Apprenticeships and Proper Etiquette

If you are a decent artist and love tattoos, whether that be the industry itself or the art of it, being an actual tattoo artist has most likely crossed your mind. However, the glamorous life an artist doesn’t always start out so high; it takes dedication, patience, and a thick skin to get through the learning period. Here is a short list of Do’s and Don’ts when trying to get a foot in the door with an apprenticeship:

DON’T be intimidated. Yes, the tattoo world may seem harsh, and sometimes even judgmental, but there is no way to learn of a shops openness to teach without stepping foot in their domain! In the world today a lot of applications and questions are required to be filled out via email, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and pretty much every other social media outlet under the sun, but in a profession dealing with flesh there is no better way to prove your seriousness than to be in the flesh, in front of your desired mentor. Not only will badgering people with informality earn you a bad reputation but it will also have you written off as insincere in your seriousness.

DO be prepared with a portfolio. This does not mean some doodles in an old school notebook or a few rough sketches on printer paper. If you want to be taken as a serious future employee, act like one from the start! Be well organized and showcase yourself in just the right manner. Don’t act like you’re the Van Gogh of modern times, but also don’t sell your self short. Humble yet confident is key.

*A friendly tip for building a portfolio: DRAW. DRAW EVERYTHING. You’re good at skulls and daggers? Great, how about fairies and cursive? You’re good at traditional style work? Excellent, now draw that same piece in a realistic style. Build a varied portfolio and understand that labeling your style could hinder your chances at apprenticing. It’s always good to be open minded in your artistic works so your future teacher can see that you are comfortable learning all corners of the design process. Try different subjects and mediums, step out of your comfort zone and make all those things you dread drawing become a piece of cake for you. More than likely you’ll have to forfeit some of your creative abilities in the beginning of your journey, so you might as well practice doing some works you personally may not be a fan of.

DON’T expect to be a master tattooer over night! This is extremely important to remember, especially in times you feel like you’re not making any progress in your endeavors. Often times an apprenticeship starts as an exchange, it could be a payment for the apprenticeship itself or labor in the shop for free. This could mean you’ll be doing things such as mopping, cleaning, setting up stations, running errands, and a lot of other things not directly related to tattooing but do not fear; hard work pays off. Be prepared to let your thirst for knowledge to overtake your life; even juggling another job and other personal aspects may fall by the wayside. These tasks could prove you as a hard worker to your co-workers as well as teach you valuable lessons for your career later in life. Aside from that understand that just because you have a fantastic portfolio does not mean you will be a fantastic tattoo artist. A thin stationary pencil is a lot easier to maneuver than a vibrating piece of machinery and paper is much easier to draw on than the lower layers of the epidermis. Keep in mind that, although your fantastic art skills push people to believe you’ll be a fantastic artist, it’s definitely a profession where practice makes perfect. Don’t push your mentor to let you tattoo others right off the bat.

DO research everything! Find an artist you love, a place you adore, and a really read up on the career itself. Tattooing is not an easy gig; building a reputation and long lasting, loyal clients is an absolute necessity to make it. But without the proper building blocks that level can never be reached. A strong, dedicated apprenticeship could be the foundation of an extremely rewarding career.

For a complete list of Do’s and Don’ts I suggest checking out Jason Lambert’s “Before you ask for an apprenticship..”. Well written and professional this tattooer from Black Cat Tattoos in Pittsburgh really breaks it down in the perfect manner at the link below.
Before you ask me for an apprenticeship. . .updated November 2014

Keep the tattoo industry personal in every aspect.

Sara Giarratano