The 7 Biggest Struggles of Becoming a Tattoo Artist

Learning to tattoo requires a lot of hard work. However, some parts of the process are more difficult than others. Knowing what the biggest struggles are ahead of time can help you prepare as you dive deeper into becoming a tattoo artist.

In this article, we’ll break down the most difficult parts of learning to tattoo, including:

  • Drawing for tattooing
  • Finding high-quality materials and tuning your equipment
  • Getting into a tattoo studio (and keeping a good work/life balance)

Biggest Struggles of Becoming a Tattoo Artist

1

Learning How to Draw for Tattooing

Creating artwork on a flat surface is very different from creating artwork for a curved surface like the human body. 

Even if you have been drawing your whole life, learning how to draw tattoo designs while keeping the shape of the body in mind will be a huge stepping stone you need to cross before you start tattooing.

2

Learning to Tune a Coil Machine

Many tattoo mentors will make their apprentices learn how to build and tune a coil tattoo machine

This means tearing down a tattoo machine, putting it back together, and tuning it for lining or shading - over and over again. This process takes up a lot of time. And while it might have helped tattoo artists a few decades ago because all they had was coil machines, most artists today use rotaries and don’t need to know how to be a machine builder. 

If you want to tattoo with coil machines, you will need to learn how to rebuild and tune your machine. 

If you want to tattoo with rotary machines, we recommend the Inkjecta Flite Nano.*

*We are not sponsored by Inkjecta. We recommend using their machines because that’s what we use when tattooing clients.

3

Drawing the Same Elements Over an Over

There are certain elements and images that come up on a regular basis in tattooing, like roses. Drawing them over and over again will help you memorize how to draw them so you don’t need reference images. It will also make sure you have strong muscle memory when you start tattooing them.

This is important because, no matter what tattoo you’re doing, you can always add in a rose with it to add flow to the design.

Pro Tip:

If you want to practice drawing lots of roses, you can print out a sheet with several sets of concentric circles (which is the base for drawing Sailor Jerry roses).

4

Getting into a Tattoo Studio

Most aspiring tattoo artists know how difficult it is to get accepted into a studio for a tattoo apprenticeship. 

To get into a studio as an apprentice, you need to be able to draw well and have a strong portfolio of your tattoo designs. 

Unless your lining and shading are 100% perfect, they do not want to see your work on fake skins. They will think you have developed bad habits learning on your own, and they won’t want to take the time to reteach you. Most mentors prefer to have an apprentice who is a “clean slate.” 

So even if you have been practicing and you can tattoo pretty well, only include designs that you’ve done on paper in your portfolio. (This can include flash sheets, any realism that you’ve done, etc.)

5

Maintaining Life-Work Balance

Most aspiring tattoo artists know how difficult it is to get accepted into a studio for a tattoo apprenticeship. 

To get into a studio as an apprentice, you need to be able to draw well and have a strong portfolio of your tattoo designs. 

Unless your lining and shading are 100% perfect, they do not want to see your work on fake skins. They will think you have developed bad habits learning on your own, and they won’t want to take the time to reteach you. Most mentors prefer to have an apprentice who is a “clean slate.” 

So even if you have been practicing and you can tattoo pretty well, only include designs that you’ve done on paper in your portfolio. (This can include flash sheets, any realism that you’ve done, etc.)

Note:

There are now other options for learning online, like the Artist Accelerator.

6

Mastering Line Work

Line work is the first thing you learn as a tattoo artist, but it can be one of the most difficult skills to master. Creating a line with a tattoo machine is completely different than using a pencil or marker.

7

Finding Quality Equipment

Nowadays, it is easier to get professional-grade equipment, even if you aren’t tattooing in a shop yet. For example, sites like painfulpleasures.com offer aspiring artists the option to order high-quality materials online.

However, if you end up buying a cheap machine that’s hard to tune or ink that’s too runny to actually get good saturation, you’ll end up learning to tattoo incorrectly because your equipment isn’t working how it should. 

Investing in good equipment will pay for itself. If you are sure tattooing is the career you want, it’s better to buy a higher-quality machine, if possible. This will make learning to tattoo easier. Because you’ll learn faster, the machine will pay for itself in the amount of time saved.

Become a Tattoo Artist With the Artist Accelerator Program

Having a career in tattooing is not only fulfilling, but it’s also the most stable way to make a living as an artist. However, for decades, the process to become a tattoo artist has been notoriously difficult.

The apprenticeship process requires aspiring tattoo artists to work 50-60 hours a week without pay for 2-4 years. That, combined with the toxic culture of abusing apprentices, makes getting into the industry almost impossible for newcomers. 

That’s why we created the Artist Accelerator Program. Our online course provides a simple, structured way of learning to tattoo that has been proven to work by over 2500 successful students, with many of them having gone on to open their own shops all around the world. 

Inside the program, we’ll take you through every step of the tattooing process in 9 clear, easy-to-follow modules and support you along the way within the Tattooing 101 Mastermind online community.

In the Mastermind group, you’ll collaborate with other students, get answers to your questions, and receive personalized video feedback on your artwork and tattoos from professional tattoo artists. With this friendly community of both new and experienced tattoo artists, you’ll never be stuck again. 

When you join the Artist Accelerator Program, you’ll have instant access to the full course and the Mastermind community, as well as our 30-Day Flash Challenge and recorded interviews with tattoo artists from all over the world. 

Click here to learn more about the Artist Accelerator Program.

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

Tattooing 101's Artist Accelerator 90 day program is the closest thing to a real apprenticeship

  • 500 video modules
  • Professional tattoo artist coaches
  • Private mastermind community
AUTHOR
Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain.

When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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