From being in the tattoo industry for 11 years now, I have been fortunate to be able to see the industry evolve. One aspect of tattooing that many are still unclear about is how to get an apprenticeship. This probably comes from the fact that tattooing is still guarded by those already in it. I believe secrecy remains in tattoo communities because serious tattooers want people to earn their stripes and take the craft seriously. The fact that virtually anyone can buy tattoo supplies offline & watch a few YouTube videos & claim to be a tattoo artist has tainted the industry in away.
Being that the industry still has some "underground" aspects to it, some artists are self-taught & can still have successful careers if they are determined enough. You can't really knock people's hustle because everyone must start somewhere. The truth is my 1st six months in tattooing. I was cranking out of my college apartment at Wayne State University. Most local tattooers didn't take me seriously enough to give me an apprenticeship, so I took matters into my own hands. Luckily, I was able to get a formal apprenticeship, which I stayed with for about a year and a half.
Since I get the question pretty often "How do you go about getting a tattoo apprenticeship???", I will break down a pretty simple guide into how to get an apprenticeship.
First and foremost, any mentor or tattoo shop that you are looking to work with will want to make sure that you are an actual artist first. Don't apply if you don't have the necessary art skills, including concepts of shading, dimension, light source. If you can't draw it on paper, then you damn well can't draw it permanently on skin. If you are an artist already, prepare an art portfolio that you can show a potential mentor. Sketches, paintings, or anything that shows your artistic ability is terrific. Include 10-20 of your most substantial artwork.
Next, you will need to search for a tattoo shop and mentor that you will want to work with. It's best actually to go into these shops & feel the vibe. Please go to the shops in person and spend some money getting work from them! It will show that you respect the craft and are serious enough to trust them to do permanent work on you. It's a great way to build loyalty and trust. If a mentor chooses you as an apprenticeship, you will be their shadow. So your personalities must click. It makes for a better apprenticeship. They will be schooling you not only on tattoo technique but also on the daily flow of the tattoo shop, how to interact with clientele, how to price tattoos, and maybe even on the personal finance aspect of you are lucky.
Now that you have locked in a mentor, the work begins! You only get out of this career what you put into it. So if you don't spend actual time inside of the shop and with your mentor, you will not grow as a tattoo artist. This career is not an overnight success type of job. You will need years of blood, sweat, and technique to learn these robust techniques. It's best to make a schedule of days that you will dedicate to the shop & only two days out of the week isn't enough. The more days you put in, the better.
Now when you are working with your mentor, make sure that you have an open mind & remain humble. A good mentor won't tell you anything that's not beneficial. Things that may seem pointless to you have a purpose. Be ready to put in some hard ass work as well. This industry is not for the weak. How each tattoo shop structures their apprenticeships are different. Some will have you pay a fee for them to teach you. That fee could range from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand dollars. Others could potentially have you work for the shop for free in exchange for knowledge. A few could even have you work at a discounted commission rate in exchange for learning. It will be up to you whether you can dedicate the time & work that's required to establish your career.
To sweeten this article, I'm going to throw in some final pro tips that can help you be extra prepared for your tattoo apprenticeship. Do yourself a favor and complete a bloodborne pathogen certificate before you come into the shop. All professional tattoo shops require this certificate before you can legally tattoo anyone. Also, this bloodborne pathogen certificate is the precursor to obtain your tattoo permit with the specific county you will be tattooing in. The final pro tip is the get your skin canvases ready to get ink on them. Put the bug in their ear that you will be starting a new career & maybe they will lend some skin real estate. Only your mentor will know when the right time is for you to tattoo on actual skin, don't work against them! Also get your mind right to tattoo on yourself, 99% of tattoo artists ink themselves before they are even allowed to tattoo other people. Tattooing yourself lets you know more accurately the pain that you inflict on others.
I wish all interested in breaking in a happy tattoo journey! Once you get initiated in, you can't turn back! ;)