Meet Cochrane’s tattoo artist inspired by a galaxy far, far away

The force is strong with Saga Anderson.

Not only is his body covered in Star Wars tattoos, his entire studio in Cochrane, Alta., about 20 kilometers northwest of Calgary, is covered in movie memorabilia.

Action figures, such as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, are stuck to the wall in their original packaging. The Millennium Falcon hangs from the ceiling. Pointed head in a glass cabinet, along with his many trophies and awards.

“My dad introduced me to Star Wars,” he said. “I had Star Wars sheets and blankets and toys. From then on, I fell in love with it.”

“I just love the art, visuals and costumes of it… The characters are very well developed and it has established itself as a timeless story after 50 years.”

Anderson is so passionate about the franchise, he’s built his career around it. He is the only tattoo artist in Canada with a Lucasfilm license.

It’s a program he runs Ink Fusion EmpirePowered by Lucasfilms Ltd. – the production company behind the films. Tattoo artists submit examples of their work to the group and, if approved, may get tattoos at Star Wars conventions.

“Being able to mix my passion for art and Star Wars and everything in one place is a joy for me,” he said.

“I get to my favorite place every day and… I get tattoos that I love.”

The action figures, still in their crates, are stuck to the wall.  The glass facade displays many awards.
A small part of Anderson’s desk shows his dedication to the Star Wars film series and the awards he has received for his work. (David Mercer/CBC)

Clients come from far and wide to get his tattoos too.

Christopher Howe, of San Jose, California, waited a few years for Anderson to see him. He visited the studio earlier this month for his second appointment, finishing a leg piece featuring characters from Star Wars: The Clone Warsan animated film in the franchise.

“The technique and the style he does is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Howe said.

“I kind of chased after him and wanted to make an effort to fly all the way here… because I don’t think there’s anyone out there who does as good a job as things, certainly in the Star Wars medium.”

It’s a reputation Anderson says he built through long hours and hard work.

And given that he transitioned from a career as a psychology counselor about 15 years ago, he’s very proud of how far he’s come.

“The artist I wanted to be”

Like most artists, the creative error showed up early on.

Throughout his student years in Calgary, Anderson says he drew cartoons, wrote comics, and even designed CDs and book covers for his peers.

At first, he didn’t take his art seriously. He considered it more than a hobby, and chose to obtain a master’s degree in psychology instead.

He had a successful career, he said, but he kept feeling a pull—a force, you might say—pulling him back toward art. He began experimenting with tattooing in 2007, and years later, he found a shop willing to accept him as a mature novice artist.

He said, “I decided when the other artists would go home at the end of the day, I’d be the one to work there and still be in the shop. When the other artists were tired, I’d be the one to carry on.”

“So I was able, through hard work and perseverance, to become the artist I wanted to be.”

A man leans on a brightly lit workstation.
Sean (Saga) Anderson has made a career creating vibrant Star Wars tattoos. (David Mercer/CBC)

He’s done his “color realism” tattooing, he says, which involves taking a photorealistic image and trying to recreate it, making it look almost three-dimensional, on human canvas.

“You have to learn to remove outlines and recreate an image using only colour, shading, values, contrast and all the classic technical skills you might learn as a painter,” he said.

He traveled to conferences and competitions, presenting his work to a wider audience. As he says, social media has also helped him, allowing him to promote his brand and reach more people.

Today, Anderson presents seminars for other artists, judges competitions, and co-owns his studio, Blue Mountain Tattoo, with his wife.

He recreates all sorts of characters, scenes, and images, but of course, the Star Wars designs are some of his favorites.

I surprised everyone

Anderson says he doesn’t start any design in advance of meeting the client. They collaborate, find an image and use a little Photoshop magic until they come up with a design that works.

“The body is telling me what there should be… what it should be like,” he said.

Most tattoos take between three and seven hours, although some take several days. He says it has been worth it to see the reactions of his clients to his work.

“This is one of the best parts of my day…seeing that they got a whole new part of their body that they can look at and admire for the rest of their lives.”

A man is lying on a table while another man is sniffing his calf.
Anderson works on Christopher Howe’s Star Wars tattoo. (David Mercer/CBC)

And the requests for his services are as strong as ever. Anderson says its popularity is due in part to a change in the way people think about tattoos.

Instead of walking into a grubby-looking shop and pointing at a picture on the wall, tattooing is a much more artistic process, with each creator specializing in a different style.

Anderson says he encourages anyone with a passion for art to pursue their dreams as well.

After all, fear is the path to the dark side.

“I think I surprised everyone, myself included, by how far I was able to go.”

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