Portrait of an Artist: See Min Ng

Almost a decade after founding her tattoo studio Henndrawn, See Min Ng is ready to make her mark as an artist with more than just Jagua ink
Almost a decade after founding her tattoo studio Henndrawn, See Min Ng is ready to make her mark as an artist with more than just Jagua ink
Balenciaga hoodie, top, skirt, pants, mules

See Min Ng needs a new introduction. For almost a decade now, her name has mostly popped up in conversations about temporary Jagua ink tattoos—an alternative form of body art that she introduced to Singapore with the launch of her studio, Henndrawn, in 2016. But just as Jagua ink fades, so has the fulfilment that Ng derived from being known as Singapore’s “Jagua Queen”. 

“I felt like I learned everything that I could about Jagua ink,” says Ng on the day of her GRAZIA Singapore shoot. “It no longer made me feel expansive. And even if I could put in more work to improve, I didn’t want to try that hard anymore.” 

That statement could easily be misconstrued as conceit. But Ng, a self-taught artist, has long been plagued with that nagging sense of self-doubt commonly known as imposter syndrome. She didn’t go to art school; instead, she started Henndrawn out of her home while completing her sociology degree at the National University of Singapore. She would draw temporary tattoos based on the designs that her customers showed her during their one-to-one, hour-long appointments with her. And she was great at it: she could faithfully recreate the fine lines of a floral illustration, or the shadows and contours of a face, or the geometry of a mandala, all upon the curved canvas of skin on arms, legs and collarbones. In 2018, Ng also began leading workshops teaching others how to unlock their creativity and draw with Jagua ink. 

Still, without a formal art education, Ng never quite felt qualified as an artist. She measured her creative talent—and, by extension, her self-worth—by the judgement of others. “I was creating not for me or my creative soul,” she reflects. “It was for that ego self, who wanted to feel accepted in the art scene.”  

Ng’s ego was reassured, for a time. She was invited by fashion and lifestyle brands to offer her tattooing services at their parties and pop-up events, which only solidified her identity as the leading Jagua ink tattoo artist in Singapore. With more people being exposed to Ng’s work, Henndrawn blossomed; her studio expanded to include other tattoo artists in order to accommodate the growing demands for temporary tattoos.  

Almost a decade after founding her tattoo studio Henndrawn, See Min Ng is ready to make her mark as an artist with more than just Jagua ink
See Min Ng flaunts a phoenix-inspired tattoo in Jagua ink, which she created for her GRAZIA Singapore shoot. It was inspired by the idea of “rising from the ashes”, she says. Tory Burch top; Ng’s own earrings

But Ng’s own creative growth had come to a standstill. “Singapore did not need me to be talented, in a sense,” she says, echoing a sentiment that is shared among artists here. “You need to be good in your craft, but you don’t need to be too good. Because people can’t tell [the difference], or they wouldn’t want to pay for your expertise. And they don’t want to pay for you to take risks [with your art], they just want to be safe.”  

Dissatisfied, drained, and uninspired—all the worst things for an artist to be—Ng opted for a change of scenery. At the last minute, she tagged along on a friend’s trip to New York, where she experienced a very welcome culture shock. Although she had arrived with no connections in the city, she soon found herself making friends with fellow creatives. She even ended up hosting two Jagua ink tattoo pop-up events in the city, organised with the help of those friends. “I offered to pay for [booking] the venues, but both venue owners said I didn’t have to pay for anything,” she recounts. “They even invited a lot of their own friends over to the events.”  

Their generosity reinvigorated Ng. “New York made me realise what a nurturing environment can do to you, your soul, and your creativity,” she says. “They really, really love to support creatives.” 

Almost a decade after founding her tattoo studio Henndrawn, See Min Ng is ready to make her mark as an artist with more than just Jagua ink
Balenciaga jacket, top, skirt, pants, booties 

But that inspiration was short-lived. Ng’s life-changing New York trip took place towards the end of 2019, just a few months shy of Singapore’s Covid-19 lockdown. Back home, she was just one of many in the local creative community who suffered from the fallout of the pandemic, not only financially, but also emotionally from the judgement of a certain newspaper survey where local respondents ranked artists as a “non-essential” job.   

“When everything came to a stop, nobody could even access my services, and I could not earn money,” recalls Ng. “I could not get any validation from my work any longer. And I realised I really didn’t know who I was, or who I was creating for. I didn’t know what kind of artist I wanted to be anymore.” 

Confronted with herself, Ng says she began to “excavate” her past for a better picture of who she was. She looked at both her good and bad sides, and she reconsidered her title as Singapore’s Jagua Queen. “I felt like if I let that go, then nobody would care about me,” she admits, laughing at her younger self’s fears. She described the period of time that followed as a “shedding season”, where she slowly began to release her identity as a Jagua ink artist.  

You could see the shift on her Tiktok account, which she launched out of curiosity at the end of 2019. Ng documented all of her creative impulses; she not only shared her tattoos, but also her graphic nail art designs, her experiments with hair-dye, and her bold, otherworldly make-up looks that often involved her drawing on her face. Tiktok also sharpened her skills for what has been her “low-key hobby”: making videos. 

Almost a decade after founding her tattoo studio Henndrawn, See Min Ng is ready to make her mark as an artist with more than just Jagua ink
Onitsuka Tiger dress, tank top (worn underneath), sandals 

“I’ve always wanted to be a Youtuber,” Ng admits, adding that she has enjoyed making videos and experimenting with editing software since her teenage years. As a university student, she even took a break from school to intern at a production company. Still, she wrote off her Youtube dreams as something that was “just not possible”. Until now. 

“With Tiktok, I was training myself to edit short-form videos, and it slowly increased my confidence for creating long-form ones,” she explains. Her experience at a production company all those years ago also proves useful now that she is building her own Youtube channel.  

As with everything else, Ng takes a studied approach to crafting videos. Her Youtube videos offer a window into her personal growth and her life as an artist, but they also reveal her attention to colour, composition and pacing. It’s really more fitting to call them mini films.  

“[My latest video] took one month to make,” Ng explains, adding that she works together with her boyfriend, a cinematographer. “Editing a video usually takes about seven to 10 days. The shoot takes about four days, and pre-production takes the rest of the time. It takes me very long to think of what I want to create and [come up with] the exact script.” 

Still, Ng is happy to devote all that time to her new medium. In fact, she had spent the night before her GRAZIA Singapore shoot filming for her Youtube channel, but you couldn’t tell that she lost any sleep.  

“I love being a beginner!” she exclaims. “I haven’t felt so fulfilled and happy in a long time. I think the last time I felt this way was when I was 21, when I started Henndrawn.” 

Now, at 29, Ng no longer offers private appointments at Henndrawn. She’s hardly creating with Jagua ink anymore. But the artist can still leave a mark—as of writing, her new Youtube video has amassed over a hundred thousand views. Soon, she might not need an introduction at all.  

Kenzo jacket, pants