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In season six, audiences of Ink Master were first introduced to Maryland-based artist Duffy Fortner, who came into the competition with 12 years of experience under her belt and as the apprentice of eventual winner Dave Kruseman. Throughout Fortner's time on the show, she made a positive impression on the judges, particularly in the Victorian throat tattoo challenge. Fortner ultimately placed fifth overall in the competition and fast forward to season 12, she's returned to coach the men's team. We caught up with Fortner to learn about how she was inspired to become an artist after growing up with a mom who ran a successful shop.

What were your initial thoughts on the theme of this season?

I feel like it’s what everybody’s wanted for a long time, it’s a complete level playing field. This is what Ink Master fans want and it was bound to happen.

How do you think that the road to becoming a successful female tattooer has changed since you entered the industry?

I really think that to be a successful tattooer, male or female, has changed because of social media and the internet. I mean, you could be a successful tattooer, but if you’re not good at advertising yourself and putting yourself out there, people would never know that you exist.

As far as when I was starting, I grew up in a tattoo shop that was mostly women and I never really saw that as being an issue. I never really saw people come in, look at my moms tattoo, and say, “I’d never want this broad tattooing me.” I could probably count on one hand, in the past thirty years that these kinds of issues have come up. Mostly, people are just intrigued by seeing a shop full of women and I want to say that we got a lot of our clientele, both men and women, because they’d prefer a woman. So, when I was learning, I didn’t feel like it was a big deal being a woman in the industry. Maybe, I wasn’t as exposed to it as others, but at this point, if you put yourself out there, you’re good at what you do, you’re confident, and you have a good attitude, that’ll shine over your gender.

What was it like growing up and watching your mom tattoo in a shop?

It really set the tone for my entire life. I was six when we started our business, our shops have been in business since 1992. It’s funny because whenever I tell someone that, they’re like “Wow, that’s really cool.” But it’s my life and it’s just what I grew up knowing. All I knew was the tattoo industry and the tattoo world. I grew up as a little kid watching her tattoo and then I started tattooing, doing conventions, and developed my own life in the tattoo world. It put me where I am today and who knows, would I be a tattooer if it wasn’t for her? Probably not.