Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
When Joey Hamilton was about to graduate from Woodward High School some 27 years ago, the best course of action, he thought then, was to enlist into the U.S. Air Force.
"I mean, what I saw then was my older brother was in (the military) and he was getting married and driving a BMW and I thought, 'hey that not so bad,'" he said.
Hamilton would never know until years later how that one decision would lead him to become one of America's most successful tattoo artists, a reality television star and now, possibly the next Ink Master champion.
Ink Master, Hamilton's second appearance in a cable reality series, is a SPIKE TV competitive reality show airing its third season Tuesday July 16. Hamilton is one of the 16 competitors for $100,000 and a write up in Inked Magazine.
But back when Hamilton was cruising the main drag in Woodward with high school friends, hunting and enjoying sports, he would have classified himself as a normal country boy.
Yet, under that country boy exterior, there was a hint of an ability swirling deeply within him early in his life.
"I had fun competing in art competition throughout high school," Hamilton said. "And I got out of high school with a small art scholarship."
When he entered the Air Force and got his very first assignment, it was an exotic location that tipped the scales toward an artistic expression that just amplified the already talented imagination of Hamilton.
After nearly 10 years serving the country all over the world, to include a combat tour during Operation Desert Storm, the now seasoned veteran was working toward another kind of life.
During his last year in the military, Hamilton met a tattooer named Rodney Folsom, who was also in the military at that time.
Folsom is the owner of Paper Street Tattoo Company located near the corner of 9th Street and Oklahoma in Woodward.
"Luckily I had a mutual friend with Rodney Folsom. He (Rodney) took me under his wing and trained me. I spent about 6 months with Rodney then I started working in tattoo shops around Fort Walton Beach, Fla.," Hamilton said.
This life and the artful expression it allowed inspired Hamilton - so much so that he eventually opened his own tattoo shop in Destin, Fla. He ran the shop for seven years.
While on vacation in Las Vegas, Hamilton wandered into Hart and Huntington Tattoo Shop. He was impressed by the work they were doing there and so he applied for a job with them and was hired. Hamilton must have been channelling one of those rarest of spirits - Las Vegas luck - because he was hired right about the time the tattoo shop was shooting the well known A&E series known as "Inked."
After being a part of that cast for two years, Hamilton went to work for Club Tattoo where he still plies his trade after four years.
Recently, Hamilton said he got the opportunity to try out for the third season of Ink Master.
But he was a little down on the shows after trying out for a couple of other competition type shows and feeling a little discouraged by the process.
"But Ink Master, the process was easy, about half the process of the other shows," he said. "It was a couple of interviews and they liked my stuff. Then they keep you waiting to the last minute, but they finally told me I got in."
For those who think the life of a tattoo artist is free and easy, think again, Hamilton said.
The filming process of the show was in some cases long and grueling and the competition was fierce, he said, not wanting to give away any of the show's intrigue.
Yet, he found the process to be honest and above board with real competition and real judging that seemed, in most cases, to be fair - not trumped up for ratings.
He said the competition was stressful and exhausting. Small quarters, too many people living in one room and just the "game" in the show invented by producers - keeping them sleep deprived to challenge them - took its toll, he said.
Hamilton had a secret weapon in his war chest though - experience.
"You know, the days got long and for me, I was used to it because in Desert Storm, you sleep when you get sleep and when you don't, well you just don't," he said. "That was the same with being away because after being away in the military I was used to that too. Some guys were crying the first week because they missed their families and I was like "This is week one Dude, you might want to just go ahead and pack.'"
Hamilton cannot discuss anything specific about the show, by orders of the producers and the contract he signed.
However, he was permitted to tease the audience with a snippet of information about the first episode, which takes place in a prison where the tattoo artists are challenged to create and tattoo on the arm of a prisoner volunteer. They are judged on the best work they can produce in 90 minutes.
So let the drama begin.
Hamilton gave a shout out to his friend Folsom.
Folsom, he said, opened the door to the world of tattoo art to him and ironically wound up opening his shop in Hamilton's home town.
"He asked me then, 'Would you mind if I opened a shop in Woodward?'," Hamilton said. "And of course I had no problem with it at all."
He also recognized as well as his parents Jack and Lauri Hamilton who have supported him throughout his navigation of the peculiar landscape of Tattoo Artisanship.
"What I really need at this time is for the people of Woodward to watch and vote and see how this turns out," he said. "Their vote will really matter at the end of this."
For more information about Hamilton and to keep track of how he is doing on the show, go to his Facebook page "Joey Hamilton" and follow his celebrations.