Exclusive Interview: Young Bae from The Black Ink Crew NYC

From abuse and homelessness in Korea to fame and independence in the US, tattoo artist Young Bae has come a long way in the last decade. Now a featured artist on VH1’s The Black Ink Crew: New York, Young Bae has mastered just about every style of tattooing and has worked herself up from shop-maid to tattoo salon owner. Recently, I got a chance to chat with the NYC starlet about escaping parental abuse, bullshit tattoos, and unruly clients. Take a look!

Let’s go ahead and get the obvious questions out of the way first—starting with, how long have you been tattooing?  

I’ve been tattooing for 11 years now.

What drew you to the tattoo industry? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do when you were young or did you find it later in life?  

Tattoos are illegal in Korea, so I found out that I wanted to tat in 2007 when I came to the states.  As a trained artist, I was looking for ways to be creative and one day while wandering around the city thinking about my life, I saw a neon sign that said tattoo!  I felt like it was a sign from God. I went in and took a cleaning job that served as my entry into the industry. I would secretly watch the artists, paying attention to what tools they used and where they ordered supplies and eventually I taught myself.

You are currently featured on the hit reality tv show, Vh1’s The Black Ink Crew: New York. How did you find your way onto the show? Can you tell us a little bit about your experience on the show?

The NY Tattoo industry is small and we all knew each other prior to the show. When they were filming, I would go in and fill in from time to time.  I met a few of the producers and they liked my bubbly personality and invited me to join during their fifth season. We’re currently wrapping season six and I had no idea that I would share so much of my life on the show.  The experience has been like a rollercoaster! There are high points like finally finding a great guy, getting engaged, and finding out that I was pregnant (baby’s due this June) to low points like going through divorce, recounting homelessness and abuse by my Father in Korea, and my mom going missing (thank God she’s ok).  Overall, The Black Ink Crew became my family and I’m grateful for the experience and their love and support through the ups and downs of my crazy life.

It’s no secret that you had a rough start in life. Do you find that your troubles in your youth led to your ability to succeed? Does it translate into your art or is it something that you have put behind you now?  

What I’ve survived has only made me stronger.  I came to this country with no friends, no family, and I couldn’t speak English.  I had only $88 dollars in my pocket and I made it happen! Now, I’m a businesswoman and the owner of my own tattoo salon in the heart of NYC. It wasn’t easy, but when you come from nothing you don’t want to go back.  I took advantage of all opportunities that came my way and I still do. As far as my art, I think my upbringing pushed me to be excellent and only accept excellence, and I believe that’s one of the things my clients appreciate about me the most.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put my hardships in Korea fully behind me, but I don’t let it hinder me. I use it as fuel to keep going at full speed every day.

If you could do any piece you desired on a client—what would it be?  

I’ve never done a full geometric mandala leg sleeve so I’m dying to do that.  The work is intense and intricate, but for me, it puts me at peace. It’s a stress reliever.

Every tattoo artist has an off-the-wall funny story about a client, a situation, or a tattoo that has come across their chair. If you had to pick a story that strikes you as the funniest of your career—what would it be?

Yes, I have sooo many!  From walking in on an artist and client having sex in the shop to a girl farting in my face while giving her a tramp stamp…I can go on and on.  However, the story that is the most outrageous is when a potential client shitted on the floor. Yes, took a dump. It’s disgusting but true. She walked in with two small children for a consultation and I was talking to her behind the counter.  I smelled something but thought it was one of the young kids. It was not. When she left, there was evidence of her disaster along with footmarks. Ewwwwww.

When it comes time to tattoo, do you generally use music to get into the “groove” or do you find you need silence or white noise in the background? If you utilize music, what type do you listen to and does it change by piece?  

I need music for sure.  I like to listen to Hip-Hop or R&B…but, it can’t be angry rap. Think Drake.

What is one of your biggest pet peeves in the industry?

Bullshit tattoos.  A large percent of my business is doing cover-ups or corrections.  I’m like why don’t people sharpen up their skills?

Tell us a little about your home life. Do you have any hobbies that aren’t tattoo-related? Pets? Anything else we might find interesting?

I think people would be surprised to know that I am a licensed professional Kickboxer and at one point I was even a trainer.

If you could tattoo anyone, living or dead—who would it be?  

I’d like to tat Bang Bang….I love his work, especially his work on Rihanna.

Have you tattooed in other countries outside of the US? If so, how do you feel the USA’s tattoo culture stacks up against those in the rest of the world? If not, is there anywhere you would really like to travel to for work?

No, I haven’t tattooed outside of the states but, it’s a dream to visit and tat in Amsterdam.  I feel like that city is artistic and free.

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