Kiwi tattooist Steve Butcher turns skin into art

Vids 10/04/2017

A Kiwi tattooist is making waves both here and abroad with his life-like works.

All Blacks, basketball stars and celebrities are already among his repertoire, and Steve Butcher says he's not stopping there.

It's hard not to do a double-take when you see his work.

A tattoo of Richie McCaw took him nine hours to create, with every strand of hair and bead of sweat painstakingly detailed into a client's lower leg.

The self-taught tattooist says a friend convinced him to switch from paint to ink while he was at art school.

"I always painted like photorealism and tried to achieve what the photo is, so when I transitioned my art work into tattooing that was kind of the first artform in tattooing which I saw and was really interested by," he says.

Human skin became his canvas of choice, and Mr Butcher says he uses his customers to help him create.

"I see what I see in my head, and if they add an extra thing it can spark a whole different flurry of ideas," he says.

When Newshub caught up with him he was working on a client's second Jonah Lomu tattoo.

The first was a detailed portrait of the late All Blacks legend.

Mr Butcher's also inked pictures of NBA stars Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, and a colourful portrait of Michael Jackson.

However he says his stand-out was an aboriginal piece, which took him nearly 20 hours to complete.

"That for me has been the most influential because everyone really liked it, but it sparked a whole bunch of work like that," he says.

People may be his speciality, but Mr Butcher says he isn't a one-trick pony.

"I'd really like to start doing sneaker tattoos. I'm a huge sneaker-head and I feel like there're a lot of people like me out there," he says.

He currently works out of a small shop in Henderson in west Auckland, but travels often and hopes to move to the US.

"The amount of recognition that I've gotten, especially in America is insane. My work got put on ESPN last year and Sports Centre," he says.

Mr Butcher reckons he's done more than 1000 tattoos over the past seven years.

And for those who have any doubt they're real?

"It is what it is," he says. "Come get tattooed and find out."