How to Become a Tattoo Artist Without an Apprenticeship (And Why It’s the Better Option for Artists in 2022)

Due to the rise of technology, the tattoo community is seeing a giant wave of self-taught artists.

In this article, we’ll aim to break down how you can become an established tattoo artist without an apprenticeship, as well as why online learning is the best way forward for the next generation of tattoo artists. 

Key Highlights:

  • With today’s technology, it is possible to learn to tattoo online instead of in a tattoo shop.
  • Online courses allow for structured tattoo artist training without asking for disruptive time commitments from apprentices and mentors.
  • Companies and educational institutions are using online programs as primary learning resources for employees and students (including medical fields). The tattoo apprenticeship process can make the same shift with proper elearning resources.
  • Learning to tattoo online allows aspiring tattoo artists to grow independently and at their own pace, which leads to quality learning as opposed to a time-based commitment.

How to Learn to Tattoo Online

If you want to learn without an apprenticeship, your best option is to learn from tattoo artists online. YouTube, blogs, forums, and other resources can provide the knowledge you need to become a certified tattoo artist, as long as you know where to look.

To start tattooing through this alternative method, you’ll still need to learn all the same things you would in an apprenticeship:

  • How to draw tattoos
  • How to be hygienic and keep your clients safe
  • How to use a tattoo machine and other tattooing equipment
  • How to line, shade, and pack color in a tattoo

The best way to find the answers you need is to make sure you’re using trending search terms in each of these areas.  

How to Draw Tattoos

Learning how to draw is the first step in any in-person tattoo apprenticeship. Instead of drawing landscapes or still-life like you would in fine art classes, you’ll want to focus on drawing tattoo designs.

Tattoo designs are very different from regular artwork because you have to take the shape and flow of the human body into account.  

Here are the most popular tattoo drawing search terms from 2021 that people have successfully used to improve their drawing skills:

  • How to draw tattoos on procreate
  • How to draw tattoos step by step
  • How to draw realistic tattoos
  • How to draw rose tattoos
  • How to draw traditional tattoos

How to Keep Clients Safe

Self-taught tattoo artists get a bad rap from the industry because they often do not place enough emphasis on sanitary practices. While it’s not the sexiest topic in tattooing, you can get your tattoo license revoked with just one sanitation mistake.

The riskiest part of tattooing - for both you and your client - is contact with blood. You need to get your Bloodborne Pathogens (BBP) Certification before you ever tattoo a person (including yourself) to make sure you are tattooing safely. 

Here are a few of the top online BBP certification sites offering up-to-date training (2021/2022):

How to Use Tattoo Shop Equipment

Before you learn to tattoo, it’s important to know how your equipment works - and where to get reliable tattoo equipment.

Obviously, your tattoo machine is the most important part of your setup and will require the most research. Here’s the top “tattoo machine” search terms from 2021:

  • What tattoo machine is best for beginners
  • How tattoo machines work
  • Tattoo machine maintenance
  • Tattoo machine setup
  • Tattoo machine stroke explained

How to Practice Tattooing: Lining, Shading, and Packing

Accidentally learning outdated techniques in lining, shading, and packing can derail your career as a self-taught tattoo artist. Because of this high risk, we’ve created a free training program anyone can access to learn the basics of these skills.

Why Online Learning is Qualified to Replace In-Person Tattoo Apprenticeships in 2022

Obviously, we’re a bit biased toward online learning. However, it’s not without reason. While there have not been any studies conducted in the tattooing industry specifically, recent studies in parallel fields indicate that online learning might be the superior option to in-person training for future tattoo artists.

Online Training Improves Retention

According to studies conducted in 2019, over 77% of companies provided online learning opportunities for new team members (note that this was even before the COVID-19 pandemic). Additionally, employees say they learn 5x more material when they’re able to learn independently online.

This is because online learning allows for personalized pacing. Like tattooing, every job has numerous protocols, safety measures, and processes that have to be completed daily. When people are allowed to control when and where they learn, they’re far more likely to retain information, as opposed to “time-based” learning.

“Time-based” learning requires a certain amount of hours to be completed, but doesn’t offer a structured way of working through material (much like in-shop apprenticeships that often require 50+ hours a week).

This migration to online learning isn’t just confined to training in the business world.

Medical E-Learning Confirms Effective Online Training

Academic and medical institutions are utilizing online education more than ever before. In 2018, a Forbes contributor confirmed that over 300 nursing degrees (both bachelors and masters) were able to be completed online.

This is a particularly important note because nursing, like tattooing, is often centered around client care and utilizes a lot of the same materials, sanitation processes, etc.

Of course, some medicinal occupations require a certain amount of in-person learning to work with real people. This is usually the main argument proponents of apprenticeship-only learning will make against e-learning.

It’s true that nursing students need to see patients who are actively sick or injured to observe changes in their physical conditions. Unlike the medical field, tattoo artists can practice their skills on fake skin, on themselves, or on friends in private studios, giving them the hands-on learning they need while still using online learning resources.

With so many studies confirming the efficacy of online learning in both the education and business spheres…it’s time for the tattoo industry to join.

E-Learning is More Effective with Structured Programs

Of course, the easiest way to learn using online resources is through a structured course. (That’s why we created the Artist Accelerator Program.) 

Being able to work through the same lessons an apprentice would learn while still having the freedom to learn at your own pace and in your own space is the ideal combination of an independent learning style and guidance from professionals.

Why Online Learning is Good for the Tattoo Industry

A lot of “old-school” artists tend to claim that the rise of self-taught artists learning solely online is detrimental to an art form that is so well rooted in tradition.

However, moving tattoo learning online not only allows the industry to keep up with modern technology, it also allows the industry to keep up with demand.

Millennial customers have flooded the tattoo market in the past several years, with 41% of millennials surveyed in 2021 saying they have at least one tattoo. Additionally, 23% of Gen Z is tattooed (and only half of them are 18 or older). 

Compared to the 32% of Gen X and the 13% of Baby Boomers, it’s clear that the tattoo industry is on a huge incline, which means it needs more artists.

Because most tattoo artists only take one apprentice at a time (if they take an apprentice at all), it’s difficult for the number of artists to grow quickly enough to suit the demand of customers. 

Online learning not only clears up the schedule of prospective mentors to take on more customers, it also allows for more tattoo artists to learn without the constant supervision of a professional.

Why Online Learning is Best for Aspiring Artists in All Age Groups

Above we noted that learning online allows people to choose when and where to learn so that they can consume learning materials more effectively. 

Generally, this idea would appeal mostly to aspiring artists who are past their mid-20s because of the industry’s partiality toward younger artists. 

Tattoo shops are notorious for turning away older artists because apprenticeships are not conducive to the lifestyles of people with children, major financial responsibilities, etc., which rules out most people past their late teens and early 20s. 

Artists past this age group can use online learning to work at their own pace without giving up time with family, their full-time jobs, etc., whether that means setting aside time to learn in a condensed period, or spreading their learning out over several years.

However, we would be remiss to skip over the benefits of online learning for the younger generations of aspiring artists. 

Anyone born in the 2000s has never known a time without Google, classifying them as “digital natives.” Because such a large portion of this generation prefers online environments, learning online can be the preferable option for aspiring artists, even though they’re “young enough” to be in an apprenticeship

Final Thoughts

While tattooing will always be an in-person service, in a world where a hybrid workplace and “work from home” options have become the new desired company culture, the tattoo industry can easily adapt to an e-learning format when it comes to training new artists, if given the right structure and platform.

If you want to become a tattoo artist without an apprenticeship, you can use online resources to learn, as long as you know where to look.

If you’d like to get the structured learning you’d experience in a tattoo apprenticeship while still learning independently with up-to-date resources, Tattooing 101 has a variety of online resources, video tutorials, and a full tattooing course to help you become a certified tattoo artist.

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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