Ellensburg’s only tattoo artist talks tats
By MARGAUX MASSEY, staff reporter
The soft buzzing of a tattoo needle and the sharp smell of disinfectant welcome those who walk into Third Eye Tattoo and Piercing on Third Avenue in Ellensburg.
On the counter, books show off the different artists’ work. The owner, Ben Reames, is bent over Sean McNally, his current customer, working on a tattoo of Yosemite Sam. He pauses and looks up at the new customer over his thick black glasses to offer a friendly “What’s up?”
He immediately goes back to staring at McNally’s bicep, where not just any Yosemite Sam tattoo is in progress. No, this is a permanent ink portrait of Yosemite Sam featuring Bugs Bunny’s severed head giving the finger. Reames jokes about how McNally came in wanting just Yosemite Sam, claiming the severed head was his idea.
Reames is a tattoo-covered 37-year-old man with scraggly black hair and a beard to match. He jokes around with the customers as he works on them.
Reames is the owner of the only tattoo shop in Ellensburg, which has been in business for 13 years.
Originally from Tacoma, Reames came to Ellensburg in 1994. In 1999, he graduated from Central with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. About a year after he graduated, Reames opened up his tattoo shop, mostly out of spite, according to him.
“I got in a fight with another artist [and owner of a shop] and told him I was going to put him out of business, and I did,” Reames said.
The other artist in question at the time was the boss of his wife, Melody Malek. The shop that she worked in wasn’t a good one and Malek, as the piercer, didn’t even have gloves.
Concerned for her safety, Reames bought his wife gloves to wear when she worked. That night, her boss came over to Malek’s piercing station and took some of the gloves.
This caused a brief argument and the two men took it outside. Reames then threatened to put the shop owner out of business, and, once he opened up his own shop, that’s exactly what he did.
Reames has owned the shop since he opened in 2000 and has never had to leave Ellensburg. He has changed the location of his shop only once in thirteen years, but only because he is now planning to open up a shop that caters “toward the more feminine side of life,” next to his tattoo shop.
“I think I’m doing something right if I’m still here,” Reames said.
Reames describes his shop as a “custom street shop.” Any customer can come in and get whatever they want. The walls of the shop are lined with classic tattoo-style art, and half of a stuffed goat watches over the proceedings from the back of the shop.
Reames is always willing to trade a tattoo for a musical instrument. He then paused a minute before laughing and adding that he accepts taxidermy as well. At this point in time, he is a vegetarian- one who collects animals.
The shop doesn’t just do tattoos, they also do piercings.
“I started working here a year ago,” Spencer Kibbel, the piercer, said. “When I met Ben I had no tattoos, now I have a lot. His work is solid.”
As a friend and regular customer, Kurt “Stix” Stine sings Reames’ praises as well. Stine has been getting tattooed by Reames for three years and has 13 tattoos that were either completely done or touched up by Reames.
“Ben is a quality tattoo artist and he is an artist, he does great detail,” Stix said. He went on to say that he met Reames through a friend who had tattoos done by him and liked his work right off the bat. He laughs about how he has known other artists but “I like Ben’s work better.”
Reames is married to the shop’s other artist, Melody. The two met in the painting studio in Randall Hall and got to know each other through mutual friends, and have been together for 14 years.
“She would say, ‘He’s a pain in the ass,’” Reames said when asked what his wife thinks about working with him. Both Kibbel, and Stix agree.
Reames and his wife Melody have two children, Ruby, 18, and Oliver, 16. Neither of his children have any tattoos, but they have both had piercings. Reames said once you’ve been around tattooing and piercing your whole life, it’s not nearly as interesting, and that’s why his kids don’t have many modifications.
Reames himself has many tattoos and piercings, and his favorite out of all of them is a tattoo of a fly on his head.
“It’s because I’m the shit,” Reames said, adding that the joke came around after the tattoo did.
Not only does Reames have a favorite tattoo of his own, but there are stories of people he has tattooed that are his favorite and stick out in his mind. He recalls the oldest person he has ever tattooed. She was 74 years old and came in on Mother’s Day to get a tattoo dedicated to her mother, daughter and granddaughter.
Reames said that, like his favorite tattoo, most tattoos people get have a story behind them. The one that stands out the most in his memory was an older lady who came in and got a tattoo of a pig with wings.
“She said she would get a tattoo when pigs fly,” Reames said.