So you want to be a tattoo artist? You’ve been following all the tattooers you love and daydreaming about the days when you’ll get paid to doodle on other humans? Well that’s awesome! Now how do you become a tattoo artist? It’s a looong road to get where you want to be (but it’s worth the hike, I promise).
Now you’ve probably already heard that the best way to get a tattoo apprenticeship. No?? You’ve been thinking about buying a tattoo kit on amazon and giving it a go on your friends! Well fucking don’t! Firstly you don’t know what you’re doing. Secondly it’s going to put your chances of ever actually getting a tattoo apprenticeship at a big fat zero (I would never take on an apprentice that has been tattooing at home).
The thing about tattooing is that it’s not as easy as it looks, and it’s pretty permanent, annnnd is essentially a medical procedure. So all in all you can fuck your friends up super good by doing that. How about we just go the apprenticeship route instead? Ok? Good.
Now I’m going to do a 180 and tell you that not all tattoo apprenticeships are what they’re cracked up to be. With tattooing being a fairly unregulated industry (it varies from country to country) there are plenty of studios out there that will take advantage people that want to become tattoo artists and use them as unpaid labour. However a lot of us are good people and self-regulate our industry by passing on our knowledge via apprenticeships.
Tattoo apprenticeships do vary (unregulated industry remember) but to give you some idea, mine (although a long while ago) was fairly traditional. It lasted 2.5 years (ish) and involved a loooot of cleaning, customer care, stencil making and drawing drawing drawing. It was also incredibly hard work. Also they’re generally unpaid so I had two (sometimes three) other jobs at the same time.
Now if you’ve reached the end of this diatribe and are still thinking this is the path you want to take then I have some tips for you!!! If you are reconsidering best jump ship now, tattoo apprenticeships are hard work and if that puts you off don’t waste a tattooers time.
So you’re not going to waltz into a tattoo studio and get offered an apprenticeship straight off the bat (I mean maybe you will, but most people do not). So you’re going to need a strong portfolio, showcasing your current ability level, to give yourself a chance at getting on the path to becoming a tattoo artist.
Now the truth is almost anyone can easily produce a strong tattoo portfolio. Thanks to technology you can easily find an amazing tattoo design, pop it into a digital drawing app (hello procreate, I love you still I promise), change a few things and say it’s yours. Obviously this would be a very stupid thing to do. Firstly if you can’t produce the work you say you can you are in for a world of stress if you do get this tattoo apprenticeship. Secondly, it’s stealing and that’s gross. Thirdly, we will be able to tell. The tattoo industry is vast, but well-connected. Most of us are well versed in the work that is being produced (and what is popular on Pinterest).
So you’ve decided to put together a portfolio of your work! Amazing. Here’s three things you might not have thought about….
1. Showing Process
Obviously your portfolio does need to contain a selection of finished pieces (ideally tattoo design, but a range of work is also good) clearly showing your current abilities, and be well presented.
But I would also want to see design PROCESS.
I would want to see the process behind the finished pieces in your portfolio. From thumbnail sketches, to initial drafts & revisions. This is evidence that YOU made these designs. Remember what I said before, it’s easy to make a portfolio. Not so easy to prove it.
2. Showing Dedication
Another thing I would want to see from a potential tattoo apprentice is dedication.
A good way to show this is to keep a sketchbook and date it. If you are practising regularly as well as holding down a job that is amazing dedication. Well done.
If you are planning on presenting your portfolio digitally set up a blog site and update it on a weekly basis with everything from your sketchbook.
3. Showing Respect
Going back to my earlier point of tracing and copying other peoples work. I would want an apprentice who is respectful of the tattoo industry, and by doing that you’re stealing from us. So that would be a big no from me.
However studying other artists is a big yes from me. So having sketchbook pages exploring the work of your favourite artists and figuring out what you like about their work in a respectful manner is something I’d love to see (but no copying and saying it's your work, ok).
Keep Working At It
So I am not currently looking for an apprentice, but I'm excited to share what I've learnt over the years with you. If you are really interested in becoming a tattoo artist you will want to check out my seminar series starting SATURDAY 6TH MAY.
I will be hosting will be live online workshops once a month covering everything I wish I knew earlier! From how to get a tattoo apprenticeship, to how to create great tattoo designs, to how to get clients (and keep them). So if you want to build a strong tattoo apprenticeship portfolio here's your chance.
The first seminar is a deeper look into getting an apprenticeships, building your portfolios and the do's and do nots of approaching studios.
The session will begin at 6pm on Saturday 6th May, and there will be 7 days access to a recording of the session.
You can sign up HERE
Full disclaimer: I am not currently looking for an apprentice! I just like helping people
Thanks for reading,
(this blog post was written by a human!)