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A guide to becoming a badass tattoo artist
Truth be told, when it comes to making your mark in the tattoo industry, being able to draw well accounts for about one percent of what it takes to become professional tattoo artist who is respected among your peers. We’ve seen so many young hopefuls come and go, simply because they weren’t prepared to put in the work. So, in the interest of separating the ‘willing and able’ from ‘the die-hard and determined’, we decided to share some inside info and a little ‘tough love’ on what it takes to become part of the closely-guarded ‘underworld’ of tattoo artistry (and maybe even someone we’d want to hire).
1. You have to earn your stripes
Make no mistake, tattoo artists work their asses off to get to the point in their careers where they’re actually doing tattoos. Artists spend years – sometimes decades – suffering for their craft and honing their skills before they’re entrusted with a needle. Chances are that they were trained by a badass, old school tattoo artist who wanted the souls of ten virgins before a single shred of wisdom was to be imparted – remember that the next time you walk into a tattoo shop expecting to receive a job offer right off the bat. That’s just not going to happen – not at any tattoo place worth its salt, anyway.
2. Wax on, wax off
If you’re lucky enough to land an apprentice gig at a professional tattoo establishment, it’s important to know that you will probably remain an apprentice for around two years, during which time you will learn what the word ‘clean’ really means.
Rest assured, you will receive absurd punishment for not cleaning well enough – not only because it’s fun, but because nothing can ever be clean enough in a tattoo studio. We deal with blood-borne pathogens, which are infectious microorganisms in human blood and can cause disease in humans. These pathogens include, hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). So, if you do get shat on for touching a sterile service with grubby hands, remember that it’s for the client’s and your own good.
3. Practice makes perfect
After a hard day of cleaning every conceivable surface in the shop and taking kak from your superiors – and just when you thought you’re free to head home to ‘Netflix and Chill’– it’s time to settle down with your drawing pad and get sketching.
In our shop, apprentices are expected to complete a drawing a day, based on style and placement, which are then be discussed with artists at the end of each day, who offer their expert advice on how and where to improve. Consider this a privilege, and respect their time.
4. Chin up – it won’t always be so tough
Breaking into the industry is challenging, and experienced artists can be tough on newbies for the first few years of their careers. But, as time goes on, artists generally become friendlier and even quite encouraging – you just have to earn it. Through a lot of hard work and dedication, you’ll eventually learn the ins and outs of the tattoo industry, and if you can grow a thick skin, buckle down and keep pushing yourself to work harder than you’ve ever worked before, pretty soon the doors of opportunity will open up for you as an artist.
For the time being, however, keep your head down and carry on cleaning, until your time comes to shine.