Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Tattoo Artist?

Tattoo artist tattooing an arm

Being a tattoo artist requires you to be an expert in every area of the job, from understanding the technical aspects of the tattoo machine to following all health and safety protocols to the letter. 

And for those who dream of owning their own shop, there’s an entirely different skillset and level of dedication required to make things work, from finding shop space to filing paperwork to marketing. But for those who are passionate and willing to put in the time and work to achieve this goal, artistic fulfilment and an exciting career awaits. 

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So, what does it take to be a successful tattoo artist?
1. You are always working to grow as an artist

Drawing is not only a necessary skill, it is a prerequisite to becoming a tattoo artist. You need to have a strong understanding of how to compose original artistic pieces and the specific nature and various styles of tattoos. Most apprentices draw for hours a day, building their portfolio before they even pick up a machine. 

Quite frankly, you have to earn the ability to put your art permanently on another person’s body, let alone reach for a point when clients search specifically for you. 

Pro tip: Start off by drawing some flash tattoos and see how perfect you can make them. Remember, being a great tattoo artist means having a steady hand. Part of the motivation for constantly drawing is building up your endurance and strengthening the muscles you’ll need for a much heavier machine, and the other part is knowing that you will never “peak” as an artist. You can always improve your craft.

2. You can collaborate with difficult customers

When it comes to designing tattoos, even if you’re the strongest artist in the shop and can nail every technique, each client is going to have a specific style and set of instructions for you. It’s their skin, so you need to give them the art they’re looking for. This involves not only successful communication and collaboration, but overall people skills. You need to be able to get along with your client… whether you like their idea or not.

Pro tip: What you’re trying to do when working with a client is inspire confidence in you as an artist. This means being professional, being calm even when they aren’t, and assuring them that you’re going to be giving them the exact tattoo they want. And no matter what question they might have, you never belittle them, and you encourage them to confidently ask you anything.

3. You can handle big egos

While this goes hand-in-hand with difficult clients, there is a different sort of collaboration you’ll need with your fellow artists. When you’re learning, you’ll hear a thousand different ways of becoming a tattoo artist the “real” way. Because we’re looking at an end goal – becoming a working tattoo artist – there is no “right” way to get there. 

Pro tip: If you like the advice someone is giving you, great! But if their suggestions are unsafe like using a “scratching” technique on yourself or practicing when you don’t have all the proper sanitary equipment, do not listen. Your safety is your top priority. 

4. You keep your mind clear

Television shows and movies often show the tattoo artist lifestyle as one of drugs, drinking, and a general rock-and-roll attitude. We have plenty of fun in the tattoo profession, but when it comes down to it, we are professionals. As a tattoo artist, you are leaving a mark on someone’s body for the rest of their lives. If you don’t take that seriously and you’re not willing to keep a clear, focused mind at work, then this isn’t the profession for you.

5. You can handle a little blood and vomit

You have to be able to care for your client. And you have to do so professionally. Not “being grossed out” is genuinely a part of the profession. If a client vomits or even passes out, you’ll need to deal with that situation without making the client feel badly. Ensuring that clients are in a healthy and safe position under your care is just as important as the artwork. 

Pro tip: Part of successfully caring for your client is being clear and direct about the aftercare of their tattoo to avoid any infections, pain, etc. 


6. You don’t cut corners

Not only in your artwork, but in the care of your tattooing station. We’re working with open wounds and tattooing on just about every part of the body. Keeping things clean and sanitary is an absolute necessity. Understanding how to safely dispose of materials and disinfect equipment might not always feel as glamorous as creating a beautiful piece, but it’s just as mandatory to your success as an artist. 

Pro tip: Whether it means extra cleaning, extra work, or extra time, a professional tattoo artist always chooses the best ink and tools for their client.


7. You know where the boundaries are 

Real artists don’t steal another artist’s work. They don’t talk badly about others in the industry, especially their fellow artists. Respect is an important part of not only this industry, but also in the life of an artist in general. 

When it comes to price, you’ll want to ensure that the cost of your work doesn’t make you look “cheap.” However, you can’t cheat your client. Find a price that’s reasonable for your work and time and makes sense for your customer.

Pro tip: Never get involved with a client or show too much attention to a client’s exposed skin in any area. This can destroy your reputation instantly. 

8. You know how to take care of yourself 

Being a tattoo artist is a demanding position. If you can’t find ways to eat healthy, get enough sleep, and care for your body after long days of physical work, then you will burnout. Additionally, for both your sake and the client’s, you need to be hygienic. Be clean, dress well, smell good. 

Pro tip: Take breaks! – not only for your mental health, but for the sake of delivering safe and quality work, every time. If you’re too tired or overworked, you cannot come through for your client. 

Being a tattoo artist requires passion. The constant drawing or the critiques of other artists can be enough to turn promising potential professionals off to the career as a whole. 

And while it is an “all-in” profession, being a successful tattoo artist is, in many regards, a balancing act. But if you can be comfortable dealing with blood while also being a stickler for cleanliness, if you can push yourself to always improve without allowing yourself to burnout, and if you can enjoy friendly collaboration with others while maintaining a professional respect for the people around you, then you will be heartily welcomed into this exciting career.

Now start drawing! 

P.S Want to learn how to tattoo safely and at your pace? Check out our Artist Accelerator Program.

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Jay Haussman