That apprentice thing again

I have a blog post that I wrote a while back to start touching on the subject of apprenticing. You can find it here if you are interested “Like I totally want to be a tattoo artist“.

When ever people wrote to me (or texted me) I would direct them to that and to a post by Jason Lambert from Black Cat Tattoo in Pittsburgh. There is mention of it at the bottom of the article that I linked to above.

Jason got a lot of flack over the post and eventually decided to take it down. I was really bummed because I felt it was extremely useful and well written.

Even though he took it down it has been mirrored all over the internet. Unfortunately some of the sites that are now hosting it are the kind of sites that sell tattoo supplies and/or advertise to people who do. So I don’t feel comfortable linking to them or sending people to look at them there.

I am going to copy and paste the article here so that I have somewhere “safe” to send people who are inquiring. If it is Jason’s preference I will remove the post or remove his name from it. He is the writer and I would like to respect his wishes on the matter. To protect him from further abuse about posting it originally, I am not going to direct link to his website or his blogsite. Again, I will change that if he prefers.


Before you ask for an apprenticeship….

…the answer is no.

Plus, asking me via email, facebook, or phone is super duper NO.
I get asked this a lot so I’m going to give some advice if you are looking for an apprenticeship. In return please don’t ask me more about this than im posting here, dont ask me for an apprenticeship, and don’t be a douche and just start scratching out of your garage/kitchen/”home studio”.


1. DO get into tattooing through an apprenticeship. Sure you could ‘figure it out” the same way you could “figure out” how to defuse a bomb. Its more likely that you will blow yourself up, and in tattooing you will be fucking up on real live humans who deserve better.

2. DO start the whole process by getting tattooed yourself! I mean a LOT. Sleeves, large work, all that. No one is born knowing what makes a good tattoo, its an acquired language, you need to be exposed to it personally before you even consider tattooing others. Besides, no tattooer worth a shit will even entertain the idea of apprenticing you if you don’t show your love for tattooing.

3. DO draw a lot. Draw everything. So you have gotten that one skull down pat? great, now draw a fairy, a beaver, a motorcycle, a flower, and a face. If all you can draw is skulls then you are useless as a tattooer.

4. DO read every book, magazine, and website on tattooing you can. Learn the history and mystique of tattooing. Respect for tattooing is worth a lot to a prospective mentor.

5. DO remain open minded about every kind of tattooing. Until you have 4 or 5 years under your belt you should be willing to do any and all tattoos that come your way and each one should be the best you possibly can. If its a taz, you better be willing to make that the best fucking Taz in history. You are not too good to do tribal or barbed wire, if you are then head your ass back to Wendys and flip some burgers.

6. DO get lots and lots of work from the person you plan on asking for an apprenticeship. Someone walking in cold and asking for an apprenticeship is all take, take, take. By getting work you show the tattooer you are serious, interested, and they have a chance to spend some time with you and a chance to gauge you dedication. Don’t treat tattooing like the kind of thing you drop off an application for, this isn’t a summer job, its a whole new life, treat it that way.

7. DO be willing to sacrifice. You might have to work at the shop for free and still keep a job on the side. You might have to move to a whole different city to find someone willing to apprentice you. You might be asked to do all kinds of menial shit like cleaning, running errands, dealing with customers. You should know going in that a LOT of guys in this art/business had to deal with a ton of abuse, exploitation, and hazing and many of them believe that is the correct way an apprenticeship goes. If you cant deal with some hard work, critiques,  and ball busting, don’t even bother.

8. DO understand that to be a tattooer is the gift of a lifetime of art, fun, hard work, and constant growth. Most tattooers feel that taking on an apprentice is special, its damn near sacred. Understand and respect what a huge amount of trust and respect taking you on as an apprentice is. Its not a job, its a life, if you don’t respect that then you will let your mentor and all of tattooing down.


1. DONT waste our time telling us how much you want it, how many years you have dreamed of it (especially if you are only 18), don’t tell us how “good at it” your friend/mom/baby momma thinks you would be. Talk is cheap, show us by doing not saying.

2. DONT badmouth other tattooers, even if it is your prospective mentors worst enemy. Being a shit talker is simply proof to that shop that you will one day, sooner or later, be shit talking them, too.

3. DONT ask via phone, email, internet, letter, do it in person or don’t bother. Anything else tells the tattooer that the gift of a tattoo life isn’t worth your time and personal appearance. An apprentice is an investment of time and effort, why would we give that to someone who cant even be bothered to talk to us in the flesh?

4. DONT show up without some artwork, DONT show up without some tattoos on your hide, DONT show up with an attitude.

5. DONT be surprised if you are asked to pay for your apprenticeship, especially if you don’t personally know the artist. There’s a lot of ways to weed out those who are not serious, paying for your apprenticeship is one of them. (BUT beware those shops who turn out 20 apprentices a year for money, chances are you will end up paying 5 grand to mop floors for 4 months and then get fired for some made up infraction)

6. DONT ask just anyone. Some tattooers cant tattoo, an apprenticeship with one of them is just the blind leading the blind. Educate yourself as to what a good tattoo looks like before you start asking around. In all seriousness, the book “The Complete Idiots Guide to getting a Tattoo” has some fantastic info on how to spot good work from bad. Learn the language a bit before you start asking.

7. DONT expect to start tattooing right away, there is a LOT of groundwork to do first. Lots of apprentices don’t even touch a machine for a year. No matter how good of an artist you are, tattooing is a skill acquired via repetition and practice, you will most likely be drawing a lot of roses and butterflies months before you tattoo even the most basic stuff.

8. DONT mistake the art of tattooing for an excuse to get up late, be lazy, dirty, drunk, high, or snotty. You must be your own taskmaster. A good blue collar attitude towards your apprenticeship will help you learn fast, thoroughly, and with respect from your peers. Don’t be just another snot-nosed, sideways baseball hat wearing, bigmouth tough-guy wannabe pussy-chasers. Treat tattooing like an art, not an excuse.

9. DONT be a know it all when you first go in. I promise you that anyone who has been tattooing for 7 or 8 years has forgotten more shit than you will ever know about tattooing. Don’t try to show how clever you are by dropping names of ‘famous” tattooers, trash talking , or bragging about how much your last tattoo cost.

lastly, BE CAREFUL!

1. BE CAREFUL of tattoo “schools’. They are a huge scam and not a single one is worth 2 shits.

2. BE CAREFUL of scumbag tattooers who see an apprentice as a way to get free money/labor/sex. Tattooing is wonderful, but nothing is worth being exploited, if you find yourself in that situation then get out, regroup, and start looking again. Never stay in a situation you feel is unsafe.

3. BE CAREFUL in learning the basics of cross contamination and how to maintain a safe relationship to the bloodbourne pathogens you will be encountering in tattooing. It wouldn’t hurt to read up on this stuff/take a class before you begin any apprenticeship.

4. BE CAREFUL to avoid the disease of ‘rock-starness”. Humility will carry you miles further in tattooing than all the talent in the world if its wasted on an egomaniac. Stay humble, know your real ability level, and don’t tackle stuff so far above your head that you (and your customer) will regret it.

5. BE CAREFUL of someone willing to take an apprentice who has less than 4 or 5 years under their belt. I didn’t take my (only) apprentice til i had 12 years of tattooing under my belt and almost none of us know enough about how we do what we do without many years of tattooing behind us.

Now good luck, don’t give up, and don’t fucking email me anymore about this stuff.

yer pal,


~ by justteejay on November 21, 2014.

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