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Five Ideas for Aspiring Tattoo Apprentices

So you’ve dedicated your life to art, and set your sights on your dream of becoming a tattoo artist. Great! Now, all you have to do is get an apprenticeship. Easy, right? Well... truth is, it can be a tough world out there for aspiring tattoo artists; there are a lot of artists looking and not so many apprenticeships to be had. All the more reason to put your best foot forward – this is your dream, after all! Here are a few ideas to help you make the best impression.

1. Have a portfolio
Your portfolio is where you display that you have the artistic talents and commitment to your craft. A strong portfolio will show that you have put the raw hours into making art, that you have done your research into design considerations that are specific to tattooing, and also shows off both your versatility and your unique artist voice. If there are shops or artists that you like, or if a shop is not taking on apprentices, you might still reach out and ask if they’d be willing to offer some feedback on your portfolio.

2. Know about tattoo artists and styles
Tattooing has a rich variety of tattoo artists and styles, past and present. What makes Trad Trad, and how is it different from Neo Trad? Who’s Sailor Jerry? What are tribalism, pointillism and geometric styles? How does a traditional Japanese differ sleeve from a sticker sleeve? What part of the body did you imagine when you drew this design? Who are your favourite tattoo artists in the city, in the country, and worldwide? What is it about those artists’ work that blows your mind? The more you ask yourself these types of questions, the more you will learn about the world of tattooing, and the more impressive you will be as a candidate.

3. Get tattoos
Have you ever seen a tattoo artist with no tattoos? Me neither, and there’s probably a few reasons why. Firstly, do you really love tattoos? Like, REALLY? Then you probably have some.

Furthermore, having experience as a client will help you deliver the best experience as a service provider. Since you have gotten tattoos before, you’re able to put yourself in the client’s shoes, and the client will feel better knowing that you can relate with what you’re about to put them through.

Getting tattoos is also a possible way to network with different shops and artists in town. You might ask the artist, “Is it OK if I ask you some questions about how you became a tattoo artist?” Many artists will be happy to tell you about their experience looking for and completing their apprenticeship. You may even ask if they’d be willing to give you some feedback on your portfolio. Just remember, their job is not to give you advice or get you an apprenticeship – they might not, and that’s OK too.

4. Being a tattoo artist is more than just making great art
Well, of course a tattoo artist needs to have great artwork, and the technique to be able to transfer those designs onto skin. But behind every great tattoo, there’s a pile of work to be done: maintaining your portfolio, consulting with clients, bookings, marketing, time management, cleaning your station, keeping the shop clean and presentable... Show your prospective shop/mentor that you have put thought into all the work that goes into building a career as a tattoo artist.

5. Have a resume and introduction
This one goes hand-in-hand with the last one. Tattooing is more than just making good art – before taking you on as an apprentice, an artist might want to know that you have some work experience and can hold down a job.
If you don’t have job experience, consider including things like volunteer work, your academic studies, or extracurricular activities like sports teams or debate club – really anything that shows off your initiative, hard work, and commitment.
Your introduction is a great way to share a bit of your personality. Aside from your work and experience, let them know that you’re going to get along well with the other artists.

(bonus!) Be patient
Even if you have amazing artwork, a ton of related experience, and a great personality, you may still find yourself looking for a while. Don’t get discouraged! Keep honing your craft, keep reaching out to shops and artists, and stay positive. Keep your day job so don’t stress about paying your bills. With the right mixture of talent, hard work, persistence, and a bit of luck, you too may find yourself building a career as a tattoo artist.

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