As a boy, Steve Tefft would stick those removable tattoos all over his body and his father would ask, ‘What is wrong with you?”
He never outgrew it. Now Tefft, 42, the owner and artist of Groton’s “12 Tattoos” made it through a casting call of about 10,000 people to become one of 16 finalists for the Spike TV reality show “Ink Master.”
The show premiers at 10 p.m. on Oct. 9.
The Casting Call
Tefft said he got an e-mail this spring about the show, along with other artists in his shop, and decided to try the casting call in New York.
He’d watched it last year. He figured he probably wouldn’t make it, but he’d see how good he was. So he went with his girlfriend, stayed up until 6 a.m., slept three hours, then showed up for the casting call at 10 a.m. hung over.
Then he had to wait another four hours.
”I was dying,” he said.
They interviewed him for three or four minutes.
“I was so hung over I think it helped me,” he said. “I wasn’t nervous.”
The competition in "Ink Master" is similar to “Iron Chef” in that artists compete in challenges to see who has the best technique, creativity and artistry. The winner gets $100,000.
Most of the show’s been taped, but contestants go back for the finale, he said.
Tefft, who lives in Groton, grew up in Wood River Junction, R.I., and went to community college for fine arts. He went no further with school; he knew what he wanted to do.
He learned the wrong way, he said. He bought equipment, read a book, and started trying it.
“You make a lot of mistakes,” he said.
His worst? A man asked for his grandmother’s initials on the inside of his arm – tall letters, like four or five inches each. Tefft made one letter an ‘S’ instead of an ‘R’.
“Let me tell you, that’s a little wave of panic,” he said. He fixed it by thickening some spots and changing others; he never made that mistake again.
He specializes in black and gray tattoos and horror images like skulls, demons and monsters. He said he's always been more moved by dark and twisted pictures than pretty ones.
“When you see something truly messed up, you stare at it. It makes you think,” he said. “What some people find scary, I don’t. But what I find scary, scares everybody else.”
He doesn’t have as many tattoos himself as some of his clients; just enough to cover his right arm and his left forearm. He’s picky about who does them.
Shane O’Neill inked the skull on his right arm about eight years ago at a convention. O’Neill won “Ink Master” last year.
"You've got to trust him"
Tefft’s tattoo parlor is on Long Hill Road, on the same side as McDonalds, tucked away in the lower level of a medical building, around the back.
He opened the shop about three years ago. He sees eight to 12 clients a week, and is booked to December. He said he spends a lot of time fixing or covering up others’ mistakes.
He’s not afraid to tell someone, ”It’s going to look bad’, or ‘No way, I won’t do it.”
Reginald Rutty, a client who travels to Tefft from Old Saybrook, said: “You’ve got to trust him.”
Tefft said people need to research before they get a tattoo, because it will be there forever. But he also likes this about the art.
“You wear it. It’s every day. It’s not even like jewelry,” he said. “It’s you.”