Becoming a tattoo artist is more than learning how to use a tattoo machine. It is not the trade for high school dropouts and wannabe bikers. There is a lot of hard work, many hours of apprenticeships, and state certification exams required. Being very different from a nine to five type of job, it can be very rewarding and satisfying.
The first step is finishing high school. You will need your high school diploma or equivalent. If you can’t show the initiative and follow through to finish your basic education, you won’t have what it takes to become a tattoo artist. It is also important that you have some artistic ability. If you already draw well, get a sketch pad and practice, practice, practice! If drawing isn’t something you do well, you should take classes that will teach you basics, then more advanced techniques. If you can’t create art with pencils, you can’t create art with a tattoo machine.
You also need to work on people skills. Tattooing isn’t all about the actual art, but about the customer. Remember, you do work in customer service where their opinion and satisfaction is the only thing that matters. Even if you delivered a flawless piece, if you can’t make your canvas happy, you didn’t win. You might have gotten paid, but you also have a person in your community who will tell everyone who sees their tattoo how horrible you are.
Many people don’t realize tattoo artists are self-employed. If you don’t know how to budget your finances, or understand the tax laws for self-employed business owners, you should take classes on these subjects as well. You will handle paying your taxes, regardless of where you tattoo. You will also have to plan for the lean months, usually around holidays when people need to save.
Once you have a basic understanding of what it takes to be a tattoo artist, you need to apply for an apprenticeship with a reputable, established artist. Be prepared to mop the floors, take out the garbage, and anything else your master commands. Show initiative, do things before you are asked and try to stay a step ahead. If you can do that, you will have more time to look around. See how the other artists in the shop set up their stations. Listen to how they speak with their clients and prepare their stencils. It would be beneficial to have a notebook to keep notes, as well as continue your sketching.
You will need to take a tattoo education course. You will learn the functions of day to day tattooing with your apprenticeship. But you also need to learn about skin diseases, infections and how to prevent them from occurring. Also pay attention to how your tattoo artist, and others at the shop, handle their garbage. Learn how to be clean for your safety, and the safety of those you work for in the future. These things will also most likely be on the state certification exam.
Once you have your certification, you will need to keep learning and refreshing your knowledge. You will have to retake exams and be re-certified several times throughout your career; some states require annual certification. Becoming a tattoo artist is not a one-day event. It will be a continued learning experience for you.
Working hard for your clients will help you build an impressive portfolio. Tattooing is not a get rich quick type of job. You are going to have to work hard at getting your name out there, attracting clients, and keeping them happy, so they speak well of you. Word of mouth is the best advertisement because it’s free. When you decide to become a tattoo artist, you should understand it is hard work, you will be in the service industry, but it can be amazingly rewarding. You will get out of it what you put into it.