Scottsdale tattoo artists compete on Spike TV’s Ink Master

Scottsdale Tattoo artists Aaron “Bubba” Irwin and Daniel Joseph “DJ” Tambe are hoping to earn Old Town Ink the moniker of Master Shop as the duo competes on Spike TV’s Ink Master. (Special to the Independent)

Tattoo artists Aaron “Bubba” Irwin and Daniel Joseph “DJ” Tambe leave their imprint on many people who are decorated with their art from head to toe.

They are also leaving their mark on millions of viewers watching Season 9 of Spike TV’s “Ink Master” to see if the duo’s Scottsdale shop, Old Town Ink, will be named Master Shop.

In addition, a $200,000 grand prize and a feature editorial in Inked Magazine is up for grabs during the reality-television competition.

Bubba says his Scottsdale location is already bearing the fruits of appearing on a popular competition television program.

“It’s already happening. It’s pretty dope,” he said in a June 26 phone interview.

The series premiered on Tuesday, June 6 featuring nine teams consisting of pairs of artists representing tattoo shops from throughout the country. However, the season’s second episode caught contestants by surprise after one team was eliminated but replaced with another team, which featured an Ink Master alum.

Among new teams revealed were returning Ink Master contestant, Bubba, the owner of Old Town Ink, who competed on season four. Judges eliminated him in the sixth episode, though, after critiquing him for having “poorly executed designs.”

Returning for a second attempt, Bubba has an advantage of knowing what’s expected in the game and how to create intricate tattoos under the pressure of strict time constraints and fierce competition.

He also came prepared with his teammate, DJ, who’s considered a phenomenal artist in the business with his trademark black and grey realism and use of color in a style called, “exagger-realism.”

His arrival unnerved some artists since DJ’s reputation preceded him as a “fast and efficient” tattoo extraordinaire with 20 years of experience.

“Bubba asked me to do it because he had to pick a teammate and he picked me,” said 32-year-old DJ. “Our whole job for the whole thing is to stay focused.”

He and Bubba prove themselves to be strong competitors, capable of conquering challenges that teams are tasked with from fundamentals of drawing and line work and shading to using technical and creative skills to execute an original tattoo on command.

They have been wining tasks during hours-long challenges by rotating duties and successfully completing their tattoos for the judges, the tattoo duo contends.

“It’s great having to get somebody else’s opinions, but it makes it a little more difficult when you’re used to being on your own,” said Bubba, a New Mexico native. “At the shop, I’m the leader but this was easy to take a back seat,” he said. “Leadership was established before I got there because he has so much experience.”

His longtime friend, DJ, divides his time between Scottsdale and Las Vegas where he lives with his wife, Jehnna, and two kids.

“It’s cool if collaborating with each other and being on the same page,” said DJ noting that even though time was a factor in the challenges, they would “get in the zone” and take shifts when making their art pieces.

The show’s judges, Dave Navarro, a musician, filmmaker and artist; tattoo industry icons, Chris Nunez, of Miami Ink; and, Oliver Peck of Elm Street Tattoo complimented Old Town Ink team’s use of fundamental design of a tiger’s face. Their creation won that challenge.

Testing if Bubba improved since his previous appearance on the show, Mr. Navarro challenged the Old Town Ink artists to draw an illustrative line work tattoo using only the line needle without shading or color.

“I did a lot of studying and tightening up my skills,” he said on how he honed his techniques since he originally appeared on the show.

The tattoo artist with 10 years of experience, took the judges’ criticism and continued to work closely with his buddy and co-worker.

“We had a good chance at getting far at this, I knew it was possible,” Bubba said. “I’m incredibly grateful for the experience. It’s a good opportunity — really hard — but worth it.”

While Bubba and DJ became a familiar name in the tattoo world, they’re also becoming household names as viewers tune in on Tuesdays to see if the duo’s talents will lead them to the live finale set to air in September.

“Competing on the show is like getting your face and names in people’s households where they get to meet you,” said DJ, who enjoys competing and challenging himself in the evolving art form by using everything from wood to his kids’ paint.

“Tattooing has changed so much in 20 years.”

Independent Newsmedia News Services Specialist Delarita Ford can be reached by e-mail at

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