Love it or hate it, Spike TV's Ink Master has helped popularize tattooing to the main stream. Season six winner Dave Kruseman owns and works out of Olde Line Tattoo in Hagerstown, Maryland with his wife Kim. Kruseman's specialty is American Traditional. I recently met Kruseman in Atlantic City. He was kind and humble with me as well as with his fans.
Dan Lorenzo: Right before you arrived in Newark, NJ to film Ink Masters, what were your fears if any? Were you afraid to leave your family?
Dave Kruseman: Yeah, I think that my biggest fear was leaving my family for a long period of time. I didn't know what to expect, you know what I mean? I didn't know if I was going to be gone for a month or two months...for a week. I think it was more a fear of the unknown and not knowing who I was going to be competing with until once I got there.
You knew Duffy [his former apprentice] was going to be there, but no one else?
She was the only one that I knew. Other than her I didn't know anybody else.
From my understanding you are really cut off from the outside world once you sign on. Could you at least speak with your wife Kim?
I got to talk to Kim every night on the phone for about an hour, but other than that we were pretty much on "tattoo lockdown." We couldn't leave or go anywhere. All the windows were blacked out. We basically just lived in the dorm rooms with a bunch of guys that we had never met that we were competing against.
I heard there were times you wanted to throw in the towel because you missed your family so much?
Yeah, I think that a couple of times I wanted to throw in the towel because I missed my family, and a couple of times because I thought that the challenges were so ridiculous that I almost refused to do them. But my wife being the awesome person that she is and the voice of reason, talked me into staying multiple times.
Reality television has a way of spinning your worst moments into common occurrences. For somebody who saw your persona just via Ink Master, was that a fair representation of the real you?
I think that the show is pretty dead on. They portrayed me exactly as I really am so I can't really speak for anybody else. I look at it this way: If they put it on there, you had to say it. They can't create words that come out of your mouth.
Were there any artists you met on the show who you think you'll be lifelong friends with or did everybody go their separate ways after the show ended?
Everybody pretty much went their separate ways, but I will definitely be lifelong friends with Duffy, and Matt and Katie McGowan are friends of mine. I also think I will be lifelong friends with Craig Foster. We really hit it off.
Now that you're back home, has winning changed your life? Is the show a distant memory or is it still fresh and new to you?
I think it's all pretty fresh and new to me. Wherever I go in this town now people recognize me. If I ever wanted to commit a crime I can't do it anymore. (laughs) Everybody knows who I am pretty much at this point. It's kind of overwhelming, but really cool at the same time.
Do you think you could commit some smaller felonies maybe on the tattoo circuit?
(laughs) I'm pretty sure they're going to recognize me wherever.
The tattoo convention circuit features really long days. Isn't it a much harder work day than it would be at your shop in the mall?
I think the typical Friday is really hard because you're in a new environment and need to set your stuff up a certain way, but once you get through that first tattoo then it's a cakewalk. It's like moving into a new shop and you get used to your surroundings and you roll with the punches.
The fact that the finale was live and it seemed like the audience was so loud, it must have been hard to hear. Was that more pressure?
The finale was definitely the most pressure that I felt through the whole season just because it was live. I mean, I've never been in a band or anything like that so I've never been onstage. As soon as the people started coming in and the crowd got louder and louder, I got really, really nervous, but at the same time I kind of felt like a rock-star that night. It was really cool to look out and see the sea of people that were supporting us.
Did you ever try the Recovery (after-care) sample I gave you?
I did. It was really cool. It's good stuff.
Tell me something about your personal life. Are you into sports? What music are you into?
I'm a huge Johnny Cash fan. I'm a huge Waylon Jennings fan. I'm really into painting in my spare time and my children. We're nerdy moms and dads that just happen to be cool. (laughs)
Every tattoo artist I know is against tattooing the name of a loved one's romantic partner.
I try to steer people clear of that, but if they are going to do it, I try to get them to do it in a color so it's easy to cover up.
Do you have Kim's name tattooed on yourself?
I do. Very, very small! ( laughs)