Ink Master finally crowned its first female, the well-deserved Ryan Ashley Malarkey.
It finally happened, Ryan Ashley Malarkey became the first female winner of Ink Master after eight seasons, succeeding at what dozens in her position had hoped to attain. Before she won over America and legendary tattoo artist, Oliver Peck, Malarkey was a fashion designer and the owner of the Strange and Unusual Oddities shop. With a mere five years of tattooing under her belt and despite the odds posed against her, Malarkey used her raw talent, fearless ambition and what proved to be the unstoppable power of an all-female alliance to prove to the judges, as well as the nation, that she was the top tattooer of season eight. Malarkey is an artist who has shown that she can adapt in any situation, which is why the tattoo industry and fans alike should stay tuned for her next tattoos and moves.
Inked: How does it feel to be Ink Master?
Ryan Ashley Malarkey: Of all the words, I could use to describe this feeling, I would have to say “honoured” would be the most accurate. It’s crazy to believe I ended up winning this game, considering how many insanely talented and diverse artists competed this season. Ink Master is an insane, multifaceted, triathlon obstacle course of tattooing — but in the end, it is ART. Art is so personal and so subjective, and in this instance used in a competition game, where one artist fights their way to victory. And though I ended up victorious, I’ve got to recognise the skill level of so many of my competitors and acknowledge that the game could have gone so many other ways —and many other “winners” would have been equally as deserving.
Inked: How was your experience on the show?
Ryan Ashley Malarkey: Even before the finale, I knew for certain my life was changed forever because of this experience. Despite a few pretty tough physical and psychological hurdles throughout the taping, I can confidently say it was one of the greatest opportunities I have ever been a part of. I learned so much about art, tattooing, friendship, and myself. I picked up some amazing tricks, tested my own limits, and made an entire group of lifelong friends. It was challenging on so many different levels, but truly an honour.
Inked: What made you decide to go on the show in the first place?
Ryan Ashley Malarkey: I went on to grow as an artist and become a more rounded individual in general, and to test myself. I figured that I would give it all I had and come out proud of the art I’ve done and be grateful just for the opportunity to compete. I honestly never went into this whole experience with expectations of being the last one standing, I just realised that this was a once in a lifetime experience that happens to a select few people and I couldn’t justify not taking it.
Inked: What was it like being mentored by Oliver during your time at Ink Master and how did it feel to be his first pick of the season?
Ryan Ashley Malarkey: I couldn’t believe Oliver chose me as his first pick of the season. The entire time we were standing there waiting for it to happen, I just kept hoping I wouldn’t be the LAST one picked and I kept having visions of elementary school dodge ball. From worrying about not even being picked to being picked first was a major whiplash! But it couldn’t have worked out better. It was an honour being on Team Peck, both because Oliver was an extremely involved, insightful team leader, and because most of my team mates were an absolute joy to work with.
Inked: How does it feel to make history for female tattooers?
Ryan Ashley Malarkey: It feels indescribably surreal to be categorised with other female tattooers — or with tattooers in general that have made history. But I am not the first, or the last, so I try to remain grounded and always remain thankful by remembering all the tattooers before me who paved the way to make this opportunity possible for my generation of artists.
Inked: Did you expect things to turn out the way that they did?
Ryan Ashley Malarkey: Absolutely not. I remember on day one, when all 30 of us were unleashed to meet each other and scope out the competition. I thought then while looking around that just maybe I had a chance of making it far into this competition — midway at least, maybe even to the final five! And then walks in Kelly Doty, and I was like, “Dear God, we haven’t spoken in a while, but, please don’t let me be the first one to be eliminated!”
Inked: Why did you, Kelly, Nikki,and Gia decide to form an alliance?
Ryan Ashley Malarkey: We didn’t have any sort of premeditated intention of creating an “alliance” between the girls. Before I left to compete, I had all these cray ideas in my head that I was going to be sleeping in a room next to a psycho super-competitor who was going to put urine in my shampoo and cut off my ponytail in my sleep. But apparently, the other girls had similar paranoias, so we were all immediately relieved to meet each other and all shared an immediate admiration and mutual respect. We helped each other, we supported each other, and as we grew stronger as a unit, the bond transferred into the competition.
Inked: What obstacles have you faced as a female in a predominately male industry?
Ryan Ashley Malarkey: In many places today, being a female tattooer is still a novelty sort of position and with this notion a lot of people feel the urge to judge us on a million other things aside from our work alone. The thing about being a female in this industry is that everyone has some opinion about you. Our appearance, our weight, the way we dress. It’s unfortunate that the way we look must affect our tattoo ability. Now this isn’t true for everyone, but I can speak for myself that no person, male or female, should be pressured to look any certain way to feel validation as an artist.
Inked: How do you think that the industry will advance in terms of gender equality as time goes on?
Ryan Ashley Malarkey: People everywhere are slowly changing as the times are changing. I’m noticing that the same bracket of elderly people with old-fashioned ways of thinking, who would at one time comment about how it’s a “sin” that such a pretty girl would ruin her body, are now approaching me to tell me about their daughter or granddaughter with a tattoo and they’re connecting with me on that level. Since everyone is getting tattooed in our society, these old school thinking types of people all have a tattooed loved one or friend who allows them to see tattoos as art, instead of body defacement.
Inked: I understand that before becoming a tattoo artist, you worked as a fashion designer. What made you transition from a career in fashion to a career as a tattoo artist?
Ryan Ashley Malarkey: I’ve been artistic for as long as I can remember, but my interest has always been focused on human anatomy and the flow of the body. I wanted to go into a career that allowed me to decorate the human body and use the shapes, flow and curves of my canvas to adorn fabric. But after about six years in the industry, I realised that my true calling wasn’t for fabric — it was for skin. So at 24 years old, I left my awesome design job in NYC for the next chapter, hoping that tattooing would bring the fulfillment I was lacking… and I was right!
Inked: Did you bring any of your skills from fashion into your tattooing?Ryan Ashley Malarkey: Absolutely! SO MANY of my skills, aesthetic, work ethic and vision in tattooing come from my previous life in fashion. During the last three years of my career in design, I was mostly assigned to create all of the intricate adornments on the garments we created. I was designing bead work, appliqués, lace details and embroidery, so when I began to tattoo, those interests translated directly and I slowly started to tattoo more and more intricately. Now my tattoo designs consist mostly of flowing jewels, beadwork and lace detail.
Inked: As many people know, in addition to being a tattooer, you also own The Strange and Unusual. What made you decide to open an oddities shop?
Ryan Ashley Malarkey: Thanks to my antique-collecting Mom, I have been going to yard sales, flea markets and estate sales since I was a toddler. It’s always blown me away to see what people throw out and consider garbage. Collecting these small objects led me to start repurposing items as DIY projects and eventually revealed an entire network of “treasure seeking” people who mutually appreciate the “strange and unusual” things in life.
Inked: Besides your former career in fashion and your shop, where else do you draw inspiration for your tattoos?
Ryan Ashley Malarkey: I try to draw inspiration from unexpected places and stay away from Google as much as I can. Whenever I design filigree, I look at all the scroll work on Victorian furniture. Whenever I design beading, I look at chandeliers or bridal accessories. For animals and birds, I have a collection started of vintage illustrated wildlife books.
Inked: Do you think that your tattooing has changed since the competition began?
Ryan Ashley Malarkey: Not only has my tattooing changed since the competition, but my overall outlook on tattoos has changed. I normally work by myself in my little private studio and rarely ever have any outside influence, advice or critique. It was very hard at first to hear some of the brutally blunt critiques on my work, and it took me awhile to realise how valuable they were and to simply listen. But instead of pretending my work was perfect and ignorantly defending the imperfections, I took every bit of critique and improved. I let my ego get broken down enough to build myself back up with this new knowledge that I am so grateful for.
Words by Devon Preston Photographs by Mark Mann