By Jo Black
If you have clicked on this post, it’s probably because you are genuinely intrigued about ‘how you become a tattoo artist’ and there is a chance that this post is not the step by step guide to success that you were hoping it would be…
Firstly, let me point out that there is a very straightforward answer… Get an apprenticeship.
In my time as a tattoo artist (almost a decade at the time of writing this post) I have apprenticed six people, five of whom are still tattooing to this day and three of whom still work with me in Black Moon. Usually they have come to me almost by coincidence at the right time, or have been people who I knew were interested in learning to tattoo and who were already involved in the industry in some way.
Traditionally, an apprentice is treated really very badly, given the cleaning jobs, the boring tasks that tattoo artists don’t want to do like hand making stencils and scrubbing tips and grips. They have usually started off as a kind of ‘hang around’ at the studio, someone who probably gets tattooed there, hangs about to chat, makes friends with the artists, starts making tea and coffee and often this would develop into a full blown apprenticeship. THESE DAYS, however, it’s a little different… social media being what it is, everyone under the sun can post their artwork online and claim to be an ‘aspiring tattoo artist’ and finding your next apprentice has suddenly become incredibly easy because everyone wants to learn to tattoo.
Aside from that, there are also now ‘tattoo schools’ which charge YOU money to learn to tattoo in a very short space of time. This is not respected in the industry, don’t bother (perhaps the subject of another post for another time).
The reason I am taking the time to write this post is because over the last few weeks I have been inundated with emails, usually starting with some combination or variation of the words ‘just wanted to drop a quick email, I’m sorry if you get asked this a lot, but I wanted to know how do I get into tattooing?’
I’m going to be utterly and brutally honest here, this immediately puts me off giving advice and winds me up immensely. If you find that comment or anything else I say in this post offensive then frankly you are probably not cut out to be a tattoo artist so just stop reading now. It’s a VERY HARD job, it’s exhausting AND it you need thick skin which is why traditional apprenticeships are usually so tough, to prepare you for the real deal (again perhaps the topic of another blog).
Let me be clear, I am not saying that all of the emails I get asking for advice wind me up, sometimes they come from a genuine place of curiosity or passion, and I am certainly not suggesting that every person who asks me on behalf of their friend or their kid who’s doing art at GCSE falls under the same heading of ‘annoying’, but what I am saying is that in this day and age where everything has to be instant and immediate, sometimes taking your time and doing a little research goes a LONG way to showing you are the real deal. In a time when everyone wants to learn to tattoo, you need to be the person who stands out, goes the extra mile and proves that you are serious before anyone will take a second look at you.
The reason it winds me up so much is that the majority of these enquiries come from people who claim to have ‘always been into art’ or who have ‘been illustrating for a while now and fancy a change of career’ or even ‘figured they would make a better living out of tattooing than drawing’. We as an industry are desperately passionate about our craft, about the history of the industry, about the art and about the immense level of skill and dedication it takes to learn. We respect each other and for the most part we encourage each other to continue to learn and improve all the time. When I get these emails from people who don’t seem to have any involvement in the world of tattooing at all, by which I mean they don’t get tattooed, they don’t attend conventions, they don’t spend hours reading blogs or watching documentaries about the industry, they probably don’t even buy skin deep or total tattoo, it gets me angry! Tattooing is fashionable right now, it’s also more accepted and appreciated in mainstream media and in work environments then it has ever been before, and suddenly every Tom Dick and Harry wants to jump on the bandwagon and avoid the hard work.
My genuine advice to anyone who seriously wants to consider tattooing as a career (and it is a lifestyle not just a career) is this:
Immerse yourself in the industry, buy magazines and books, watch vice documentaries, read our blogs, follow tattoo pages and artists, visit conventions but MOST importantly GO AND GET TATTOOED, not just a little one, but go get heavily tattooed, by several artists, invest your time and your money in spending time in studios that you respect, getting tattooed by artists you admire, when you invest in us and you have built up a friendship and a trust with the artists who work on you, then and only then should you approach the subject of how you could potentially get an apprenticeship. Show us that you are as passionate about our industry as we are and that you are serious about taking this career on as a lifestyle and we will have all the time in the world to chat with you about the best way to get into the industry!
I just want to reiterate here that I am not trying to be a dick, or belittle anyone’s attempts to gather information about how you learn to tattoo, I understand that you have to start somewhere and asking a question of a tattoo artist seems like the most direct route to an answer, I get that it’s not always obvious, people are new to all of this and I’m not trying to put anyone off asking questions. However, if you aren’t serious enough to already be involved in the industry to some level (even just reading magazines and watching documentaries) then you probably aren’t that serious at all.
As I said before, this industry is brutal and passionate and if you cannot take a bit of hard hitting honesty, if any of this offends you, step away now because this is the tip of the iceberg.
Okay, that’s me done.