At the last Heartwork Tattoo Festival 2017, we caught up for a quick chat with one of the leading realism tattoo artists of the world, Steve Butcher, from New Zealand. In a short tattooing career so far, Steve has become probably the most popular tattoo artist in the whole world. His realistic tattoos often seem to have more details than the images he renders on skin. You must have seen at least a few of his tattoos floating on your search area of Instagram.
Steve is a huge NBA and Kobe Bryant fan, and his tattoos of Kobe Bryant are breathtaking, to say the very least. At the convention too, you could see him sporting an NBA Finals hat, as he was constantly swarmed by a crowd of fans and enthusiasts who just wanted one selfie with him. Our star reporter, S Chak managed to sneak in and pull Steve out for a very brief rapid fire round of question and answers, so that you, the fans, get to know him a little better…
Shatabdi (S): You are a self taught artist. How has the journey been so far?
Steve Butcher (SB): Absolutely crazy. Everything’s happening so fast, it’s hard to kinda keep up with it.
S: How did you get into tattooing? You were an art student…
SB: When I graduated, my Nana passed away from Lung cancer and I got a tattoo of her and that’s how I kinda got interested in tattooing. And I had a friend who was tattooing at the time, who saw my paintings and suggested that I start.
S: What’s the difference between being a self taught artist and someone who has learnt it in a studio?
SB: I think you just… You kinda do things a lot faster because you are not asking someone what to do or you know what I mean? So there’s a bit more freedom…
S: And what are the disadvantages of being self taught?
SB: Not knowing if you’re doing the right thing or not. Just kinda stabbing in the dark and hoping you’re doing the right thing…
S: How did you develop your style? Mixing realism with black and grey…
SB: In New Zealand, a lot of people have darker skin because they spend a lot of time at the beach. So I kinda had to get good at both because I can’t do colour on darker skin and whiter people wanted colour. So I just kinda had to be as versatile as possible.
S: Has your art influenced your tattooing?
SB: Yeah I used to paint realism. I still paint realism, I just never have time anymore.
S: Any effect of the skill of tattooing on your art and vice versa?
SB: I mean it kinda puts you in a hole, because you’re used to following a stencil and someone telling you what to do, you know? Whereas if you’re painting, its all on yourself. So it’s almost too much freedom. I start freaking out a little! I don’t know what to do.
S: Your major art influences?
SB: Many of the old painters… Caravaggio, Rembrandt… In the tattoo world, Dmitriy Samohin, Carlos Torres, Yomico Moreno, Jack Connolly, Benjamin Laukis… Just all my friends.
S: Did you start your tattooing with realism?
SB: No, I started in a street shop. So I was doing script and little symbols but that’s how you get good at the basics, you know! You gotta nail the basics before you can get good at the technical side of things.
S: How has the technical advancement been over the past few years?
SB: Well, just because I am self-taught, it’s kinda tricky you know. Trying new things, not being able to ask anyone- How does this work, what do I do, you know? So that’s why I travel a lot. Because I get to work with a bunch of different artists and kinda feed off them.
S: Where do you see India in the global scene?
SB: Man its crazy! I didn’t know the tattoo industry was so big here. It’s only gonna get more and more popular I think.
S: And where do you see the global tattoo industry heading towards?
SB: It’s huge at the moment, and I mean I just got hit up by Warner Brothers to do a TV show. The fact that they are asking to do these sort of things is crazy.
S: Got some advice for upcoming artists?
SB: Work your ass off. Do nothing but work as that’s the only way you’re gonna get good enough.
S: Do realism tattoos heal/age differently?
SB: I think as long as you take your time and make sure everything is put in properly, like I use round shaders quite a lot, which I think makes it a little bit more tight, holds it together. So, as long as you kinda nail the technical aspect of it, I think they will last.