The tattoo artist won $100,000 and a cover story in Tattoo magazine, not to mention weeks of national television exposure. But the Warsaw native isn't leaving home anytime soon.
“'Are you serious?'” she recalled thinking when named the victor. “It's mind boggling. It was completely insane.”
Her newfound celebrity isn't exactly new. While the season finale of “Best Ink” aired Wednesday night, filming occurred back in November and December. After filming wrapped, Sharpe was sworn to secrecy, not allowed to reveal she had won the competition. She did tell her close family, including her boyfriend of nearly 12 years, Chris.
“He has the hardest time keeping secrets,” she said. “He can't keep secrets from me, ever.”
But with minimal slips, the secret was kept, despite many attempts by the public to pry it out. She would get asked at the grocery store and in calls specifically made to her workplace solely about her fate. Even her youngest brother's friends would pester her when they visited the house.
And while she said she is recognized in public more often than before the show, Sharpe and her instantly recognizable fiery red, orange and yellow mohawk were already established in the tattoo world long before scouts from the Oxygen show approached her last year.
“Teresa had quite the career before the show came along,” said Jake Farris, owner of Studio 13 Creative Skin Design in Fort Wayne, where Sharpe has worked since 2008. “TV didn't do that. Her hard work did.”
Farris was impressed by Sharpe's online portfolio when she first applied, he said, noting her natural artistic talent.
Sharpe has been involved in art in some capacity since age 2. At Warsaw Community High School, her passion for art flourished and was supported, she said.
At 19, her father died, and with her parents divorced and her mother unable to take care of Sharpe's siblings, Sharpe became legal guardian to her brother, now 26, and sister, now 22.
She took a year break after her freshman year of college at Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., to help raise her siblings. Right before her senior year, Sharpe adopted her half brother, Brandon, now 8, and brought him to school for her senior year.
“He probably helped me get through college,” she said. “A child teaches you how to manage your time.”
Sharpe graduated in 2007 with a bachelor of fine arts. After a short stint in food service, she found her way to Studio 13 in Fort Wayne with no prior tattooing experience.
“Jake trusted I was going to go somewhere,” Sharpe said. “He's been extremely supportive of what I've done.”
He, along with Sharpe's fellow tattoo artists at the shop were gathered around the TV on Wednesday night to watch the big finale, as they had done for most of the episodes of the season.
Filming the finale was high-pressure, yet very exciting, Sharpe said.
“The last challenge was crazy,” she said. “We got to see our family on the prior challenge, so it was really hard to get back in on the game.”
When she found out she would be tattooing A.J. McLean of Backstreet Boys fame, she said she got flashbacks to fifth grade.
“But I was all business, I was like 'Yeah, it's A.J., but I need to start making plans.'”
And while she was very happy with her work, she had the whole night to think about her judging and review any mistakes she may have made.
She said she tried to not think about the prize money during most of the competition, but that night, with it so close, it was difficult.
“Now I really, really want to win this,” she thought. “I really want to take this home.”
And that she did.
She called her family that night, but the people she didn't and couldn't talk to were also on her mind, including her mother.
“I'm not sure if we'll ever have a relationship from this, but it's nice knowing I accomplished this,” Sharpe said.
And she thought of her father.
“I always think about and wonder if he would be cool with the career I have chose for myself,” Sharpe said. “When I won, I thought 'he would be proud now.' I think he would be pretty excited for me.”
With all the episodes aired and the secret finally out, Sharpe said she's happy to be back home in Fort Wayne and working five days a week at the shop.
She said she has no plans to leave ink-hungry Fort Wayne or Studio 13, except for when she goes out touring the country doing guest spots, like she did earlier this year.
“I love my shop,” she said. “There's no reason to go anywhere else.”
She also plans to hang on to most of her prize money.
“In the end I wanted to do it for financial stability,” Sharpe said. “As tattooists, we're independent contractors, essentially. Health insurance – that doesn't happen. Retirement plans – that doesn't happen either.”
Some of the money will help pay for new equipment and her youngest brother's future college tuition.
“I'm sure I will take some of it and buy a hot tub, because you have to do that at least,” she said with a laugh.
Boyfriend Chris, who said he never would have guessed Sharpe would pick up tattooing and swore for years he would never get inked, now bares a colorful space scene on his arm, courtesy of Sharpe in one of her "Best Ink" challenges.
He's enjoyed watching her on the show, but the way he sees her hasn't changed.
“When you see her on TV, she's a tattoo artist,” he said, “ but at home, she's just the lady who leaves the lights on when she leaves the room.”
And while getting asked to sign autographs and take pictures with total strangers is something she's adjusting to, the woman from Warsaw doesn't think of herself as a celebrity.
“I just do what I do,” she said. “I work and I tattoo and I hang out with my family. It's crazy and new when people come up and say that stuff, but I don't feel like one.”
So you want a Teresa Sharpe tattoo?Visit teresasharpeart.com to learn more about her style, view past works and see pricing information, among other things.
Sharpe said she has enough demand that she limits new projects to ideas that inspire and challenge her artistically, as well as clients who are willing to dedicate a fair amount of open skin to her needle.
She's currently booking for October.