I am currently an apprentice at a custom tattoo shop in Buffalo NY. I’ve been seeing a lot of posts from other people who are looking to get into the tattoo industry lately. Here are some thoughts and advise.*
Tattoos are awesome. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t think so. It has become a fine art in it’s own right. More and more people from all walks of life are getting tattooed every day. There are quite a few people who want to get into the industry. There are definitely perks. It’s a creative outlet where you pretty much wear what you want, meet new people all the time, and get paid for your artwork. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?
Are you cut out for the job? The standards are higher these days and many people hoping to get in to the industry won’t make the cut. A lot of the really good tattoo artists are formally trained artists and have huge amounts of raw talent even before they ever get their apprenticeships. It is an extremely mentally demanding job. You have to come up with custom designs for most clients and not mess up. You can’t erase that lousy line you just ran on somebody. You are at a higher risk of contracting communicable diseases even with all the precautions being taken. Kiss your Fridays and Saturdays good-bye. You’ll work those days and evenings for the rest of your career. Everything you do has to be scheduled, not just appointments.*
If you want to land that apprenticeship here are some things you’ll need to know.*
-Have a portfolio. Nobody is going to offer you a chance without one. You’ll need a binder or portfolio with approximately 30-50 fully finished drawings. Include full color, black and grey, and photos of anything too big to fit into your portfolio. You’ll also want to include linework of any drawings in your portfolio. Think of it as the stencil a tattoo artist would use to start their tattoo. Include a few sheets of “flash”. Roses, hearts, crosses, anchors, birds, etc…
-Get tattooed. I can’t stress this enough. Why would you want to learn from someone who you wouldn’t even let tattoo you? Go to the best shops in your area. Get tattooed. Get to know the staff. Ask some questions here and there. Don’t bug them, yet…
-Go to conventions. Meet some other artists. Get tattooed there. Ask them how they got into it. Don’t ask how you can get into it. Keep it about them and they’ll tell you more. It’s a fairly guarded profession and very difficult to glean any info from anybody. Show off your portfolio and ask for suggestions on making it better.*
Read tattoo magazines. They are your best source of where things are going in terms of design and style. Books are usually outdated by the time they are published and they cost a fortune.*
-Don’t buy any tattoo equipment. Your mentor will guide you towards making the right purchases when the time comes.*
-This should go without saying…. DON’T TATTOO ANYBODY!!!! Most mentors won’t have anything to do with scratchers. They don’t want to have to correct the bad habits you probably have from teaching yourself. If you have tattooed anybody, forget it ever happened. Go into it from a fresh perspective.*
-Now you can start to bug your prospective mentor. Ask if you can show them some of your artwork and if they would critique it. Don’t take the critique to heart. Any suggestions they give you are given to help your art, not hurt your feelings. Take the info they gave you and apply it to your next drawings show them off. Ask them if they need help around the shop. Drop some hints at an apprenticeship. If they aren’t looking for anybody then maybe they know someone who is. It worked for me. I had to start at square one again but I got referred to another shop and started getting tattooed there. Made friends, dropped off my portfolio and was asked if I’d like to learn.*
-Work as hard and as often as you can once you get your apprenticeship. Draw constantly, watch while they tattoo, ask questions, pay attention, be polite. Don’t trash talk other artists or studios because you don’t know anything about anything yet. Scrub those tubes! Mop those floors! Take out that trash! Do it without being told! The more work you put into it the faster it goes. It took me eight months till I got to tattoo anybody. It takes some people two years. I took it seriously. I want this with all my heart. You have to want it with all your heart as well. Anything less is a formula for failure.*
I hope this helped anybody who is serious about tattooing and I hope it discourages the rest. Good luck!
Maybe we can make this a sticky?
This is all solid solid advice.
My only thing to add, is when you say don’t tattoo anybody, THIS INCLUDES YOURSELF!
I made this mistake when I decided I wanted to become a tattoo artist. Now I have to push searching for my apprenticeship back in order to fix the crap tattoo’s that I have.
Really good advice dude Thank you. It’s motivated me to try alot harder now 🙂
That’s some of the best advice I’ve read about how to get an apprenticeship.
Agreed! I especially liked the idea of buying your tattoo kit when you have a mentor to advise you.
Amen Brother!!! FAR too many scratchers out there right now. not many people willing to work the ropes, too many fools looking for instant gratification! Think for a minute how EASY we had it!!! 20 years ago these dudes were soldering EVERY needle they used, Carving stencils into plastic and using charcoal etc. They had no super cheap pre made needles, no thermofax… They busted their balls, and most these kids aren’t even willing to scrub some tubes and work the ropes, it’s sad. I work for the HANDS DOWN largest and busiest shop in this city, and I thank God everyday that I get to do what I do and I get to feel proud that I did it the RIGHT way!!! Sadly apx. 35% of my work is fixing scratchers horrid disfigurements!! I truly hope this industry starts to get back the dignity it deserves. I say cut the hands off the scratchers…lol