Teresa Sharpe didn’t want the average butterfly or tribal arm band for her first tattoo.
Instead, she made a complete canvas of her back, giving the artist free rein to design a skeleton key stretching down the length of her spine and a pair of wings spanning from shoulder to shoulder.
I didn’t have a lot of friends who had tattoos, so I just jumped in, Sharpe, 28, says. Once I decide something, I just go for it. I don’t hold anything back.
Sharpe’s quick resolve will be an asset for the tattoo artist on the second season of the tattoo competition TV show Best Ink, which begins at 10 p.m. Wednesday on Oxygen. The Warsaw native will compete with 11 other artists from across the country for a $100,000 prize and cover story in Tattoo Magazine.
Sharpe has been a professional artist for four years, working out of local tattoo shop Studio 13.
I went back and forth about doing the show a lot, Sharpe says. You constantly worry about what if I do something horrible or say something really stupid. My friend put it best: The worst that could happen is that you’ll be on TV.’
Sharpe watched the first season of Best Ink, but she says she couldn’t imagine being on a reality show. Unknown to Sharpe, a fellow tattoo artist suggested her to producers searching for more contestants. She was then contacted by a producer about auditioning for the show.
When someone tells you you should try out, you kind of feel like you should really try out, she says. I didn’t really think I was a TV personality.
On the Season 2 premiere, the artists must spray paint a graffiti self-portrait on a Los Angeles billboard while hanging six stories in the air to win an advantage in the Ink Challenge, where they will give their first clients a life-inspired tattoo. Sharpe says that for tattoo artists, the close proximity of the cameras and the strict time limits are challenges in themselves.
You never get used to working on a time restraint. We’re all artists, and we’re all used to living in a world where time doesn’t matter, she says. But you’re being judged on all of it.
Always showing an interest in art, Sharpe graduated from Warsaw Community High School and attended Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., to receive her bachelor of fine arts degree after studying drawing, ceramic art and painting.
For a while, (art) was a way to escape, and be my own person as a kid, she says. As I got older, it became a way to talk about myself.
Finishing her sophomore year at Millikin, Sharpe had to make a swift decision. The 19-year-old stepped in as the custodial guardian for her teenage brother and sister and became the adoptive mother for her newborn brother when her father died. Because of circumstances surrounding her family, Sharpe became the sole provider.
I’m one of those people who adapt easily, she says. I can be very logical and rational. It just made sense.
Moving back to her father’s home in Warsaw for a year, she found a full-time job and took general education courses to stay on track for graduation. Looking for an additional summer job, Sharpe became a piercing apprentice at a tattoo shop in Warsaw. She began watching the tattoo artists in her spare time.
I like the challenge of it. It’s not like someone is just asking for a painting; they are asking you to mark them for life. It takes a special kind of person to sit down and say, OK, I can do that,’ Sharpe says.
With her oldest brother graduating high school and her sister making the decision to live with their aunt, Sharpe returned to Millikin in time to finish her senior year, moving her then 2-year-old brother with her.
My senior show was a lot better than if I hadn’t had a kid, Sharpe says. He helped me stay on task a lot. I just couldn’t go out and party.
Receiving her BFA degree in 2007, Sharpe moved back to Indiana in hopes of starting a career that would fulfill her dream and support her family. Looking for an apprenticeship, Sharpe brought her portfolio to Studio 13. Although she had little tattoo experience, her drawings proved she was a capable, formallytrained artist.
Before she actually touched a client, Sharpe spent five months observing other artists, taking classes on bloodborne pathogens and learning how to properly set up a machine.
By 2009, she was a featured artist at Studio 13; some of her first tattoos were for family and friends.
It’s very nerve-racking for the first year, she says. You don’t have any muscle memory yet, so every time feels like the first time you’ve held the machine. You have to have a pretty good poker face working with clients.
Working as a professional tattoo artist, Sharpe has matured her illustrative realism style. When she is not working at Studio 13, Sharpe travels overseas and across the country to tattoo clients.
With the premiere of the show approaching, Sharpe’s emotions fluctuate between anxious and excited about the media attention, but she’s ready to go for it.
Every artistic experience is a way to grow, she says. It forces you to make a new decision about your work.