Tattooist Saira Hunjan is well known among celebrity circles as “the girl with the golden needle,” and her work is permanently displayed on people like Kate Moss, Sam Taylor-Wood and Jude Law. Having lived in London all her life and graduated from Camberwell, she’s been tattooing for just over 10 years. Her technique is unique and incredibly detailed, and by merging fashion, art and design, she gives depth and meaning to her tattoos. This has garnered her worldwide recognition and features in Grazia, the Guardian and Vogue. Having had a two-year waiting list in the past, the “inspirational female role model” has now taken to collaborating with British craft makers, using her knowledge of tattoo artistry.
How did you start tattooing?
I have early memories of drawing tattoos on myself and friends at school, and then, at the age of 15, I did work experience at Barry Louvaine’s tattoo shop in south London. It was there that I met another artist, Paula Converse, who was opening a studio in Surrey and offered me an apprenticeship.
How did you progress from there?
I worked at New Skool tattoos, learning the ropes for the next eight years. During that time I also took an art foundation course at Central Saint Martins in London and attained a fine art degree in painting at Camberwell College of Arts. I am currently working out of Good Times tattoo in Shoreditch, London.
What do tattoos mean to you?
Tattoos feel like my real skin and are a way to express and show what is truly beautiful. I have been getting tattooed for the past 13 years and have nearly everything completed. I want my body suit to be symmetrical, having the designs work as a continuation from one part of my body to the other. A lot of the designs I wear are very decorative, based on traditional Indian patterns, so it’s like wearing permanent jewelry.
What’s your opinion on the current state of tattoo art? Are you content
There are so many talented tattooists out there. The machines, needles and colors are so accessible now, and the techniques are getting better, allowing for beautiful designs to be created.
Which artists stand out for you?
Some artists are really pushing the boundaries; you can tell what artist had done which tattoo. It’s like going to see a certain designer to get a bespoke item of clothing made. It’s a serious deal—as it should be. If you are going to wear a tattoo for the rest of your life, then it shouldn’t matter how long you have to wait or how far you have to travel for a particular artist. That’s why it’s always good to do your research. As with the good, there is always the bad! Tattooing is not an easy job to do. It comes with so much responsibility. We can transform people’s lives within a couple of hours, and it should be done with care, love and passion for the craft.
You’ve recently collaborated with leather and shoe crafters. How did this come about?
I have always wanted to go beyond tattooing and use my creativity in different media. I approached Ettinger with the idea for a collaboration because I thought we would complement each other well. My designs added an extra edge to the products, and I could get my concepts stamped onto leather. The Ettinger team has been fantastic to work with, and I’m so pleased with the outcome.
What elements from your tattooing did you incorporate into the leatherwork?
I am still using my inspirations such as death, beauty and goddesses, but I am looking at other ways in executing them. Taking a step back from tattooing has given me the time to produce a series of detailed goddess drawings that I would like to exhibit in the near future. This is a very exciting project for me; it is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
What do you enjoy more about leather designs than tattoo designs?
I don’t feel so restricted. On skin, there is only a certain amount of detail that you can achieve, whereas on paper I can go to the depths that I need to. The goddesses are morphed into animals depicting different personalities of the divine. They hold a lot of significance to me, celebrating female energy and beauty.
Text by Katia Ganfield
Photography by Olivia Beasley
Assistant: Sam Barnes
Makeup/hair: Keely Reichardt for Mac Cosmetics
Thanks to The Hospital Club, London