Two tattoo artists who got running starts in Douglasville will compete on Spike TV’s “Ink Master” for its sixth season called “Know Your Enemy,” which features 18 masters and their apprentices duking it out against each other with permanent ink for a grand prize.

Craig Foster, 42-year-old owner of Skinwerks Tattoo & Design in Carrollton, will compete against his mentor and co-worker, Miami Burgess, birth name Jeffrey Brinton Burgess. However, it won’t be Foster’s first time on the show. He appeared on Season 3, which aired in 2013. 

“I made it through eight episodes,” Foster said of his first experience on a reality television show. “I’ve had no contact with Ink Master since my part on the show. So, I kind of looked at it like, ‘Wow, I must have really (messed) this up.’ Then they contacted me again right after Season 5 ended and asked me if I’d be willing to come back.”

Burgess, who has 23 years of experience tattooing, gave Foster his first tattoo in 1995 at Tattoos by Miami in Douglasville.

“It was a heart and then there’s a banner over it that reads ‘addictive,’” Foster said of the tattoo on his arm. “(When I look at it) I remember who I was and there’s no regrets about it. I remember that person I was. I was 21 years old and it was me against the world.” 

Foster was an apprentice under Burgess for four years. Burgess said Foster had a thirst for knowledge and would often dismantle and reassemble tattoo machines to understand how they worked.

“He’s got this drive to learn,” Burgess, 42, said of Foster. “He worked for it.”

Burgess, who later worked with Foster at the now closed Psycho Tattoos in Douglasville, joked that he got into tattooing because it attracted women. But Foster admitted that was part of the allure. 

“My first time walking in his studio, there were just chicks hanging out and all of his friends and all the people he cared about and he was listening to music that he liked to listen to,” Foster said of Burgess’s studio. “It just seemed like this fantasy. You just don’t have to do things that you don’t like to do. He was basically just going to work and doing something that he enjoyed doing all day. … It just seemed like a wonderful place. If you’re an artist, why wouldn’t you want to do that?”

Temporary situations lead to permanent ink

Both Foster, a New York native, and Burgess, whose parents were splitting up at the time, moved to the Atlanta area in 1989. Shortly thereafter, their paths crossed in Cobb County.

“I was getting arrested,” Foster said of the time he met Burgess. “It was a misdemeanor charge, but I still had to get booked on it. When I was at the police station in Cobb County cooperating, basically the officers asked if they could put me in the holding cell for a minute because they had a really interesting character coming in that had just got arrested. All the officers were getting really excited because, apparently, it was a white guy who had the word, ‘MIAMI’ cut into his hairline.”

Foster, who said he’d repeatedly violated terms of his probation, watched Burgess cutting up with the officers and remembered him. Burgess had been cuffed on charges of jaywalking and unpaid parking tickets.

“It wasn’t even two weeks later when we were both at a party in Marietta and I literally saw him and I was like, ‘Holy crap. Did you get arrested last week?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah! I saw you in the holding cell.’” Foster said. “As soon as we met each other, from that point on, we were hanging out for the whole summer. … We just got in lots of trouble.”

After telling a judge he had no intentions of abiding by the terms of his probation, Foster said he spent 18 months behind bars, drawing mostly.

Within two weeks of his release, Foster discovered Burgess had opened his own tattoo shop in Douglasville. That’s when he became Burgess’s ink apprentice.

“It’s like he was training a unicorn to tattoo,” said Foster, a black man with a graying beard. “There weren’t any black tattoo artists back then. Tattooing was a whole different society back then. Everything changed about it. When (Burgess) learned how to tattoo, I would say it was mostly military and bikers who were the only people who got tattoos. It was a very closed society. Then that whole grunge movement happened in ‘92 and ‘93 and Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Red Hot Chili Peppers — just that whole movement of MTV, and music videos and tattoos and sports. It just changed who was getting tattoos. … So, I started in right at that time where young people started getting interested in it.”

Burgess took Foster under his wing just as Burgess had been taken under his mentor’s wing — only the mentor-apprentice relationship, for Burgess, was much stronger this time. 

An airbrush artist at the time, Burgess was living in Cobb County when he got his first tattoo, which illustrates a bird over the word “Miami,” his hometown and the name of his family’s favorite football team. Burgess said he didn’t graduate from high school, but he attended Alexander High School about 1990, according to his Google Plus account.

“I kept hanging out in that tattoo shop and finally (the tattoo artist) was like, ‘You know, I want to learn how to airbrush.’ and I said, ‘Well I want to learn how to tattoo.’” Burgess said. “So we switched out. … Back then, the apprenticeship is a lot different than what they do now. Back then, you were kind of a slave. You had to wash toilets, you had to wash the cars ... You had to do whatever they ask you to do. Those were crazy times.”

He and his mentor moved to Smyrna, where the mentor eventually lost his job because of a drug-addicted lifestyle. About the same time, Burgess’s mother passed away. He said he used the money she bequeathed to him to open up Tattoos by Miami for business in Douglasville.

Not much later, Burgess was arrested for distributing methamphetamine and spent time behind bars.

“Being young and being a tattoo artist was kind of like being a rock star and going to the strip joints, you know? So, I was partying and it was a problem,” Burgess said. “I was like, ‘You know what, Miami? This is a learning lesson.’ A lot of people will take that and be angry at the world but I took a negative and turned it into a positive. …. When I got out I gave it 110 (percent).”

When he got out of prison, Burgess said he didn’t even have a pair of socks. Today, he lives in Douglas County with his 16-year-old son. He said he hopes his appearance on “Ink Master” will be the beginning of something positive.

Ink Master

The first episode of Season 6 will air June 23 at 10 p.m. Each week, the show will put an artist through a series of tattoo challenges that are designed to test the artist’s technical skills and creativity. The winner is awarded a $100,000 prize, an editorial feature in “Inked” and, of course, the bragging rights title of “Ink Master.”

All 18 artists will be asked to create and execute an original tattoo on-the-spot to give to a ‘Human Canvas,’ who is a total stranger. The ‘Human Canvases’ will form their own jury, deliberate as a group and pick one artist per episode who will be up for elimination, according to a release from Spike cable channel. In the jury room, viewers get an inside look at the heated arguments and wicked emotions as the Canvases defend or abandon their new ink and artist.

The artists will also practice different styles of tattooing such as American traditional, Japanese, trash polka, anatomical and Victorian.

Having participated on the show before, Foster said he felt more knowledgeable and prepared this time around — especially given his brotherhood bond with Burgess.

“We basically were living with nine other unique apprentice mentor bonds that were totally different than everyone’s,” Foster said. “I thought that me and (Burgess) had something different than anybody had. ...Once you teach someone to tattoo it becomes like a family bond and, you know, we were friends before that.” 

This will be Burgess’s first appearance on television. Being on the reality series with Foster, though, provided some level of comfort.

“You could tell in the first 10 minutes who would stab who in the back,” Burgess said of the show. “It’s like, everyone looked at us and we’d be over there in the corner laughing about something. The producer and everybody knew. They were like, ‘Those two are inseparable. It doesn’t matter how we edit this or what we do.’ It’s like we have that bond that nobody else there had.”

Foster said one of the hardest parts about being on the show is the judgement. Tattoos made by participants are projected onto a giant screen and flaws are mercilessly amplified and critiqued.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand the difficulty of being judged by these guys on the television show,” said Foster. “The show is really good at looking for weak spots. That’s what they do. They get you in there, they find out what you’re not good at and they just hammer you with it over and over again. You’re used to just doing a good job and people focusing in on your strong points … It’s humbling. You come out refreshed on this industry. You understand that you’re built for this and this is all you have.”

The two artists will return to Douglasville June 23 and host a viewing party at Highlanders Tavern & Grill on Douglas Boulevard for the season’s first episode. The party starts at 7:30 p.m., Foster said.

“We’re both going to be there at the Highlander in Douglasville,” Foster said “It’s where my career started and (Burgess) used to have a tattoo studio over there, so I think it’s an appropriate place to see it all kind of come full circle.”

Contact Laura Corley by email at laura@douglascountysentinel.com or by phone at 770-942-6571 ext. 233.

© 2015 Douglas County Sentinel. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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