Tattoo Artist Tips Archives

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.



Tattoo ArtistThe world of tattooing is a competitive one, and in order to be successful, you need to have passion and be willing to work hard.

There are a number of skills that you can learn, from basic ability to use a tattoo machine to understanding the business end of things.

But, there are some traits that will improve your chances of making tattooing into a career…

Tattoo Trait #1:  Artistic Ability

Whether or not artistic talent can be taught has been debated for a long time.  There’s no doubt, however, that certain skills and techniques can be learned in order to improve whatever abilities you already have.

Those who are most likely to succeed in tattooing are the people who love art and view tattooing as their medium.  Just as some people choose oil and canvas to paint, the tattoo artist chooses ink and skin.  The client’s main concern is going to be what the final tattoo looks like, and those with artistic ability have a better likelihood of having a nice outcome. (As long as the artist is also comfortable and experienced using the tools of the trade to translate the image into a tattoo.)

Tattoo Trait #2:  Attention to Detail

Attention to detail might not seem like the most exciting trait needed to become a successful tattoo artist, but it is one of the most important.  Tattooing is very exacting work.  You must listen carefully to clients’ ideas in order to turn them into pieces of art that fit their desires.  The tattoo machine is made of many tiny parts that have to be used and maintained continually.  Tattooing also requires a thorough knowledge of safety procedures and strict adherence to laws and regulations put in place to keep both artists and customers safe.

Tattoo Trait #3:  Curiosity

The tattooing industry changes all the time.  New tools and techniques are developed that advance both the art and science of tattooing.  Trends change, as well, with styles going in and out of fashion.  Keeping up with these changes and advances makes for a better, and more successful, tattoo artist.  Fortunately, there are lots of trade magazines that you can read to keep up on what’s happening in the industry, and trade shows and conventions are not only educational, but also a lot of fun.  Someone with innate curiosity will have fund staying informed and continue to become a better and better artist.

Tattoo Trait #4:  Work Ethic

Tattoo artists work very hard.  While there may be a   perception that their days don’t start until noon and their nights are full of parties, this is not a true representation of how hard tattoo artists really do work.  The truth is that they often work into the evening, they must find their own clients, and they have to continue to develop new skills and keep up with the industry.

And that’s AFTER they become professionals.  The path to becoming a tattoo artist is full of challenges and hard work.  From learning how to hold the tattoo machine to becoming skilled at sweep shading, every step of the process takes practice, practice, practice!  Add to that the likelihood that you’ll be doing a lot of the “grunt” work during your apprenticeship, and you can see why having a strong work ethic is an important trait for someone who wants to become a tattoo artist.

Tattoo Trait #5:  Adaptability

Being a successful tattoo artist requires the ability to work with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations.  And, generally speaking, you’ll be doing it amongst a group of people who already have some pretty set ideas and opinions.  While it can be a bit frustrating, it also provides great insight into the industry.  Because tattoo artists are often big proponents of their way of doing things, you get to hear the pros and cons of everything, therefore eventually coming to your own conclusions.

Along those same lines, clients will have all different kinds of ideas about what they want, where they want it, and everything else regarding their tattoos.  While you will be the professional who will guide them to the best of your abilities, you will still need to be flexible enough to give them the experience they’re looking for with an outcome that reflects well on you.

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