When Jessy Knuckles found out that she'd be choosing a fellow tattoo artist to compete alongside her on the Spike TV show "Ink Master," she didn't shy away from a challenge.
"The only way to test the stability of your shop is [by] its newest member," Knuckles, 26, said.
So she called up Allisin Riot, said newest member, and they headed off to the reality show to represent Edgewood's Pinz and Needlez Tattoo Studio while competing for $200,000, a feature in Inked magazine and the titles of Ink Master and Master Shop.
The ninth season of "Ink Master," which premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m., centers on the theme "Shop Wars." The show's contestants have competed individually in the past, but this season, 18 contestants from nine tattoo shops will compete as duos, for twice the prize money.
Knuckles, whose real name is Jessica Snider, applied for the tattoo competition show for fun and without expectations.
"When I realized that things were becoming more real, I honestly got scared a little bit," said Knuckles, who lives in Baltimore County. "But I was like, I can't be scared to take the opportunities presented to me, man, because once that door is closed, it's closed."
Riot, who started her career at Pinz and Needlez, moved to Iowa with her husband last year. But the Harford County native missed home, so she returned to Pinz and Needlez — and joined Knuckles on the show.
"I was like, 'You know what, hell yeah, girl, I'll do this with you,' " said Riot, 26. "I'll represent my hometown of Baltimore with you."
Knuckles has been at Pinz and Needlez since 2014, and Riot did her tattoo apprenticeship there in 2012. That Knuckles and Riot worked together for only a few days before competing together, and that they're known for different tattoo styles (Knuckles for realism and animal portraits, Riot for a more new-school style), proved to be challenging.
"We honestly didn't really know each other that well," Knuckles said. "The challenges were definitely tough when it came to communication, but I really think that we worked surprisingly well for not really working with each other or knowing each other for very long."
Knuckles' and Riot's obstacles, of course, weren't only within their team. They competed against tattoo artists with many more years of experience — some artists whom Knuckles said she's followed for her entire career — and were the only female duo (some teams were mixed gender).
"I feel like being the only female team definitely put this target on our back, in the sense that it's a male-dominated industry and women are a lot of times overlooked," Riot said. "But I would like to say that we held our own and definitely made sure that we weren't anything you could walk all over."
Riot credits the show, and her husband's encouragement, as forces behind her pursuit of tattooing about four years ago. In taking classes at the Community College of Baltimore County, Riot rediscovered her childhood passion for art.
"[My husband and I] were actually watching tattoo TV shows like 'Ink Master,' and I saw other females on there and other people with little experience, and I knew this was my passion and I wanted to push my life in that direction," she said.
Knuckles found her way to tattooing at a time she was seriously considering joining the military. Shortly before signing the paperwork, she decided to pursue art, and built up her tattooing portfolio on her own after being turned down for local apprenticeships.
"It's not the most reputable way to start, and I actually hate that I started that way, but sometimes people don't have a choice," Knuckles said. "I just wanted to earn respect in the industry and show that I respected the art and wanted to better myself and just kind of climbed the ladder. I started literally from the bottom."
The hardest part of competing on "Ink Master," she said, was being away from her daughter. But it was 8-year-old Jayden who motivated Knuckles to join the show.
"I've always wanted to be a role model for my daughter … and show that even though things can be scary sometimes, you have to do what you love to do and take the opportunities that are presented to you," she said.
The ninth season of "Ink Master" premieres at 10 p.m. Tuesday on Spike. Jessy Knuckles and Allisin Riot are hosting a viewing party at the Greene Turtle in Towson, 408 York Road.