Part 1: Do you have what it takes to become a tattoo artist?
The journey toward being a professional tattooist is not for the faint of heart. It takes years, money, and endless practice to really say you’re qualified. You are making indelible pieces of art on people’s skin, and charging a fair chunk of change for it. You’ll be working around your clients’ schedules. Evenings and weekends are the busiest times for tattoo parlors. You owe it to your future clients, and to yourself, to know if tattooing is what you really want to do.
Fortunately, if you’re reading this, that’s a good sign…
The first thing you need, after all, is enthusiasm and passion. You need a real love of tattoos to give you the drive to make it through the long process of becoming a proficient tattoo artist. There are less difficult ways to make money, so you’ll really need to want to create beautiful, lasting tattoos your clients could be happy with for the rest of their lives.
On top of that, and perhaps most the most difficult thing to accept, for some, is that, sometimes, you will make mistakes. The art won’t quite match your or the client’s vision. You’ll have a blowout or some other problem. You just have to be willing to do what you can to make it right, learn from the experience, and move on. Even the most experienced tattooists sometimes have these sorts of problems.
Don’t get complacent about them, but don’t beat yourself up too much, either.
Unfortunately, love alone won’t allow you to become a truly great tattoo artist. You also need lots of practice. You need talent and skill at drawing. Indeed, most good tattoo artists are practicing their drawing all the time, and not only on skin. Advanced techniques will be covered later, but to start, draw whenever you have the opportunity, particularly with a pen. Drawing with a pen is good because it is, in some ways, like tattooing. Bold lines have a minimum but consistent width, and ink is not erasable. Doodle on napkins, draw in sketchbooks.
To be a good tattoo artist, first you have to be a good artist. If you aren’t, are you willing to practice all the time? Are you willing to take classes to become a better artist?
The answer to both had better be “yes”. If you’re starting out rusty, though, take heart. Many times, those with less natural talent can wind up being better artists, because they aren’t lazy about practicing. Develop your imagination and your technique, and you’ll be a match for almost anyone who draws well naturally.
It isn’t really fair, but to really become a competent tattooist, you also will need money and time. Professional tattoo artists can make quite a bit of money at their jobs, but before that there is an apprenticeship. Are you willing and able to spend several months, and some of your own money, to become a respected tattoo artist? If your answer is “yes”, then really there’s nothing that can stop you. You’ve already got the will, talent, and love it takes to become a great tattoo artist.
Still, you need to be careful…
You should be willing and able to research the best tattoo studios in the area, and choose who you approach with at least as much care as you would when deciding where to get a tattoo. Your selection will determine not only the boost it gives to your reputation, but also the value of the skills you can pick up.
Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to find reviews of different tattoo parlors. Do your research, and you should be able to find the apprenticeship that’s the best fit for you.
The most important thing, and probably the first, thing you will learn once you start learning tattooing in earnest will be safety. If you want to be a respectable tattoo artists, you will cultivate an absolute dedication to that safety. The process is lengthy, but not overly complicated. You can read an overview of tattoo safety procedures in the next part in this series.
Brendan Jackson is not only a fine tattoo artist, but is also a huge lover of everything to do with the art and history of tattoos. He is the founder of Tattooing101.com, and also the creator of the bestselling tattooing course, Elite Tattoo Pro.
Photo Credit: Philippe Leroyer