Part 7: Landing the Prized Apprenticeship
The tattooist community is an incredibly closed one, with many old traditions in large part set up to protect existing practitioners. The main aspect of this is the apprenticeship, which many hold is not only a necessary step to gaining skills, but is also a tattoo artist’s rite of passage.
This situation is changing, but these old systems are not quick to be dispelled. Whether you approve of the system or not, current licensing in many places, along with your reputation among clients, will depend on the apprenticeship, or something similar.
There are some dedicated tattooing schools, but they tend to have similar costs and requirements as apprenticeships. This article, however, will focus on the traditional, old-school apprenticeship.
The first thing to do is find the artist or studio you want to work with…
This used to be a chancy thing, which required becoming truly familiar with the local tattoo community, and learning who was really worth working with. Just because someone made it through an apprenticeship doesn’t mean they’re actually a particularly good or conscientious tattooist, and especially doesn’t mean that they’d be a good teacher. Obviously, training under a bad teacher can not only keep you from learning the skills you need, but also mar your reputation with potential future employer or clients. Familiarity with the community can still be very useful, but the internet now has many resources and reviews for you to use.
Unfortunately, the quality of the teacher is not the only consideration when looking for an apprenticeship…
Any studio will only have so many apprenticeships available, and those with best reputations will also be the most in demand. Also, such studios can charge a premium for the apprenticeship, as much as $10,000, often up front. Other studios may charge as little as half as much, and have spaces available. It is best to have a list of choices ranging from best to, at least, acceptable.
On the other hand, it isn’t always necessary that your studio of choice has a space immediately available. After all, many spaces don’t just take apprentices in off the street. You have to get to know them first, and often that includes helping out and doing grunt work for awhile. In a sense, this is reasonable. Seeing as many tattoo artists will be actually offended if you have any examples of tattoo work prior to having an apprenticeship, they can’t exactly select candidates based on experience. They need to get to know you as a person, and as a worker. This may seem like a drudgery, but this is an opportunity for you to get to know them, too, which could be a very good idea before you hand them thousands of dollars and several months of your life. If you don’t like them, it will be an expensive misery.
A good apprenticeship, on the other hand, can be invaluable…
A few months of working alongside experienced tattoo artists, seeing and hearing how they deal with the problems that arise, their techniques for dealing with different parts of the body and art styles, and how they deal with their equipment, is difficult to replace while preparing to become a tattoo artist yourself. Building your skills outside of an apprenticeship may be possible, but there’s a reason why this system has lasted as long as it has. Tattooing is very much a specialized art form, and the techniques necessary to make your art last beautifully are best learned from seasoned professionals.
In this series, you’ve taken a first look at yourself, to know if you’re really cut out for being a professional tattoo artist. You’ve gone over the proper first concern for any tattoo artist, pathogen safety. You’ve had overviews of the primary tools of the tattoo artist, from machines, to inks, to needles. You have read about the importance of having a strong portfolio to present to potential studio employers and individual clients. And finally, you learned of the critical importance of getting a good apprenticeship, and the difficulties and costs involved with that.
This information is just a glance at the knowledge and skills needed for a professional tattoo artist, but the information here can lead you to the sources you need. If tattooing is truly your passion, using this information can help you to get there.
NOTE: If you want more HIGHLY DETAILED information not only on tattoo techniques, tips and tricks (and insider only knowledge), I highly recommend my course, Elite Tattoo Pro if you haven’t joined yet. It was made for someone just like yourself, and it took me a few years putting all of the great information together.
I truly wish you the best with your tattoo ventures. From time to time, I will be sure to email you any insightful and useful information I think you may enjoy regarding all things tattoos.
Thanks again and I will be in touch soon!
Brendan Jackson is not only a fine tattoo artist, but is also a huge lover of everything to do with the art and history of tattoos. He is the founder of Tattooing101.com, and also the creator of the bestselling tattooing course, Elite Tattoo Pro.