York’s Keith Diffenderfer, a tattoo artist at Rehoboth Beach’s Honor & Iron, is a contestant on Spike TV’s "Ink Master."
York's Keith Diffenderfer, a tattoo artist at Rehoboth Beach's Honor & Iron, is a contestant on Spike TV's "Ink Master." (Spike.com)

When Keith Diffenderfer saw his first tattoo at age 6, he was hooked.

Learning you can draw on other people was fascinating, and he said he was enamored with typical biker tats, like roses and skulls, at a young age.

And when he got his first tattoo at age 16, Diffenderfer loved the feeling, the artistry and all you can do with needles and electricity, he said.

"After that, I was addicted to everything about it," the West York resident said.

Now at 32 years old, with 14 years of tattooing experience, Diffenderfer is competing in the fourth season of Spike TV's "Ink Master," a reality show that pits 17 artists against each other with a $100,000 prize at stake.

"I like challenges — that's kind of how I live my life," he said.

Chosen: The day he was selected for the show was probably the craziest day of his life, he said.

After his friend and nephew called the show for him and got him motivated, Diffenderfer secured an interview in New York City.

He was running late — and eventually got into a fender-bender, he said, but that didn't stop him.

Diffenderfer jumped out of the car, ran eight blocks and showed up a half-hour late with his shirt wide open and sweat pouring down his face.

The interviewers were concerned and asked if he was OK.

"Listen, I just need a glass of water and a towel, and I'll be good," he said. "Let's go do this thing."

They loved him.


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The show: Diffenderfer said he joined the show to do good, clean tattoos, as well as be a good role model for his 3-year-old son, Maximus.

"He's the reason I was there," he said.

He was away from his son for two months while filming in New York City, he said, but he dedicated a tattoo for Maximus while performing on his birthday.

Three episodes in, Diffenderfer has tattooed strangers with geometric shapes, an eyeball and an intimidating green-eyed lady. He said he stays on the show for a long time, but events like his grandfather's almost dying affected his performance.

"I did very well — I did," Diffenderfer said. "But the thing about it is, I could've done better."

He said he's seen very little of this season's show and is "pulling a Johnny Depp," as the actor doesn't watch any of his own movies.

Diffenderfer is known for his bright, bold tattoos and describes his style as "progressive modern traditional."

His body is covered in tattoos, from his neck to his torso, ribs and legs, he said. He has trained as a Navy SEAL and conditioned himself to ignore the pain, but he said his emotions are still very much there.

"I find myself crying watching Pixar movies," he said.

Giving back: Diffenderfer is thankful for the opportunity to be on the show, but he said what he does afterward is more important than what he did while he was there.

Contestant Keith Diffenderfer’s work on Ink Master.
Contestant Keith Diffenderfer's work on Ink Master. (Spike.com)

"I'm so driven that once I have one thing, I must work for another," he said. "I don't stay stagnant."

Since the show, Diffenderfer said his art is better, and his attitude about life is more positive. He said he's started going back to St. Patrick Catholic Church in York City, is giving motivational speeches and is reaching out to children more than ever because of his love for his son.

"I want to try and teach him the best values of life," Diffenderfer said. "I'm doing everything for him."

He will also do events he couldn't do before the show, such as perform at the York Revolution's Firestock Festival on May 31. Diffenderfer will do paintings and stencils on kids, as well as participate in a raffle for a firefighter and give him a memorial tattoo at the show, he said.

Since leaving his last gig as an artist at Honor & Iron in Rehoboth Beach, Del., Diffenderfer is preparing to open his own tattoo shop in Lancaster County, Godspeed Traditional Tattoo Parlor and Fine Arts Gallery.

The shop will have a "dapper environment," with no piercings and a storefront kids can enter and paint in during the day, he said. After his stint in Delaware, he said, he prefers his hometown and the surrounding areas.

"I'm gonna be a local now," he said.

Catch Diffenderfer on "Ink Master," which airs on Spike TV at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays.

— Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com.