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Article updated: 2/20/2014 11:11 AM

Roselle tattoo artist contends for 'Ink Master' title on Spike TV series

By Susan Dibble

Anyone who sees Roselle tattoo artist Scott Marshall on Spike TV's tattoo reality competition "Ink Master," which returns Feb. 25 for its fourth season, shouldn't be put off by his TV persona.

"He's going to appear like he's a total jerk, but he isn't,' said client Adam Koch. "He's a down-to-earth guy."

Koch, of Algonquin, had just spent five hours the day before at Roselle Tattoo Co. having Marshall produce a geometric design on his back. Since coming to Marshall two years ago, Koch said he doesn't have anyone else create his tattoos.

"He's the only one I go to," Koch said. "I love his creative style."

Marshall's creativity will be tested on "Ink Master," where he will vie with 16 others for bragging rights, a $100,000 grand prize and an editorial feature in Inked magazine.

"I did it on kind of a dare. Everybody has been telling me I need to try out," said Marshall, who went to a casting call last fall and made it on the show.

A tattoo artist for 15 years who has a loyal following of clients both locally and out-of-state, Marshall was chosen to be one of 17 tattoo artists from around the country on this season's show. In 12 weekly episodes starting at 9 p.m. Feb. 25, the artists are challenged to test their technical skills and on-the-spot creativity.

After each challenge, a panel of tattoo artists judge their work. The human canvasses who volunteer their bodies to be tattooed also pick one artist per episode to be up for elimination.

Marshall said he's not at liberty to say whether he will be one of the three artists who will battle it out for the title "Ink Master" on the show's finale that will air live in May, but he does say his competition was worthy.

"This is the Olympics of tattooing," he said. "It was definitely a serious art competition."

Always an artist

Marshall said he's always been an artist, winning many awards in junior high and high school. He entered the American Academy of Art in Chicago, intending to go into advertising and illustration, but found the field didn't offer him the creativity he desired. The artists he visited to have his own body tattooed seemed to be having more fun and freedom in their work, he said.

So after graduating from the Academy of Art in 1998, Marshall apprenticed as a tattoo artist for one year and then started his own career. An independent artist, he is affiliated with Roselle Tattoo Co.

"As a young man, this was the tattoo shop to go to," said Marshall, who now lives in Plainfield. "This was the reputable shop in the suburbs, and I believe still is."

Marshall, who also works in other mediums, said tattooing offers artists some unique advantages.

"I love tattooing because it's an artistic skill that's done by hand, no computers or rulers," he said. "It's on a living canvas. That piece of art gets shown every day."

Marshall said he believes tattoos can qualify as fine art.

"I think it's the coolest medium out there," he said. "I think the tattoo community has opened people's eyes to art again."

A versatile artist, Marshall works in all tattoo styles, including traditional, Japanese, portraits, black and gray, and lettering. His personal favorites are bio-organic -- imaginary images that resemble objects in the natural world such as vines and coral -- and biomechanical -- images that resemble mechanical objects such as bolts and gears. He uses stencils only when creating very detailed images.

"Ninety percent of the work I do is off the top of my head," he said.

Marshall said some clients bring in representations of what they want and he talks with them to create an image that fits with their personality.

"People are usually like, 'Wow, that's exactly what I pictured but even better,'" he said.

Marshall said he usually is able to complete even detailed images in a four- to five-hour session. Simpler images may take two hours.

"I'm a very fast artist. I'm efficient," he said.

Marshall makes the image with a marker, outlines it and then works with a variety of needles to create the tattoo. Larger images and colored tattoos cause more pain, and some parts of the body are more sensitive than others, but the pain is tolerable, he said. Clients are told it may take four to six weeks to heal, but often the time is shorter.

The needles used are sterile, he said. "We have cleaner and better standards than most dental offices," he said.

The cost for his tattoos averages about $100 an hour, but Marshall said he works with clients to stay within their budget.

Gaining acceptance

Tattoos weren't as widely accepted when Marshall, 39, got his first one 18 years ago. He still cautions young people not to get a tattoo in a visible area when they don't know what their career choice will be.

His clients include doctors, lawyers, CEOs, blue-collar workers and grandmas wanting to be tattooed with their grandchildren's names.

"Tattoos are very individual. You have a one-of-a-kind tattoo that expresses you," he said.

Koch, a manager in a Costco store, has tattoos on his back, both arms, his legs and his chest, but he said he keeps them covered with clothing when he's out in public.

"I only show it to people who appreciate it," he said.

Marshall said he enjoys getting tattooed by other artists simply for the experience.

"I know so many artists, sometimes it's fun to get a tattoo from your friend," he said. "You look at a tattoo that's 10 years old and you remember that day."

If at some later date a client decides he or she no longer wants a tattoo, it can be changed or covered up with another tattoo or removed with laser treatment, Marshall said.

His participation in competitions at tattoo conventions have given him out-of-state clients who pay him a visit when they are in the area.

His appearance on "Ink Master" will give him even wider exposure.

"I'm excited to be on it," he said. "It is my favorite tattoo show."

Scott Marshall's work can be seen on facebook.com/scottmarshalltattoos. He also may be found on Instagram and Twitter.

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