5 Month Apprentice looking for some advice


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Hi there, my name is Rachel (or Zooch). 27 based in NY. I’ve been devoted to art in many forms since I was 3 when I started drawing. When I was a freshman in high school I always said I wanted to be a tattoo artist when I was older. When I turned 18 I kept putting off purchasing a tattoo kit because I didn’t want to find out I was “bad at it” (I need to be good at everything I try or I get discouraged and give up before giving myself a chance to even be good at it).
Well, over the quarantine (March 2020) I decided to purchase my first tattoo kit, Dragonhawk coil liner/shader combo. Bought some Dynamic triple black. I opened up the package and went right for my thigh (yikes m8). I was nervous, shakey, and all around a mess. Go hard or go home..right? Then after that I was like ok. Nerves are gone. Let’s do it again, and did a rose above it. Came out better. My fiancé comes over (holy sh*t that looks great) meh. He goes (tattoo this dagger on the back of my calf. I do it. It was nearly flawless. Straight, clean lines. We looked at eachother and we were like there’s some potential here. So about once a week I would tattoo him, all the tattoos are huge. I posted my 4th tattoo ever about a month after purchasing the machines and two owners of a local shop saw it and said “you did that? You shouldn’t be able to do that!!!” And a few months later they asked me to come work for them.
I’ve been an apprentice at the shop now since November 2020. Been doing walk-ins since March 15th.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really get a “real” apprenticeship, since they figured I already had the knowledge and skills and my work is good. But I still have a lot of missing knowledge.
A few things I’m struggling with are necks, and ribs. I feel like no matter what needle, voltage, hand speed, etc I try, the ink is just not going in. The stretch is there. Also need to mention I retired the dragon hawk machines long ago, I have two $500 machines built by a professional artist that are about a month old. The thing with those is I will step on my pedal and nothing happens. The pedal is new, the machines are new, I am still using my dragonhawk power supply, but I don’t have this issue with any other machine other than the two new ones I mentioned above. At this point I’m not sure if it’s the machines or the power supply. I will flick the side of the needle and it sounds like a surge of electricity even when not stepping on the pedal. Anyone have some insight on any of this?? I’m attaching the “play the hand your dealt” tattoo which landed me the job, along with some of my recent work and my two machines. :) nice to meet you!
 

Torb

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Nice work 👏
I definitely recommend getting a better power supply as It can make a big difference. I have also had a cheap pedal that didn't always make contact, super frustrating 😑. Mabey you should try someone else's power and pedal to see if there is any difference 👍
 

Cyberthrasher

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Yeah, when it comes to shitty electronics you never know when something is going to start working loose. Bad solder joint just hanging on, oxidized wiring. It could be anything. If it sounds like you're getting electricity without the pedal than that sounds like you might have a short somewhere in the machines. First off though, try turning up the voltage one at a time.

When it comes to the ink not going in, there are really only a couple of things it can be in the end.
1.) you're not stretching enough (even if you think you are)
2.) your needles aren't hitting with enough force to puncture the skin (frequently as a result of #1)

Think of the skin like a trampoline. It's going to depress and bounce back a little before the needle punctures. If the skin is tight and stretched well, you'll go through the skin with ease. If it's a loose spot that's hard to stretch than you're going to push the skin down before penetrating the skin, meaning your actual depth is far less than it appears. So you can either stretch more, or increase your voltage (on coils) just a little to deliver more force to the needle. You'll often need to do that even within the same body part. One part of the thigh might be tighter than the rest so you'll be moving along with a good solid line and then it will get weak, making you either change your stretch, direction of attack, or bump up the voltage a little.
 
Joined
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Rachele
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Yeah, when it comes to shitty electronics you never know when something is going to start working loose. Bad solder joint just hanging on, oxidized wiring. It could be anything. If it sounds like you're getting electricity without the pedal than that sounds like you might have a short somewhere in the machines. First off though, try turning up the voltage one at a time.

When it comes to the ink not going in, there are really only a couple of things it can be in the end.
1.) you're not stretching enough (even if you think you are)
2.) your needles aren't hitting with enough force to puncture the skin (frequently as a result of #1)

Think of the skin like a trampoline. It's going to depress and bounce back a little before the needle punctures. If the skin is tight and stretched well, you'll go through the skin with ease. If it's a loose spot that's hard to stretch than you're going to push the skin down before penetrating the skin, meaning your actual depth is far less than it appears. So you can either stretch more, or increase your voltage (on coils) just a little to deliver more force to the needle. You'll often need to do that even within the same body part. One part of the thigh might be tighter than the rest so you'll be moving along with a good solid line and then it will get weak, making you either change your stretch, direction of attack, or bump up the voltage a little.
Thanks for that! I’m wondering if I’m really going deep enough in the ribs/neck area. I’m always weary of that as I don’t want any blowouts. Just gotta keep on with the trial and error at this point. I do notice with the machines that if I pull the rubber bands away, they function as intended, so I don’t know if maybe the bands are two tight, or maybe I only need one (I always use two). Just all very bizarre.
 

Cyberthrasher

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I do notice with the machines that if I pull the rubber bands away, they function as intended, so I don’t know if maybe the bands are two tight, or maybe I only need one (I always use two). Just all very bizarre.
Think about why the rubber bands are there. Are they there so that you have 2 rubber bands around the needle bar? Or, are they there to stabilize the needle bar and hold the end against the back of the tube? If that's happening, you don't need 2. I have a few machines that I only run with 1 band. I also put a bend in my needle bar.

And if the ink isn't going in, than you're probably not deep enough. If it looks the same depth as every other place you tattoo, then we're back to stretch/power because you're depressing the skin first (or holding back on your depth out of fear).

Say we're going in 1.5 mm, and it looks like it's going in 1.5 mm. However, we're on a big belly that's hard to stretch. Every time the needle hits it the skin depresses 1 mm before the needle penetrates. It looks like we're going 1.5 mm, but now we know we're actually only penetrating the skin .5 mm.

That's usually not going to be the case on a neck and ribs though, but it's an important concept to develop in your head. It's a pretty good chance that you're just being timid. Since those are two tight areas on pretty much everyone, maintain your current power setting if it works everywhere else and take a close look at your depth. You can also turn the power down in order to move your hand slower.
 
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Nice work 👏
I definitely recommend getting a better power supply as It can make a big difference. I have also had a cheap pedal that didn't always make contact, super frustrating 😑. Mabey you should try someone else's power and pedal to see if there is any difference 👍
Thank you! Power supply is definitely next on my list. Any you can recommend? My pedal is brand new from ultimate tattoo supply! Everyone else in my shop uses Cheyenne pens so nothing I could borrow from them. :(
 
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Think about why the rubber bands are there. Are they there so that you have 2 rubber bands around the needle bar? Or, are they there to stabilize the needle bar and hold the end against the back of the tube? If that's happening, you don't need 2. I have a few machines that I only run with 1 band. I also put a bend in my needle bar.

And if the ink isn't going in, than you're probably not deep enough. If it looks the same depth as every other place you tattoo, then we're back to stretch/power because you're depressing the skin first (or holding back on your depth out of fear).

Say we're going in 1.5 mm, and it looks like it's going in 1.5 mm. However, we're on a big belly that's hard to stretch. Every time the needle hits it the skin depresses 1 mm before the needle penetrates. It looks like we're going 1.5 mm, but now we know we're actually only penetrating the skin .5 mm.

That's usually not going to be the case on a neck and ribs though, but it's an important concept to develop in your head. It's a pretty good chance that you're just being timid. Since those are two tight areas on pretty much everyone, maintain your current power setting if it works everywhere else and take a close look at your depth. You can also turn the power down in order to move your hand slower.
I’ve just always used two bands, and always put a slight bend in the needle. I generally use 5/7RL’s at around 7.3V. Tattoos come out perfectly fine in every other location on the body. It’s just weird that I’m neck and ribs the ink just isn’t there. It must be I’m not going deep enough, which is weird because I’m going the same depth if I were to tattoo anywhere else in the body 🤔 if I run my machines at anything under 7, they feel a bit bogged down, maybe I need a separate machine for lower voltages?
 

Torb

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Thank you! Power supply is definitely next on my list. Any you can recommend? My pedal is brand new from ultimate tattoo supply! Everyone else in my shop uses Cheyenne pens so nothing I could borrow from them. :(
Shouldn't be the pedal then. If I could choose any power supply it would be a Musotoku just because I have heard they are great(but expensive). I bought a little Vlad Blad power unit which is great. If you want to go a cheaper option the hurricane works well too. As far as getting ink saturation in the tricky areas first thing I would try is upping the volts. My coils dosnt really start running till they hit 8 volts. Though I know all machines are different 🤙

 

Cyberthrasher

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if I run my machines at anything under 7, they feel a bit bogged down, maybe I need a separate machine for lower voltages?
Voltage on coils is different. You don't really "choose" a voltage to use. You use the charge required to make the machine run. I have some that run at 6 volts and others that run at 8 to 9 (depending on what needle combination I'm using). Honestly, with everything you've said so far, I'd just start by pulling a band off. Don't do things just because the world says it. Do things because that's what does the job. If the job is to stabilize the needle, then it doesn't matter how many bands you use if the machine runs and the needle is stable. Right now the machines not running right, so pull a band off.
 
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Shouldn't be the pedal then. If I could choose any power supply it would be a Musotoku just because I have heard they are great(but expensive). I bought a little Vlad Blad power unit which is great. If you want to go a cheaper option the hurricane works well too. As far as getting ink saturation in the tricky areas first thing I would try is upping the volts. My coils dosnt really start running till they hit 8 volts. Though I know all machines are different 🤙

I will definitely look into them. Thanks! Do you have a Instagram I can follow??
 
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Voltage on coils is different. You don't really "choose" a voltage to use. You use the charge required to make the machine run. I have some that run at 6 volts and others that run at 8 to 9 (depending on what needle combination I'm using). Honestly, with everything you've said so far, I'd just start by pulling a band off. Don't do things just because the world says it. Do things because that's what does the job. If the job is to stabilize the needle, then it doesn't matter how many bands you use if the machine runs and the needle is stable. Right now the machines not running right, so pull a band off.
Roger that!!! Thanks a ton. I appreciate the help. Do you have an Instagram I can follow with your work?
 

Cyberthrasher

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In terms of power supplies, I have a Hurricane HP-2 that's been pretty great for cheap models. The voltage and current on it are pretty stable. My primary power supply is a TatSoul Nash, which is literally just a Critical Atom in cool metal casing. I'll probably pick up a little basic travel power supply as a backup to keep at my station. The hurricane is at home and is used for practice and machine tuning.
 

KyleBl4ck

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Sooooooo I was waiting for this because I wasn't sure how to approach this because you're good at tattooing.

I would stay away from necks, hands, stomachs, ribs, butts, etc until you can get a good grasp on over-all stretching in other areas. My mentor had me mainly focus on tattooing the calf and forearm for a while until I got the hang of it. Stretching the throat however is a whole nother game to be played, that one is not easy, you have to stretch the skin as well as do it comfortably enough that you don't choke out your client or cause them too much discomfort that you don't finish the piece. There is a reason a lot of artists won't tattoo someones neck other than the no job stigma.

Your best over-all piece however is the money bag and it's really nice as far as saturation and technique go. My advice is to slow down a bit with your progress and focus more on what you already know so you're ready for a neck, stomach, etc if they come in and ask for one.

I personally hate Dragonhawk and would not recommend it to anyone. Get better equipment like Critical or Eikon if you want to stick with Coils. I've switched to wireless and use an FK Irons Xion and Hawink battery pack.

[Also, larger pieces are the best way to get better hands down, keep that part going. It will help you develop smooth shading / packing as well as teach you to get longer time spans out of peoples pain tolerance. Once you're at the point that you can do larger pieces anyway.]
 
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Sooooooo I was waiting for this because I wasn't sure how to approach this because you're good at tattooing.

I would stay away from necks, hands, stomachs, ribs, butts, etc until you can get a good grasp on over-all stretching in other areas. My mentor had me mainly focus on tattooing the calf and forearm for a while until I got the hang of it. Stretching the throat however is a whole nother game to be played, that one is not easy, you have to stretch the skin as well as do it comfortably enough that you don't choke out your client or cause them too much discomfort that you don't finish the piece. There is a reason a lot of artists won't tattoo someones neck other than the no job stigma.

Your best over-all piece however is the money bag and it's really nice as far as saturation and technique go. My advice is to slow down a bit with your progress and focus more on what you already know so you're ready for a neck, stomach, etc if they come in and ask for one.

I personally hate Dragonhawk and would not recommend it to anyone. Get better equipment like Critical or Eikon if you want to stick with Coils. I've switched to wireless and use an FK Irons Xion and Hawink battery pack.

[Also, larger pieces are the best way to get better hands down, keep that part going. It will help you develop smooth shading / packing as well as teach you to get longer time spans out of peoples pain tolerance. Once you're at the point that you can do larger pieces anyway.]
I appreciate this! Unfortunately I am the only walk-in artist at my shop, and I live in a very “hood” part of town so neck tattoos walk in nearly 2-5x a week. I get told I have to do them or I will never learn. That’s pretty much my apprenticeship. I don’t have an issue with tattooing stomachs/butts which I guess is weird. I just see myself struggling a LOT with the side of the neck and ribs. Idk if it matters that the necks I have done have been mostly black men. Maybe it’s different for white skin. I guess time will tell!
I’ll take a look into the power supplies you mentioned!
 

KyleBl4ck

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I just see myself struggling a LOT with the side of the neck and ribs.
Those areas are really hard to get good solid lines on because you have to stretch their skin to the point that it is either uncomfortable for them or you have to go so slow / saturating lightly multiple times that you risk the chance of causing scarring. It really depends on the piece their for me as far as how I'd approach it between those 2 options.

Just slow down a bit and stretch their skin more than you already are. Neck tattoos honestly aren't meant to be comfortable, it's your neck, so the stretching isn't gonna be comfortable either. Whenever I tattoo someones neck, I make them get a natural stretch by turning them the opposite way of the stencil and also use my hand to stretch the skin further.
 

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