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Groton Ink Master returning to tattoo show as mentor

December 27, 2017

Groton — Jason Goyette sat in Steven Tefft’s tattoo chair on Monday afternoon and into the evening, surrounded by Tefft’s NFL zombie figurines, devil-horned babies and numerous skulls.

Tefft alternatively sang along to heavy metal lyrics and shared his candid thoughts on topics ranging from tattoos to “man buns” to government, as he glanced back and forth from the image of Arthas affixed near Goyette’s shoulder.

Goyette described Arthas as “kind of like the Darth Vader of World of Warcraft,” a game that was such a time suck he said it nearly caused him to fail out of college. (Goyette, 31, graduated and now works as a pharmacist.)

He had the idea for the tattoo nearly a decade ago, and a friend who watched “Ink Master” on Spike suggested Tefft. Goyette’s wife booked an October appointment for him in April, but it had to be rescheduled to Dec. 26.

In October, Tefft was filming the 10th season of “Ink Master.” Tefft, who owns 12 Tattoos on Route 12 in Groton, previously won the title of Ink Master in season two — and with it, 200 an hour. He has more than 70,000 followers on Facebook and over 40,000 on Instagram.

The mentoring in the new season is not so much about tattoo work, Tefft said, but about how to get through the show, which he said is “very grueling; it’s very mental.”

“They asked me what my coaching style is. I said tough love, but without the love,” Tefft said. Being a mentor was more difficult than he expected, because “people have their way of doing things, and certain people are made for that show, and certain people are not.”

The emphasis of the show is on the fundamentals of tattooing, including composition, line work, solid black and solid color, and shading. Tefft explained that season two involved tattooing in styles such as American traditional, new school, Japanese and portraiture — and yes, on real people.

Tefft prefers black-and-gray tattoos because he thinks they look more realistic, and they remind him of old photographs. His own arms are covered in skulls, a demon and a devil, “all black-and-gray creepy stuff” that he likens to a horror movie.

Tefft, a Rhode Island native who opened 12 Tattoos in 2009, has been tattooing for 26 years and has seen a lot of changes in that time.

Being a tattoo artist used to get one labeled a “scumbag,” he said, and now it’s a respected profession. Tefft used to hear, “Why do you have a tattoo?” but now he’s hearing, “Why don’t you have a tattoo?” Tattoo artists are becoming more specialized.

He attributes changing mindsets to TV shows like “LA Ink” and “Miami Ink,” which respectively premiered in 2005 and 2007. And he attributes the growth in women getting tattoos in part to celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D.

Tefft said of “Ink Master,” “The best thing about the show is it got mainstream America to understand what a bad tattoo is and what a good tattoo is.”

In terms of tattoo requests, there isn’t much that would offend Tefft or weird him out. But he does try to dissuade customers against tattoos with a lot of white, getting the name of a significant other, or opting for a common design like an infinity symbol or a feather that transforms into birds.

“Why would you want something that someone else has?” he questioned. “It’s your experience; you’re an individual.”

e.moser@theday.com