When we spoke with local tattoo artist Shey Haf-Ded, he had recently won Best Tattoo Artist in Best of the Beach, an annual, vote-driven contest by The Sun News and Weekly Surge, and the first such distinction for a tattoo artist.
Haf-Ded, 31, arrived on the Grand Strand from New York more than three years ago with his wife Jessica Haf-Ded. They are the proud parents of a daughter, Dalia, just three months old.
Born and raised in Israel, Haf-Ded moved to NYC when he was 21 and lived there for seven years before heading south. “I feel this is an appropriate place to raise a family as opposed to New York, where it is a little not-so-kid-oriented,” he said. His wife’s parents already lived here, having relocated from New Jersey.
A full-time tattoo artist for eight years, Haf-Ded says that he got into it because he was fascinated by the art form behind it. “I didn’t start my apprenticeship until I was 21, but I had the general idea that it would be something that I would be interested in doing when I was about 19-years-old.” But he has been painting for as long as he can remember.
The apprenticeship wasn’t easy. “It’s basically a job with no pay, and the pay is learning the craft,” he said, adding that for the first six months he was living on a couch and budgeting out how many meals he was going to eat on any given week. “It wasn’t a very good shop and not the most positive experience. You are not a tattoo artist and you are not an employee. I am happy those days are behind me.”
After his first gig at what he calls an actual functioning tattoo shop, he said he started running around different shops in New York – different jobs, different places. “I still go back to New York for occasional work, mostly a week at a time.” His go-to shop is Bang Bang Tattoos on Manhattan’s Lower West Side.
But in Myrtle Beach, his home is Elite Ink Tattoos [www.elitetattooing.com], which has taken first place for Best Tattoo Shop eight times in Best of the Beach and still holds the top spot. He landed the job after he was put in touch with shop manager Michael “Crackie” McDonald.
On the shop’s Web site, Haf-Ded is listed as specializing in portraits and realism. What does that mean?
“That’s an interesting question,” he said. “It’s hard for me to see it from the outside. Last time I was a ‘civilian’ was 10 years ago. Portraits are a very difficult thing to do. It’s difficult to do it on paper, let alone on skin. To get the likeness of someone or the realism is extremely challenging.”
We asked Haf-Ded about the seasonal nature of Myrtle Beach and how that impacted his work.
“There are seasonal differences. I am not the fastest tattoo artist, so there are only so many tattoos I can cram into one day of work. So it kind of spreads it out and ends up being more by appointment. Usually I am booked in advance and I have a nice, steady, loyal clientele.” He said the best form of advertising is word-of-mouth.
And what of the popularity of reality shows like “Bad Ink” [A&E], “America’s Worst Tattoos” [TLC] and “Tattoo Nightmares” [Spike TV], where folks come in to have botched ink and bad decisions covered up?
“Due to the popularity of the TV shows, people are now more aware that they can have their stuff covered up or fixed up,” he said. “A year ago, it wasn’t as popular. I have definitely seen an influx in the amount of tattoos being fixed.”
Haf-Ded said his work is his passion, but this spills over into painting, which he does whenever he gets the chance. “Usually when I have time at night when I get home and everybody is sleeping, I get to paint.”
He always wanted to live by the beach, but laughed that he hasn’t seen it since he moved here. “When I am not working, I kind of stay at home and enjoy being a dad.”
He might be spotted at SoHo Café & Bar in Myrtle Beach, enjoying sushi while out on a date night with his wife, and he loves the movies. “Give me a soda and a popcorn and I’m happy.”
But has Haf-Ded laid down sufficient roots to call this home?
“I bought a house, and this is the place where I am going to have my children grow up,” he said. “I am very comfortable in New York and know my way around – over here I still get lost driving around – but I feel comfortable here. This is a great place to raise a family and to live. I have a fantastic shop to work at. I am very, very fortunate to have wonderful in-laws – and an awesome family.”