When you look at his performance over the past two seasons, it feels pretty clear that DJ Tambe is one of the greatest Ink Master contestants to ever compete. In his first appearance on the show, he and Bubba Irwin collectively won for Old Town Ink. In his second time around, he was the winning coach in the final face-off; not only that, but his artist (Josh Payne) was officially declared the winner. It’s been a great ride for DJ, but as you would expect, he’s not stopping. The hunger to compete is still there, and the same goes for his artistic ambition.
In our new interview below DJ tells us what it was like winning this season, his journey as a coach, and also some of what he is doing now.
CarterMatt – Going into the results, how much of a sense did you have of what Anthony and Steve had done? Were you surprised when you saw their work?
DJ Tambe – I had no idea. I knew they were going to do something different from what I was going to do. I figured that they would both go black-and-gray since they are black-and-gray artists and Anthony would do something more realistic. Honestly, I fly by the seat of my pants. I treated the challenge like every other day. I winged it and it worked out for me.
There were a lot of times this season where you were almost like Charlie Brown and Lucy was moving the football on you — you were so close to winning various challenges and didn’t. Does winning this make it all the more worthwhile?
Yeah. The flash challenges are great — you can get advantages and all that — and we did all we could and produced some great art. We were close every time, but the only thing that mattered was that end goal. I knew that if I wasn’t winning all of those something wasn’t right and I had to win that end one.
You had an interesting journey as a coach in that there was a point in which just three artists were left on your team in Frank, Josh, and Deanna; there could’ve been trouble for you. Yet, things stabilized and you were able to get everyone back together. How did you keep everyone focused at that point, because you ended up having those three around for a long time even though you guys were targets.
I told them about the targets and that it was going to happen. Aside from tattooing, I had to coach them through the game part of it too. I pushed positivity with all of my artists — they know they’re great, but you just have to keep saying to yourself ‘if I can make it one more challenge.’
But, you know, I think Deanna should’ve stayed and Matt would’ve been great — he’s a great artist.
I talked to Josh [recently] and he spoke about how there were a lot of times where you would help not only people on your team, but also people on every team. He wished that a little more of that was shown this season. Was that something you had hoped to see?
Yeah, I definitely took a lot of heat this season. Last season was really positive, but then this season they just got me yelling at everybody — they didn’t show every side of me, but I understand all of that.
There were nights where I was up with Jeremy until one in the morning teaching him how to draw some things. I was up drawing with everybody every night — I’d help everybody out because I know how it feels.
You mentioned the yelling. Things got heated here and there between Steve and Anthony this season, but how are things now? I assume a lot of that’s just competition.
Oh yeah, everybody’s great. Anthony and I are close and we’re going to be doing something. I’m close with everybody. That’s what [Ink Master] is for me. I’m all about the experience. I miss it — I miss it now, you know? I wish I was going back to do some more stuff! We all get along and all inspire each other! Most of us would hang out and have cocktails and draw at night. You also had your bed-dwellers who would just stay in their beds for months. That was crazy, but we all got along.
You talk about loving being there and I’m desperate to find ways to bring you back — you’ve already metaphorically climbed Everest twice, so I feel like it’s gotta be another big challenge for you. Could it be as a judge or some sort of all-winners season down the line?
I would love any of it. I love the competition side of things and the judging side of things. I’m down for whatever. I like to be behind the cameras and experience all of that stuff, plus I like to hang out with everybody. I’ve got a bunch of friends on this next season and it should be a good one, too.
Has the success of the show in any way changed how you work?
I try not to let it get to me too much because I’d lose my mind, but my wife is answering a hundred emails a day. I don’t want to book myself any further, but I’m opening a new shop in Nashville so I’m going back and forth from there. There’s a lot going on right now, but I’m basically putting people on hold and trying to respond to everybody.
After going through all of this and having your brain go basically a hundred miles an hour at all times, what inspires you artistically now?
There are tons of artists now that inspire me, but I also get inspired by some silly things — cartoons, old people, antiques, all kind of things. Actually, social media these days inspires me. There are so many artists — hundreds. I read it like the newspaper every morning to get ready for my day. All of these artists inspire me and it’s crazy that I can inspire, you know?
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