Is tattooing the right career for me?
Tattooing is not what most people think it is. Despite what is portrayed in ‘reality’ TV shows, tattooing is REALLY HARD WORK. The level of competition within the industry is incredibly high and to make a decent income as a professional takes consistent effort on a daily basis. Work does not start and finish with the tattoo process – which in of itself is very challenging. There is also business work (tax, paperwork and logs), drawing work outside of work hours, maintenance of tattoo equipment, social media engagement, maintaining licensing and regular refreshing of cross contamination and first aid training.
All that aside, if you are not interested in dealing with people very intensely for long periods of time, then tattooing is not for you. Tattooing is a people service industry – your success as a tattooist will almost entirely revolve around your ability to communicate with all types of people in all manner of ways. If you are an artist who prefers the quiet and solitude and company of animals to people, tattooing is not for you.
So if you love people and their stories, enjoy drawing til late at night, can manage your accounts and have a reasonable business sense, have a very strong work ethic, can discipline yourself to work under pressure and LOVE tattoos (including getting them) then yes, tattooing might be the right career for you.
We recommend the Youtube video: ‘Is Tattooing the Right Job for You? Tattoo Apprentice Advice’
I want to be a tattooist, how can I train to become one?
Tattooing is one of the few industries that by and large has escaped regulation or accreditation of a training system within Australia. Historically, the apprentice would work for minimal or no pay in exchange for the training required to be a professional tattooist. In some cases the apprentice would simply pay for their training.
However, at present the best way to start training in tattooing is to get accredited in Cross Contamination, and do some form of art training. The goal is to present yourself as a worthy candidate for further training by a professional tattooist, and the more you have shown enterprise, discipline and commitment to this in your own actions, the more likely you will be seriously considered.
Once you have become certified in cross contamination procedure and have a portfolio of consistent artwork presented in a professional manner, you can approach a professional tattooist confidently knowing that you have created a foundation that can easily be built upon should the artist consider you for an apprentice position.
Of course, if you have not been tattooed, you are unlikely to be considered for a tattoo apprenticeship. Having great tattoos done by good artists is a sure way to attract attention from a prospective teacher, and shows you have the eye to discern good art from average.
There is a very comprehensive Youtube video series called The Tattoo Apprenticeship Video Series which covers many aspects of preparing for and securing a tattoo apprenticeship which we recommend you watch.
How do I prepare a portfolio to show a tattooist whom I want to apprentice with?
The best format for portfolio art is A3 tattoo flash. This is a size that is relatively consistent among tattoo studios around the world and is big enough to contain either numerous designs or one large design.
The medium you use is not so important, but it is wise to consider how the design might be tattooed, or where it might be tattooed on the body. This shows you have thought about the art and design AS a tattoo, not merely as a piece of art on a flat surface.
Although it is common for contemporary tattooists to specialise in one style of tattooing, as a prospective apprentice, it is important for you to show some versatility, so try and include at least a few sheets of flash of varying styles. Some of the styles you might consider would be: traditional western, Japanese, realistic colour, realistic black and grey, lettering, tribal, geometric, illustrative, symbolism. Of course, if you have been drawing for a while and have a very distinct style that has been recognised by others then this should be the main part of your portfolio with just a few sheets of varying styles.
Do not underestimate the value of showing a tattooist your sketchbook as well as a portfolio – this will show that you have good regular drawing habits and have the ability to work through the design process from thumbnails to roughs, through to finished drawings.
How do I pick a tattooist to learn from?
Unfortunately the best artists to learn from are the hardest to secure apprenticeships with. They are the people that get asked more than any other artist. Some of them get requests daily via email or clients they are working on.
If you really want to learn from the best, then you will have to make sure your portfolio and drawing skills are exceptional. This means that you could put any of your portfolio pieces up against some of the best tattooists work and they would be comparable. Best to ask strangers about this, or other artists – do not trust your own judgement on this, we will have a bias problem when comparing our work to others.
You really want to get to know the tattooist. This will mean spending time with them, and the easiest way to do that is to get tattooed by them, as most tattooists are very busy people. Not all good tattooists are great teachers or have the patience and/or time to teach. Often it would be better to learn from a tattooist who is good with people and obviously has very solid technical knowledge but may not be the best artist.
How old do I have to be to start my tattoo apprenticeship?
Because of the nature of the job, the ATG recommends a minimum age of 18 years. We generally recommend higher education in art and/or design if you are really serious about becoming a very good tattooist. Some artists might accept younger apprentices but please be wary of studios that have a lot of young ‘apprentices’ as some deceptive operators have been known to use apprentices as cheap or free labour.
How long does a tattoo apprenticeship last?
Until the ATG apprenticeship criteria are accepted and accredited by government, every tattoo apprenticeship will be different and very dependent on the agreement between the teacher, the studio and the apprentice. Generally between 2 and 4 years is the common period of time the apprentice will pay a larger percentage of commission for any tattoos done – to the studio – to pay for their apprenticeship. Some agreements will state the tattooist must then commit to a minimum period of time working within the studio as a professional before they decide to move on.
What are my rights as an apprentice?
The ATG recommends written contracts between apprentices and their mentors and/or studio so that all the terms of their apprenticeship are very clear. Legal consultation regarding the contract and drawing of it is advised. This contract would state the names of the studio and its representative, the teacher and the apprentice. It would be dated from the start of the apprenticeship and include an end date. It would state the period of time any unpaid work in exchange for training would be expected, or alternatively it would state the amount required in remuneration in exchange for training as a professional tattooist. It would state the specific duties required of the apprentice, and it would also state the various things the apprentice can expect to learn as part of their apprenticeship. It would also state any required remuneration to either party in the case of a broken contract. Historically the tattoo apprenticeship is an ‘organic’ experience, so generally one would expect a large degree of the teaching will be from constant exposure to the craft and its process by working within the studio environment and from the apprentice being able to seek out further knowledge via questions and their own artistic practice.
How much can I expect to be paid as a tattoo apprentice?
As there is currently no schedule for minimum pay for tattooists or tattoo apprentices, any wage agreements will be stated in the contract of your apprenticeship. It is common for an apprentice to pay a commission to the studio of between 60 and 50% until such time as the apprentice has finished their apprenticeship, upon which time this commission amount would be revised. Again, make sure this is covered within your apprentice contract to avoid any confusion.
Can I teach myself tattooing watching Youtube videos?
This is akin to learning surgery by watching a video – it will result in failures that will have very negative consequences. Tattooing is not something that can be learned by an online course. It is so specific and so subtle in it’s technical knowledge that you really need someone present who knows exactly what they’re doing so they can guide you.
No tattooist is REALLY self taught. Some may say they are, but in reality the learning that has had the most value for these professionals was from working with artists that had more knowledge than them. They learnt from questions and observations of artists working in real time. Until such a time occurs when we can have information and physical training downloaded directly into our brains, there is no substitute for learning in the presence of a professional who knows that they are doing.
Can I pay to do a tattoo course at a tattoo school?
Although the short answer to this is yes, you can, it comes with a very strong warning. There is NO regulation of tattoo schools within Australia at present. This means that anyone – literally – can open up a tattoo school. It seems that is exactly what has happened, and the quality of training within these schools is very poor. Most of the ‘teachers’ within these schools have limited professional experience or are not good enough to make a living tattooing and so try and get money from those eager to part with their money in the hope of a shortcut into the industry. Very few professional tattooists will consider someone who hasn’t the common sense or awareness to realise this. The best tattooists really have nothing to do with these schools, and they are the ones you want to learn from. Better to invest that money in quality art and design training. The ATG does NOT recommend training at ANY tattoo school.