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How to Create a Tattoo Portfolio for an Apprenticeship

Updated on February 7, 2016
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If you wanted to be looked at seriously for a tattoo apprenticeship, you've come to the right place.

Most people just draw pictures and bring them into a shop and ask for a job. The thing that's going to set you apart from the rest is not only going to be your artistic talent, but also your attention to detail, your organizational skills, and that you have an idea about appropriate scale and size on the piece. 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. The Cover

The first part of the layout is your cover.

  • It will be a full page (8.5"x11") laid out similar to a comic book cover, except the artwork will be drawn appropriately so that it can be be identified as tattoo art. Ideally, this will be the final piece you finish, because it should 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. (As a personal preference, I use the Crayola colored pencils that come in the 50 pack to design all my flash because they're much easier to blend colors with.)
  • In your design itself, you should fit in your name and contact information. Since this is, after all, for all intents and purposed, a portfolio, which is just as important as a resume.
  • You should make the artwork say something about you as well. It should portray your personality—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 onto a background where both are going to stand out equally, but not get lost in each other.

Our first example is below [Figure 1a]. Remember, we're just looking at the layout for this one, as it is horrible for a cover, and I know I won't be using it (so why waste time going over the top for something I'm not going to use.) Anyway, what we have here is a background, and while the name and contact information are on a subject that are quite often found in tattoos, the foreground (the striped trees) are the type of objects that are almost never used by themselves as a subject.

[Figure 1a]

My cover might look something like this had I been born Tim Burton. While this has the name and contact information included, tats are rarely ever laid out in this way, so this layout wouldn't really be considered a great cover.
My cover might look something like this had I been born Tim Burton. While this has the name and contact information included, tats are rarely ever laid out in this way, so this layout wouldn't really be considered a great cover. | Source

Another poor example can be seen below in Figure 1b.

  • What we have here is the contact information just written on the cover, and while the subject and the coloration are ok, it is not up to par.
  • We're not always looking for realism, and it is important to get the proportions of the subject right as well.
  • If you notice how big the tube is, and how small the frame is, well, this doesn't look like a tattoo machine at all.
  • If you turn it sideways, it could be used as a metaphor for a certain male body part, so this one is a no-go as well. (Yes, I drew it like this on purpose, but as an inside joke.)

Figure 1b

Another bad example of a cover layout.
Another bad example of a cover layout. | Source

As a better example, I've included one that I may or may not us as my next portfolio, once it is finished, see below for Figure 1c.

  • You'll see that it has the banner with my nickname toward the top (my real name will be right above it, and my contact information will be right below it).
  • The subject reflects my personality. It's a bit out of left field, but its still balanced, even though it's outside the box (I hate that cliché). Is there a real point to it? Sure there is, but its more personal than anything.

Figure 1c

The work in progress that I might use as the cover for my next portfolio.
The work in progress that I might use as the cover for my next portfolio. | Source

2. The Working Book

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.

In order to learn how to tattoo, you will learn how to draw to appropriate size and subject. Even if you don't get anything but the drawing perfect, it will be ok. 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. The fool-proof formula is really simple, and its five steps are below:

1. Get a friend to agree to help you by posing and giving you feedback on this project.

2. Take a picture of the area to be drawn on, with a ruler placed up next to where it is to go. (See Figure 2a).

Figure 2a

To show the general size of the area to be tattooed.
To show the general size of the area to be tattooed. | Source

3. Print the picture out in landscape form, on one half of a printer page. (Illustrated in Figure 2b.)

Figure 2b

Printed out so as to leave room for your friend to write his/her statement on your behalf.
Printed out so as to leave room for your friend to write his/her statement on your behalf. | Source

4. Once you are sure of the appropriate measurements, start drawing for the right size and in the right style. Draw as if you really do intend on selling this design to your friend to get tattooed.

Then, get your friend to sign off in the form of a promise to come and get the tattoo once you start learning to actually ink in a hands-on capacity. I've snapped this picture with the ruler in the shot, but you may want to photocopy a ruler at 100%, cut it out and paste or tape it to the drawing. (See Figure 2c.)

Figure 2c

Personalized design for my friend. Notice that she has signed off on it as a promise to get this once the apprenticeship is achieved.
Personalized design for my friend. Notice that she has signed off on it as a promise to get this once the apprenticeship is achieved. | Source

5. 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 it's 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. The more important part of these two is the drawing, so ink and color that.

Once you have your tracing, cut it out and place it next to the original piece. Notice that the ruler is not in this pic. You're going to want to leave the ruler cut out there. (See Figure 2d.)

Figure 2d

A side by side of your drawing and tracing shows you have the ability to exactly copy your own work, since tracing is a vital skill in stenciling an existing drawing for a tattoo, as even stenciling machines break.
A side by side of your drawing and tracing shows you have the ability to exactly copy your own work, since tracing is a vital skill in stenciling an existing drawing for a tattoo, as even stenciling machines break. | Source

Once you have these two pages available, place them adjacent to each other in your portfolio. If you need a first page, add a table of contents after you are happy with your portfolio contents.

You are going to have to do this quite a bit, as you're just not going to place the first 10 pieces into your portfolio. You're going to do this as much as you can, just so you have a lot to choose from to sell yourself. Just like a magazine editor, you're going to want as much as you can to choose from, so you have the best shot. I recommend doing at least 100 of these, even if you create a design for an existing body part, as long as you can get your friend to ok and write a testimony on it, you're good to go. You can pick the one you think will be the most impressive to put into your portfolio.

3. Make it Flash!

Showing that you have a good sense of tattoo design for specific purposes is a very good thing. However, you also want to add a bit of layout and design in the form of flash pages.

All tattoo parlors have flash on the wall, (the flash is comprised of the various designs for people to pick out or get ideas from 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.

All of the above in this section are from "Boots" Iacono's soon-to-be-released book, "Boots' Big Book of Flash."
All of the above in this section are from "Boots" Iacono's soon-to-be-released book, "Boots' Big Book of Flash." | Source

In Closing

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 make your bones.

As artists, we usually have a 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. 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 something from these people, and you're not gonna get them to want to teach it to you by being an insufferable jerk like you can with the high school yearbook team. 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.

Now that you have the information you need to get in, use all of your efforts to, in the words of Larry the Cable Guy, "Git 'er done!"

Good luck!

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      Label 9 days ago

      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

    • profile image

      Sigh 3 months ago

      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?

    • profile image

      Kim 5 months ago

      Love it I'm about to start my portfolio today. Thanks

    • profile image

      Melissa 7 months ago

      in total how many pages should i have?

    • profile image

      Kirsty 15 months ago

      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 profile image
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      Boots Iacono 5 years ago from Northern New Jersey

      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 profile image

      katyzzz 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      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

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