Local artist Deanna Smith makes Denton proud in journey to becoming an ‘Ink Master’

Local artist Deanna Smith makes Denton proud in journey to becoming an ‘Ink Master’

Local artist Deanna Smith makes Denton proud in journey to becoming an ‘Ink Master’
January 16
19:18 2018

When Deanna Smith walked into Dark Age Tattoo shop, she captured the attention of the room immediately. With her blazing red hair and intricate tattoos, she’s hard to miss.

The 25-year-old has been the center of attention in Denton since her appearance as a contestant on season 10 of “Ink Master.”

Deanna Smith. Jake King

Smith earned herself the position on the show after winning “Ink Master: Angels,” a spin-off of “Ink Master.” With a win on Angels, she was automatically guaranteed a spot to compete in season 10.

“’Ink Angels’ gave me a tiny taste of the show since it forced me to be more comfortable around cameras,” Deanna said. “It definitely prepared me a little bit, but not as much as I would’ve liked because on ‘Ink Master’ it’s almost like there’s a whole other rule book.”

Deanna’s position on “Ink Master” is rightly earned and came after years of hard work and trying to perfect her craft.

Her relationship with tattooing began when she was still a high school student attending the well-respected Booker T. Washington for studio and visual art in Dallas.

Phyllis Smith, Deanna’s mother, said after watching her daughter craft impeccable drawings at a young age, she made sure Deanna was enrolled in an arts magnet school.

“Deanna was an artist from the minute she came out of my womb,” Phyllis said.  “Wherever we were, she was always drawing something.”

Phyllis said her aspiration for her daughter was always to go to college and get a degree. She set up college tours whenever she could, but it wasn’t long before Deanna fell in love with a new kind of art —  tattooing. Unsurprisingly, this newfound love led to Deanna receiving her first tattoo when she was just 16 years-old.

While the tattoos may not have been perfect, she said being exposed to tattoos as a new art form opened her mind.

“I’ve always been a fine artist, and that’s what I’ve prepared myself to be,” Deanna said. “As terrible as these [first] tattoos were when I got them, it was life changing. It made me realize there was a whole other category of art that I wanted to get into.”

With a new goal in life, Deanna quickly realized her parents’ plan for her to attend the School of Visual Arts in New York wasn’t a life she saw for herself.

While Phyllis was devastated at first, she was proud that her daughter decided to do what she loved even if she was was going against the expectations at Booker T.

In a high school where the atmosphere was geared towards preparation for college, Deanna’s decision was unheard of.

Phyllis still gets choked up when she thinks of the courage it took for her daughter to go against the odds and pursue her dreams. She said there were many times people did mean acts to her daughter out of jealousy.

“I’m so impressed with her, she had teachers saying that she wouldn’t become anything as a tattoo artist,” Phyllis said. “She studies her craft constantly. She had the natural talent, but she still works her butt off. She never stops, and is always learning.”

Luckily, Deanna’s parents eventually came around and educated themselves to help them understand why she chose to be a tattoo artist, and they are now her biggest supporters.

At the age of 17, Deanna began her apprenticeship at Artistic Encounter in Dallas. Often times, hopeful tattoo artists struggle with realizing great artists don’t necessarily make great tattoo artists. That wasn’t the case for Deanna, as she saw tattooing as learning to draw again on a harder and completely different medium.

Deanna said she appreciates the knowledge she gained during her five-year apprenticeship, but the start of her career was by no means glamorous. She was responsible for the grunt work of the shop but always saw it as a way to get her foot in the door.

Tasks like taking out the trash and sweeping the floors became a daily routine for her during her apprenticeship, but Deanna also became more acquainted with the ugly side of the tattoo industry.

“I was hazed a lot — it was almost like joining a gang at some points,” Deanna said.

Even after having to stand outside in floaties holding a sign to advertise the shop during summer, working noon to midnight, to eating petroleum jelly and drinking milk until she puked, Deanna was committed to making her dream come true.

“That’s why you have to go through blood, sweat and tears to become a tattooer because it’s so rewarding,” Deanna said. “Apprenticeships really weeds out the people who don’t want it bad enough.”

Video by Mark Baldwin

Mastering her Ink

When she landed her spot on this season of “Ink Master” after her success on “Ink Master: Angels,” Deanna saw the hard work she put in for years finally paying off.

“I went through a lot to get to where I am today, and I am finally just seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, so it feels good.” Deanna said.

The premise of this season of “Ink Master” is different than previous seasons: There are three teams lead by three coaches, each of which are previous “Ink Master” winners: Team Steve, Team Anthony and Team DJ (the team Deanna is on).

The coaches will mentor the artists throughout the season as the 16 artists compete for a chance to win $100,000, a feature in “Inked” magazine and the title of “Ink Master.” The three coaches will then compete against each other at the end of the season for a chance to win another $100,000. The coaches will be able to pull artists from the different teams to help them win.

“Without even being on the show for that long, I’ve already learned so much about tattooing,” Deanna said. “I wanted to work with tattooers that I’ve been looking up to since I was 16 years-old.”

Shooting for the show often begins promptly at 4 a.m. and oftentimes doesn’t end until 10 p.m.

The days are long and weary. Deanna said the hardest part is the stress and time constraint.

The contestants must handle the pressure of the cameras, the judges examining their work with a microscope and only having several hours to complete a project.

“It’s almost set up for you to fail, and you just have to fight against the odds,” Deanna said.

Deanna is one of the very few female competitors on “Ink Master” this season. She is used to this, though, after years of working in the tattoo industry.

She said bonding with the other female competitors was empowering as the feeling of being outnumbered by male competitors can’t be ignored.

“Sometimes I feel like my voice isn’t heard very much, but that’s how it’s always been in the tattoo industry for me,” Deanna said.

However, Deanna said she feels lucky to work at a shop like Dark Age where she is given the respect she deserves.

Kelly Graff, manager at Dark Age Tattoo, said Deanna’s talent has improved immensely since she came to work with them.

“Deanna has definitely improved quite a bit since she’s been here,” Graff said. “She was a good artist when she started. She’s very open to criticism, and the two owners of this shop are good at constructive criticism.”

Graff said the entire staff is celebrating Deanna’s success.

“Everybody here is super proud of her — there’s no jealousy,” Graff said.

With her presence on the show, Deanna now has more opportunities than she ever could have imagined during her days as an apprentice.

“My favorite part about being a tattooer is being able to travel wherever I want, going to conventions and being able to hang out with other tattooers,” Deanna said. “It’s really hard, but you’re always learning, getting to know really cool people and travel, and making money while doing it.”

Although even with clients from near and far trying to get booked with Deanna, she’s unsure if she’ll ever get used to going outside and being recognized by fans of the show.

The only major downside? Having her natural creativity put under heavy pressure by the ruling of the judges.

In the real world, Deanna isn’t critiqued so harshly in such a stressful environment. While the analyses may help her as an artist, she is worried her nerves may alter the appearance of the tattoos she produces.

“I want to let loose and put my creativity into whatever I want to do in a tattoo, but with all the pressure in mind, I am restrained,” Deanna said.  “I am confined to a little bubble of what I can and can’t do, and I’m afraid to go outside my comfort zone.”

Though she has enjoyed her time on the show, she makes it a point to make clear that what you see in a short hour it isn’t always a complete representation of the contestants as artists. Deanna said the Instagram accounts and online portfolios of the competitors are where viewers should investigate to observe the truest work of the artist.

Deanna looks forward to the future and what it will bring for her career.”

“I see myself as being a better tattooer, and I would love to just be able to travel anywhere in the world and book appointments,” Deanna said. “I would love to be known more so she could tattoo more.”

To see Deanna in action, tune in to “Ink Master” at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays.

Featured Image: Deanna Smith tattoos a woman on the top of her back. Jake King 

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Anna Orr

Anna Orr

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