Meet the Cochrane tattoo artist inspired by a galaxy far, far away

Just a small section of Anderson's office shows his dedication to the Star Wars franchise, and the awards he has received for his work. (David Mercer/CBC - image credit)
Just a small section of Anderson's office shows his dedication to the Star Wars franchise, and the awards he has received for his work. (David Mercer/CBC - image credit)

The force is strong with Saga Anderson.

Not only is his own body covered in Star Wars tattoos, his entire studio in Cochrane, Alta., about 20 kilometres northwest of Calgary, is covered with film memorabilia.

Action figures, like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, are stuck to the wall still in their original packaging. A Millennium Falcon hangs from the ceiling. A stormtrooper bobble-head sits in a glass cabinet, along with several trophies and awards.

"My dad introduced me to Star Wars. I had Star Wars sheets, blankets, toys. And so ever since then, I've fallen in love with it," he said.

"I just love the art, the images and the costume of it … the characters are just so well developed and it's kind of proven itself as a timeless story 50 years later."

Anderson is so passionate about the franchise, he's built his career around it.

He's the only tattoo artist in Canada who works with Ink Fusion Empire, a group backed by Lucasfilms Ltd. — the production company behind the Star Wars films — to tattoo licensed art at Star Wars conventions. Creators must submit their work to the group and receive approval before they can participate.

"To be able to mix my passion of art and Star Wars and everything all in one place is the joy for me," he said.

"I get to come to my favourite place every day and … do tattoos that I love."

David Mercer/CBC
David Mercer/CBC

Clients come from far, far away to get his tattoos, too.

Christopher Howe, from San Jose, Calif., waited a few years to be seen by Anderson. He visited the studio earlier this month for his second appointment, finishing off a leg piece featuring characters from Star Wars: The Clone Wars, an animated film in the franchise.

"The technique, the style that he does, is unlike anything I've ever seen," Howe said.

"I sort of hunted him out and wanted to make the effort to fly all the way up here … because I don't think there's anyone doing as good as stuff, certainly in the Star Wars medium."

It's a reputation Anderson says he's built through a lot of long hours and hard work.

And considering he transitioned from a career as a psychology counsellor about 15 years ago, he's quite proud of how far he's come.

'The artist that I wanted to be' 

Like most artists, the creative bug hit early.

Throughout his school years in Calgary, Anderson says he drew cartoons and wrote comics, even designing CD and book covers for his peers.

At first, he didn't really take his art seriously. He thought of it as more of a hobby, and he chose to pursue his master's degree in psychology instead.

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

"I decided when other artists would go home at the end of the day, I'd be the one working there and still at the shop. When other artists were tired, I'd be the one to keep going," he said.

"So I managed to, through hard work and perseverance, become the artist that I wanted to be."

David Mercer/CBC
David Mercer/CBC

He made his mark doing "colour realism" tattoos, he says, which involves taking a real life image and trying to recreate it, making it look almost three-dimensional, on a human canvas.

"You have to learn to take away the outlines and recreate an image just using colours and shading and values and contrast and all the classic art skills that you would learn as a painter," he said.

Travelling to conventions and competitions, he showed off his work to a wider audience. Social media helped, too, he says, allowing him to promote his brand and reach more people.

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

He recreates all kinds of characters, scenes and portraits, but of course, the Star Wars designs are some of his favourites.

'I surprised everyone'

Anderson says he doesn't start any design in advance of meeting the client. They collaborate, find a photo and use a little Photoshop magic until they've come up with a winning design.

"The body tells me what needs to be there … what shape should be on them," he said.

Most tattoos take between three and seven hours, although some are multi-day projects. It's all worth it to see his clients' reactions to his work, he says.

"That's 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 life."

David Mercer/CBC
David Mercer/CBC

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

Instead of walking into a rough-looking shop and pointing to a photo on the wall, tattooing is a much more artistic process, with each creator specializing in a different technique.

Anderson says he encourages anyone with a passion for art to pursue their dreams, too.

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

"I think I surprised everyone, including myself, how far I've managed to take it."