Tattoo Apprenticeships

Our View on Tattoo Apprenticeships

Here is a guide about how to go about apprenticing. This is a cut and paste from tips we found online and our own opinions. This is by no means comprehensive, nor are we an authority on the subject. We get asked for apprenticeships quite often, and thought we could help to steer anyone interested in the right direction with this info.

I urge everyone that wants to get involved in tattooing to first take a couple sidesteps before diving into the world of tattooing.
Before we start this journey, I must stress one thing. NEVER during this process consider taking a shortcut, buying a pre-packaged “tattoo kit” (AKA over-priced door stops) and scratching out of your house. This will seriously hinder most potential mentors from taking you on. Most artists would prefer an eager individual with an art background and a blank slate when it comes to “how to tattoo”. Most won’t take the time to deprogram you from all of the “tattoo how-to’s” you’ve picked up on your own.

Beyond that, also ignore all of the easily attainable “tech advance” found on the internet. After you get an apprenticeship and start working with machines, THEN check them out. Print them out and take them to your mentor. Get their thoughts. He/she will have a better take on what’s good info vs. what’s bad info (as anyone can write and post documents on the web). Ok, now that that’s out of the way…

First, if you aren’t 18 and a high school graduate, put off tattooing until after High school. Take those years to draw everyday and figure who you are artistically and what artistic style best describes you and your comfort zone.

After high school is out of the way, enroll in a few college-level art classes. I recommend the following:
-Drawing I
-Intro to Graphic Design
-Intro to Illustration
-Color and 2-D design

These classes will take the artistic base that you already possess and give you more ideas, pushing you further than you ever thought possible. All of them will help you in the tattoo world. Everything from basic color blending to designing full-on custom pieces will be explored.

While you’re doing the college courses, get a job. It doesn’t have to be full-time. Get a part time job that will pay you enough to make ends meet as far as bills go, and still give you time to go to class. Balancing these 2 animals will definitely help you as an apprentice, as it doesn’t pay (very minimal if at all) and most last awhile. 

After that, take a local course on Blood Borne Pathogens and Cross Contamination. There are internet courses available as well, and, to be honest, they’ll do. This will give you a background in dealing with body fluids in a safe and sterile manner (which you’ll have to do on a daily basis). Most shops like to have the artists/piercers certified in being able to handle BBPs. This will get you one step ahead of the game.

From there start scoping out local shops and getting work done (if you already have a preferred local artist that’s done work on/for you before, that’s great). Make sure that the shop is a reputable studio. it doesn’t have to be a big studio that only does multi-sitting customs and whatnot (a good, steady “flash oriented” studio is perfectly fine), but make sure that the artist there:
-does good, solid work
-complies with board of health regulations and standards (regardless of the local laws/ordinances or lack there-of)
-isn’t a complete and typical “tattoo artist asshole” (The egos of some tattoo artists are off the charts)

From there, start getting work done whenever you have spare cash. Make a point to get a mix of flash (if you find a piece you like), custom work, and pieces that are based on your own designs. This will help you gauge the artist(s) and their ability.

Hang out and/or drop into the studio whenever you have free time as well. Don’t be a nuisance, just hang out, and be cordial. After a little while, as things start (hopefully) getting friendlier, just bring up that you happen to be an artist (just to reiterate) and have an interest in tattooing. Mention that you have a portfolio:
A good portfolio :
-15-20 of your best pieces of art
-Professionally put together in a nice portfolio (hit up an arts supply store or a place like staples/office depot, they aren’t expensive)
-Make sure to present a range of your work (color pieces, paintings, drawings, charcoal sketches, etc. If you include attempts at tattoo flash, make sure that you present them with the line work to each piece/page)

Ask if he/she would like to check it out. If the artist says no, don’t push the issue. Simply let it go for a week or 2, and casually bring it up again in conversation. If the artist STILL isn’t interested, perhaps you should look into another reputable artist in the area. If they are interested, however, just make a point to bring your portfolio by the shop the next time you stop by. 

From there, just play it by ear. The artist may be impressed, or he/she may tell you to work on your artwork a little bit. Don’t get discouraged. Ask the artists for their personal critique of your work, keep their suggestions in mind, and work on a few new pieces. After that, repeat the process outlined above.

Basically, just keep drawing daily. What you draw doesn’t really have to be “tattoo art”, but it can help to do some research on the evolution of Flash art, and the trends that have come and gone since the early 1900’s. Understanding tattoo history and where the craft has come from helps us to understand where it might be going.

Sorry if this post was a little long, but I’m doing my best to be as thorough as I possibly can.
Oh yeah, and make a point to never use the word “gun”.