We are constantly asked if we have any tattoo apprenticeships or know anywhere that does. There is lot of misinformation about apprenticeships, so we thought we would do our best to set the record straight
We are often approached by members of the public interested in a career as a tattoo artist. The number one question they all ask is "What qualifications do you have?". The long and short of the matter is we have none. There are no recognised qualifications to become a tattoo artist. There are however lots of companies out there claiming to offer "courses". They range from a full day of intensive study to an all-in-one “become qualified in just two weeks” course. We would strongly advise everyone to stay well away from this type of gimmick. Becoming a tattooist takes some serious hard work and time. The learning never stops and to progress you need to constantly push yourself to learn new styles and techniques. These skills simply can’t be taught in a couple of weeks' crash course!
Your portfolio is the first step to securing an apprenticeship. Due to the surge in popularity of this industry there are a lot of people out there trying to secure one, so you need to stand out from the crowd and make yourself distinguishable. A well-presented portfolio will show how serious you are; the more you have in it the better but show a range of work, 50 drawings of the same thing will not impress! Also, be original! Don’t just rip off other artist’s designs from magazines and the internet. Be creative and confident enough to present your own ideas and styles. Don’t just take inspiration from the typical tattoo media; use fine art, comics, realism etc. to showcase your versatility. You are only limited by your own imagination.
WHAT TO EXPECT
You won’t be tattooing straight away. There are lots of things that need to be learned and perfected before you will be ready to pick up a machine. TV shows like “Miami Ink” and “Tattoos After Dark” have glamorised what it is like to work in this industry and be an apprentice. In truth it is not the "Rock-n-roll" lifestyle people believe it to be. The reality is a lot of hours of concentration and hard work, often long after the last customer has gone home. Expect to cover reception and daily duties for a while, so your mentor can see you are serious before they gift you with the skills and knowledge of a lifelong career…for free! Do not expect to be allowed to tattoo clients for your own practice straight away, this will come but in the first instance it may be fake skin and fruit for yours and the clients’ safety.
DO'S AND DON'TS
Don't buy your equipment off some shoddy site and practice at home. The moment you do this you will instantly be branded a "scratcher" and run the risk of not being taken seriously. Apprenticeships exist so you can be taught all aspects; it isn’t just about putting something amazing on skin. The hygiene aspect is of the utmost importance.
Don't expect an apprenticeship because you are tattooed. Having tattoos and knowing how to tattoo are two separate things.
Do go in to studios to ask for an apprenticeship and present your portfolio. Artists were all apprentices once and walking into a studio isn’t easy. But you’ll look keen and committed and will create the right first impression with the studio.
Do show variety in your portfolio. Don't stick to one style and pigeon-hole yourself. Even if there is a style you love, tattoo artists need to be flexible and be able to give the customer the style they want.
Do make sure you leave your ego, attitude and personal problems at the door.
Do make sure you research the studio and artists you are approaching for an apprenticeship. You want to make sure they are highly skilled and have been in the industry for a decent amount of time. Quite often people will claim to have been in the industry a while when in fact they learnt at home and have been in a studio all of five minutes.
Do make sure that this is what you want to do. It’s a struggle, commitment and sacrifice. It isn’t a quick money-making scheme and it isn’t easy. Yes, you can earn fantastic money doing a job you love with some of the most interesting people you could meet, but it takes time! You also must take into consideration the high costs of overheads. Ask other artists what it is really like to work in this industry.
Do listen to constructive criticism and take it on board. If you can’t take criticism or improve on what you have then potentially you aren’t cut out for this industry.
Do make sure you are reliable. You are going to be asked to do things you don’t want to do, sometimes they will be mundane tasks to prove your commitment. This isn’t unreasonable, after all they will be giving you all their knowledge and teaching you skills for a life long career.
Do not expect your apprenticeship to have the schedule of a classroom. You will be based in busy, working studios. Things come up and sometimes that day’s ideas might not go to plan but make the most of it and use that time to draw, observe, ask questions, improve your customer service skills…. the list is endless!
Finally, if no-one will take you on and you are receiving nothing but negativity when presenting your portfolio, you need to work harder on your portfolio or your attitude. Tattooing is not for everyone and most people have to accept that they are not right for it.
Remember, show up, be reliable and in the words of Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, “be the hardest worker in the room”.