Tattoo Artist Apprenticeship (Part 2)
In order to become a tattoo artist, an apprenticeship is one of the first steps you must take. Doing a formal apprenticeship is like enrolling in a trade school—you do it for the skills and knowledge you will acquire, for the connections you’ll make, as a step towards certification, and for your professional résumé.
Apprenticeships are not easy to do, not easy to get, not easy to prepare for, and not easy to pay for. Nobody says it’s going to be easy, but it will help you get where you want to go. This article, along with last week’s blog post, will help you learn the advantages of getting a tattoo apprenticeship and how to go about getting one.
4. Learn the Trade
When you get an apprenticeship, prepare to be what they call the “shop bitch.” You don’t get paid and you do all the dirty work: answer the phones, schedule appointments, take out the trash, sweep up, run errands, and stock, set up, and break down stations. Chances are that’s all you’ll be doing for a while. They have you do this to make sure you’re actually interested in doing the job, to weed out the unworthy, so take these tasks as an honor. You’re lucky to be there! Act that way. And don’t wait to be asked to do these things, just do them.
What Will You Do During Your Apprenticeship?
First, in addition to those menial tasks, you will work with your mentor to learn professional business skills, hygienic work practices, and tattoo design. But first, you will do a lot of watching and listening. This is the first step to learning, so stay attentive. You will learn how to make needles, use the autoclave, and take health precautions (which you will need for blood-borne pathogen certification).
After that, you will start learning to use the tattoo machine (never call it a “gun”!). At first, you will tattoo on fake skin, fruit, and maybe even yourself, depending on your teacher. You will learn about all the different setups for the machines and the difference between liners and shaders. Meanwhile, you will also be drawing and learning how to draw quickly and well. It’s a LOT of hard work.
How Long Does a Tattoo Apprenticeship Last?
Apprenticeships can take anywhere from one to three years, so plan accordingly.
Will I Be Tattooing During My Apprenticeship?
You will do around 100 free tattoos during your apprenticeship. But in fact, “free tattoos” means that you pay the cost, so make sure to have a lot of money saved up for supplies. You can tattoo friends, family, or whomever you wish. You get to keep your tips. After you’re certified, you can start charging clients.
5. Get Certified
Every state and country has different requirements, but you’ll probably need to do a certain number of apprenticeship hours, take some health and safety courses, and pass an exam on hygienic tattooing practices. Find out what requirements you need to fulfill in order to work where you want to. Then, when the time comes, fill out all the forms, take the tests, and provide all the documents required to be certified. You must be certified to tattoo, or you will risk your reputation and possibly get into trouble with the law.
Once you’ve gotten your certification, you may start tattooing and charging for it! So congratulations! You’ve made it.
Do You Need a License for Tattooing?
In some states, only the shop needs a license, but in others, both the shop and each individual tattoo artist need one. To see what specific states require of individual tattoo artists, see this list of the tattoo licensing laws, by state. This site also links to applications for each state and offers information on how long each state’s license lasts before it expires and needs to be renewed.
What Do I Need to Do to Get Certified to Tattoo in My State?
You should be able to find the tattoo licensing application along with information about fees and the submission process on your local government’s business department website. The requirements vary from state to state, and city to city, but it might be helpful to look at the list of tattoo licensing laws and applications by state (see link above).
6. Find a Job as a Certified Tattoo Artist
Sometimes, the shop where you learned to tattoo will put you on contract for at least a year after you’ve completed your apprenticeship. Keep working hard, taking pictures of every tattoo you do, and adding them to a new portfolio. After your contract is up, you may choose to stay at your home shop or you may find a different shop.
A huge part of your success depends on your networking and self-promotion skills. A large portion of the work you get will be through word of mouth, so get to know other artists and collectors. Go to conventions! Put yourself out there, don’t become complacent. You are responsible for your success at this point, no more coddling or hand-holding. Go for it! Your future is yours to shape.
Tips for Creating a Great Tattoo Apprentice Portfolio
- Include a cover letter and a résumé. List all the classes you’ve taken and the relevant experience you have.
- Start and end the portfolio with your strongest pieces.
- Think about how each piece plays off of (or possibly fights with) the pieces nearby. You want the pieces to complement each other, not compete or detract from one another. Think of the relationship between the pages and build an overall impression.
- Include any artwork you’ve done that highlights your talent. If they show off your skills, include a photo of that sculpture you did or that graffiti you painted or that design you embroidered, even though they’re not tattoos. If you do digital work, add that in. But remember that this is a tattoo portfolio and your drawing skills should definitely come through. If you have them, include flash sheets. In other words, you can include things that won’t work as tattoos as long as the majority of the works included showcase your designing, drawing, line, shading, composition, and coloring skills.
- Choose pieces that show off the wide range of your skills. If you can work in a variety of styles, then show that range in your portfolio. Choose some pieces that show what you can do with line work, color work, dot work, black, and grey, but also choose some pieces to show how you handle color.
- Anatomy is hard. Portraits are hard and realism is hard. If you can do it, show it. Most tattoo artists would prefer to work with an apprentice who has diverse abilities, someone who can do it all. The pieces you include should show that you’re willing to try lots of things. If you seem like you can’t or won’t do much, they might choose someone else to work with.
- On the other hand, you don’t need to know or be an expert in every style. If you specialize in a certain style, that’s something you’ll want to show off, too.
- Again, don’t include any half-done sketches. This is your best, most professional, polished stuff. An apprentice may end up helping with designing tattoos, so show how you follow through on unique and creative endeavors. If you only have sketches, then you’ve got lots of work to do before you whip out that portfolio!
- Before you go into the shop, think about what you want to say about each piece. Practice in front of a mirror if you need to.
Don’t include work that isn’t completely yours or isn’t from your own imagination. We all copy others’ ideas sometimes but try not to include clichéd, borrowed, or overdone ideas in your portfolio.
- When you go in to show them your portfolio, make sure to bring a card that includes a representative piece of artwork, your name, email, phone number, and links to sites where your work can be seen. If they don’t have time to see you now, leave the card and come back again later.