When I first started tattooing, it almost cost me my career because I was not shown the proper way of doing things. Here's what I learned.
How to Make a Great Tattoo Portfolio
If you want to be looked at seriously for a tattoo apprenticeship, you've come to the right place. People used to just draw pictures, bring them into a shop, and ask for a job, but today it takes a lot more to land an apprenticeship. The thing that's going to set you apart from the rest is not only your artistic talent, but also your attention to detail, your organizational skills, and the fact that you have an understanding about scale and size. It also doesn't hurt if you have a few friends comment on your art, stating that once you start inking, they'd like to get some work done.
1. Make an Outstanding Cover
The most important part of your portfolio is your cover.
- It will be a full-page (8.5"x11") laid out similar to a comic book. . . except of course the artwork will be drawn in a style clearly identified as tattoo art. Ideally, you will make your cover last, since it should summarize your style as an artist and be the most intricate and carefully planned piece in your portfolio.
- The outlining should be done with a liquid-roller-type pen, and you should use colored pencils to color it in. (I use the Crayola colored pencils that come in the 50 pack to design all my flash because they're much easier to blend.)
- Within your cover design, you should fit in your name and contact information since your portfolio is just as important as a resume.
- Make your cover artwork say something about you, as well. It should portray your personality—and a bit of bad-ass shadowing and highlighting wouldn't hurt.
- Here is the tricky part: You are going to want to combine a tattoo style and a background where both stand out equally, but don't get lost in each other.
If you want to, as a first page, add a table of contents after you are happy with your portfolio contents.
Examples of Tattoo Portfolio Covers: What to Do and What NOT Do
2. Create a "Working Book" of Custom Designs
I call this part of the portfolio "the working book" for a specific reason: because the bulk of your effort is going to go here. You have to give the prospective mentor the idea that you have really thought about this, that this is what you're obsessed and passionate about—this is what is going to make him want to teach you. In your working book, you will want to showcase your most serious and original tattoo designs.
Design, scale, and size matter. In order to learn how to tattoo, you will learn how to draw to the appropriate size and subject. Even if you don't get anything but the drawing perfect, it will be ok. The fool-proof formula is really simple, and its five steps are below:
- Get a friend to help you as a model.
- Take a picture of the area to be inked on, with a ruler placed up next to where it is to go. So if you're designing a forearm tattoo, take a photo of your model's forearm with a ruler next to it for reference.
- Once you have determined the appropriate scale and measurements, start drawing a tattoo in the right size, fully inked and colored. Draw as if you really do intend on selling this design to your friend.
- Print the drawing out in landscape form.
- Trace your drawing to a piece of tracing paper (if room allows), so you can also show that you have an idea of what needs to be lined in black. Even if the line is too thick to be laid down by a needle, that's fine. You are giving the prospective mentor the notion that you have an idea of what this art form expects of your design sense.
- Once you have your tracing, cut it out and place it next to the original piece. Once you have these two pages available (the drawing and the traced lines), place them adjacent to each other in your portfolio.
- Get your friend to sign a promise to come and get the tattoo once you start learning to actually ink in a hands-on capacity.
You are going to have to quite a few of these and include only your best designs in your portfolio. Just like a magazine editor, you're going to want quite a few to choose from so you have the best shot. I recommend doing at least 100 of these and pick the ones you think will be the most impressive to put into your portfolio. For more tattoo practice ideas, read How to Tattoo: Drawing Exercises for Aspiring Tattoo Artists.
3. Make It Flash!
Showing that you have a good sense of custom tattoo design is a very good thing. However, you also want to add a bit of design in the form of flash pages.
All tattoo studios have flash on the wall. The flash is there to show customers the various design options and to help them pick out or get ideas when deciding what kind of tattoo to get. If you look at the following pics, you will see some flash out of my personal book. All of these images were made completely by hand, with regular pencil and ink and some good old Crayola colored pencils like we used in 5th-grade art class.
There are no rules for flash, except to make it interesting and eye-catching.
Remember to take your time and have fun while you're creating this portfolio. I say this because when the time comes, you're going to be starting from the ground up. You're gonna have to build your bones. As artists, we usually have one very big problem in common: we're generally very arrogant. This is usually because we can do things with pencils and pens that not many people can do. But while you're building your portfolio, it's important to remember that everyone in the shop can do exactly what you can do with a pen and pencil, as well as with a tattoo iron. You want to learn something from these people, and you're not gonna get them to teach it to you by being an insufferable jerk. They make their living like this and they don't have to take anyone's attitude. So be humble, listen more than you talk, and ask questions whenever you don't quite understand something.
If you're just starting to consider a career as a tattoo artist, you'll want to read So You Want to Start a Career in Tattooing: Here's How. And if you're not sure you really need an apprenticeship, read Tattoo Apprenticeships: How to Get One and Why You Need It.
© 2012 Boots Iacono
Borschtlovr on February 06, 2019:
I'm wondering how you can sell your art as a tattoo artist, but I clarify that this artist only creates art for the real tattoo artist to apply it. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.
Dayia on May 27, 2018:
Would you have to give a description on the drawings?
Sam on January 26, 2018:
Why wouldn't you want to use brush pens or watercolor, if possible? Aren't those media considered closer to real tattooing?
Shay Buchanan on November 12, 2017:
I thought this was a great learning curb thanks
Label on July 16, 2017:
Boots not to be a hater that crayola color pencil is very poor quality to use as a artist higher pigment color you want to use water color pencil for better blend prism pencil anything but them cheap poor color crayons bro
If your going to produce your work treat it with the best color
Sigh on April 03, 2017:
Is it okay to copy other artists work for a start or should we create our own original piece to define who we really are?
Kim on February 20, 2017:
Love it I'm about to start my portfolio today. Thanks
Melissa on December 10, 2016:
in total how many pages should i have?
Kirsty on April 13, 2016:
I think this is fab, I love tattoos they make me feel so great if love to be a tattooist one day :) x
Boots Iacono (author) from Northern New Jersey on July 02, 2012:
katyzz, it takes all types to make this world go 'round. one man's pain is another's pleasure and all that. I was going to only concentrate on the tattoo industry, but maybe I'll delve into other areas in the near future. Thanks for taking the time.
katyzzz from Sydney, Australia on July 02, 2012:
There is some interesting art in tattoos, personally I think it is an abuse of the body,
I'd love to see some other form of your art, that would interest me much more