Like I totally want to be a Tattoo Artist

I am approached pretty regularly by people looking for an apprenticeship and/or wanting to tattoo. We are on TV now and all, so I understand the lure of what looks to be (and indeed can be) a really fun job.

Now usually what happens is that they will call or stop in and want to know how they can make this happen.

Normally I tell them that they really need to come in with some art work for me to look at.

If they do indeed show up with artwork I will start with a series of ¬†questions designed for me to get to know them better. From there based on the answers to these questions I will usually give them an assignment. Sometimes it is to go home and draw a set of flash. Sometimes it is as basic as “go figure out why you would like to do this and what you have to offer and come back and tell me about it”.

I never see 99% of them again.

So what I am figuring is that they want me to give them a career and a lifetime of knowledge for absolutely nothing in return. Some of them actually are under the impression that I should pay them during their apprenticeship period.

If you are interested in apprenticing under me and would like to come talk to me… here are some of the questions that you can expect to hear and what I would be expecting from you:

  • Why do you want to tattoo?
  • Why do you want me to apprentice you?
  • Do you have tattoos?
  • Who have you been tattooed by?
  • What kind of art background do you have?
  • Do you have a portfolio put together geared towards tattooing? Is that portfolio professionally presented? Or is it a bunch of notepaper and school projects stuck in a folder?
  • What do you have to offer me or my studio in return?
  • How would you be an asset to the industry?
  • What steps have you taken to educate yourself? Art classes? Medical classes? Magazine subscriptions? Online research?
  • Do you have a job or situation which will support you during your apprenticeship? Can you handle working and apprenticing at the same time?
  • Have you done any flash sheets? Are you selling them?
  • Have you been to any Tattoo Conventions?
  • Are you willing to commit to working out of my shop for 2-5 years after your apprenticeship is completed?

I would expect that you would have good answers to all of these questions – that you would not be appalled that I could ask you something that ‘stupid‘. And above and beyond all of that – that you NOT have been trying it out, tattooing your buddies or have already purchased your first ‘gun’ off of e-bay.

Beyond that if I ask you to go home and draw flash I expect that you actually follow through with it. Why would I invest a year (or more) into teaching you my trade if you can’t draw some flash up?!?

~ by justteejay on November 5, 2009.

4 Responses to “Like I totally want to be a Tattoo Artist”

  1. Hi

    I just wanted to say that this is a great post. I have spent the last 5 years researching tattoos and had to cover everything from what the pigments are made from to BBP’s, as well as how a machine works and the magnetic field affects the power distribution etc.

    I did this as a starting hobby and then turned it as an academic piece and wrote a general book free for the community.

    The main thing that actually put me off becoming a tattoo artist is the sheer hard work involved and the 50-60 hrs a week it takes to perfect your art before you even begin to put ink to fake skin. I work 40-50 hrs a week in my regular job and that took me 5 years to train up for and it was damn hard work.

    To do that for free (which is actually an investment if you are serious about the trade) is something I know I am not committed to doing and so have not wasted anybody’s time pretending.

    These questions are not just reasonable they are the barest minimum. Whilst I love tattooing (just finishing up a full backpiece and then maybe start my planned chest plates) I do not think it is something that can just be picked up and started because it looks cool to do so.

    Gratz to you for putting some honesty to what is required.

    Take Care

  2. Im still in high school im 16 and wanting to really get into tattooing my best freinds mom is a tattooist and im thinking about asking her if i can train under her but is there anything i should look at mabye get tattoo magazine subs or draw and design that will help me in the long run thank you for your help in advance

    • Zak,
      There most definitely are things that you can do to make yourself a more worthy candidate to be apprenticed.
      First and foremost, draw. Draw as much as you can as often as you can. Take every art class of every kind that you possibly can.
      Read tattoo magazines. Look at tattoo e-zines online. Study what works and what doesn’t work. Redraw the designs that you see in the magazines. Figure out how images flow on the body and how the positive and negative spaces work with the skin.
      Take medical classes if you can. At the very least first aid/CPR and blood borne pathogen training.
      Draw flash and try to sell it. Figure out what works and what doesn’t work and why.
      Attend tattoo conventions. Look. Learn. Be humble. Be teachable. When you are old enough, start getting tattooed.
      Above everything else… do NOT try to tattoo on your own. It is more difficult to retrain someone who has picked up bad habits than it is to teach someone from scratch.
      Good luck to you
      ~ TeeJay

  3. Another blog with some really helpful do’s and don’t for someone interested in apprenticing:

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