So, you are interested in becoming a tattoo artist? This article is designed to assist you along your journey and hopefully point you in the right direction.
A very common misconception of becoming a tattoo artist is that you need to buy a machine and tattoo your closest friends until you are confident enough in your skills to approach a shop. STOP RIGHT NOW! This is the absolute worst thing someone could do if you are interested in furthering your education and becoming a professional artist. It’s actually a class B misdemeanor in the state of Utah to tattoo without the proper licenses and blood-borne pathogen endorsement! This teaches bad habits and will take additional time to unlearn those traits to become a true professional.
As an interested individual, a very important step is to keep practicing. Whether it be drawing or painting, continue to develop as an individual. Over the course of time, you will want to build your Portfolio. A portfolio is a compilation of your best work, this need to be full of finished and completed drawings. Any professional artist would turn away a half completed portfolio. This is your opportunity to show your level of professionalism and desire to become an artist. When building your portfolio, this should be treated like a job interview. You should have a nice binder/folder with sleeves over each page. Your portfolio should also include your style, by that we mean you should be showing your personalized artwork, not copied images. As an additional bonus, Art education is key. You should always pursue additional art education to show dedication and to truly master your craft.
Once you feel that you are ready to breach into the world of tattooing and your portfolio is complete, the next step is finding the right shop. Right off the bat, you want to make sure you find a shop that is reputable, professional and clean. If all of these requirements are not met, you might have a limited learning potential as an artist, or you are not learning the correct way to tattoo. A very common way to find an artist to apprentice under is to get tattooed by them! Several artists in the industry started as apprentices under their first tattoo artist! This ideally would be someone with a strong art background and the ability to teach. An apprenticeship can cost you nothing to several thousand dollars; most apprenticeships are paid for like additional schooling. Once you have chosen an artist and your portfolio has been approved, you are now an Apprentice!
From this point, you most likely are going to be doing quite a bit of cleaning. This weeds out the weak and is more of a rite of passage. This is very common! Do not be discouraged by this, this is good practice for day to day operations and it teaches you your expectations as an apprentice. During this phase, you probably won’t be tattooing yet.
During this time, you will be like the shadow of your artist. You will set up and breakdown the artists rooms. This involves all the preparation of the room before someone can get tattooed as well as the proper disposal of all contaminated and hazardous material. During this phase, be prepared to watch several tattoos be completed before you even handle a machine. Every artist in the state of Utah has to have their Blood-borne pathogen certification; this is a fantastic time to get this! It’s similar to a learners permit for driving! Apprenticeships always vary in length based on the individual and the artist. An average amount of time would be around 2-3 years.
At this point you are ready to tattoo! This will all be under direct supervision of your mentor. You will complete several tattoos under observation and guidance to ensure you are giving a quality tattoo in a completely sterile, sanitary environment. This builds confidence and trust between you and the artist. This will continue for several months and when the artist feels it’s an appropriate time, you will have your moment of truth. A final testament to your apprenticeship and a chance to show off your ability and everything your mentor has taught you.
Upon successful completion, you are no longer an apprentice and you are now a tattoo artist! This is still the entry level point but you should always to continue to develop your skills and challenge yourself. At this point some shops may require some term of contracted employment to fill the needs of the shop, others may hire you on as a full time artist, and some shops may only offer the apprenticeship. Your career in the tattoo industry is completely up to you. Get your name out there! Attend conventions, Learn from artists with more tenure, attend additional art education; all of these elements will assist you in perfecting your craft. Good luck!
P.S. It’s a tattoo machine, not a gun. :)