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Artist Highlight: Haenal

Words by Adam Jolley
Artist Highlight: Haenal

In a country where only licensed medical professionals are permitted to use needles, the path of a Korean tattoo artist is laden with difficulty. This makes Haenal's rise to international tattooist even more inspiring. Here she shares her journey from design student to internationally-recognised master of the craft.

Have you always been interested in art?

I was born and raised in Korea. I started majoring in design in high school, and during college I double majored in ceramics and visual design. Drawing has always been a part of my life. After graduating from college, I worked as a GUI designer in Seoul for 6 years, catering to various clients such as Samsung and the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

Since deciding to learn tattooing, I’ve always wanted to pursue a colorful and textured style. The subtle differences in brightness and saturation of colors have always inspired me. Since my school days when I learned art history, I’ve admired the Impressionist style, with Monet being a favorite painter of mine. Perhaps it was a natural choice to follow my passion. Color tattoos intrigued me because the canvas is the individual’s skin. Each person’s skin tone is unique, making it always fascinating, enjoyable, and beautifully diverse.

Tattoo by Haenal

What tattoo styles are popular in Korea?

As a tattoo artist active in Korea, I take pride in the skill and artistic expression of Koreans. Korea offers a wide range of styles. Even within color tattoos, there are textured styles, vivid or pastel colors, bold black and gray designs, traditional styles, and countless others. The diversity in clients' preferences reflects the sheer variety of styles available. I've noticed that my clients generally have a strong affinity for animals and nature. I'm grateful for the customer base in Korea who appreciate my style. 

How is it working as a tattoo artist in Seoul?

Being a tattoo artist in Korea isn't easy. Currently, only licensed medical professionals are allowed to use needles, making the situation challenging. Nevertheless, efforts are underway by the Tattoo Artists' Association to improve this situation through various means. I’m based in Seoul as a tattoo artist in Korea, name of ‘Haenal’, but I’m also active globally. I engage in various activities as an artist, including exhibitions, workshops, and artworks.

Can you tell us more about your work globally?

In the realm of international tattoo artistry, my works have been fortunate enough to catch the attention of several renowned studios across the globe. Last year, I had the privilege of sharing my artistry and insights as a master tattoo artist at Yant Studio in New York, one of the most widely-recognized studios in the city. Being invited by them was a significant milestone, as they typically reserve invitations for artists known for their expertise and mastery of the craft. I felt deeply honored by this recognition, as it underscored my standing in the industry and provided a valuable platform to share knowledge with aspiring artists.

What is important to you as an artist?

Tattoos are not only the works of individual tattoo artists but also wouldn’t exist without clients. Therefore, the most important thing to me is my clients. For me, effective communication during the consultation process is crucial, along with understanding the needs of my clients. Furthermore, I hope that every step of the process, from the initial meeting to the actual tattooing experience, leaves my clients with happy memories. This is because I understand that these emotions and memories ultimately accompany the tattoo on their bodies for a lifetime.

"I hope that every step of the process leaves my clients with happy memories"

For me, I recognize the significance of honing personal tattooing skills, and therefore, I am committed to investing efforts in this aspect. I try to attend seminars and engage in artistic activities globally to further my career development. Additionally, a tattoo artist’s career is the ability to comprehend and fulfill the client’s needs and expectations. Effective communication, empathy, and meticulous attention to detail are essential in crafting tattoos that not only align with the client’s desires but also surpass their expectations. Establishing strong connections with clients and ensuring their satisfaction not only cultivates trust and loyalty but also enhances the artist’s growth and reputation within the industry.

See more of Haneal's work @haenal_tattoo

Tattoo by Haenal