Interview with Legendary Realism Tattooer Ben Kaye


Ben Kaye is a hyper realism tattoo artist working out of his own shop Ship Shape Tattoo in Auckland, New Zealand.  Ben is at the top of many tattoo collectors bucket list to get worked on by and truly creates one of a kind vibrant masterpieces with each project he takes on.  I got the chance to do an interview with him below and hope you guys enjoy.

I’ve been following your work for years now and you’ve always been incredible, but nowadays you’re considered by most as one of the absolute best color realism artists on the planet.  What three things would you say have been most beneficial to your growth as a tattooer?

-Freedom from clients that enable me to push myself artistically and do new challenging pieces and work on the direction my career is heading toward. 
-Working with other amazing artists who push me to do better and achieve more, all the while working in an environment that nurtures creativity and artistic ability.

-My family stability.  They keep me grounded, and to be able to retreat from work, to go home and reset after a long day is so important in being able to wake up refreshed for the next challenge.

How has working alongside Matt and the other Ship Shape guys helped you further your career?

It’s rad.  Having great artists to bounce off and work with has been fundamental in my growth as an artist.

How long have you been tattooing?  How long did it take before you created a piece where everything really seemed to click for you?  Do you remember that moment vividly or was it all just slow consistent improvements over time?

I’ve been tattooing for 10 years.  For me there wasn’t ever really a moment like that, it’s almost been like building a wall brick by brick- a slow steady progression – there’s been a few jumps here and there but no real epiphany moment.

What was the most bizarre or funniest experience you’ve had with a client so far?

I was supposed to be tattooing this guy’s chest – it was a Skull with Ink dripping down the front – so for the reference image he just sent me a bunch of pictures of him in the shower with water running down his chest.

Stupidest email you remember ever getting?

A guy emailed in asking to book in for two full sleeves, to be done in one day, a week from the date he contacted me, and his budget was $1500.  Needless to say, it was a no.

What massive changes have you seen in the tattoo industry from the time you first entered it up until now?

There’s been a lot of change over the last 10 years i’ve been in the industry – namely other people’s attitude (outside of the industry) toward tattoos and also clients openness to try new and different things.  It’s probably one of the most exciting times to be a tattooist in my opinion. 10 years seems like a long time but in reality it’s just a blip on the radar.  Hopefully the next 10 years see more positive change and just get better and better.  Long live the dream!

Favorite thing about being a tattooer? Most challenging part of being a tattooer?

Tattoos are both my favourite part, and the most challenging aspect of being a tattooist.

If there is one thing you could tell your new-to-tattooing self to avoid headaches you may have had along the way, what would it have been?

Just chill the fuck out and enjoy it!

Anyone you really want to collect a tattoo yourself from or do a collaboration piece with?

I really want to get a piece from Dmitriy Samohin – something super big and colourful; the guy is a super amazing, crazy talented man.  I like to collab with anyone I know and get along with because it’s a fun experience, and you feel comfortable working with the other person and in turn you end up producing some of your best work.  I did a collab with Evan Olin recently and that was great, because we could take the mick out of each other – he’s a funny looking guy so I would always make fun of him and it was a good laugh.

I know you make amazing money as it is, but if you could charge $25,000 USD per full day tattoo session, how often would you be tattooing and why?

As tattooists, we really don’t make as much money as people think.  You have to remember we are self employed and business owners so with all of our overheads and expenses the actual take home amount isn’t anywhere near the face value of the cost of the tattoo.  Anyone that answers this question purely thinking about the most cash you can get for as little effort as possible shouldn’t be tattooing.

Changes you hope to see in the industry over the next few years?

As much positive attitude toward tattooing and tattoo culture as possible.  Like I said, the changes are already happening so hopefully they just keep the momentum.

Top three pieces of advice for the tens of thousands of tattooers hoping to accomplish what you have so far?

There’s so much bullshit – don’t worry about your brand or your Instagram or how much money you want to make – all that will come if you just focus on your craft and do what you love.

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