How to Get a Tattoo Apprenticeship and Learn to Tattoo
Johnny Depp Tattoo Portrait by Chuck Kail
I am often asked how to get a tattoo apprenticeship or how do you learn to tattoo? Tattooing has seen a huge rise in popularity in the last 10 years. Good or bad this has created a need for talented artists who have the devotion, dedication and drive to make it in this now very competitive career. This article covers some basic steps to becoming a professional tattoo artist. To be competitive in today's tattoo world one really needs to complete an apprenticeship. The following steps will give the reader an idea of how to prepare themselves in order to gain a tattoo apprenticeship.
The fist step in being more eligible for a tattoo apprenticeship is to be an accomplished artist. The tattoo artist market is already flooded with people who bought some tattoo supplies and jumped right in with little or no tattoo experience or artistic ability. These people generally prey upon the less informed segment of the population and usually compete with cheaper prices rather than tattoo skill. And who wants to be the one that these people go to because they want cheap more than quality.
Being an accomplished artist means more than the enthusiastic approval of some friends and the critical acclaim of mom. A dedicated artist will generally have volumes of sketch books, stacks of canvases, mountains of air brushed stuff or in other words a large body of work representing their chosen medium.
Put together a portfolio of your work. This may be actual works in a portfolio case or professional quality photos of completed works. Try to put together a compilation of completed works that defines your level of ability. Volume is not always as important as quality. Don't just add in a bunch of unfinished stuff. The more professional looking your presentation the better your chances are of getting into a great shop.
Artist portfolios can be found at art supply stores. One can also create an online portfolio. Just remember if you are using photographs that bad photos (out of focus, too dark, camera pics, etc.) will not compliment your masterpieces.
Get to know the art. Research tattoos online. Check out some tattoo magazines. Practice drawing some tattoo related art or "flash". Some supplies for drawing flash include good drawing paper or velum, pigment liners, Prisma Colored Pencils.
Get to know the tattoo business a little. If you don't have any tattoos get some good ones at established reputable shops. Get to know the artists a little. Don't be a nuisance. Many artist are wary of wannabees and hangers.
Research some potential shops that you may want to apprentice at. Look for shops that have been around awhile as lots of them come and go and they can go right in the middle of your apprenticeship. Look for shops that do the kind of quality work that you would want on you. And personally I would stay away from shops where the owner is not also an artist. There are just too many great owner/operator shops that we should be supporting vs. investor owned shops that often hurt the business more than help it. That's just my personal opinion however.
Approach someone at the shop, hopefully the owner. And say something like "I'm interested in finding out what it would take to get into an apprenticeship and was wondering if someone might be available to check out my art portfolio and possibly point me in the right direction."
Generally they will take it from there. There may be costs involved or some other level of commitment and it will be up to you to decide.
If they offer you advice instead of an apprenticeship then take heed. Sometimes the most important messages are the ones you DON'T want to hear.
Here's a quick note on tattooing before an apprenticeship. Don't. Don't buy a bunch of equipment that will probably be a waste of money. If you have been tattooing don't take them a bunch of pics of your super cool tattys. They already know you can't tattoo, you don't have to provide proof.
Check out online artist portfolios of all kinds of art. Keep trying, sometimes persistence can show dedication. Follow advice or suggestions of artists in the business. There is a fine line between driven persistence and maniacal stalking. Stay away from apprentice mills. If the apprenticeship is less than a year that should be a clue.