Life of a Tattoo Artist (Everything Untold)

As a tattoo artist, you get to enjoy a creative career that centers around artwork you love. But, there’s lots of extra work and sacrifices that goes into tattooing full time. 

Knowing what these responsibilities are before you start tattooing professionally can help you schedule out your time as you enter a new career. 

To help, we’ve mapped out a full work day in the life of a tattoo artist – including all the extra stuff that most people don’t see.

Day in the Life of a Tattoo Artist

While you’ll have different clients and tattoos, you’ll follow the same schedule almost every day.

A “Late” Start

Tattoo studios usually open up around 12pm and stay open until late (10pm-12am, depending on the shop). Because of this, tattoo artists can have a later start than most people with a 9-5 job. 

After getting up and getting ready, it’s time to head to the tattoo shop. 

Note:

Whether you go for coffee in the morning is up to you and how it affects your body. If caffeine makes you shaky, you might see that shakiness in your linework.

Parents

Balancing kids’ schedules with a tattoo artist’s schedule can be complicated. Because tattoo artists tend to stay in the shop until late at night, kids are already asleep by the time they get home. 

Most tattoo artists with children wake up early to take them to school, and then have a gap of time between school drop off (around 8am) until work (around 12pm). 

Note:

If you have kids and plan to work “normal” hours for a tattoo artist, you’ll need to consider after-school services/activities. If applicable, it can also be helpful to figure out a schedule that allows a partner/spouse to pick kids up from school, take care of dinner for them, etc. 

Apprentices

Tattoo apprentices will have an earlier start than the artists in the shop because they have to get there early to clean the shop and prepare for the day. To see the schedule of a tattoo apprentice, check out our article “A Day in the Life of a Tattoo Apprentice.”

12:00pm – Studio Opens

Michelle Maddison clock

Once you get to the shop, what you do will depend on whether you have appointments lined up or not.

Prep for Appointments

If you have an appointment, you’ll go ahead and set up your station, get the stencil ready, etc.

Waiting for Walk-Ins

If you don’t have appointments lined up, it’s likely that you’ll be waiting on walk-in clients. Using this down time to post on social media and work on marketing, drawing, and being productive will be super helpful especially if you’re at the beginning of your career.

2:00-3:00pm – Lunch…?

This one gets a question mark because a lot of tattoo artists don’t eat much during the day. If you’re tattooing all day, it’s easy to skip eating to keep working. 

However, making sure you’re eating and taking time to stretch during the day is important to your health. It’s highly recommended that you take breaks throughout the day to keep your body feeling healthy.

Afternoon – 10pm

Throughout the rest of the day, you’ll be repeating the process of cleaning, setting up your station, tearing down your station, and preparing for the next client.

While it might take a few extra minutes, make sure to take pictures of all your work to post on Instagram to attract new clients. 

10:30pm – Dinner and Drawing

Because tattoo shops close late, you’ll also be getting home – and eating dinner – pretty late. However, your work still isn’t done. If you have appointments for the next day, you’ll need to spend time drawing the designs you’ll be tattooing.

Even if appointments are booked a month out, it’s normal for artists to draw the designs the night before and make any changes the client wants the day of. (You might have a general idea before you actually start drawing in mind.)

2:00am – Time for Bed

Most artists will stay up late drawing for their appointments and won’t get to bed until after midnight.

New Artists

If you’re new to tattooing or you’re an apprentice, you’ll still spend this time drawing. However, it’ll be for your portfolio or for practice. 

If you don’t have a client list of people who come back regularly to get tattooed by you, it’s also important to spend this time responding to messages of potential customers.

Weekends, Hobbies, Family, and More – Tattoo Artist FAQs

Tattooing is hard work, and it’s pretty time-consuming. While having a creative career gives you the freedom to grow as an artist, it can also impact your schedule and other areas of your life.

What are weekends like for tattoo artists? When do you spend time with your family?

Whether you get the whole weekend off depends on which shop you’re working for. Some shops will be open on Saturday. Most shops will be closed on Sundays. 

If you work at a shop that’s open seven days a week, it can be difficult to figure out a schedule that works for everyone, since most people will want to take their day off on a weekend. However, if you work weekends, you’re able to make a ton of money. 

The problem is that this is a double-edged sword. Even though you might be making more money, if you have school-age kids, you won’t be able to spend as much with them at home. 

The key is making your schedule and your family’s schedule work with your job so you can still get quality time with the people you love.

Do you have time to have time for other hobbies? 

Between tattooing and making time for family, it can be really hard to have other hobbies. 

When you’re first starting out, it might feel impossible to make time for doing other things you enjoy. However, when you move up in your career (for example, open your own shop or do tattoos by appointment only), you will have some time for hobbies outside of work.

Are your friends mostly tattoo artists?

Yes and no. Most tattoo artists are more like “work friends” with the other artists in the shop. 

It’s more likely that you’ll actually end up building friendships with some of your clients because you end up spending much more time with them through your appointments. 

While you don’t want to be best friends with every customer (plenty of people will use your “friendship” to ask for discounts or even apprenticeships), you will find some that you build life-long friendships with.

When do you work with your apprentice? How much work does it add to your day to have an apprentice?

When you have an apprentice, you’ll work with them every day. Each morning, you’ll let them know what you have planned for them, whether that’s drawing, cleaning the shop, etc. They’ll also watch you tattoo, which means you’ll need to explain what you’re doing while they take notes.

Teaching an apprentice does put more on your plate. You can’t go on autopilot because you have to actively explain everything you do. Additionally, teaching them to do things like tear down a station takes extra time. Even though it might be second nature to you, they’ll take longer to do it. 

However, apprentices are there to help run the shop and clean, which takes some of those responsibilities off of you, so it does balance out.

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

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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