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Making their marks on reality TV
State tattoo artists compete on 'Ink Master'

By BRIAN HUBER - TimeOut Staff

February 20, 2014


GREENFIELD - As tattoo artists, Jim Francis of Greenfield and Melissa Monroe of the Town of Farmington are used used to leaving indelible marks on people.

But whether they made a permanent impression for the judges on Spike TV’s “Ink Master,” well, you’ll have to tune in to see for yourself.

Francis, 43, and Monroe, 24, are two of the contestants on the next season of “Ink Master,” which premieres Tuesday night. Twice previously Francis, the owner of Milwaukee Ink, applied for the show and the third time was the charm. After a Skype interview, submitting samples of his work, and a background check, he was off to New York, for seven weeks of filming that had him and the other contestants away from home over the Thanksgiving holiday.

“It was grueling. A lot of ups and downs through the whole thing,” Francis said. “I can honestly say I thought I’d have it in the bag but because of the pressures of the show and the time limits it was nothing like I thought it would be. It threw me off my game severely. ... There’s a dynamic between film, artwork and tattooing and then being judged and you mix all that together and it becomes a highly volatile situation.”

Francis said of the 17 contestants, all but three are eliminated in the first 12 episodes. In May, the three finalists go live in a finale, “so no one knows who won yet,” he said.

But what Francis learned, he said, was how to take criticism.

“You get so used to being in your own world in your own shop, you are not used to judges coming at your throat,” he said. “Those judges are so ruthless. They’ll tear you up in a second.”

Monroe, a tattoo artist at Homeward Bound in Port Washington, said she did not apply, and producers of the show called her out of the blue and asked to interview her. She said she was offered an internship at Homeward Bound after she came in with a drawing of a reptile.

“I thought it was actually a really good learning experience. It kind of sucks because you are getting torn apart by the judges,” she said. “You think you are doing  a good tattoo but you get torn apart but that’s their job.”

For her, she said the biggest thing she didn’t expect to encounter was the stress people go through - from being away from home without family, the schedule and more.

“You think, ‘I could do that’ when you watch it on TV, but when I was there it was very, very stressful,” she said.

Francis has been tattooing for 13 years. The California native entered the field for “just the pure fascination and love for the art.” A few years ago, he relocated to Wisconsin, where his wife, Angela’s, family lives.

In May, Francis opened Milwaukee Ink, inside Milwaukee Harley-Davidson. He said it is the only tattoo parlor in the world to operate inside a Harley dealership, and while Milwaukee Ink saw plenty of business during last summer’s Harley-Davidson anniversary, he saw “Ink Master” as an opportunity to raise its profile. He said he hopes Milwaukee Ink can break ground for other dealerships to eventually accommodate tattoo shops.

Monroe said she and Francis were the only two from Wisconsin, and with her small-town background, she was given the nickname “Little House.” She said she appreciated how the other contestants offered her advice and answers to her questions.

“Jim was like my adopted dad when I was there,” Monroe said. “One of the first things he said to me when we were there first day was you know you remind me of my daughter.”