On a cute, corner building in Port Washington, there hangs a sign that says “Homeward Bound.”  If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was a gift shop or perhaps a clothing store when, in fact, it is a tattoo parlor – the only tattoo parlor in Ozaukee County, as it happens – and it’s been in Port for about 10 years.

It was about 5 years ago when Melissa Monroe, who grew up in Fredonia, went into the shop to get her first tattoo.  Though she’d always loved art and drawing, she hadn’t found a way to make a career out of it until she met Jesse Santora, the owner of Homeward Bound, who saw Monroe’s drawings and thought she had potential.  She apprenticed with him for about two years before she was able to start working in the shop, so she’s only been working at her trade for about 3 years.

She must be good at what she does, because she attracted the attention of the people at Ink Masters, Spike TV’s  hit original, and the first tattoo reality-competition series, which is returning for a fourth season starting Tuesday, February 25 at 10 pm ET/PT.  Tattoo artists from around the country will battle it out in permanent ink for a $100,000 grand prize, an editorial feature in Inked and, of course, the bragging rights title of ‘Ink Master.’

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Melissa Monroe

Melissa Monroe

“The show called the shop,” Monroe said, “and I thought the guys were messing with me.”

She flew out to New York this past October, with only Santora, her father and her fiance knowing where she was going.  She wasn’t able to tell anyone her whereabouts until she returned, and can’t even say how long she was in the city.  Melissa said that the show was extremely difficult for her, at first.  “I’m not much of a TV person;  I probably looked like a scared puppy the first few shows – I’m super awkward.”

Monroe was the youngest and least experienced of all the contestants, but said that it was a positive experience, all around.  “It was like an apprenticeship all over again – I got to learn a lot of new stuff.”

Monroe wasn’t the only contestant from Wisconsin on this season’s show.  Jim Francis, owner of Milwaukee Ink, was also part of the line up.  Originally from South California, Francis came to Milwaukee with his wife, who had family here, 5 years ago, and re-established his business here.

“I ditched high school at 16 and got my first tattoo, and I’ve wanted to do it ever since.  I  built a homemade kit and worked in people’s garages

and kitchens, then learned properly in a shop,” said Francis.

Like Monroe, Francis found the show to be extremely stressful, but an overall positive experience – especially as it translates to exposure for his business.  “One of the big reasons [for doing the show] was to bring attention to the shop.”

The final three contestants will fly back to New York for the finale of the show in May, where they will choose a winner.

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