When season 3 of Spike TV’s Ink Master premieres next month, local tattoo artist Jackie ‘Ink Bitch’ Jennings will stand among the 16 national contestants vying for a $100K prize and the honor of being named one of America’s most badass tattooists. If you’re a reality-show fan, you probably know the drill, but for those not keeping score, the show, hosted by Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, places contestants in weekly tattoo challenges, slowly whittling them down until they have a winner.
Jennings is going into the competition with a solid 10 year’s experience, spending much of that time honing her skills at Tru Blu Tatu in Bristol, Pa. She currently lives with her girlfriend — a bartender at Stir Lounge in Rittenhouse — in South Philly. I’ll admit, my fingers trembled a little when I dialed her number this week for a phone interview. I mean, chances were pretty high that a conversation with someone named “Ink Bitch” could go south in a gay heartbeat. I couldn’t have been more wrong — though I wouldn’t want to cross her. Keep reading to learn more about the tough-cookie tattoo artist, including the precious thing she says she’d do with the prize money, if she plans on opening her own shop in Philly and what on Earth made her lose her shit in this preview clip.
How’d you get started?
When I was about 13, I took Indian ink out of an art class and was tattooing neighborhood kids with a little needle. I got in so much trouble. But when I was 25 or 26 I started tattooing for real.
Did you always have a talent for drawing?
I’ve never taken art classes, but I knew I had artistic ability — I could draw anything I saw. But I honestly didn’t know how intense my artistic ability was until I became a tattoo artist.
Do you have a specialty?
I like doing portraits and anything that’s realistic, like flowers. But I don’t like to limit myself to one thing.
How many tattoos do you have?
I can’t even count anymore. … I have one arm halfway done, and my leg sleeve. … I’m working on a Japanese arm sleeve that’s made out of skulls and hibiscus flowers — my mom’s favorite flower.
Do you call yourself Ink Bitch because you are … a bitch?
I guess some would say [laughs]. One time I was doing a tattoo party [and some people were acting a little crazy], so I yelled at them. Then my friend who was there said “Oh, whatever, Ink Bitch.” After that, he said it to tease me all the time, but eventually it stuck. I hated it at first, but after a while I got used to it. I can be a bitch sometimes [laughs].
Let’s talk about you being on the reality show. What made you want to be on it?
It was a desire of my mom’s. She’s not really a tattoo person, but come to find out she watched both seasons [of Ink Master]. She told me that I should do it, so that was kind of my inspiration to go forward with it.
What was it like being on a reality show?
It was the biggest mental mind fuck of your life [laughs]. It was nuts. I thought I would go on and breeze right through, but it was definitely mentally and physically draining. You really don’t sleep too much. … They expect you to do your best work six hours straight on a couple hours sleep. I’m a strong mental-minded person, but there were situations that definitely got to me.
In the preview I saw, it looked like you were about to get into a fight with someone. Did you find it tough to get along with people?
Not really. My game plan was to just be in the background and skate along so I didn’t have targets on my back, but that guy — he said some very harsh things. He was calling me certain things, like lesbian, dyke — gay slurs.
One of your challenges was to go to a prison and tattoo inmates. What was that like?
That was the first episode, and it was very intense. People who have seen that preview have told me they thought it was fake, but it literally was that intense. What they showed on that preview actually gets ten times worse.
Speaking of tough situations, what was the worst thing about being on the show?
The lack of sleep and being away from my mom and my girlfriend.
What was your favorite part?
The best part was working with a lot of different artists. I’m definitely very well known where I’m at in Bristol, so I don’t really travel too often. But [being on the show] helped me realize that has been a downfall for me. As an artist, you should travel and work with other artists. Every artist has their own eye and you can learn something from them. You should place yourself in those situations so you can learn from other people.
What was host Dave Navarro like?
Dave Navarro was actually pretty cool. I wasn’t necessarily a Dave Navarro fan, but I was a Jane’s Addiction fan. But I’m definitely a big fan of his now.
I know you can’t tell me the outcome, but what do you plan to do with the $100,000 prize if you win it?
My mom wants to swim with the dolphins, so I’d take her to do that.
Do you have any plans to open your own business here in Philly?
We are swaying back and forth [on that decision], because South Philly is an ideal location for me. My girlfriend and I love being in the city, and we love the part of South Philly that we live in — [Passyunk Square].
So how has being on the show changed your life?
I can’t wait to see what my future holds. I definitely want to travel the world now that I know people might know my name — actually get myself out there and become a much better artist.
Set your DVRs! Season 3 of Ink Master premieres on July 16 at 10 p.m. For more information about the show, visit firstname.lastname@example.org.