How 2 Fountain Square tattoo artists prepped for Spike TV’s reality

Dane Smith, left, and April Stead pose at Fountain Square Tattoo, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. Stead and Smith, both tattoo artists at Fountain Square Tattoo, were invited to be on "Ink Masters," a tattoo competition.

Fountain Square Tattoo’s April Nicole Stead and Dane Smith are well-practiced in their craft. With 13 years of experience between them, they’re more than ready for clients who ask for sleeves, faces, food or nature-themed designs.

But when Smith and Stead found out they would face off against other pairs on season nine of the Spike TV reality competition show “Ink Master,” the couple decided to push themselves out of their comfort zones.

They watched the entire series a few times. They studied the previous challenges (tattooing inside people’s mouths!). They experimented with new materials (a cream that reduces redness).

“We did a lot of tattoos that we normally don’t do,” Smith said.

The nation will see the results of the duo’s preparation when the new season premieres at 10 p.m. June 6 on Spike. Since Fountain Square Tattoo had not opened yet when Smith and Stead competed earlier this year, viewers will see them representing Artistic Skin Design and Body Piercing in Indianapolis.

The two sat down with IndyStar to talk about teamwork, their backgrounds and how good rock guitarist Dave Navarro smells.

Why they tattoo

Smith, 28, spent high school study halls drawing on himself — and being told to stop. The designs, as well as the tattoo on his great-grandfather’s arm, captivated him and unequivocally steered him toward a career as a tattoo artist.

“I was just obsessed with the idea of, like, that you could put a mark on your body, and it won’t come off,” said Smith, who grew up in Syracuse, Ind. “Because my biggest problem with drawing in study hall is you draw on yourself and it rubs off.

“And if you fall asleep on your arm, it rubs off” on your face, Smith said, laughing.

For Stead, 30, tattooing began as a way to make money as she studied illustration at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, N.Y. The native New Yorker soon fell for the craft and began learning more from co-workers and friends.

“Illustration is kind of a lonely job,” Stead said. “It’s really just you, like, drawing by yourself. And I think tattooing, you’re working in a space with tons of other people and you get to meet new people every day.

“I really like talking to people about their experiences and, you know, what they do for a living and stuff like that.”

Navarro’s scent

Along with his tattoos, Ink Master host Navarro is best known as a founding member of Jane’s Addiction. He and celebrated tattooers Chris Nunez and Oliver Peck judge the contestants.

Stead’s stand-out memory of Navarro? He smells like a lit candle, she said, laughing.

“I don’t understand how he did it. He’s got to use, like, essential oils or something,” Stead said.

“He would walk past you, and this scent of frankincense and vanilla would just fill the air around you.”

The challenges

Contestants on Ink Master are expected to navigate more than just an average tattoo situation. Past episodes have placed lips, tattoo virgins and cowgirls’ chaps under the needle.

“They test you, basically, on how good of an artist you are rather than how good of a tattoo artist you are,” Stead said. “You have to make art out of crazy things.”

Dane Smith, left, adds color to Katie Shields

So what did Smith and Stead have to conquer, and how long did they last? They’re not allowed to talk about it yet.

What they can say is that the overall atmosphere is tough during competition, with cameras and time constraints hovering.

“They throw hurdles at you all the time,” Smith said.

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The environment turns tattoo artists’ norm in shops on its head.

“A lot of people really fall into this kind of profession because you don’t have a boss, usually, you make up your own schedule and you’re in control of everything in your life,” Stead said.

April Stead colors a pattern for a tattoo sleeve on Gabby Robinson at Fountain Square Tattoo, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. Stead and Dane Smith, both tattoo artists at Fountain Square Tattoo, were invited to be on "Ink Masters," a tattoo competition.

“And going onto, like, a reality television competition situation, you’re kind of taking all of the control out.”

Working together

For the upcoming season, avoiding elimination meant that each pair had to find a rhythm. Stead and Smith’s working styles complemented each other.

“She’s really good at detailing; I’m really good at actually getting things done and being on time,” Smith said.

Call IndyStar reporter Domenica Bongiovanni at (317) 444-7339 or email her at d.bongiov[email protected]. Follow her on Facebook,Twitter and Instagram.

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