So, you want to learn how to tattoo? But, you’re not sure how to get a tattoo apprenticeship?
In 2020, You have many options to become a tattoo artist. Teaching yourself, attending a ‘tattoo school’ or getting a traditional apprenticeship are all viable ways to do it with advantages and drawbacks. In this article I’ll walk you through your options and give you a few of my ‘top tips’ to help you understand how to get a tattoo apprenticeship. By the end you’ll be better informed and better equipped to get the right apprenticeship.Your tattoo journey starts here.
CAN I JUST LEARN TO TATTOO ON MY OWN?
It may seem like and easy and attractive option to just buy a kit and get started today but teaching yourself to tattoo is the absolute worst way to become a tattoo artist. Without the proper technical training & medical hygiene training needed to tattoo correctly you will make mistakes and risk your own health and the health of the people you tattoo as you’re learning.
Despite what you may think learning to tattoo on your own is not the fastest method to become a tattoo artist. It’ll take you years longer to acquire the knowledge you need. Most who go down this path simply never gain the skills and give up after years of frustration. But, for most, this will be the only viable path so we created the That Tattoo Show. To try and give those of you learning alone the kind of training and pro tips you’ll need. And that you won’t find anywhere else.
For those that can’t find the right apprenticeship or those who are looking for a faster way to become a tattoo artist Tattoo School is an option. The quality of training varies vastly from country to country and school to school. At the time of writing I don’t know of any ‘qualification’ gained at these schools being recognised by the tattoo industry in any way. You will learn the basics. Usually only on ‘practice skin’ in a classroom type setting. Because most knowledge gained this way is from theoretical study rather than from practical experience you will have to work as a junior in a shop for a couple of years before you are considered ‘trained’. When looking for new artists most studios will ask for a number of years of shop experience before you even get an interview. So getting a job with a ‘Tattoo School’ qualification is just a difficult as a getting an apprenticeship. Sadly, most who go to tattoo school end up tattooing from home and learning the hard way that an expensive qualification is simply a shortcut to being a slightly better ‘scratcher’.
If you’re serious about it, you’ll do it the right way. That’s through a traditional apprenticeship: learning from a skilled artist/teacher with hands-on experience.
But what can you expect from your apprenticeship? AND what should you look out for when you’re choosing where and how to apprentice?
HOW LONG DOES A TATTOO APPRENTICESHIP LAST?
A tattoo apprenticeship can last anywhere between 1-3 years. Some have been known to last even longer depending on what speed your mentor chooses to teach you at.
Getting an apprenticeship is Tough for a reason. It a huge commitment for the teacher and there are a lot of ‘wannabes’ and ‘snowflakes’ out there who will give up at the first difficult day or the first time they get shouted at. For this reason artists are very picky about who they apprentice and when. Apprentices are usually friends or clients that have become friends over the course of a few years OR extremely motivated, talented artists who show that they have what it takes and the ‘right stuff’ to stick with it.
YOU WILL GET SHOUTED SO SUCK IT UP BUTTERCUP!
Being an apprentice is tough for a reason. Tattooing is a highly pressured job and you need to prove that you can handle all of the rigours. That you never quit and do everything you are asked to the very best of your abilites regardless of the situation or the task. If you cant make a decent cup of coffee or even clean the studio properly why would anyone let you near them with a tattoo machine? If you don’t have enough self respect to treat the simple little jobs with love and care then why give you any more responsible tasks? During every stage of your apprenticeship your mentor will be looking for you to display the kind of attitude that all the best artists have. Attention to detail. Pride in the work, regardless of the job and the Mental toughness to take the day to day strain.
Tattooing is mostly about attitude.
Doing every little thing perfectly and not breaking under pressure. This is how we gauge if you’ve got ‘it’ or not.
Don’t be fooled into thinking It’s a ‘rite of passage’ for the ‘chosen few’ or an elitist club that you have to earn membership in. It’s not. Its a well refined selection process that removes all ego and pretention. Forcing the apprentice to focus on the craft and every aspect of it. Even the tiniest part. Doing everything perfectly time after time after time. That is – afterall – what the craft of tattooing is. 10,000 hours of perfect application of skill and attention.
Simultaneously it teaches humility and supreme self confidence. Arrogance is for noisey, talentless popstars. The truly gifted and talented just do it. Without any fuss. Because talent just ‘is’. It doesn’t need to brag or blow smoke. At the end of your apprenticeship you’ll understand this simple statement. If you don’t, you’re not finished yet.
Once you have finished a proper apprenticeship you’ll be ready for any environment and every problem large or small. And you will succeed because you will be ready.
That said, Expect to have to work your arse off for free for two years at least. So when you find your apprenticeship make sure you don’t waste your time with a bad artist or bad shop.
First, Your studio based apprenticeship should be FREE
Anyone asking you for money to be an apprentice is scamming you. Its that simple. A real mentor will require you to work for them as an assistant and then work for them as a professional tattoo artist for an agreed number of years to pay them back for their time. That’s the traditional deal.
Some apprenticeships are even paid. You’ll be expected to work as a shop assistant. Cleaning the studio, prepping stations and breaking down. This is usually in very busy studios with many artists and it can be the very best plave to really learn and then hone your craft. Consequently this type of apprenticeship is very rare!
Second, Don’t look for an artist you love, look for an artist who can TEACH
There are loads of great artists out there but very few are great teachers. Find someone who can teach you properly. Take a look at who they’ve taught. Is the studio simply an ‘Apprentice Mill’ churning out low quality tattooists every few months or a place that produces some of the best in the world? Which would you prefer to be?
Finally, Before you walk in to ask about an apprenticeship
Be prepared! Know who you’re talking to and prepare a list of questions to ask. Maybe even get a tattoo or two at the studio first. It helps when people already know your face. It also helps you get the feel of the place and get to know the artists a little. If you’ve already ‘broken the ice’ before you approach the subject then it’s likely to be met more positively than a ‘cold call’.
Plus, if you walk into a tattoo shop saying you want to be a tattooist and you don’t have any, well, you’ll come across like a poser. You’ll be asked ‘How do you know you want to do it if you’ve never experienced owning a tattoo?’ Tattooing has a rich history and culture behind it. Everyone in tattooing loves the whole of it. Its our passion and our culture so if you want to be a part of it. Be a part of it BEFORE you ask how to get a tattoo apprenticeship.
So get a couple first AND get them from the person you want to teach you. Build up a relationship with that person so you can be comfortable with them ’cause they are going to be shouting at you.. a lot!
And don’t apply for a different job in the studio hoping to ‘jump over’ later on! It’s really annoying for artists and clients when the receptionist thinks that they’re a tattooist!
How to get a tattoo apprenticeship – Portfolio
A good portfolio of solid drawings/paintings/etc is a big part of how to get a tattoo apprenticeship as will actually getting a few tattoos first.
Here are my portfolio tips:
Get an actual portfolio from an art supplies store.
Not a photo album.
Make it A3.
No more than a dozen pieces. I haven’t got all day and I’ll be able to figure out where you are from them.
Make them the very best dozen you have.
Don’t do a running commentary. Wait to be asked about a piece.
Expect critique and learn to take it. You’re going to get a lot more!