Goose Creek tattoo artist competes on Spike TV’s ‘Ink Master’

  • Monday, August 25, 2014

Monica Kreber/Gazette Emily Elegado works on the intricate roots of a tree on customer Matt Felton's leg.


Goose Creek resident Emily Elegado has been “on vacation” for much of the summer ...

She did not announce where exactly she was going, however, and simply told friends she would be back home around August.

Elegado’s actual reason for leaving was to shoot the upcoming season of “Ink Master” in New York.

Elegado was one of 18 contestants vying for a $100,000 cash prize, an editorial feature in “Inked” magazine and the bragging rights title of “Ink Master.” The show, now in its fifth season, airs on Spike TV. The upcoming season starts Sept. 2 at 10 p.m.

The format of the show is like “Top Chef,” except for some of the country’s top and up and coming tattoo artists. However, season five of “Ink Master” comes with a twist: each contestant is coming into the competition with a personal tattoo rival.

For Elegado, that rival is Aaron “Is” Michalowski, a tattoo artist from Tampa, Fla. He did guest spots at a tattoo shop she worked at in Panama City, Fla.

“He always just kind of rubbed me the wrong way, and I didn’t really appreciate the way he treated the industry,” Elegado said. “He kind of made a joke out of a lot of things.”

In April Elegado received a phone call from the producers of “Ink Master,” who said Michalowski had called her out as a rival of his, and the producers asked if she would be up for the challenge on the show.

“I consider myself a very talented tattoo artist, so I was very willing to prove that on a national competition,” she said.

Elegado has been a tattoo artist for six years. She works as a tattoo artist at Roses & Ruins Tattoo in Summerville, where she has been for 18 months. She previously worked at a tattoo shop in Charleston, and before that she was in Florida.

Because the show hasn’t aired, Elegado is not allowed to reveal too much about the competition, but said the experience was intense.

“No doubt about it – the most stress, the most insanity,” she said. “It was 18 people including myself living in a two-bedroom loft with two and a half bathrooms. We all had beds and everything but it was like living in a hostel, for sure.”

On the show contestants go head-to-head with their rivals, but the goal is to be the last tattoo artist standing so all the contestants are essentially pitted against each other – thus there is a lot of fighting.

“Competition makes you crazy,” Elegado said. “I’m a very nice person, I think you can ask anybody; I’m very easy to get along with, but when it comes down to $100,000 I can fight like an angry bear, and I fought as hard as I could on that competition, and I think people are going to definitely see that.”

Contestants participated in challenges that tested the artists’ technical skills as well as their creativity. They faced a panel of judges that consisted of Dave Navarro from “Jane’s Addiction,” tattoo artist Chris Nunez from “Miami Ink” and tattoo artist Oliver Peck from Elm Street Tattoo in Dallas, TX.

All Elegado has seen of the footage is what has been posted online.

“I look pretty mean,” she said with a laugh. “There weren’t a whole lot of friendships to be made – that’s not what I was there for, I was there to win a competition. I went in there, guns blazing, ready to rattle.

“I guess when you get into people’s faces and tell them things they are not used to hearing you don’t make a whole lot of friends. No one was really safe.”

A contestant will be eliminated on every episode. There are a total of 16 episodes including the live finale that takes place in December.

“I was fighting for my career, for $100 grand that I could probably use,” she said.

Regardless of the outcome Elegado feels she grew from the experience. Looking back, if Elegado had a chance she would do the show all over again.

“I definitely learned a lot about tattooing,” she said. “Tattooing is one of those industries where if you don’t learn something new every day, you’re not putting the effort into it that you should be.

“I learned a lot about people, and who you can trust and who you can’t,” she said. “I learned a lot about what I was capable of as a person – because, five years ago, I never would have thought I would be able to go through that stressful of a situation. It definitely made me grow as a person.”

Elegado sports a lot of tattoos, including a sleeve on her left arm and more art on her right arm, neck, feet and knuckles.

“When I first started tattooing I was really excited that I could turn people into walking private museums of my work,” she said. “The further I get in my career, it’s more making people happy. So many people come in with heartache stories or tattoos that they absolutely hate and want gone. Being able to cover something, or to memorialize something, or just to make someone feel good about themselves – that’s way more rewarding than people knowing I’m a tattoo artist.”

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