Groton tattoo artist earns $100,000, title of 'Ink Master'

Steve Tefft, right, is declared the winner Tuesday night during the finale of the Spike TV reality show “Ink Master,” at Metropolis Studios in New York City.
Steve Tefft, right, is declared the winner Tuesday night during the finale of the Spike TV reality show “Ink Master,” at Metropolis Studios in New York City. Courtesy Barket/PictureGroup, Spike TV

Groton tattoo artist Steve Tefft learned on Tuesday that his latest work was worth $100,000.

Tefft emerged as the top tattoo artist on the Spike TV competition reality show "Ink Master," earning the cash, the accolades of his peers and a feature in Inked magazine.

"I don't think it's sunk in yet," Tefft said in a phone interview Wednesday after a late night of celebrating with cast members.

His final tattoo was an eye-popping display of macabre artistry that took 24 hours to complete. Tefft covered the back of his human canvas with a black-and-gray piece — a winged angel morphing into skulls and demons.

He said the tattoo was a display of contrast — light to dark, good to evil — and incorporated some of his favorite subjects.

The announcement of his win was made during the live season finale Tuesday night at New York's Metropolis Theater, with Tefft's girlfriend and parents in the studio audience.

Tefft said it was satisfying to be recognized as one of the best in his field and expects a surge in business for him and the entire group of artists who work at his shop — 12 Tattoos and Body Piercing on Long Hill Road. He's already booked months out.

"My Facebook page is blowing up," Tefft said. "I'm getting requests from all over the country."

Tefft, 42, was one of 16 contestants chosen from thousands of artists across the country to compete in a series of challenges that tested technical skills and creativity under tight time constraints. Each week, one artist was sent home after critiques by the judges. "Ink Master" was hosted by music legend and tattoo aficionado Dave Navarro and judged by celebrity tattoo artists Chris Nunez and Oliver Peck.

The show was filmed over the course of several months this summer.

Tefft said it was a chore to work constantly under pressure, and it affected contestants in different ways, leading to mistakes for some.

As for the brash, sometimes arrogant attitude he displayed on the show, Tefft said, "It's me ramped up."

"I'm here to win," Tefft told fellow competitors in the finale. "That's the only reason I'm here. I'm the best. I'm going to prove it."

After his win, Tefft was unapologetic about his attitude.

"I say what I mean and I mean what I say," Tefft said. "Why would you go on a show like that if you didn't have the confidence in what you do."

Tefft had shown himself to be among the best artists from the onset of the show, which premiered Oct. 9. His first tattoo was the judges' favorite, a trend that would continue through several other challenges, including the horror, animals and pin-up categories.

Tefft squared off in the finale against tattoo artist Sarah Miller of Pittsburgh and Detroit's Sebastian Murphy. For the final challenge, the three artists were sent to their hometown tattoo studios and given 24 hours, in four six-hour sessions, to complete a tattoo of their choice.

Murphy was eliminated from the competition Tuesday based on the fewest online votes, leaving Miller as Tefft's only competition. Miller had tattooed a man's thighs with Norse mythology-inspired figures.

Tefft said plans are in the works to run some promotions at his Groton shop that will include visits from some of the contestants with whom he has become close.

He has yet to decide how to spend the $100,000 prize but said he expects some of the money will be invested in his business. And while his rates may be going up slightly because of the national notoriety, he said he's not a greedy man.

"If there was no money involved in this, I would still work just as hard. It was never about the money. It's about the art," Tefft said.

To check out tattoos from Tefft and other Ink Master contestants, visit www.spike.com/shows/ink-master.

g.smith@theday.com

Steve Tefft, owner of 12 Tattoos and Body Piercing in Groton works on a client's design Tuesday Oct. 2, 2012.
Steve Tefft, owner of 12 Tattoos and Body Piercing in Groton works on a client's design Tuesday Oct. 2, 2012. Tim Cook/The Day
Winner Steve Tefft  celebrates his win during the Season 2 live finale of the Spike Reality show, “Ink Master” Metropolis Studios in New York City Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012.
Winner Steve Tefft celebrates his win during the Season 2 live finale of the Spike Reality show, “Ink Master” Metropolis Studios in New York City Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012. Courtesy Barket/Picture Group and Spike TV
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