Sunday, July 24, 2011



Tattooing has become kind of like yoga -- so hip it is nearly mainstream -- and as a result tattoo shops and tattoo artists are popping up all over. While it might be tempting to just buy yourself a tattooing kit and practice on some friends, that is no way to become a good tattoo artist. Tattooing is an old, complex art that requires serious study both for good results and for safety.
Here is the typical path a true tattoo artist will take to learn their trade:

1) Have a natural talent for drawing and a love of tattoing

You've got to have a natural interest in drawing and art, and you've got to think tattoos are really, really cool to have enough desire to make it through your training. You should be the kid who's always carrying a notebook, always drawing, and you should also have gotten at least a few tattoos to be taken at all seriously. Don't get too many tattoos, though -- you'll need the blank space for later.

2) Build a great portfolio

Take all that natural artistic ability and put together a killer portfolio. Study drawing and anatomy like any real artist would, and preferably get yourself at least a certificate in drawing and art, if not a full-blown undergraduate degree. Your portfolio should showcase your drawing ability but you can also include murals (good graffiti counts) and graphic design pieces. Go for quality, not quantity, as most people will only flip through the first few pages of your book.

3) Get an apprenticeship

There are a lot of apprenticeships available, but the competition is ferocious. Expect to pay $1000 to $3000 for your apprenticeship, and be make sure you sign a contract with the tattoo master you pick. To have any chance of getting noticed by the kind of tattoo master that's worth studying under you will need an impressive portfolio and an in-depth knowledge of tattooing techniques and history (from books or talking to people in the industry). Getting certified in health issues like sterilization and blood-borne pathogens will help your chances. You will probably also want to get a tattoo from the master you are considering before you formally apply for an apprenticeship. Consider your tattoo part of the interview process and pay super-close attention to how the artist works.

4) Finish your apprenticeship

This is harder than it sounds. You probably won't be paid for your work at the apprenticeship, so you'll need a second job. You'll also need to stick out any problems or conflicts you have with your teacher, and you'll simply need to be willing to work hard enough to please them and get through the one to two year training. A lot of people fall out.

You probably will not be doing any tattoos for your first year. Instead you'll be cleaning equipment, handling clients, mopping the floor, and maybe, on special days, learning how the equipment works from the artist you are studying under. It can be tough if you're impatient, but this is how real tattoo artists pay their dues.

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