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How to Become a Tattoo Artist

How to Become a Tattoo Artist

Posted by Rob Smead on Dec 7th 2021

The world of tattoos is an exciting realm of self-expression and individuality that allows people to show off who they are to the world around them. For many people, getting tattoos is a great way to engage in artistic endeavors but for some, that isn’t enough. Many artists embrace tattoo culture and engage with the community of artists and visionaries by becoming tattoo artists themselves.

Some people get tattoos spontaneously, while others plan them out with deep meaning and purpose. However, becoming a tattoo artist is certainly not spontaneous. To become a tattoo artist takes commitment and dedication. To help you make this important decision, here is our best advice on becoming a tattoo artist.

Start With the Basics

Every tattoo begins with an idea — the primary job of a tattoo artist is to take a client's idea and transform it into reality. So, every tattoo artist needs to know how to draw, and to be successful, you should excel at drawing with your own unique flair. When starting out and looking for work, an apprenticeship or admittance to a school, a majority of your profile will be drawings.

Your portfolio should include drawings in color and black and grey to display your versatility as an artist. You might also use digital work and designs to demonstrate how you adapt to technology.

As an artist, you'll encounter many clients with styles that vary from your own, so get comfortable experimenting with other drawing styles. Keep a sketchbook handy and practice as much as possible, especially with a verbal prompt from someone else as most of your tattoos will come from requests. This strategy will help you practice taking a verbal request and conceptualizing it onto paper, and later onto someone's body.

Studying Others

Most art students, regardless of the medium, begin their careers by studying and emulating the work of the greats. Studying the work of other well-accomplished tattoo artists will familiarize you with various artistic processes. This practice will help you get out of your comfort zone and explore new methods and techniques. It will also benefit you to see how drawings can translate into ink on skin.

One thing to note is to avoid comparing yourself to these artists or trying to be them. Like in most other industries, creators benefit most when they offer something unique and different. Use your study of these artists as a learning experience to help you grow your skills — but at the same time, maintain true to yourself and your process.

Find Your Own Style

The next step in learning to draw is establishing your style. While it's important to be adaptable and to be able to cater to your customers, many returning clients will seek you out based on your work and style. After all, you are an artist. Embrace this time to learn about the craft and yourself. Finding your own style will help you build up a portfolio and ultimately set yourself apart from the rest.

Get Educated

While some tattoo artists make it on their own, most need some sort of education to establish themselves as credible artists.

Go to School

While it is possible to be a self-taught artist, the best way to get educated is from a qualified art school. The best artists are well-rounded and disciplined, so going to an art school will teach you those skills and develop yourself as a professional artist.

There are many different routes an upcoming artist can take to get educated. Community colleges and general art degrees are a good starting point, but many artists choose to scale up by going to a master tattoo art school. Whichever you choose, know the more you invest in yourself, the better of an artist you will be. Getting a degree, taking classes in general art practices or even diving into graphic design will give you the foundations you need to begin learning with a professional.

The ONLY "Tattoo School" we endorse is the Oregon Academy of Tattoo and Fine Art. This school is operated by master tattoo artist Heather Maranda. Heather spent years developing state accredited curriculum specific to tattooing, covering every single aspect you would get in a traditional apprenticeship PLUS many things you wouldn't necessarily get. Upon completion of your education she will also help you find placement in a trusted and established shop.

Get Started With Apprenticeships

Nobody is going to know more about the industry and techniques than an actual tattoo artist. Getting involved with a tattoo artist can give you hands-on, real-world experience that will really help you kickstart your career.

When applying to an apprentice, there are a few things to consider:

  • Explore: Visit multiple shops about the apprenticeships they offer. You’ll want to find the right shop for you. When you find the right one, reach out via phone or email, or even inquire in person. They’ll want to see your portfolio, so have that ready to go.
  • Research: Look into your potential mentors and explore their bios so you know what they expect and use that to tailor your portfolio to their interests. Talk to former apprentices if possible to ensure they'd recommend the artist.
  • Logistics: With a lot of luck and an outstanding portfolio, you’ll be able to land a free mentorship. But those aren’t guaranteed and many shops offer mentorships that cost in the thousands. You’ll want to inquire about any legal documents or the details of the mentorship contract.

Learn Proper Hygiene

There is no way around it — an essential aspect of tattooing is hygiene. Nothing can ruin a tattoo or a shop's reputation more than a sloppy artist with unsterilized equipment. Often you’ll learn all you need to know about hygiene in your schooling and mentorships, but its importance cannot be overstated.

Given that your canvas as a tattoo artist is skin, you’ll need to become Bloodborne Pathogen Certified. These programs will ensure you are familiar with preventing the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C, and other infections. As a tattoo artist, your knowledge of these infections will serve you just as much as your artistic knowledge.

Get Licensed

In most cases, getting licensed is your last step in becoming a professional tattoo artist. Check with your local state legislature to identify all your necessary requirements for getting licensed, or if you need one.

Equipment Needed to Get Started

Every tattoo artist will likely have their own preferences when it comes to equipment, but generally speaking, most will have their own. You have to be willing to do a little research and be ready to make an investment when shopping around for tattoo equipment. Tattoo machines come in a variety of styles, so try out a variety of them to find the one you like. You’ll also need to get plenty of nitrile gloves, green cleaning soap, sterile needles, tubes and grips.

Kick Start Your Career

Once you've perfected your drawing skills, done your research, received some education and gotten experience, you can get started building up your official equipment arsenal. If you have all the basic foundations, you can go ahead and start building your tattoo portfolio. To do that, you’ll need reliable equipment that fits your needs.

Luckily, whether you’ve been in the game for a while now or are just starting to build your portfolio, the experts at Electrum Supply offer quality equipment and unmatched customer service. Contact us today to learn more about what we can do for your career.