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Everything I Wish I Had Known About Being a Tattooist

When I started my career back in the 1990’s, I had an advantage for my trade with education in art and technique. However, tattooing skin was another medium altogether, a really hard one for many different factors but mainly because of its permanence. The skin is breathing, ever-changing organic matter. You can white out a canvas, but a tattoo is forever. There is no room for error when you’re working with the ink that will change someone’s life.

I feel like this is something that many young tattooists won’t fully understand during those first few years of their career. I think my first bit of advice for aspiring tattoo artist is to make sure that it’s what you really want to do, what you’re committed 100% to perfecting. Ask yourself: Do I have a passion for this? Am I going to stick it out and learn new techniques every day? Am I going to take responsibility for what I create and how I create it?

Remember: This is not something that you should try if you are an artist and would like to try it out just for fun because you saw it on TV once. Do not attempt that, the only thing you will end up doing is losing all your friends because you fucked them up by using them as guinea pigs. Tattooing is a Sacred Art. It transforms people for the rest of their lives; it is not an art form to take lightly.

And if you’re in it for the paycheck, I’m sorry to say this is not a “fast cash” kind of job.

The learning process is long, it is a hard job. Nowadays there is a lot of competition so you have to be the best in order to get the clients.

WARNING: In today’s world MOST apprenticeships are not free.

You should know first off that you will not get paid during an apprenticeship. So be ready to support yourself in other ways while you study and learn the trade. You may even have to pay for your apprenticeship (though if you search hard enough, you may find someone willing to teach you for free.)

If you find that teacher, be grateful.

You may have to sign a contract during a tattoo apprenticeship. Make sure to read all the terms and decide whether or not you agree to them 100% before signing.

There are no guidelines for how long an apprenticeship will last. There is no formal graduation and it depends on the master and the student’s speed of learning. With so many techniques to learn, an apprenticeship can take at least two years to complete.

At the end of the day, no matter how long the apprenticeship lasts, a tattooist is considered a professional in the business after 5 years of experience. 

From what I have seen, Apprentices usually do not even begin to tattoo during their first year. (But again it depends on the level of the student and what the master wants the student to know before touching the skin.)

What should you expect to learn during an apprenticeship?

·        You’ll learn about the technical aspects of tattooing
.    You'll learn about Tattoo History
·        You’ll learn about the medical aspects of tattooing
·        You’ll learn how to speak with customers
·        And you’ll learn how to apply a tattoo

What will you need in order to get an apprenticeship?

Have a good attitude: Be nice, be humble, be respectful, show how passionate you are, be serious, be dedicated, and strive to sponge up knowledge and be a hard worker. Your teacher wants to know that their life-long hard won knowledge will end up in good hands.

Have your own tattoos: It is always better to know how it feels to get and be tattooed in order to get an apprenticeship. A lot of master tattooists will not take somebody looking to get an apprenticeship if they have no tattoos. Plus it is also a good way to begin to meet some people in the industry in your home town or at a convention. You can learn a lot from getting tattooed, if you observe the process.

Have a portfolio:A portfolio is a book that contains all the pictures of drawings, paintings, murals, sculptures, and artistic projects you have done. Now remember, the trade of tattooing is a highly technical field, so the master tattooist you want an apprenticeship from will mostly be impressed by your technique. They will want to see that you are serious about wanting to master techniques in all styles. Nowadays, the level of techniques and artistry in tattooing is so amazing, and there are so many talented tattooists that I would recommend only passionate talented artists to consider becoming a tattoo artist.  If you do not have a portfolio, take art classes and build your portfolio.

Once you have a nice portfolio and you are ready to take it to the tattoo shops of your choice make sure that the tattooist that you pick is someone whose work you admire. Make sure that you respect  them and that you get along with them, because you will be spending a lot of time with them.
*One of the traditional way of getting an apprenticeship is to find a tattooist you love, get a lot of tattoos by them, then once you begin to know them and when the time is right bring your portfolio and ask them about an apprenticeship. This will most likely open doors for you as you have already proved you loved your future teacher's work by getting tattooed by them. It will show them you are serious.

What do you do if you’ve been rejected from an apprenticeship?

Check your attitude, update your portfolio and try another shop. You can also go back to the same shop with an updated portfolio and attitude

Tattooing isn’t always an easy career choice, but with talent and passion it can be fulfilling and a lot of fun!