Owner & Tattoo Artist
Studio: Huynh Le Tattoo, 248 Phan Dinh Phung, Phu Nhuan, HCM
How long have you been working in this field?
Two to three years, but this shop has been open six months. Before, I worked for another place more than a year and earned commission on my work.
How did it start?
In my first year in university I saw some video clips on the internet. I right away had a strong passion for it, but at that time didn’t dare to start. When my husband’s income became more stable he encouraged me to pursue my dream, so I learnt how to do tattooing. I had to hide that from his family, though.
How about now?
They accept it now and sometimes let other people know that they have a daughter-in-law who is a tattoo artist. They also show off my tattoo photos.
How did you train to become a tattoo artist?
Self-taught. I didn’t take any tattoo classes or training courses. Most of the time, I learnt from famous artists on YouTube. I also practiced on fake human skin that you can buy at tattoo shops. And then I worked for a couple of shops.
Do you think it as an art form?
It’s an art form now. For a long time, tattooing was just copying the samples from the internet and applying them to someone’s skin. Now, young artists want to create their own works that can match their clients’ style and personality.
Have you ever said no to a client?
Yes, many times. If we don’t feel the tattoo is nice or the body location appropriate, I will give them a consultation. But if they persist, I will say no.
Are there any colleges having tattoo art as a major?
It’s not a college, but the Ho Chi Minh City Association of Fine Arts on Pasteur has some basic tattoo classes.
How many female tattoo artists in Saigon?
Well… quite a lot. If we just count those who can do big tattoos, there would be about seven female artists. Nearby provinces like Binh Duong and Bien Hoa also have some female artists.
How does it feel, being a female tattoo artist?
It’s disadvantageous. Clients don’t believe in our ability, skill and or technique. Male clients especially think most of our tattoo designs are too feminine.
Tran Doan Huy Nhat
Studio: Saigon Ink, 26 Tran Hung Dao, Q1, HCMC
When did you have your first tattoo done?
It was when I was 18 or 19. I did a graffiti painting for a tattoo shop in District 10 and the owner offered me a tattoo for free. It was a big one taking up my whole back.
How long have you been working in this field?
Six years in total. Three years for Saigon Ink. Before that I travelled to Singapore quite often for jobs. I started learning about tattoos while I was studying at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Fine Arts.
What is the difference between Saigon and Singapore’s tattoo scene?
Singaporean clients are happy to pay more for tattoos they find interesting and artistic. Vietnamese clients tend to follow tattoo samples or catalogues. They need to see the tattoos first before they get tattooed.
Seeing a person’s tattoos, can you tell that they love tattoos or just follow the trend?
Some people really love tattooing and see it as an art form. But some people just like to show off — we call them ‘posers’. Well… to me, you have to have tattoos on your body first, close to your heart and when you run out of space, you move on somewhere like the arms, hands and neck. Some people just get their first tattoo on these locations. I think they are posers.
Why has tattooing become so popular in Vietnam now?
I think it’s because of the internet. And from the internet, some people get tattoos and other people have had chances to see more and more tattoos. And the more tattoos they have seen, the more they get used to it.
Do you see it as a career?
I never see this as a career. It’s just something I love to do. I don’t want to say this is an art form but prefer to say I love to draw. This allows me to draw quite a lot on a different material — human skin. The feeling is really nice. Plus, when you let money interfere in what you love to do, it will limit your creativity and imagination. And I am not going to let that happen to me.
Studio: Exile Ink Vietnam, 57 Xuan Thuy, Q2, HCMC
Is your shop the first foreign-owned tattoo shop in Saigon? And why?
Yes, it is. I have been running this shop for almost three years. I have always been interested in tattoos. My friend and I wanted to move away from the UK, so we decided to open a tattoo shop here.
What makes you different from others?
We run our shop with standards and techniques equal to those in the UK, Australia and America.
What do you think about Vietnam’s tattoo scene now, compared to 15 years when you first arrived here?
When I first came here, tattoos were illegal; there were no tattoo shops or maybe there were some backstreet studios. Now it has become more acceptable. I think it’s because of fashion. Everything’s new in Vietnam; it happens very quickly.
Have you ever said no to any clients?
Yes. When someone comes in my shop and asks for a tattoo on their face. I definitely refuse if they have no tattoos elsewhere on their bodies.
Do you think it’s an art form?
Yes, it’s an art form because to do it right it takes a lot of skill, practice and dedication. Not everyone can do it.
What do you think about the Vietnamese tattoo scene in the future?
It’s going to get better. It gets more acceptable because more people getting tattoos every day.
What do you think about Vietnamese tattoo artists? Are they good enough?
We have one Vietnamese artist in the shop. There are other good artists doing fantastic work and the standard is getting better. But like anything, there are good ones and bad ones.
What is your plan for the business in the future? Will you open a second shop?
That’s a very Vietnamese idea. They get together and open five or six shops in the same area. That concept’s strange to us. We prefer to do one main thing and what we offer makes us different, so we will stay with this shop. We aim to bring in at least one guest artist a year from overseas.