On Saturday morning, Liz Cook is in a back room of her tattoo shop, Rebel Muse in Lewisville, inking a creepy clown on the left leg of a returning client. On a nearby shelf sit about 10 trophies for tattooing. Sometimes she enters the competitions, sometimes her clients enter for her.
The person whose leg Cook is working on today, TJ, used to travel from Amarillo to Dallas just to get tattooed by her. His body bears about 160 hours of her work.
"Sometimes we think of ideas together when she's working on the other pieces,” he says.
It's this sort of loyalty Cook inspires that attracted the cable network TLC to her. On Jan. 24, the channel will premiere a show called Tattoo Girls, on which Cook is the fresh tattoo artist meat brought into a shop called Ink Ink in Springfield, Missouri.
The first episode is available to watch on TLC’s website. While Cook isn’t featured on that episode, the previews for the rest of the season paint her as sort of a villain. The five other tattoo artists at Ink Ink have known and worked with one another for awhile and Cook throws their dynamic off.
The premise of the series is that it shows women succeeding in a male-dominated industry. Somewhat surprisingly, Cook says sexism hasn't held her back much in her career as a tattoo artist.
"It's fascinating to me because I refuse. I just don't let myself focus on stuff like that. And when I see it, I just find ways to go around it and so it isn't an issue being a woman tattooer," she says. "I never allow that to be something that can victimize me."
Cook doesn't think the show is painting female tattooers as a novelty to attract viewers. She says tattooing is simply an interesting subject, and she'd watch the show too if that wasn't her career field.
"I like to watch shows about cake designs," she says, so she gets it.
On one of her first nights in Springfield, where she spent six weeks this summer to shoot the show, a couple recognized Cook at Wal-Mart. But she says the average person there isn't familiar with tattooing culture, so for the most part she was an unknown.
Cook attended the University of North Texas, where she graduated with a degree in studio painting and drawing. In 2009, she took part in a formal tattoo apprenticeship in Australia, where her husband, Cookie, also a tattoo artist, is from.
“I went home and cried every day after work because it doesn't matter how good you are on paper, very few people are just good straight away,” she says of the experience.
As an artist she has become known for her clean work and talent with realism and she has worked in shops all over Texas, as well as in California.
Eventually Cook and her husband returned to Dallas and decided to open Rebel Muse together because, she says, they didn’t want to tattoo drunk people leaving bars at 1 a.m. anymore.
Tattoo Girls isn't the first tattoo-related reality TV show that Cook has applied for, but the others were competition shows, and she's glad she ultimately didn't end up on one.
"It pits us against each other instead of helping us work together."
She acknowledges that the footage she shot for Tattoo Girls will be shaped to convey plenty of drama, too, but she's not overly concerned about that.
"I know they're going to bring me in as a villain, but you know what, it's reality TV. Let's have fun with it," she says. "You still have to have a narrative, you still have to have interesting characters that are going to evolve and change, so you have to start somewhere. So I was like, wherever they start me ... I'll work with it.”
Cook seemingly brings this enthusiasm to everything she does. One moment, she's jumping out of her chair and taking off her gloves to show off some of her first tattoos. Next she's expounding on the future of the tattoo industry and where she sees it going.
“One day, all the art books and the history books are gonna talk about tattooing also,” she says.
She hopes to eventually develop some kind of internship program with her alma mater, UNT, for students who want to learn tattooing. Until then, she says she plans to stay in Dallas at her shop, while still continuing to travel around the world for conventions, seminars and such.
“Dallas is definitely home for me.”
Catch Cook on Tattoo Girls at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24, on TLC.
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