5 Traits of a Successful Tattoo Artist

Most people think that becoming a professional tattoo artist means creating amazing designs every day. And while that’s an outcome of success, what people don’t see are the characteristics that allowed the artist to get to that point-  the grit behind it all. 

In the tattoo industry, simply being a good tattoo artist is not enough to be successful. There are other qualities aspiring tattoo artists need to reach the top.

In this article, you’ll learn: 

  • 5 common traits of successful tattoo artists
  • Ways that you can grow these traits
  • How to ultimately be successful in a competitive niche like tattooing
  1. 1

Self-Awareness

Want to level up your drawing skills? Check out our Tattoo Design tutorial.

Being self-aware lets you improve your artistic ability.

Self-awareness means being honest with yourself about your skill level and being open to learning new things. However, it also means knowing your worth. 

Finding this balance is important because without self-awareness, you’ll never improve. If you think your work is better than it is, then you won’t practice enough. 

But at the same time, you don't want to sell yourself short. If you’re constantly criticizing yourself, then it’s easy to end up working at a tattoo studio that only pays you a fraction of what you are worth.

How to Develop This Trait:

online tattoo course for aspiring tattoo artists

Screenshot from Tattooing 101’s Artist Accelerator Program

A self-aware tattoo artist is never fully satisfied and is always improving. Self-aware aspiring tattoo artists:

  • Want to be a good student.

When a better artist gives you advice or shares knowledge, listen carefully to it. If you implement their advice they will want to help you even more.

  • Have a critical eye.

Most tattoo artists tend to be their own worst critic. But as a tattoo artist, that’s an important trait. 

You always need to be considering how you can improve in order to raise your skill level, even as a professional.

  • Look at others.

Looking at other artists’ work will give you an idea of what the standard of tattooing is - and if you’re below or above it. 

Not knowing the standard can lead to false confidence that leads aspiring tattoo artists to take on tattoos they aren’t ready for. Also, no tattoo artist wants to be around other tattooers that think they’re better than they are.

  • Know Your Limits.

Because tattoo artists leave behind a permanent mark, it’s important that you don’t put yourself in a position where you are in way over your head. 

If you’re not sure you can pull off a design, be honest with yourself and your client. Human skin is not for “figuring things out.”
  1. 2

Resilience

Tattooing 101’s Lead Instructor during his apprenticeship

Being resilient helps you get through rough patches so you don’t quit before reaching your full potential.

Most apprentices often find themselves without enough money for rent and food because they’re working 60+ hours a week for free. In order to push through these hard times in the beginning, new artists need to be resilient.

Even when you do land your first job, new artists tend to find themselves with very confrontational clients who are rough around the edges (drug addicts and criminals included). 

As an artist, you can’t be scared of your customers or co-workers. You have to be able to hold your own. Otherwise, clients will walk all over you. 

How to Develop This Trait:

Being resilient mentally is connected to physical health so it’s important to protect your body from breaking down first.

  • Keep your body strong.

Tattooing can be rough on your body because you’re hunched over a lot, and it’s hard to avoid fast food when you don’t have much time between tattoos. 

Doing your best to eat healthy and hit the gym is important to having a long career. (Deadlifts are great for preventing back pain.)

  • Rest - physically and mentally.

Doing stressful tattoos and missing a good night’s sleep because you are drawing the next day’s designs are very normal parts of tattooing. Making time to rest is key to avoiding burnout or making mistakes during safety procedures.

  1. 3

Patience

professional tattoo artist working in a local tattoo shop

Screenshot from the Artist Accelerator Program’s “Customer Psychology” module.

Patience allows you to create flawless work and make customers happy, building your reputation.

Most people think tattoo artists have a short temper. Successful tattoo artists are the exact opposite. They keep their cool, even with difficult clients. Blowing up at a customer means bad reviews on social media, which leads to fewer clients and less money. 

Even if you don’t like the client, you have to treat every tattoo the same. This means never rushing and staying focused for hours on end so you don’t make mistakes.

People getting their first tattoo will require the most patience. They’re usually so scared and excited that they’ve barely slept. 

Your job is to guide them through the process and work with them. If you’re clearly frustrated or angry, it can scare customers off and hurt your business.

How to Develop This Trait:

Tattooing 101 Instructor Brandon explaining how to build foundational drawing skills.

Developing patience is one of the most difficult traits to nail down. However, there are ways to keep yourself in check when you’re frustrated or anxious:

  • Try mediation.

Probably didn’t expect to hear that from a tattoo artist, right? But meditation is a great tool that teaches your mind to keep its cool for a long time. We won’t get into the science here, but it physically changes your brain so you can become a more patient person. 

  • Understand the process.

Learning to tattoo does not happen overnight. You can speed up the process with proper training and mentorship that you get from programs like the Artist Accelerator, but you’ll never hear us say that you’ll find overnight success.

Tattooing is a skill that takes time to learn. It can be tempting to skip steps (like improving your drawing) so that you can start making money sooner, but skipping the fundamentals means you have nothing to build off of.

You can set yourself up for success if you understand in advance that learning to tattoo takes time.

  • Enjoy the process.

As artists, it’s easy to focus on creating an incredible end product to post on social media. 

However, learning to enjoy the process of creating art makes being patient much easier, because you won’t be tempted to finish a piece just to “get it over with.”
  • Take breaks.

Part of being patient is knowing when you need to take a step back. If you’re trying to create art while you’re frustrated, it will not be your best work.

  1. 4

Strong Work Ethic

tattoo artist working

Tattooing 101 student practicing in a tattoo shop.

A strong work ethic opens doors for you to build an exciting clientele, develop your own style, and make more money.

If you always wait for walk-ins, you’ll only get to do small tattoos like hearts and infinity signs.

Most clients nowadays come from social media. If you put effort into marketing to the right people, you can build a great clientele and specialize your own style. 

Constantly producing new designs is time consuming, but it builds your social media (and your client list). 

How to Develop This Trait:

storage tips

Screenshot from Tattooing 101’s Artist Accelerator Program

A strong work ethic is not something you “do or don’t have.” It’s something you build. Here’s how to do it:

  • Create good habits.

Deciding what habits you want to create as your standard will determine how good of a tattoo artist you can become. If you want to develop a strong work ethic, you need to get into the habit of drawing every single day. 

It is difficult to make time for drawing at first. Just like going to the gym, you have to get past that initial pain period. But once drawing becomes a normal part of your day, it will become easy.
  • Be organized.

Everyone has their own organization method, and it takes time to figure out what works best for you. However, here’s a few good starting points:

  • Use a calendar app to book your appointments instead of a diary. (Notifications and easy access help you keep track of your schedule.)
  • Keep track of your receipts for tax time.
  • Have a system for drawing tattoos or making them in Photoshop.
  • Create a filing system on your computer for all your designs.

Systems like these will give you the structure you need in your life to be productive. You’ll be amazed by how much more you can get done.

  • Mentally prepare for long hours.

Tattooing, while incredibly rewarding, is not a 9-5 job. After spending all day in the shop, tattoo artists go home and draw the next day’s designs for several hours before responding to social media messages and doing their own accounting and tax preparation. 

If you don't have a strong work ethic, then you’ll struggle to find success in tattooing.

  1. 5

Passion

Being passionate means putting time into your craft - and reaping the benefits as your skills progress.

Simply put, a successful tattoo artist makes time in their life for their creative passion: art. 

Too many people get into tattooing for the wrong reasons like money, status, and the cool lifestyle. 

The artists that make it are the ones that live and breathe art. Their passion fuels them when tattooing gets demanding physically, mentally, and creatively. 

How to Develop This Trait:

mask drawing by professional artist
hand drawing by experienced tattoo artist
hand drawing by professional tattoo artist

Images from the Tattooing 101 Sketch Book Vol. 1

People often think that if they struggle with something, then they aren’t passionate about it. They quit, thinking they’ve “lost their passion,” when in reality they’re looking for something that always comes easy to them. 

This is the wrong way to think about passion. 

Once you find something you’re good at, your passion will grow after you push past the struggle. That’s why the number one way to develop your passion is to:

  • Put time into your craft.

As you put in the time and improve your skill, that original little bit of passion grows because the work becomes more enjoyable. 

Passionate artists are easy to spot because they make time to draw. They sacrifice other parts of their life to do so because art is more than a hobby, it’s their priority.

While you’re learning to tattoo, art has to be the sole focus of your life. It’s the cost of entry into the industry and everyone has to do it.

professional giving beginner tattoo artist advice

Think You Have the Traits of a Successful Tattoo Artist?

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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