The reality television series, “Miami Ink,” became huge when it was launched in 2005 on the TLC cable network, and later aired in 160 countries. Having tattoos no longer represented rebellion and radicalism as they once did, and instead, they apparently made anyone feel cool, uniquely different, and welcomed by the “in” crowd. The TV show made several tattoo artists popular, as it attracted millions of viewers, and some spin-offs were created out of it. However, due to artistic differences between the producers and the artists, it was eventually canceled, after which fans of the show wanted to know what happened to its cast.

All about Miami Ink

“Miami Ink” was known to be the first reality-TV series that focused on the world of tattoos. The show was aired on the TLC channel from 2005 to 2008.

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How did “Miami Ink” start?

Discovery Channel saw the rising fascination with tattoos in the mid-2010s, and produced a show that featured tattoo artists, clients, and stories about the artwork they chose to (mostly) burn permanently onto their flesh. Miami Beach was ranked as the most inked city in the US, partly because they had easy access to the beach, and so many residents were willing to show most, if not all their skin. One of the most popular shops filled with skilled artists was 305 Ink; TV producers agreed on a deal with its owners to film a TV series they called “Miami Ink.”

From 305 Ink to “Miami Ink”

The 305 Tattoo shop was opened back in 2004, and was co-owned by close friends and tattoo artists Ami James and Chris Nunez – the shop was named as such, alluding to the Miami area code. The crew was comprised of their talented friends such as Darren Brass, Chris Garver, and Ami’s loyal apprentice, Yoji Harada; due to the popularity of the reality-TV show, the shop changed its name to Miami Ink. Additional tattoo artists joined the show over the years – Kat Von D joined the crew in the first season after Darren injured his arm, and others included Timmy Hendricks, Luke Wessman, and Morgan Pennypacker.

How tattoo was done in the shop

Love Hate Tattoo Studio, formerly Miami Ink, always inspected their tools to ensure that everything was sterilized. The first thing to do when getting a tattoo was to select a design or image. They had several designs that the client could choose from – most of the time, the artwork was displayed around the walls of the shop, or compiled in what became a catalogue. However, in most cases, clients already had an idea of what they wanted. They could also request an original design from the artist ,or create something inspired by a theme or concept. The design would then be shown on a computer monitor and then colors would be chosen. The final image would later be printed on stencil paper so that the design could be properly transferred to the skin, and would serve as an outline guide for the tattoo artist. Before the actual inking, the work area would be sterilized, and the skin would then be prepared including shaving hair as necessary. The client had to approve the placement of the image before the final step, which was the inking of the design.

TV Premiere of “Miami Ink”

It was on 19 July 2005 that “Miami Ink” made its TV debut on the TLC Channel, which was under the Discovery Channel network. The first season consisted of 10 episodes, with each episode featuring several clients with interesting stories. From the get-go, it was apparent that the owner along with his crew got along pretty well; no over-the-top drama with ridiculous fights was included in the narrative. The tattoo artists were not only skilled but also professional, and very up-front with their clients.

The first few clients of the shop during opening day

Ami James said that for a tattoo shop to succeed, it had to offer some diversity. His crew comprised of talented artists with differing specialties, and this helped the business in providing more options to clients. His first client on opening day was a champion surfer named Sonny Garcia, who wanted the Hawaiian Islands inked across his ribs, to proudly show the world where he was from. There was also a skater girl, who came into the shop wanting to immortalize her dead brother on her flesh, by having the words, ‘I don’t ever want to feel like I did that day. Take me to the place I love — take me all the way,’ from the Red Hot Chili Peppers song, “Under the Bridge.” The crew was somewhat surprised when an early male client requested that his arm be tattooed with the image of a notorious drag queen in Miami, named Marvela – it turned out that ‘she’ was actually his alter ego.

All went smoothly, but sometimes mistakes happened, even if everything was carefully prepared beforehand. Ami’s friend, Nick, wanted the words, “per sempre,” which meant “forever” in Italian. However, the letters “r” and “e” were interchanged in the first word; the mistake was only noticed after it was already inked. Ami then went out for a smoke and said it could be fixed. Thankfully, Nick came out of the shop satisfied with the artwork, even if he was seen kissing the rosary as he prayed for divine intervention before the mistake was corrected.

The reason behind the cancelation of “Miami Ink”

The fans wondered why Discovery Channel decided not to renew “Miami Ink” after six seasons; as usual in such cases, there were conflicting reports and rumours about the reason behind it. The executive producers from Discovery said that the number of viewers wasn’t high in the sixth season when compared to the previous ones, but they also said that the low turnout wasn’t as low as compared to its previous seasons – it was somewhat suspicious that they never released exact figures to back up their claims. When Ami and Chris were asked about the cancelation of the reality-TV show, they candidly said that it was their decision not to renew their contracts. Apparently, they weren’t happy with how the show was promoted, and the way they were treated. Ami even said, ‘I never want to work with Discovery again.’ The last episode was aired on 21 August 2008.

Miami Ink Cast – Where are they now?

When “Miami Ink” ended, there were several rumors that came out, such as that Ami James and Chris Nunez were planning to be on TV again with a different production company. However, they stayed in Miami for many years, and their tattoo shop flourished before they branched out.

Ami James

After he declined the renewal for another season of his show, Ami stayed put in Miami to offer their tattoo services to clients and tourists. Initially, he and his friends thought that they could use “Miami Ink” as the name of their shop, but soon found out that Discovery already owned the copyright of the name. They changed the name to Love Hate Tattoo Studio, and moved the shop right across from their original location. In 2016, there were reports that the local residents and Miami visitors continued to flock to the shop even after almost a decade had passed since the show was canceled. By that time, Ami had opened up more shops, not only in the US but also in other parts of the world.

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In 2011, fans were surprised that Ami agreed to work with Discovery once again, when he moved to New York to open a tattoo shop called Wooster St. Social Club, which was later changed to Five Points Tattoo. It was the center of another reality-TV show called “NY Ink,” and this time, he only brought a couple of people from the original show. This move was intentional, as Ami understood the reality-TV industry better than when they started “Miami Ink.” He said that the original show didn’t have enough drama, since the cast was already friends to begin with. It was said that the new cast was specifically chosen because their personalities clashed, and it would guarantee personal issues being thrashed out on TV. It worked, and the first episode garnered close to 1.5 million viewers, but it only stayed on air until 2013.

Ami also co-founded a website called Tattoodo, which served as a platform for people looking for a design, and offered an easy way to book a tattoo artist. It aimed to facilitate a person’s tattoo journey from the creation of the design up to the inking of it onto the flesh, which made the process safer, especially for tattoo virgins. The site proudly claimed that ‘Tattoodo is the world’s largest tattoo marketplace, and most downloaded tattoo app.’ In 2022, he took center stage again as one of the judges in the 14th season of “Ink Master,” which started airing in September.

Chris Nunez

Chris was initially a graffiti artist, who became interested in inking tattoos because paint eventually faded in time.  He was of Cuban descent, and the certified ladies’ man in their crew. While he was heavily into arts, he had a practical side in him too, because even after opening a tattoo shop with his friends, he still worked part-time at a construction site. While he co-owned the Love Hate Tattoo with Ami, he also took time to branch out on his own, by opening two more shops in Florida, called Liberty City Tattoo in Miami Beach, and Handcrafted Tattoo and Art Gallery in Fort Lauderdale.

In 2012, he joined a reality-TV tattoo competition series called “Ink Master.” He served as one of the judges for 13 seasons, until the show was forced to stop filming in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He stayed with the show, even though part of some controversies which involved other cast members.

Darren Brass

Darren Collarado Brass was often mistaken to be of Latino descent, but in reality he’s European, actually half-Polish and half-Irish. Out of all the “Miami Ink” crew, he had the calmest and sweetest demeanor, but it didn’t jive with his gruff exterior, and was the reason why he was often teased by the other cast members in the show. He later launched a children’s clothing line with Yoji Harada, called Ruthless and Toothless. When the two became fathers, they discovered the frustration of finding uniquely designed clothes for their toddlers, and so they joined forces by creating options for the new generation of children. Up to this day, Darren, still offers his tattooing services in the Love Hate Tattoo Studio in Miami.

Luke Wessman

This tattoo artist had an interesting backstory, as he was born in an unlikely place in Tennessee, which was an outhouse located on a hippie farm. He was said to have been raised by gang members, and it showed in his art designs. However, despite the gangster’s reputation, he once worked as a beekeeper while he was growing up, which indicated that he had a different personality, despite his tough exterior. Even back then, he knew the value of hard-earned money. There was a time when he felt uncomfortable being on “Miami Ink”, as he was also a traditional guy when it came to the tattoo business. He felt that it was a no-no to share it through a reality-TV show, but he eventually saw the advantages of it, and was just glad that it was somehow produced better than other reality-TV shows out there.

After his stint with “Miami Ink,” he accompanied Ami James when he established the Wooster Street Social Club in New York; he wasn’t part of the main cast, as he only wanted to work on the sidelines. He said that sometimes a reality-TV show could ruin someone’s reputation due to the drama involved in its presentation, as most of the viewers believed everything they saw on TV. Due to the popularity of the reality-TV shows he was in, he gained a strong network of prominent clients, and had tattooed many Hollywood celebrities. He became part of the reality-TV show, “Ink Master,” as one of the guest judges, and was also featured in many lifestyle magazines, such as Bound By Ink, GQ, Style, and The Coveteur. In 2015, he returned to California and established his own private tattoo studio called The Summertown Inn, located in an undisclosed place in Orange County – clients were on a referral basis only, as he never advertised his business.

Yoji Harada

During the start of “Miami Ink,” Yoji Harada was only an apprentice, but eventually became a fully-fledged tattoo artist trained by Ami James himself. When the show ended, he stayed with the Love Hate Tattoo Studio in Miami Beach and continued on inking full-time along with the other cast members. After he became a father, he created a clothing line for children with Darren Brass, but after the company showcased its 2018 collection, nothing was heard from it again. He made a guest appearance during the second season of “NY Ink,”, and in the third season in 2013, he was part of the featured tattoo artists in the show.

In 2016, he posted on social media that he was planning to open a tattoo shop in another country, and by the following year, he’d moved to the Netherlands, and was part of a tattoo convention. In June 2018, he posted on Facebook that he was looking for an apartment in Amsterdam, and it seemed that he was doing great there, so his clients and friends were shocked when it was reported that on 27 March 2019, he passed away at the age of 46. There was no announcement of the official cause of his death; neither his friends nor any of his colleagues ever mentioned anything about it on social media. There was an outpouring of sympathy messages for him, as all lamented that he was gone too soon.

Kat Von D

Reality-TV fans were introduced to Kat Von D in the first season of “Miami Ink.” Darren Brass suffered an injury that prevented him from performing his duty, and she was hired as the temporary replacement. However, she captured the fascination of viewers and so she stayed for another season, andtThe lady artist could have stayed longer, but she had a rift with Ami James that led to the termination of her services; she claimed later on that she left the show voluntarily. Due to her magnetic personality, TLC executive producers reached out and offered her own show called “LA Ink.” The spin-off series followed the day-to-day business dealings in her tattoo shop called High Voltage Tattoo, located in Los Angeles, California. It was canceled after four seasons, and Kat claimed that it was because she chose not to renew her contract with them. Her career as a tattoo artist, TV personality, and entrepreneur skyrocketed after doing the reality show, but in 2021, Kat became a professional singer, and released a studio album called “Love Made Me Do It”, along with an EP and three singles.

In the past, no one could have predicted that having a permanent design on the body would be accepted by the public. While there were still a few closed-minded conservatives who felt tattoos were undignified and ignominious, they have become part of a person’s self-expression. Generally, the stigma about it has gone, especially since it’s been acknowledged as a form of artwork. “Miami Ink” not only helped in increasing the demand for tattoo services but paved the way for more tattoo-related reality-TV shows.

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