Last season, “Ink Master” pitted men and women against each other and this go around, they’ve separated the contestants by region for “Ink Master: Turf War.” The 13th season of the show brings together heavy-hitting artists from the East, Midwest, South and West, allowing the competition to decide which locale reigns supreme. In tradition with past seasons, “Ink Master” has brought back a few familiar faces for a second chance at the title—Jason Elliott and Frank Ready from Season 10, as well as Jimmy Snaz and Angel Rose from Season 11. We sat down with Turf War’s returning competitors to learn about how they’ve evolved since their original season and why their region is the one to beat.

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Take us through your last season on “Ink Master.”

Frank Ready: It was an incredible experience, but I don’t think I was completely prepared for it. You watch the show and you imagine that when you get there, you can nail it. But then you get there and realize you have to be as good on your worst day as everyone else on their best day. It’s a ridiculous experience that tests you on every level of artistry.

Jimmy Snaz: Season 11 was definitely a huge learning experience, I’d never been through anything like that before. I was freshly out of rehab and trying to get my life together. So I’m definitely a different person and artist now. Before “Ink Master,” I never really had a solid apprenticeship or a mentor. In a way, the judges were my mentors, along with my coach, Cleen. Before that, I never had someone critique my work and show me how to do better or what I should be doing differently.

Jason Elliott: I think if you become a semi-established artist, it’s hard to leave some of that behind and abandon what you know you’re good at. But being in a competition for the first time, I think I did pretty well.

Angel Rose: It was a monumental experience in my life. I had just barely started tattooing and it was the biggest thing that could possibly happen to me. Going into the competition, obviously I wanted to win, but I knew the odds were stacked against me. The whole time I was there, I thought, “What can I learn from this situation?” It was really difficult for me because I was so young and didn’t really have a lot of ground to stand on. So when people were coming after me or when things got hard, it hit me personally. Coming out of that situation, it was basically bootcamp for if it ever happened again so I’d know exactly what to do.

How were you better prepared for Season 13?

FR:

Going into Season 13, I had a couple of years to build on what I learned from Oliver, Chris, Dave and all the competitors on Season 10. Those lessons don’t leave you. When you see something you didn’t notice before in your work, you have two options. You can take it at face value, but go back home and keep doing what you’re doing. Or you can use that information and work as hard as possible to fix those holes they expose in your game. When I came home, I tattooed my ass off and being a returner contestant, I definitely have an advantage over other people.

AR:  More than anything, I’m very comfortable in that environment. Once you live in it for an extended amount of time, you associate fond memories with it and know how the whole system works.

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Describe the dynamic of your team.

JS:  [Team East] had a great dynamic right off the bat. We could all joke around with each other and use humor to get through a very difficult situation, which is the competition.

AR:  Team West is very feisty. Every single one of us is swinging for the fences in everything we do and gaming for the win. I think that because a lot of us are from California and the hustle is real out here.

What’s the tattoo scene like in your region?

FR: It’s a melting pot of so many different styles. Being in the middle of the country, everything comes inward toward the center eventually, whereas before we may have been seen as behind the times. The Midwest is capable of doing every single style there is because it’s where all the styles meet.

JS: It’s very diverse. It’s grown so much and you have people from different walks of life and cultures that are a part of tattooing. I think that’s really important to our industry.

JE:  The South is pretty versatile. We do a lot of American Traditional, especially in Austin. Then in Houston, you start seeing a lot of the SoCal black-and-grey. As you get up toward the Dallas area, you get a lot of dotwork. I feel like the South is comprised of a little bit of everything.

AR: If you were going to a tattoo expo on the West Coast versus the East Coast, it’s a completely different world. All of the black-and-grey energy is here. If I go to the East Coast, I’ll be one of a couple black-and-grey artists and everyone else is doing color realism or traditional. It took me a lot of traveling to realize how West Coast my style is.

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What surprised you about the collective group of artists?

FR: The level of artistry. Be prepared to see some of the coolest tattoos you’ve ever seen on “Ink Master.” Being on it before and seeing how everyone steps it up, I was really impressed by the level everyone brought it to.

JS: I was really surprised by all the team dynamics, there wasn’t a team that didn’t work really well together.

JE: I was pretty shocked to see the other veteran artists there, it was definitely a little intimidating.

AR: The artists on this season are such a good snapshot of where they’re from and I learned a lot about the geography of our country from these little representatives. 

What do you hope fans will take away from this season?

JS:  I think there are a lot of underdogs, people who are in over their heads, and you get to see how they work under pressure. It’s crazy to see people that made you say, “Aw, this person doesn’t have a chance,” and then they just excel.

JE:

I hope they were able to convey the real struggles of building a team and show the obstacles we had to jump over to bring something together.

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