Sunday, December 17, 2017
TV and Media

Tampa Bay tattoo artist competes in second season of Spike TV's reality show 'Ink Master'

Spend a few minutes talking with Thomas "T.J." Halvorsen and, regardless of your background, the thought will enter your mind:

Should I think about putting some ink on my skin?

Halvorsen, co-owner of the Foolish Pride Tattoo shop on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, might be one of smoothest, most passionate advocates for body art around — even though you might not guess he has any designs on himself, at first glance.

"I'm a big believer that visible tattoos are a preference, you know, and everybody has to make that decision," said Halvorsen, whose careful haircut and clean-cut looks harken back to his five years spent as a sniper and gunner in the U.S. Army. "I like being the diet cola of tattoo artists; the anti-artist."

That might also be why the producers of Spike TV's Ink Master reality show chose the 29-year-old comic book artist and Iraq/Afghanistan war veteran to join the contestants in their tattoo competition's second season.

Debuting tonight, the show features Halvorsen and 15 other hopefuls vying for a $100,000 grand prize and feature story in Inked magazine through a competition that unfolds like an eccentric mix of Chopped, Big Brother and Sons of Anarchy.

The group spent 11 weeks this summer filming the show, living together in a New York City space while tackling challenges such as tattooing in a morgue and putting body art on "virgins" — people getting their first tattoos who had no idea how painful the process could be.

"(Show producers) said I brought a different face to tattooing, which made me feel really good," said Halvorsen, billed as "T.J. Hal" on the show, whose upper back, shoulder and leg tattoos are easily covered by shirts and pants. (The artist says he won't even do face or finger tattoos without a long conversation with the client about how they can be "job killers.")

"A lot of my buddies from the comic book industry are now becoming tattoo artists," he added. "It's the one industry where an artist can do whatever they want, make good money and draw every day."

The show, hosted by Jane's Addiction guitarist and longtime tattoo hound Dave Navarro, manipulates its contestants to create great TV

As much as he and his business partner once ragged on tattoo-based reality shows such as Miami Ink and L.A. Ink on TLC or Best Ink on Oxygen, Halvorsen had to admit they also have supercharged the popularity of tattooing and made stars of some artists.

So, when Ink Master advertised for contestants in its first season, Halvorsen applied — traveling to Miami for auditions and callbacks. Already, he has taken advantage of exposure from the show to appear at tattoo conventions, hoping to draw customers from all around.

"The tattoo reality shows are the best and worst things that can happen to the industry. You can turn on TV and watch a dude get tattooed (but) by the same point, it kind of loses its seriousness," he said. "Everybody 20 years ago got tattoos because Mommy and Daddy didn't like it. What happens in 20 years when Mommy and Daddy have a ton of tattoos?"

A host of tattoo artists and clients also have complained online about tattoo-centered reality TV shows for a different reason: They suspect they are loaded with fake drama that makes the subculture look bad.

There's not much room for that in the first episode of Ink Master's new season, where we mostly see a collection of wildly disparate artists struggle with the show's challenges and bounce off one another's personalities.

Judged by Navarro along with tattoo experts Oliver Peck and Chris Nunez, the show's debut mostly focuses on keeping the artists off balance, while offering critiques that sound a bit arbitrary to novice ears. (Peck chides one contestant for not providing "texture.")

"I think they had enough characters. We brought the drama ourselves," said Halvorsen, who acknowledged producers sometimes tried to push contestants into talking trash about other competitors with leading questions. "You put six people into a house with two bathrooms … that's enough to make drama right there. I felt like I was back in Iraq in a tent with 80 guys."

A native of New Jersey, Halvorsen learned to draw at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, landing jobs illustrating the Nightwing and Incredible Hulk books for D.C. and Marvel comics by age 20.

Six months after the 9/11 attacks, he joined the Army and learned how to tattoo while he was stationed in Colorado.

An explosion that killed two fellow soldiers during his third tour overseas led to a back injury, which eventually forced Halvorsen to leave the Army in 2006. He decided to team up with a longtime tattoo client who also performs piercings and open a business where his ailing grandparents lived: the Tampa Bay area.

"If that (explosion) hadn't happened, I wouldn't have this," he said, noting that he was among the lucky ones who survived the blast, though back problems occasionally resurface. "Like I said on the show, I have to live my life to the fullest for the guys who can't."

Halvorsen's shop in St. Petersburg is funky and well-kept at once, filled with portfolio books showing off each artist's past designs, along with tattoo magazines and even a few comics.

The process he describes of developing involved tattoos for clients — consulting with them, drawing a sketch, putting it on stencil paper and applying it over multiple sessions — is drastically compressed for the show, where sleep-deprived artists have six hours to ink a tattoo.

"This canvas, instead of just sitting there, it moves, screams, bleeds, cries, plus you can interact with it, talk to it, learn their stories and bond with them," he said. "I think it's the ultimate compliment that somebody wants your art on them for the rest of their lives."

Comments

Sunday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYCollege basketballWomen: Florida State at Texas12:30 p.m.FS1Women: Georgia Tech at Georgia1 p.m.SECStony Brook at Providence2:30 p.m.FS1North Carolina at Tennessee3 p.m.ESPNSavannah State at Baylor3 p.m.Fox SunWomen: USF at Florida International...
Published: 12/16/17

Saturday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYBoxingMiddleweights: Lemieux vs. Saunders9:30 p.m.HBOCollege basketballButler vs. PurduenoonFoxMiami at George WashingtonnoonCBSSNLouisville vs. MemphisnoonESPN2Detroit vs. MichigannoonESPNUNC-Greensboro at N.C. StatenoonFSFSeton Hall at Rutgers...
Published: 12/15/17
Adam Savage’s ‘Brain Candy Live!’ at the Straz Center: Canceled

Adam Savage’s ‘Brain Candy Live!’ at the Straz Center: Canceled

Looks like the idea of Brain Candy Live! returning to Tampa Bay in 2018 turned out to be a myth.The interactive science spectacular, co-hosted by MythBusters' Adam Savage, has canceled its upcoming North American tour, including a May 5 event at the ...
Published: 12/15/17
Here are this week’s pop culture winners and losers

Here are this week’s pop culture winners and losers

Salma HayekSalma Hayek has spoken out against Harvey Weinstein, calling the producer a "monster" who threatened her career and her life after she reportedly denied his sexual advances. Hayek said working with Weinstein on the film Frida was like "goi...
Published: 12/15/17
What to watch this weekend: ‘A Christmas Story Live,’ Star Wars movie marathon, Hollywood Christmas Parade

What to watch this weekend: ‘A Christmas Story Live,’ Star Wars movie marathon, Hollywood Christmas Parade

OH, FUDGE! A CHRISTMAS STORY LIVE!The trend of live musicals broadcast on television isn't slowing down anytime soon, and A Christmas Story Live! — based on the classic holiday movie and Broadway musical — was ripe for the next taking. Fo...
Published: 12/15/17

Friday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYBoxingSuper lightweights: Vargas vs. Herrera10 p.m.FS1College basketballWomen: Southern at USF7 p.m.1040-AMMaryland-Eastern Shore at Creighton8 p.m.FS1College footballDivision III, final: Mount Union (Ohio) vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas)7 p.m.ES...
Published: 12/14/17
Harry Potter’s Nymphadora Tonks, Natalia Tena, joins A Celebration of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando

Harry Potter’s Nymphadora Tonks, Natalia Tena, joins A Celebration of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando

The bubble gum pink-haired, shape-shifting witch Nymphadora Tonks from the last four Harry Potter films is headed to A Celebration of Harry Potter next month.Natalia Tena marks her first appearance at the annual wizarding world celebration Jan. 26-28...
Published: 12/14/17
Disney-Fox deal gives ESPN control of local cable rights to Rays, Lightning games

Disney-Fox deal gives ESPN control of local cable rights to Rays, Lightning games

As part of its deal to buy a massive package of 21st Century Fox assets, Disney will acquire Fox Sports Regional Networks, which control the local cable rights to a slew of professional teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning.Assu...
Published: 12/14/17
Poll: Most Americans say 'Merry Christmas' and prefer Rudolph over Charlie Brown

Poll: Most Americans say 'Merry Christmas' and prefer Rudolph over Charlie Brown

The Monmouth University Polling institute released the results of their Christmas poll today.
Published: 12/14/17

Thursday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYBoxingSuper Bantamweights: Salgado vs. Diego De La Hoya10:30 p.m.ESPN2College basketballBethune-Cookman at USF7 p.m.820-AMValparaiso at Northwestern8 p.m.Big TenSouthern at Baylor8:30 p.m.ESPN2College volleyball, NCAA semifinalsNebraska vs. Penn...
Published: 12/13/17