Interview with Portrait Tattooer Chris Nieves


Chris Nieves is an incredibly gifted and respected tattooer (specializing in hyper realism portrait work) working out of Melbourne, Australia.

I came across Chris about a year ago on social media, and I remember being instantly mind blown when I was first introduced to his work (I saw the MJ piece first when it was getting sent/posted all around the tattoo community).

I got the incredible honor of being able to ask him some questions about his journey as an artist and more, and hope you all enjoy the read.

So first off, if I’m not mistaken you served some time awhile back. I saw some of the drawings you did in there on your page and they are truly stunning… Can you tell me about how being in there has effected you as an artist/tattooer? I love that beauty can come from madness in life and am very curious about others stories with hardships.

So in 2011 I pled guilty to drug charges dating back to 2007 and was subsequently sentenced to 11 years in Prison. When I went inside I had been tattooing for nearly 3 years. I was released on parole in 2017 and I’m still on parole today.
I spent my days drawing on envelopes and putting them in the post to send home. Eventually i was able to get my hands on oil paints and canvas and there the painting began. I would Paint or draw from the time I woke up till lights out at night, only stopping to eat and hit the gym. Having so much time to paint and draw really helped me with attention to detail and painting helped me learn alot about colour and contrast which has been valuable especially in my colour portrait tattoos. Prison isn’t for everyone but I made the most of my time focusing on my art.

So you are one of the few tattooers I have seen who seems to have really mastered both color as well as black and grey realism. Has portrait work in general just came very natural to you from the beginning or did you put all your eggs specifically into this basket and really make a conscious effort to master the portrait genre?

For me portraits whether it be colour or black and grey have always been the most interesting  genre for me, it was one of those things i just fell into and enjoyed it so much i just ran with it. I love the way realism tattoos come to life on someones body. 

What three lessons have been most beneficial towards your growth as a portrait artist?

Changing texture to create depth, making sure to use high contrast and if its not there in the reference picture then create it, paint and draw as much as possible.

The tattoo world is blowing up like crazy to say the least. What are the three biggest changes you predict to see in this industry over the next three to five years?

Ahh man…. I’m not really good with predicting things, i live one day at a time and generally try not to think too far ahead, I think that came from my time in Prison but I’m guessing tattoos are just going to get better and better and maybe all tattoo machines will be cordless.

What is the craziest/most memorable experience you have ever had with a client so far?

There’s not anything too crazy, but I do a lot of memorial portraits and when your tattooing a parent who’s lost their child its heart breaking – those are the ones that you remember most.

If you could go back to when you first started tattooing and tell yourself one specific thing that you know now, what would that important thing be?


What is usually going through your mind as you tattoo?

I’m always chatting and laughing and talking shit with my clients when i’m tattooing them, so i’m definitely not one of those tattooers that has to sit there and concentrate in silence.

Most rewarding part of being a tattooer?

I love Creating art on clients skin, its really satisfying, and not working for anyone else is awesome. If I won a Lotto i wouldn’t stop tattooing, I would just tattoo for free.

Most challenging?

Juggling long hours and family time.


Be sure to follow Chris’s amazing feed/work on Instagram @chris_nieves_portrait_artist.

Thank you so much for your time Chris, and thanks to anyone who read through this.


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