Photo Gallery Follows the Text
Season 6 of Ink Master was perhaps one of the most dramatic seasons in the history of the series. There were incredible tattoos and failed tattoos, rivalries and alliances, even the show’s first “showmance.” And while 18 contestants had the opportunity to illustrate their talents for tattooing on camera, only one artist walked away with $100,000 and the title of Ink Master. And that artist is Dave Kruseman.
Kruseman is a modern-day master of American traditional but beyond being a superb tattooer, he is first and foremost a family man and a hardworking business man. Throughout his lifetime, Kruseman has expressed an invulnerable magnitude of devotion to producing rock-solid designs that built off of the foundations of American traditional, as well as the ability to maintain an undeniably authentic sense of self by displaying continuous respect for the art of tattooing and his fellow tattoo artists. Kruseman used the motivation of his loving family and his reverence for the established practice of American traditional tattooing to preserve the endurance needed to survive the storm of the competition and prove to the world that a traditional artist was a force to be reckoned with. Claiming the title of Ink Master was no easy feat for Kruseman, but in the end, it was Kruseman’s 20 years in the tattoo business and his undying determination to impress the nation with the style of American traditional that won him the ultimate prize.
Did you think that you were going to be crowned Ink Master?
Absolutely not, no way. There wasn’t a thought in my mind that I was going to win that thing. But the closer it got, the more hope I was getting and I remember standing there on stage, my hands were sweating, I had sweat running down my back, and I thought to myself, Jesus Christ, I could really win this thing.
Did you imagine that you, Matt, and Chris would be the ones in the finale? Or were there other artists in the competition that you expected to go farther?
You know, you never know. Some great tattooers got sent home early and it was like Russian roulette. You didn’t know what was going to happen down in those rooms and what decisions they were going to make. I felt like all of us had our equal flaws on the show, all of us had our ups and downs, and in the end it’s just a game and I’m stoked that I won.
Although you did win, was there anything that you wished that you could have gone back and done differently?
I think at one point in time I thought about throwing the towel in, it was when I did the challenge on the back of the girl’s neck. But I remember talking to my wife that night on the phone and she basically put me into check and said that I could not do this. I faced the challenge and put my big boy shoes on and walked across the yard by myself.
We remember that episode vividly. Did you ever feel like you were presented with unrealistic challenges as a method to keep viewers engaged in the show?
I think at that point when I did that challenge, more than anything it was an eye-opener for me to realize that anything can happen to anyone at any moment. That’s when I realized that whether I won the flash challenges or not, it wasn’t going to matter. The canvases are the the ones with the crazy ideas and if everyone in that row has a crazy idea, no matter what type of advantage you have, if you’re a solid, good tattooer you’re going to have to figure out how to translate whatever it is into something good.
We know it’s only been a few months, but how has your life changed post-Ink Master?
I definitely think that my life has changed in public. Every time I go out in public, people recognize me now. I’ve never really been one to be in the public eye and I feel like it was my job as a tattooer to go on the show and do what I do best. I feel like I went from being this really unpopular guy because no one really knew who I was, and now I feel like the whole world knows who I am. Every place I go, people are like, “Hey you’re Kruseman, you’re the guy from the tattoo TV show aren’t you?” I’m definitely taking selfies on the regs.
This season of Ink Master was different because you got to compete alongside your apprentice, what was it like competing with someone that you’ve worked with in the past?
To me, it was a win/win situation because I knew from the start when we decided to go on the show that [Duffy Fortner] was going to give it 120% and push forward, and I couldn’t be more stoked and proud of her. We were definitely the team that made it the longest and that’s something to be said just in that.
And with the theme of this season being Masters and Apprentices you were obviously the master with 20 years of experience, but do you remember when you had your own apprenticeship?
I do remember when I had my own apprenticeship. An apprenticeship when I learned to tattoo was a lot different than it is today. When I learned how to tattoo we actually had to know how to draw. You physically had to go to the library and go check out a book to reference. I think that the tattooers in today’s society have it made so much easier than we did because they’re handed 20 and 30 years of knowledge over a week’s period of time.
Do you think that having 20 years of experience helped you in the competition?
I do think that it helped me in the competition. I went in there and I was not a jerk and I showed the judges respect, which really helped me. I didn’t go in there with some crazy tatitude thinking I was better than anybody else, I just realized that we’re all in this game together and I tried to hold on as long as I could.
Looking back on the show, do you like how you were portrayed on camera?
I do like how I was portrayed, and you know why? It’s because that’s exactly the person that I am and I think it’s funny how so many people want to blame editing for looking a certain way on TV. The bottom line is if it came out of your mouth, you said it. But I’m stoked with how I was portrayed. I feel like I was portrayed as the exact person that I am in everyday life and I knew when I went on that show that my ultimate goal was to respect the judges that I obviously do, and to be good for tattooing.
Of course you weren’t the only artist with a memorable personality on the show, what did you really think of runner-up, Chris Blinston’s iconic overalls?
My comment to that is that I couldn’t be happier that they let me dress in the clothes that I wear everyday.
Now going back to how you were portrayed. Some of the other competitors and judges gave you the nickname “Safe Sally.” Why did you end up choosing to stick by what you know instead of taking risks like other contestants?
You know, I think that the most important thing for me was that it’s not necessarily that I played it safe, but that I have too much integrity to give somebody something that’s not going to be 100%. At the end of the day, TV show aside, people are still going to have these tattoos when the show is done. As long as I could give them a cool, nice, crisp tattoo, that’s what it was all about for me. It was never even about the money for me, it was about showing America what a nice, cool tattoo is.
We know that people are going to be excited to hear about your master canvas, but obviously you had a bit of a challenge when your first canvas dropped out. What went through your mind when you got the call from Dave Navarro?
When Dave Navarro first called and told me that the guy had backed out, I was infuriated. But the little dude inside my head told me to calm down and that everything’s going to work out the way it’s supposed to. And now, I couldn’t be more stoked with the outcome of this tattoo.
And what went into creating this intricate traditional piece?
So basically when I decided that I was going to go with an American traditional tattoo, I thought to myself, You know what, if I just do a big snake and an eagle and I do it huge and plain, America is not going to be impressed. I had to push the bar on traditional tattooing, so that’s why the tattoo was so busy because I needed to impress America too, on top of impressing the judges. It was almost borderline too much, but I think that it was undeniably a beautiful tattoo. When it was just Chris and I, I thought that if this tattoo doesn’t win then I don’t understand this game. There’s no way that you can take a classic American tattoo and not think that this one is going to stand the test of time.
Do you think that today’s new tattoo clientele are distracted by the new and exciting styles that haven’t really proved that they can stand the test of time?
Yeah I definitely do. And at the same time, I look at those styles of tattooing and I think to myself the same thing that America is thinking. It’s amazing and it really does look good. I feel like if it’s done correctly it can last a little longer, but a majority of that stuff hasn’t been around long enough for people to understand.
And as a traditional artist living in the age of realism tattooing, do you ever wish that you could go back in time and tattoo in a different time period when traditional was first evolving as a style?
I do wish that I could do that, but for more reasons than one. I know that it was such a taboo thing back in the day and I think it would be cool to be a part of something that was like this secret underground movement. It’s really in the public eye now, which I do love, but I would really love to see what it was like back then. Shit, more than anything I’d love to time travel and see what tattooing was like back then.
Do you feel that you had to prove yourself more as a traditional artist against all of the realism artists on the show?
Not towards the judges, but I got the vibe from the rest of the cast that I wasn’t a threat. I don’t know if they looked at my tattoos as some childish form of tattooing, but to me that’s the tattooing that should hold the most respect. Because without traditional tattooing, none of these people would have jobs as tattooers. I will always be doing traditional tattooing because that’s how [tattooing] was started and it’s really the only way it’s going to end, because it’s the only thing that lasts inside the human body
Photo Gallery Follows the Text Season 6 of Ink Master was perhaps one of the most dramatic seasons in the history of the series. There were incredible tattoos and failed tattoos, rivalries and alliances, even […]