Wondering how to become a tattoo artist? It takes hard work, but if you can draw and have people skills, becoming a tattoo artist could be the perfect career for you. But first, you probably have some burning questions about what you need to do to learn to tattoo and become a tattoo artist. And we have answers!
If you love art and design and have a passion for tattoos, becoming a tattoo artist can be a rewarding career. Like many creative trades, pursuing a career in tattooing isn’t easy. The cost and time commitment to get a job as a tattoo artist is significant, but the payoff has the potential to be so much more.
There’s more than one path to become a tattoo artist – the one you choose depends greatly on what type of artist you want to be, your finances, talent, and the opportunities available in your area. However, there are some common steps all aspiring artists must follow to improve your skill level, acquire knowledge of the trade, and master the art of tattooing. Here’s how to get started.
Steps to Become a Tattoo Artist
• Learn How to Draw
• Get an Art Education
• Establish Basic Design Skills
• Build a Portfolio
• Work with an Established Tattoo Artist
• Complete an Apprenticeship
• Obtain Pre-License Certification
• Get Licensed
• Buy Your Own Tattoo Equipment
• Start Your Career
1. Learn How to Draw
The key to creating a great tattoo begins with a visually appealing drawing, so it’s essential that you focus on improving your drawing skills and illustration techniques before you even think about designing tattoos or attempting to practice tattooing. Here’s how you can get started.
Practice Drawing On Your Own
The first thing you can do to get started is to begin drawing on your own. Keep a sketchbook and a pencil handy to draw in your free time; you don’t need anything else to take that initial step. Draw things you see, things you think, and things other people describe. Get a feel for whether you truly enjoy drawing and creating art, especially art for other people. Since you’ll be drawing requests most of the time, it’s important that you’re comfortable creating art that meets the specifications of others.
Study the Work of Famous Tattoo Artists
A great way to get a feel for the art of tattooing is to study the work of notable tattoo artists. Find famous artists with different types of art styles and explore what they’ve been able to create with ink and a tattoo gun. See what jives with you and what the market feels like for the kind of tattoos you want to do. Popular tattoo artists include Mirko Sata, Chris Nunez, Miya Bailey, Gerhard Wiesbeck, Frank Carrilho, Rit Kit, and Stanislaw Wilczynski.
Explore Different Art Forms
If you enjoy art but aren’t sure what kind of art you really want to do, be sure to try out plenty of different forms prior to making a decision. Create fine art, contemporary art, abstract art, and even things like t-shirt designs and logos. Before you get too far into the idea of becoming a tattoo artist, make sure it’s the type of art you like to do most.
2. Get an Art Education
If you’re serious about a career in tattooing, it’s important to seek out opportunities to become a well-rounded artist. It’s important to be realistic about your financial situation and to assess your skills as an artist so you can make a decision about whether to pursue a traditional art degree, training at a master tattoo institute, classes at a community college, or the self-taught route. The bottom line is, the more time you spend developing your skills, the better artist you will be. Tattoo artists aren’t required to have formal education or even a high school diploma, so this step is a big decision. Weigh the pros and cons of each.
Take Art Classes at Your Local Community College
Taking art classes at your local community college is the most affordable way to get an education in art, however, it’s not as robust as formal education at a tattoo school or university. Here, you can learn many basic design concepts and sharpen your skills by practicing creating art for a wide variety of applications.
Earn a Degree in Art
If you desire a traditional education in the arts and have the financial means to do so, consider going to a university that has a good arts program. You’re unlikely to find a program specifically for tattoo artists, so look for a school that offers a degree in design, illustration, graphic design, digital arts, performing arts, or commercial art. A degree program can also help you develop a strong background in the arts, including art history and studies,
3. Establish Basic Design Skills and Knowledge
While considered by many to be a less traditional art form, tattooing still encompasses all the basic tools of design. It’s important that you have a robust knowledge of how different design elements work together and how they impact each other, regardless of whether you choose to obtain an education or go the self-taught route. You should:
Learn the Basic Elements of Graphic Design
Whether you obtain an education in art or develop your drawing skills through experience, it’s critical to master the basics of graphic design. You’ll need to learn the theories of line, shape, texture, color, value, and size. You’ll also need to learn how to apply those theories on paper to create the image you want, how to stencil, and eventually, how to execute your designs on human skin.
Learn the Principles of Graphic Design
Other essential skills to master are the principles of graphic design, such as balance, alignment, repetition, proximity, contrast, and space. These principles help to build the foundation of art itself and no drawing is complete without them. How each manifests differs greatly from piece to piece, so it’s crucial to develop a strong ability to manipulate these principles in a wide variety of ways.
4. Build a Portfolio
An art portfolio is by far one of the most important tools in a tattoo artist’s belt. It allows prospective mentors to quickly look at your best work, so they can decide if your particular art style is what they’re looking for in an apprentice. How you put your portfolio together impacts the impression it has on your potential mentors, so make sure you:
Create a Professional Portfolio
Your portfolio should be both attention-grabbing and professional looking. Don’t use an old binder you found lying around or a single manila folder for all your art. Instead, use a new three-ring binder with sheet protectors, or have the pages matted. The outside of your portfolio should look sleek, uniform, and inviting.
Include the Right Work
Put 25 to 100 completed drawings and tattoo designs in your portfolio; these can be either copies or original works. Make sure that the pieces you choose to include do an excellent job of showcasing your versatility as an artist. Include a few examples of work you have completed in black and grey, even if your strongest work is typically composed of colorful illustrations. Even if the piece may not necessarily translate well into a tattoo, it will demonstrate that you have strong technique and have the talent for designing tattoos.
Avoid Common Mistakes When Creating Your Portfolio
While it may seem obvious, it’s important to mention that there are a few things you want to steer clear of when building your portfolio, including:
Copying the work of other artists. This is plagiarism and could result in legal action depending on the laws in your area. At best, the tattoo shop will know that you’ve submitted plagiarized art and won’t accept your application. At worst, you could be declined and your reputation ruined before you even get started.
Submitting photos of tattoos you’ve done.If you’re not already a professional tattoo artist, don’t include photographs of tattoos you’ve given no matter how good you believe they are. First, tattooing without a license is illegal. Second, it shows that you’re not willing to take the health of your clients and the art of tattooing seriously. It also tips them off that you may have some bad “scratcher” habits that need to be ironed out, making it more challenging to mentor you.
Create an Engaging Portfolio
Be sure to create a portfolio potential mentors want to look at by:
Writing a cover letter and including your resume. Your resume highlights relevant education and experience, and a cover letter addresses your potential mentor by name. Including these give your portfolio an instant feel of professionalism.
Including only completed work. If you have a lot of sketches but few finished pieces of art, wait to create your portfolio until you have more to put in it. Use finished work only for your portfolio, but feel free to include some copies of what the piece looked like at various stages during the drawing phase.
Memorize a few talking points about each piece. You’ll likely be asked a few questions about your art. Get comfortable talking about a few main points for each piece included in your portfolio, so you’re prepared no matter which piece your prospective mentor wants to discuss.
Leaving your business card. Unless you have an appointment at the tattoo shop, the artist may not be able to review your portfolio right away. Leave a business card with your name, contact information, and a link to an online portfolio where your artwork can be viewed at their convenience.
5. Work with an Established Tattoo Artist
Once you’re confident about your drawing skills and ability to design attractive tattoos, it’s time to gain hands-on experience and to start applying the techniques you’ve learned in a real-world environment. Tattooing isn’t something you can learn from a book; it’s critical to work with a mentor who has been tattooing ideally for many years and who is willing and able to take you under their wing. Here’s what to keep in mind when finding a tattoo artist to work with:
What to Look for In a Mentor
It’s important to do your due diligence when searching for a tattoo artist to apprentice under. Look for an artist who:
Works at a reputable tattoo shop. Make sure they abide by basic hygiene guidelines and have plenty of clients. Avoid tattoo shops who seem to be empty, who can’t tell you about their hygiene practices, or that you just get a bad vibe in.
Has mentored an apprentice before. Mentoring is difficult even for the most seasoned tattoo artist. Look for someone who has taken an apprentice before, so they have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t.
Who can challenge you. The artist you choose to mentor you should be able to challenge you, hold you accountable, and push you past your limits. Don’t choose a mentor who seems too easy-to-please; a laissez-faire approach won’t help you in the long run.
How to Approach a Shop About an Apprenticeship?
When you approach a tattoo shop about an apprenticeship, the impression you make matters. You should:
Do your homework. Learn as much as you can about the shop you want to apprentice at. Familiarize yourself with each artist’s bio and portfolio, as well as any other key details about the business.
Make face-to-face contact. Don’t just call the tattoo shop and talk to someone on the phone. Get your face in their minds by showing up and saying hello. Drop by in the afternoon on a weekday when it’s least likely to be busy.
Treat everyone you meet with respect. The person you see working the front desk may be an artist covering for the receptionist while they’re out to lunch, or they may be tight with all the artists there. Treat everyone you meet like their opinion of you can make or break your apprenticeship; chances are, it can.
The Cost of a Tattoo Apprenticeship
Very few tattoo apprenticeships pay; rather, the reverse is usually true. There are some free apprenticeships, but most have a cost. Free apprenticeships at reputable tattoo shops are the most competitive and difficult to get, and most cost around $5,000. In rare cases, they may be as high as $10,000 depending on the skill and reputation of the artist you’re apprenticing under. Most artists who begin a tattoo apprenticeship need to have a side job to sustain themselves financially while they complete their tattoo training.
Understanding Tattoo Apprentice Contracts
Typically, you’ll be required to sign a contract with the tattoo shop you have an apprenticeship with. A contract is a legal document that sets forth the responsibilities and expectations of both parties and provides protection for either party if one does not meet their contractual obligations. The contract outlines how long your apprenticeship will last (usually a year), how much you will pay, what your daily and weekly responsibilities are, what you should expect to learn from your mentor, and if you’ll be required to work at the shop for any length of time after your apprenticeship is complete. Consider having an attorney review your contract prior to signing to ensure your interests remain protected.
6. Complete an Apprenticeship and Learn the Trade
Before you can begin tattooing professionally, you’ll need to complete an apprenticeship to learn the trade. This can be done with your mentor, or you can look for a tattoo shop that is advertising an opening for an apprentice. When starting a tattoo apprenticeship, you can expect:
A Large Upfront Investment
Beyond the cost of your apprenticeship, you’ll also need a number of basic supplies to work with, including tattoo guns, sterile equipment, art supplies, and more. Be prepared for a significant upfront investment to become a tattoo artist.
To Learn How to Design Tattoos
While tattoos are art, not all art can be a tattoo. You’ll need to learn how to design tattoos so they look nice on the body and last for as long as possible without the need for a touch-up. Where on the body the tattoo is placed, how large the tattoo is, and how detailed it is all impact what it will look like over time. Poorly placed tattoos with too much detail for the size will heal unevenly, causing the ink to spread and lines to become blurred.
To Learn How to Operate a Tattoo Machine and How to Work with Ink
Ink and flesh as an artistic medium can be quite challenging to work with, and no two bodies are exactly the same. As you apprentice, you’ll learn how tattooing differs from other mediums, how to operate a tattoo machine, and how to work with ink to create art that looks good on the skin.
To Learn Hygienic Work Practices
Because tattooing is a body modification that punctures the skin and draws blood, there’s a certain standard of hygiene that must be met for both the artist and client’s safety. You’ll learn how to create a sterile work field, how to keep your tattoo machine clean, when to change gloves, and more. Remember that reputable artists take hygiene very seriously; ask to review an artist’s hygiene practices before agreeing to apprentice under them. In fact, it’s an excellent idea to get a tattoo by the artist you want to apprentice under when possible.
To Learn Professional Business Skills and Customer Service
Most tattoo artists need to learn at least some professional skills like how to balance a ledger, process payments, and interact with clients. Apprenticeships that offer training on more than just tattooing and teach the essential skills needed to operate and/or manage a tattoo shop are ideal. This is especially true if you want to start your own tattoo shop at any point in your career.
To Work for Free for at Least a Year
It’s common for an apprenticeship program to be unpaid and you should expect to do a lot of free tattoos, so it’s important to have enough savings set aside or to have another source of income so you can make ends meet. You can plan for a year, but in some cases, your apprenticeship may be longer.
7. Get Approval from the Government (BRC)
You’ve made it! You’re educated, skilled, and experienced, and you’re ready to start tattooing on your own. Next, you need to:
Check Your State Requirements
you can be approved business certificate (BRC) licensed to tattoo you meet that state’s requirements.
Apply for Business Registration Certificate (BRC)
After you’ve met any necessary prerequisites, you’ll need to apply for your BRC. Often, this is simply filling out a form with your local Divisional Secretarial Office and paying a fee. (some Area need to check your products with your studio and status of your Tattoo Place through PHI officer in sri lanka.)
8. Buy Your Own Tattoo Equipment
Each tattoo artist tends to have equipment preferences. Perhaps you like a particular style of a tattoo gun, or you need to use nitrile gloves instead of latex due to an allergy. Usually, tattoo shops require an artist to furnish their own supplies, so you’ll want to invest a few basics to start out with, growing your collection as you gain more experience.
The Basic Equipment Every Tattoo Artist Needs
You’ll need at least two tattoo guns that you like using, an ultrasonic, tubes and grips, sterile needles for lines and shading, green cleaning soap, spray bottles, small plastic cups for ink, gloves, and other supplies needed to keep your area clean. Expect this equipment to cost a few thousand Rupess or more depending on what you get.
What Goes into a Basic Tattoo Kit?
A beginner’s tattoo kit should include the following:
• A tattoo machine for line work
• A tattoo machine for shading and color work
• A power source and foot pedal
• Tattoo needles in a variety of types and sizes
• Tattoo ink in a variety of colors (but you may want to buy a larger quantity of black ink, since it will be used most often)
• Rubber surgical gloves
• Additional parts for your tattoo machine
9. Start Your Career
The very last step to becoming a tattoo artist can often seem like the most daunting. If you’re here, it’s time to finally put yourself out there as a tattoo artist, either on your own or at an existing tattoo shop. Here’s what to do next:
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Apply at a Tattoo Shop
Once you’re Registered, you’re ready to apply for any job you want as a tattoo artist. If you’re not under contract with the tattoo studio you apprenticed with, look for openings at local shops you want to work at. Or, drop off your resume and portfolio for consideration; often, tattoo shops will hire new artists when they like someone’s work, even if they don’t have a formal employment ad posted.
Open Your Own Studio
If your dream is to open your own tattoo studio and work for yourself, why not start early? Begin looking into what you need to open your own shop, such as rental space, furniture, and extra equipment. Evaluate your competition and your target market and if needed, relocate to an area where you’re likely to get more business.
Want to Become a Tattoo Artist? You Need Less Than You Think to Get Started
If you want to learn how to become a tattoo artist, you really need a lot less than you think to take the first step. In all honesty, all you need is a piece of paper and a pencil to start drawing. Then, the rest can come piece by piece over a few years. You can consistently hone your skills in your free time, no matter where you are in the process of becoming a tattoo artist!