How To Become A Tattoo Artist?
Last Updated on March 21, 2022
written by tattoo artist Steven Martin
How To Become A Tattoo Artist
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 is well worth it.
There’s more than one path to becoming a tattoo artist and 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 general tips and routes to follow so let’s have a look at how to become a tattoo artist.
Practice Your Art
If you want to become a tattoo artist then you’re going to need to know how to draw and develop a marketable, unique style that means people will have to come to you if they want their tattoo drawn in a certain way or style.
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 as this is what your job will consist of primarily.
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 their creations. This may inspire you to adopt a similar style or create your own.
It’s important to be realistic about your financial situation and to assess your skills as an artist so you can make an unbias decision as to whether you should pursue an art degree, training at a master tattoo institute, classes at a community college, or perhaps even a self-taught route.
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. You will be able to sharpen and refine your skills here though, especially if you already have a natural talent for art.
If you desire a traditional education in the arts, then it may be worth considering going to a university that has a good arts program that suits your desires and goals. 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.
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. Here are some extra tips to follow when creating your portfolio.
- Professional – 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. It should look stylish and presentable.
- Your Best Work – We’d recommend putting around 30 to 100 completed drawings and tattoo designs in your portfolio; these can be either copies or original works as you’ll need to know how to do both well when you draw tattoos. Make sure that the pieces you choose to include do an excellent job of showcasing your versatility as an artist.
If you want to know more about portfolios and how to get yours up to scratch then scroll down and you’ll find some tips to help you become a tattoo artist.
Work With A Professional 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.
Becoming a tattoo artist isn’t something you can learn from a book; it’s vital you work with a mentor who has been tattooing ideally for many years and who is willing and able to take you under their wing. If you want to know how to become a tattoo artist then the best thing you can do is shadow someone either by getting a tattoo apprenticeship or just starting from the bottom.
Get Your Tattoo License
Obviously, getting a tattoo license is a key factor in how to become a tattoo artist. Licensing requirements often vary by state though, for example, tattoo artist requirements in Oregon involve the completion of no less than 360 hours of training with an approved tattoo artist and 50 tattoos, as well as pass a written exam and skills assessment to become licensed.
In other states, however, only the tattoo shop needs a license. Review your state’s requirements for licensure, as well as the requirements for any other state you plan to tattoo in. Like healthcare, you can be licensed to tattoo in more than one state as long as you meet that state’s requirements. After you’ve met all the necessary steps, you’ll need to apply for your license. Often, this is simply filling out a form with your local department and paying a fee but as with most things, this differs between states.
Each tattoo artist tends to have equipment preferences. Perhaps you like a particular style of tattoo gun, or you need to use nitrile gloves instead of latex due to an allergy. Normally, 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.
Creating An Engaging Portfolio
Writing a cover letter – Your resume highlights relevant education and experience, and a cover letter addresses your potential mentor by name. This means you get a professional and personal touch with the resume addressing your qualifications and experience and the cover letter to convey any personal feelings and aspirations you have.
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 it could be a good idea to include a design through different stages to show how you progress on a piece you’re working on.
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 they can view your artwork for themselves.
Memorize a few talking points about each piece – You’ll more than likely be asked a few questions about your art. Learn how to be comfortable talking about your work that’s included in your portfolio so you’re prepared no matter which piece your prospective mentor wants to discuss.
Copying the work of other artists – This is plagiarism and could result in legal action depending on the laws in your area. This is not at all worth the risk and you’re only setting yourself up for failure as it shows you may not have the right skill set to work on your own original ideas. You almost certainly won’t get the job and worst of all may face legal action.
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. Tattooing without a tattoo artist license is illegal and it shows that you don’t take the health and safety of a customer seriously. Starting on your own may also cause bad habits to develop which mentors will consider extra work that they have to do as your preferences will need to be ironed out so you can start fresh.
If you want to become a tattoo artist then you’re going to need the right equipment as many managers in the tattoo industry do not supply their tattoo artists with the relevant tattoo equipment.
- Tattoo machine: A liner will be a better start for anyone new to the tattooing world.
- Power supply: Whether you have one from a kit or you spent a little more for something extra, figuring out how to work the settings on these things is needed. Also, tuning your machine correctly will help you manage the normal current you run through it, making it easier to adjust your power supply if you’re tattooing at different locations and your equipment gets knocked around.
- Foot pedal: Your foot pedal is used to activate or terminate an electric current by simply pressing or lifting your foot on the device. This is a key component.
- Proper lining needle: Use the standard bug pin-tight needle grouping. It gives a more solid line. If you’ve got a kit and are not sure what type of needles you have, just make sure that the liner grouping you are attempting to use is round in nature like the head of a pen.
- Clip cord: This is the cord that connects your machine to your power supply while the foot pedal activates or terminates the current that goes to your tattoo machine.
- Tattoo lining tube: Diamond-shaped dimension tubes are great for beginners, and many experienced tattoo artists seem to favor them too.
- Two or three rubber bands: Make sure you have at least two or three rubber bands that will fit snugly around the tattoo machine and hold your needle bar firmly in place. These allow for an excellent line while tattooing.
There are a lot of things you’ll need if you want to become a tattoo artist and this list isn’t everything, here are some other bits and bobs that you should pick up for the tattoo studio:
- Ink: It’s worth looking around for the best brands as this is often subjective to each individual tattoo artist. Some suggestions I have though are Eternal Ink, Intenze, and Dynamic Inks.
- Vaseline: You can use this on the skin during the tattoo process. It prevents the ink from sticking to the skin, allowing you to pay more attention to your linework and shading.
- Paper towels: The best size towel is the 11×10-inch. as it folds into shapes that you’ll find come in handy.
- A cup of water: Sometimes you may need more than one but this all depends on how extensive the lining or shading is.
- Razors: Some guys (and some girls) are hairy so you may need a few razors on hand to tidy up the area where they want their tattoo. It’s all part of the job!
The great thing about the tattoo world is that education isn’t a must and all tattoo artists originate from vastly different backgrounds. However, you do need the knowledge, skill, and training.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should drop out right this moment as gaining a high school diploma and even a bachelor’s degree will help you achieve your goals. Going to an art school and learning graphic design, illustration, or visual arts will help you gain a better understanding of design and improve your drawing skills in general, which goes without saying, is an important part of being a tattoo artist.
There are tattoo schools but these aren’t held in the highest regard by the tattoo artist community so it may be worth waiting and opting for a tattoo apprenticeship so you can shadow a mentor and learn as you go. This is a popular route for most aspiring tattoo artists and is, without doubt, one of the most effective directions to head in if you want to become a successful tattoo artist.
This is also a great idea because there’s no way to learn how to tattoo human skin without doing it yourself. Some practice on things such as grapefruits but this isn’t the same as poking a needle into a living breathing person.
Cost And Earnings
As with anything, this differs but the general consensus is don’t go into the tattoo art industry for the money. The average annual salary of a tattoo artist in the USA is $35,000 but as many are required to buy their own community this can be taken down by at least $3,000 – $4,000. Although, equipment ranges in price, and not all tattoo artists recommend the same brands, tattoo machine, etc.
Even then, once you build a hefty catalog of clients and start to get paid well, the work never stops. There is always the need to find new inspirations, variety in their designs, post nice photos, and work on their portfolios.
Things To Keep In Mind
Not everyone will take care of their tattoo – the human skin is a fragile thing and many clients will fail to consider this during their post inking period where they’re supposed to look after the tattoo. You have to prepare yourself and be aware that hours of your hard work may not be appreciated and will no doubt be ruined in some cases.
People like to talk – If you’re not one that enjoys small talk or just conversation in general then this may not be the career for you. Clients love to alk and many will bring their most personal problems and thoughts to the table. You may start to feel like a therapist so it’s important to balance your mental health and be careful what you say. The last thing you need is to offend a client while inking them.
You will mess up – When you’re first starting out, it will feel like almost all your lines are crooked or inconsistent and you’ll nitpick every little thing you do, which has its perks. Even once you get good, you’re not immune to mistakes. Spelling errors can happen with text tattoos if the artist and client don’t triple-check so know that making mistakes is all part of the process.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of education do you need to be a tattoo artist?
Although there is no degree required to become a tattoo artist, it is necessary for an individual to possess natural artistic ability and creativity. Taking art classes in high school in order to learn various skills is a great first step.
How easy is it to become a tattoo artist?
Becoming a tattoo artist is easy! Doing so requires no formal education. If you have a talent for drawing and design, the equipment, and the will to put in the work, you can easily make it into the best tattoo shop around as a licensed tattoo artist.
Do Tattoo Apprentices get paid?
Most tattoo apprenticeships are unpaid. Just like students are not paid for attending college, you won’t be paid for doing your apprenticeship. You’ll probably need to work a side job until you get your license.
Is learning to tattoo hard?
The first step is to get an apprenticeship under a reputable artist who will teach you all they know, but that can take years of persistence and continuous rejection. Build up your portfolio and don’t give in. If you know you’re good enough then someone will notice your talent eventually.
So, as you can see, anybody can become a tattoo artist which is great because it’s a fantastic career to get into as it’s very rewarding and involves you doing what you love every day.
However, it can be a taxing job and the pay isn’t always going to be high and you will encounter stressful situations. If you’re really committed to becoming a tattoo artist then you can earn a place at a top tattoo shop where the pros create art.
We may be a little bias but becoming a tattoo artist is a sure-fire way to have a long, fruitful career. Go for it if you think you’ve got the talent.