John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Bay artist's 'tattoos' bring smiles to little faces

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Benjamin Lloyd airbrushes 5-year-old Jin Whitehead. Photo/Supplied
Benjamin Lloyd airbrushes 5-year-old Jin Whitehead. Photo/Supplied

An airbrushed tattoo on a 5-year-old Tauranga boy has become an internet phenomenon that could bring smiles to the faces of children at Starship Children's Health.

Artist Benjamin Lloyd was hoping for 50 likes when he Facebooked his indian ink freestyle painting on the body of Jin, the son of Tauranga lawyer Simon Whitehead, but by last night he already had 275,000 likes and more than 143,000 shares.

Mr Lloyd promised free airbrushing of children at Starship hospital if his post attracted 50 likes. "I got 50 likes in 30 seconds."

It took him less than 10 minutes on Sunday to airbrush Jin and a few minutes more to post the photos to his Facebook page. And while he peacefully slumbered on Sunday night, the post went viral around the world.


"I woke up to six million hits. Once it starts to avalanche, things go nuts."

He put the massive popularity of the posting down to people's attention being captured by the images of a tattooed kid. "They think, what is this."

Mr Lloyd believed the other reason it went viral was his offer to airbrush children at Starship if he got 50 likes.

He has been painting the children of friends and family for years using non-toxic indian ink that washed off in the shower. "The kids are so amazed. As soon as they get the tattoo it boosts their confidence."

It was seeing this response that prompted the thought of bringing a bit of joy into the lives of children at Starship.

Doing the arm of a child only took a few minutes by applying the spray to stencils. If Mr Lloyd succeeded in getting the hospital's approval, he planned to pre-cut a whole lot of stencils so the children had the choice of their favourite characters, such as Spider-Man.

They could then get their photos taken with the temporary tattoo.

He said it was a really nice experience for children because all they felt were tickles of cold air blowing against their arm.

Mr Lloyd described himself as a struggling artist who first captured the admiration of his classmates when, feeling self-conscious, he began doodling to cover up a grafted burn on his arm. By the time he reached college, it had moved on from doodles to something more artistic. "People thought it was amazing."

And although his income was irregular, the global response from Jin's tattoo has underlined his belief that there was a huge market for airbrushed art. He was getting five private mails a minute from a global audience wanting to get airbrushed.

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Mr Lloyd was now thinking in terms of business opportunities, including training people in airbrushing. They would work in a franchise-type arrangement, with the idea of a sales pitch along the lines of: "You say it, we spray it".

In the meantime he was collaborating with a supporter to make a series of videos of him at work, hopefully starting with Starship next week.

His more well-known artworks include the picture of Mauao at McDonald's on the corner of Cameron Rd and 11th Ave and various scenes on Z service stations in Tauranga. The video episodes would also show airbrushed scenes on coffins, a 50th birthday cake, God's hands at Bethlehem College and several paintings of AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd.

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