter until after the show.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
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Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
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