Tattoo GirlThere are so many paths that lead to a career as a professional tattoo artist, and one of the only things they have in common is the belief that the path one person took is the BEST path for everyone.  This really isn’t true, or else there wouldn’t be so many ways to end up in the industry!

So, this article isn’t saying that this is the “only” way to fulfill the dream of becoming a tattoo artist.

Instead, it’s offering advice on what is a tried-and-true method for how to get to where you want to be.

Following a path along these lines provides a good progression toward becoming a tattoo artist…

Foundation #1 – Understanding Art

There’s a reason that they’re referred to as tattoo artists.  Those who ink skin well do so because they are passionate about their artwork.  Being a good artist takes some talent, for sure, but it also requires a whole lot of practice.  In addition to learning all about the art of tattooing, it’s a good idea to learn about other types of art.

A tattoo artist generally needs to be good at sketching out ideas for clients.  Many tattooists got even further by coloring their drawings in with markers, colored pencils, or water colors.  For those who are especially interested in life-like designs and the play of light, it can be helpful to have the ability to sculpt a design in order to see it in three dimensions.

There are lots of ways to learn about art, from checking out a few books from the library to learning during an apprenticeship to taking art classes at a college or university.

Foundation #2 – Flexibility

As we’ve already mentioned, there is no one sure path to becoming a tattoo artist.  Those who are interested in pursuing this kind of career should be open minded about the opportunities that present themselves.  The field itself has some specific cultural expectations that an aspiring artist will want to learn in order to fit in, communicate, etc.

For example, most trades require some sort of formal education, usually in a classroom setting.  While tattoo schools and courses do exist, they are usually looked down on by established artists in the field.  Instead, it is generally expected that an aspiring artist will take part in an apprenticeship (see below for more on that).

Job opportunities may not be exactly what one expected, either, so flexibility helps increase employment opportunities.  It might be necessary to work in a different environment than one originally envisioned or to relocate to a different part of the country to reach one’s job goals.

Foundation #3 – Apprenticeship

As mentioned above, the path to becoming a tattoo artist will almost always include an apprenticeship.  This is not an easy part of the experience, but it’s when most of the learning takes place.  An established artist will take on an apprentice for an agreed-upon period of time, usually a couple of years.  During the first part of the experience, the apprentice will probably spend most of his or her time doing menial tasks around the tattoo shop.  From sweeping and cleaning, the apprentice will move up to being able to handle needles and mix inks.

Both during shop hours and on their own, aspiring tattoo artists will spend much of their time practicing with the machine.  In some cases, they will build muscle memory by drawing in the air.  In other cases, they will practice tattooing on fruit or fake “skins.”  After lots and lots of observation and practice, the apprentice will finally be allowed to use the tattoo machine to ink living skin.

Foundation #4  – Perseverance

Tattooing isn’t a job that is simply handed to you.  As you can see, it’s something that really has to be earned.  One of the traits that separates those who make it from those who don’t is the ability to be persistent.  Whether a person is taking art classes at the local community college, practicing on fake skins before getting the go-ahead to tattoo on others, or seeking out an apprenticeship, there is a big need to stick with it.

Even once a person is a well-established tattoo artist, perseverance is still necessary.  He or she will always be learning about new advances and techniques and should always be striving to become better at the craft.  There’s also an ongoing need to bring in new customers while continuing to please tattoo collectors so they will become repeat clients.

Foundation #5 – Attention to Detail

There are a ton of details surrounding professional tattooing, and a successful artist is one who keeps them all in mind.  The most obvious types of detail that come to mind are those in the artwork itself, but there’s much more to it than that.  The artist needs to plan the design out in advance so that colors are applied in the right order to avoid smudging and ruining the lighter colors.  His or her drawers need to contain tons of extra little pieces and parts in case a band snaps or a washer wears out on the tattoo machine in the middle of a session.

There are recipes to follow for making inks, hygiene procedures to protect customers, licensing and certification to keep up with, and a whole lot more.  From the early days of learning as much as possible about tattooing to the later period in which the artist has a steady stream of clients, there never ceases to be a million little details to keep in mind.

Detail-oriented people will have an advantage when it comes to succeeding in tattooing.  Many of the activities of a tattoo artist do become habit, but early on, there is a need for concentration and a willingness to learn the best procedures for just about every aspect of the work.



The Art of Tattoo Flash:  How It Is Created and Applied in Today’s Industry

Tattoo FlashTattoo flash is a staple of the industry.  When you imagine yourself in a tattoo shop, you likely envision all kinds of tattoo designs hanging on the walls of the waiting area.  This art is called “flash.”  Flash has a couple of different purpose in addition to decorating the shop.

First of all, it offers ready-to-go designs for customers who are able to find something on the walls (or within binders) that they like.  Tattooists could simply use the flash design to ink the customer on the spot.

This was the typical use for flash until fairly recently.  Nowadays, flash is used more as a reference point.  Customers look at a shop’s flash to get ideas and then customize them for their own desires.  Often, a client will come through the door with a good idea of what he or she wants.  Looking through flash designs can provide an idea of style, size, and coloring for what they’re envisioning.

The old-school method of creating flash is to draw it by hand…

Tattoo artists can then buy, sell, or trade designs with one another.  Of course, the original artwork belongs to the person who created it, so it is necessary to make sure that it is being used legally with the original artist’s blessing.  In the Internet age, it is easy for someone to find a design online, print it out, and then take it to their own artist to have it inked.  This is pretty bad form, however, and many artists understand that that doing so would be the same thing as stealing.

The advent of technology hasn’t just brought problems to the industry, though.  It’s also created lots of opportunities.  Graphic design software can be used to create original designs.  The ability to scan in even those that are hand drawn means that there is an opportunity to try out different colors and sizes without having to redraw the work again and again.

Buying and Selling Flash

Flash doesn’t usually refer to just a single drawing.  Instead, the artist will create several pieces that are all on one page.  This works best if there’s some unifying feature to the page.  For example, the drawings may all revolve around a certain theme or will all have a signature style to them.  In addition to the final, detailed images, a flash artist will usually include a page with just the line drawings.  This allows the purchaser to use them in multiple ways and makes it easier for him or her to choose different colors.  This is another reason that technology is so helpful.  Rather than tracing your drawing, you can scan it in and make as many copies as you like.

It’s most common to sell several sheets as a package.  In this case, the flash artist needs to decide whether all of the sheets will have a unifying feature or if they will all be different in order to provide a wide variety of designs.  So, when flash is purchased, the artist will usually be providing several sheets of designs, along with a second set of those sheets that are only line drawings.  In the US, these sheets are usually 11”x14”.

Prices for flash will vary according to what the market wants.  A highly sought after artist will therefore be able to charge considerably more than a new, unknown artist.  That said, having a new perspective or incredible style can certainly make a newer artist’s work more valuable.

Of course, he or she must get the flash in front of potential buyers.  Again, technology can be beneficial.  Where previous generations had to beat the pavement to personally go to local tattoo shops, today’s flash artists can create web sites and market their work online.  In order to avoid having designs stolen, however, there are some good practices to keep in mind, such as using small, low-resolution photos and applying a transparent watermark over the design.  This helps to show who owns it and discourage others from using it without payment.

Remember that the market for tattoo flash is not the same as the audience for a tattoo.  The person coming into a shop for a tattoo is not the flash artist’s target audience.  Instead, the work should be marketed to the shop itself.

CLICK HERE for some great resources to buy your own flash




tattoo artist smilingLearning how to become a tattoo artist means learning a lot of different styles and techniques.  While it’s tempting to want to jump in with both feet to try a little of everything at once, tattooing is like any other art form. You need to learn basic skills and them build on them as your abilities and confidence grow.

As you work through your apprenticeship, you will develop skills in all of these areas, not to mention learning about all kinds of fascinating techniques that others are using to make their art stand out and to make their customers happy.

There are great techniques out there for adding light an luminosity to your pieces, or for adding texture that looks realistic, for example.

But first, the aspiring tattoo artist will want to learn the basics:


Outlining, or lining, is the technique used to create a basic shape on skin.  Usually done with a round group of needles, lines can vary from very thin to quite thick.  Sometimes, tattoo artists choose to “build up” lines by using multiple passes very close together to make a  thicker line.

While lining is certainly a basic tattooing skill, it is also a very important one.  Even lines are necessary for a smooth, professional tattoo.  They also give important definition to the design.  Lining doesn’t only have to be done with black ink, like the outline in a coloring book.  You can also use color with your round liner to define a particular area of a design.


Coloring is the term used for filling in areas of the design with color.  This may or may not include using black ink, although some artists refer to all blank ink work as ‘shading.”  Depending on the effect you want with your coloring, you may choose from a variety of techniques.  Sometimes you may choose to use a series of small overlapping circles to fill in a space.  In other cases, you may choose to sweep the needle across the skin with varying pressure to create more of a shading effect.

Coloring is usually done from darkest to lightest, rather than working from one side of the tattoo to the other.  This is done for a couple of reasons.  First, this keeps the darker colors from accidentally mixing with the lighter ones.  Also, the needles, tube, and tips will have to be cleaned between colors, and you wouldn’t want to have to do so every five minutes.


Tattoo Shading is one of the things that can really make a tattoo artist.  Someone who is good at shading creates images that have depth and are interesting to look at.  Shading is usually done with black ink, and there are different techniques you can use to create darker or lighter shadows.  For example, you can start with heavier pressure at the beginning of a stroke, lightening your touch as you lift the needle off the skin at the end of the stroke.

There are other methods for creating a lighter shade, too.  Some artists will add white to black to make a custom gray.  Others choose to add more water or other fluid to their black.  Of course, the shade matters, but so does the artist’s understanding of how light falls and how to translate that into a tattoo.


Many people are interested in tattoos that include words, so being skilled at lettering can be a major bonus for a tattoo artist.  Trends change, but something that seems to remain fairly constant is the desire to include names or quotations into tattoos.  Creating nice tattoos that incorporate lettering requires you to understand concepts such as the spacing required to lay words out in an attractive way, as well as the form and function of the letters themselves.

A word to the wise when it comes to lettering: use a dictionary!  Too many times, someone leaves a tattoo shop thrilled with their new ink only to have the next person they see point out that something in the design is spelled wrong.  In addition to using a dictionary, have the client sign off on the spelling before you put the needle to skin.

These are just a few of the styles and techniques that a tattoo artists needs to become familiar with, but they do provide a good foundation upon which to build other skills.

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