Tattoo Apprenticeships, How To Get Them And Why You Need Them
An apprenticeship is the basis for a great tattoo career. Apprenticeships are not easy to do, not easy to get, not easy to prepare for, and not easy to pay for. But all of this is for a reason. This article will help you learn the advantages of getting a tattoo apprenticeship, and how to go about getting one.
To become a tattoo artist, you absolutely need an apprenticeship. There are many reasons why, but here is a reason that people tend to forget: Apprenticeships are not only a crucial training period, they are a rite of passage. Show respect for this community and those who have earned the right to tattoo.
To become a professional tattoo artist or piercer, you have to go through an apprenticeship. Think of it as earning your wings. Most important: DO NOT TATTOO UNTIL YOU HAVE COMPLETED YOUR APPRENTICESHIP!
Every shop and teacher will be different, but what follows is a good idea of what to expect. Here are the basic steps to an apprenticeship.
1. Building a Portfolio
First and foremost, do not walk into a shop with a portfolio of actual tattoos you've done. This is unacceptable for several reasons. One, as you will come to appreciate, you don't have any idea what you are doing. Two, you may have caused irreparable damage to the people you tattooed. Three, the artist who mentors you will have to take time to not only teach you the right way to tattoo, but wean you off "scratcher" habits. Bottom line: You should NOT be tattooing unless you have been trained by a licensed professional. Never. No exceptions.
A portfolio consists of 50 to 200 drawings. This means COMPLETED and COLORED. You don't want to walk into the shop with a sketch book full of doodles and half-complete ideas. Choose only your best work, what you feel best showcases your talent. Portfolios should be in an actual portfolio, placed and matted in sheet protectors. Choose a portfolio that looks professional, don't just use a three-ring binder. Presentation is all about showing how professional and serious you are about getting your apprenticeship.
As far as drawings go, you want to have a wide variety of work. Draw things that people usually get tattooed with, plus some of your own creative ideas for tattoos. DO NOT copy other artists' work. If that's your idea of tattooing, then you had better find a different career. If you are having a hard time deciding what to draw, think of different life experiences that people might want to get tattooed with. Tattoos may be about commemorating a time in one's life, remembering something or someone, or simply adornment. In your career you will constantly be doing these kinds of tattoos. Ask your friends what tattoos they would get, and draw them. There's no better way to prepare yourself than to talk to people who may be your potential clients someday.
Draw every day. Make every drawing your best. Don't give up on an idea just because it's too hard or boring, because you will not always have a choice when it comes to tattooing. Again, all drawings must be complete. Color them using your choice of medium. Watercolor and ink are widely thought to be the media most similar to tattooing.
2. Finding a Shop
Find a shop with a good reputation. You want to learn from someone who actually wants to teach you, who has a good educational background, and who will challenge you. This person will be responsible for helping you learn the basics and some of their own tricks for tattooing, so you want the best. Apprenticeships will cost you from nothing to over $5,000, so you will want to make it worth your while.
Persistence is absolutely key in this process. If possible, get tattooed by the artist you want to learn from. Even better, get tattooed as much as possible (there are many reasons for this advice). Hang out in the shop, if they'll let you. Even volunteering your time there can help you build a relationship with the artists there.
3. The Apprenticeship
When you get an apprenticeship, prepare to be what they call the "shop bitch." You don't get paid and you do all the dirty work. Take care of the trash, set up and break down stations, make sure they're stocked, sweep up, run errands. Chances are, for a while, that's all you'll be doing. They have you do this to make sure you're actually interested in doing the job, to weed out the unworthy. So take these tasks as an honor. You're lucky to be there! Act that way. And don't wait to be asked to do these things, just do them.
When you start learning, you will do a lot of watching. You will sit and watch several tattoos being done. The best way to learn is through watching, so stay attentive. You will learn how to make needles, use the autoclave, and take health precautions (including blood-borne pathogen certification). After that, you will start learning to use the tattoo machine (NEVER call it a "gun"!). At first, you will tattoo on fake skin, fruit, and maybe even yourself, depending on your teacher. You will learn about all the different set-ups for the machines and the difference between liners and shaders. You will also have to keep drawing, and learn how to draw things quickly and well. It's a LOT of hard work so don't get discouraged. Apprenticeships can take six months to two years, so plan accordingly.
4. Becoming a Tattoo Artist
You will do around 100 tattoos for free during your apprenticeship. But in fact, "free tattoos" means that YOU pay the costs. So make sure to have a lot of money saved up for supplies. You can tattoo friends, family, whomever you wish. After that, you will possibly tattoo some clients at the shop.
Then the time will come you take your test to become certified. You need to take this test, or you will risk your reputation and possibly get into trouble with the law.
Once you've passed your test, you may start tattooing and charging for it! So congratulations! You've made it.
5. Professional Work
Generally, the shop where you learned to tattoo will have you on contract for at least a year after you've completed your apprenticeship. Keep working hard, take pictures of every tattoo you do, and add these to a new portfolio. After your contract is up, you may choose to stay at your home shop or you may find a different shop. A huge part of your work is networking. A large portion of the work you get will be through word of mouth, so get to know other artists and collectors. Go to conventions! Put yourself out there, don't let yourself become complacent. You are responsible for your success at this point, no more coddling or hand-holding. Go for it! Your future is yours to shape.
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