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How to become a tattoo artist

Wednesday July 16, 2014

My name is Christina Walker, this coming March will be 6 years that I have been working at Lucky Bamboo Tattoo Shop and December will be 7 years that I have been tattooing total.

I have interactions with a diverse array of clientele each week, and am asked similar questions each day.

Questions ranging from: what's the most painful tattoo I've had done, or if it is a common occurrence for clients to cry while getting tattooed?

While there are so many of these questions I could easily pick to discuss, I feel like two of the more commonly asked ones would be great for this initial blog:

 

How did you (or how does anyone) get into tattooing?

 

I must also add that this is only my experience, and my opinions. Which though are commonly shared within the industry, it is not the opinion and perspective of all.

 

Though I have not been in this industry long, A LOT has changed since I first got into tattooing. Being a tattoo artist (at least where I grew up in Michigan) wasn't the rich, glamorous, rock star, party life it's currently perceived as on these popular reality tv shows. It was more commonly viewed an underground/unpopular way of life, where there was mostly traditional style tattoos and even when I was 14/15 years old, perceived still as something more commonly meant for military members, bikers, inmates, band members and the random person here or there.

 

I have had a passion for art ever since I can remember, I was always looking at tattoo magazines and drawing images out of them. Drawing on friends and even myself, knowing that I wanted to be covered in them. Once I started getting tattoos, that was it, I was sold. I wanted to do this, I wanted to do tattoos and would do whatever it took to get my foot in the door and see if I was capable of such a trait.

 

At the time I went into the tattoo shop with my portfolio, I believe I had a lower half sleeve and some smaller tattoos on my feet already. (And really the only reason I mention this is because I have always found it odd when people with 1 or no tattoos mention wanting to be a tattoo artist. Never trust a skinny Chef right?) But I had accumulated and organized a portfolio of what I thought was my best artwork. Typically you build a portfolio of whatever medium you use that you feel best displays your artistic ability. Still being in high school I had many pieces from class and some artwork I referenced from tattoo magazines.

 

This is a portfolio of ARTWORK, bringing in some scratcher tattoos you did in your kitchen will only deter  an artist to apprentice you as most will not want to deal with a scratchers ego, or trying to unlearn bad habits.

 

You should also seek out the tattoo artist you would like to apprentice under, not what is convenient or cheap but who's work is impeccable and see if they would be willing to teach you. Just because you, your mom, or your circle of friends think you are a great at drawing doesn't mean someone will want to mentor you in an apprenticeship. Or that those skills will necessarily transfer to tattooing. If they don't think your portfolio is up to par, and see the passion and skill level required, you won't get an apprenticeship. I even get messages on Facebook about this where I tell people their art still needs improvement and they cop an attitude! Why don't you stay humble? Or don't ask for critique if you can't handle it!

 

That's the other aspect, apprentices can be frustrating and very time consuming for a tattoo artist, it's a lot of non existent free time devoted to another person and compensation is usually expected. Your are LEARNING a trade so yes, apprenticeships usually cost money.

(Which is surprising to some but it's the same as paying for school!)

 

Apprenticeships are usually a couple years but it's all dependent on when the artist feels the apprentice is ready to be an artist. The first while is usually a lot of bitch work (paying your dues) along with many hours of cleaning, errands, drawing, preparing stencils, and observing your mentor tattooing and asking questions.

 

2. Another common question:

 When just starting out, who do you practice on/Who's the first person you tattoo?

 

When you are an apprentice and your mentor sees fit for some practice it's generally yourself you tattoo first. It's almost a right of passage, inflicting on yourself first what you plan to do to others. At this point you are so excited to finally do a tattoo after all your months of (hopefully) hard work and effort you just pick some random design to get.

 

That's right, the first tattoo is done at a shop after your mentor sees fit, not with a cheap machine your homie gave you to practice with.

 

 After that, you usually have close friends and family that would be willing to get some apprentice tattoos done. Those eventually evolve into lower price apprentice tattoos and then after you're on the appropriate level you are charging full shop prices for your tattoos.

 

Industry standard for someone straight out of an apprenticeship would be $100 an hour. Quality tattoo work is priced according so beware cheap rates, you will get what you pay for!

 

-Christina Walker

artist at Lucky Bamboo Tattoo

 

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