A fellow soldier named Rodney offered to show Hamilton the ropes of ink slinging, apprenticing him throughout his last year in the military. Hamilton's skills and dedication have been consistent throughout the years landing him gigs at prestigious tattoo shops and appearances on two reality TV shows, "Inked" and "Ink Master." On the latter, he took home the big W in its most previous season. Rebel Ink caught up with the newly proclaimed Ink Master for an exclusive photo shoot and to chat about his life and career before and after reality TV.
REBEL INK: What attracted you to the art of tattooing and the idea of becoming a tattoo artist?
Joey Hamilton: When I first started, I didn't really have a firm concept of what tattooing was even about. Mainly because when I was growing up tattooing was illegal in Oklahoma, so I didn't really know that much about it. I've always liked art, and I think the art part about it is what really attracted me to tattooing. It wasn't like the history of tattooing or anything like that - it was more about creating art.
After you left the military, did you continue tattooing or was there a pause in between?
Right after I got out, I moved to South Florida and I worked at a tattoo shop called Personal Expressions. There I met Jason Stephan, who is an amazing tattoo artist. He's someone I consider as one of my really good friends. We kind of started our careers out together. I worked there for two years. I got a lot of time in the chair, as I call it. You spend a lot of the time doing a lot of tattoos and learning how to hone in on your skill. After I left there, I decided to go back up to North Florida, which is where I was originally at, and I worked for this guy named Jeff Bullard at Tattoos Forever. I worked for him for a little while, about a year or so. We decided to open up a shop together and that's where Exo Graphix was born.
How did the journey to Club Tattoo in Las Vegas come about?
I owned my shop in Florida, and I decided to visit Las Vegas because I had traveled all over the world for the military, but I wanted to go to Vegas and maybe play cards for a month and tattoo. So I came out and I got a job instantly just to work a couple of days a week just to make money for a couple of weeks that I could float around with. That's when "Inked" was out, the TV show. The first season was already done, and I thought, "How cool would it be to do a guest spot in that shop?" So I went to the shop, and they said, "Well, we can't have you do a guest spot, but you can tryout to be on the TV show." I was in Vegas for about 30 days, and literally on my last day here, I had already done about four or five interviews with them, and on the last day they called and asked, "Are you still in town?" I said, "Yeah." And they said, "Okay, well, you start tomorrow." [Laughs.] So, I got the job to be on the show, and I basically sold my house, my business, everything over the phone, and I moved to Las Vegas.
How was your experience on that show?
It was fun. It's one of those things that I look back now. They already had a season down, and I came into it as the bright-eyed kid from Florida who didn't really know anything. I was a pretty decent tattoo artist, but they already had their cliques formed; so when I came into it, I was like the new guy. That was kind of weird, because I went from owning my own shop with seven to eight guys that were all close friends to coming out here like being thrown into a wolves' den and not knowing it. I didn't really know it at the time, but people would hate on you just because you're the new guy. I never really experienced that before.
How did you get involved with "Ink Master"?
I tried out for "Best Ink" and I got down to the top 20 people, and they were like, "Oh, you're going to be on the show!" and I thought that was cool. Then they called me and said, "Oh, you didn't make the show." So I kind of went through all of the emotional highs and lows of doing that. I wasn't going to try out for "Ink Master," but two of my friends, Chris Garcia and Walter Frank, were like, "Let's go to LA. We can make it like a road trip." So we went, and I was the only one who got a callback. It was kind of crazy and cool at the same time to get the callback. But I was like, "Man, my friends are just as good as I am. Why didn't they get a callback?" I went through the interview process, and it just seemed to work out so much better than "Best Ink" as far as just the process alone.
When you guys arrived in New York, did you already know who the other artists were?
No. That's why they waited until the last minute to let you know that you're on the show, because they didn't want artists to join up before they even got on the show. I didn't know who was on the show until we pulled up in the van on the first day. I worked with Jime Litwalk at a couple of different shops. I've known him quite a while, so it was a great feeling to see him right away. I was like, "Alright. It's going to be a lot easier because I have somebody there that I know."
After you saw everyone tattoo, who did you know would give you competition during the rest of the season?
Of course from knowing Jime I knew that Jime was going to do what he did. I've competed against Jime at many conventions. I knew he was going to be tough. And of course, Tatu Baby just because of how strong she was during the final episodes in the previous season. As soon as we started tattooing, Craig jumped out at me. He was super solid. Everything was smooth about what he did. He had won the second and third episode, so I was like, "Man, how am I going to beat this guy?" He was kicking some ass. He started very strong at what he did. But, the competition is about overall tattooing - like doing everything, not just what you do well. I think that's what helped me out later on was the fact that I could tattoo multiple styles and do it well.
Now that you've been on the show - and won - how's your appointment book looking?
Honestly, it's still wide open. I am booked up somewhat like a month out or sometimes two months. And I'm trying to squeeze in my conventions, too. That's another thing; I'm not used to going to conventions as much, and I'm already booked for about four or five this year that just fell in my lap.
Which conventions will you be doing?
I'll be doing the Best of the Midwest, the Shane O'Neil show, which is in like two weeks. Then after that, I'll be doing Joshua Carlton's Evergreen Tattoo Invitational & Expo. I'll be at the Oklahoma City show. I'll be going to London for the Great Britain Tattoo Show. I think I'm getting confirmed for Toronto right now. It's just constant.
Any advice for any artist considering doing the reality show thing?
You have to understand what they want. With a reality show, especially like "Ink Master," you could be the best artist in the world and they may not pick you because of your personality. So don't get down on yourself if they don't pick you. They're looking for something and every year it changes. Just go in there and be yourself, and hopefully they'll pick you.
Now that you've done both "Inked" and "Ink Master," would you be willing to sign up for another reality show?
[Laughs.] Well, that would be crazy, wouldn't it? I've already done two TV shows. I would definitely consider doing another show. I like the aspect of it, of being out in the public eye. As far as what type of show... There are so many shows coming out now that I think are making our industry look bad. I don't like those. I really wish there were another competition show that's really about competing. Not about drama or anything like that. A true competition show.
3663 S Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Portrait photography by Dan Howell
Article by Emmanuel Urena