Tattoo Apprenticeships, How To Get Them And Why You Need Them

Updated on February 4, 2016

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.

"Flash" at a tattoo shop
"Flash" at a tattoo shop | Source

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.

Feel free to contact me with questions by clicking the Fan Mail button on my author profile page. I will respond as soon as I can!


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      Johny 6 days ago

      This is not a true learning environment. Making people work for nothing is against the law and it is a joke. Basically they use apprenticeship to mean free labor. The entire industry to me needs a revamp if this is what they call an apprenticeship.

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      Alana 6 weeks ago

      This was extremely helpful thank you!!

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      Pietro 2 months ago

      This is so stupid and elitist, not to mention dumb and/or evil you are. As in any other kind of business, being a “shop bitch” and an apprentice is a way, but it is very far from being the only or necessarily fast one. The same time and work one can invest being harassed, humiliated and wasted can be used to filter and acquire knowledge on the area, not to mention the obvious fact that it doesn’t matter how much frightened, wisdom-clinging and cowards like you wanna scowl about it, youtube and the internet are there, and they are just so strong cause there are tons of people like you. In case you have missed that part on tattoo history, it began as an outlaw, indigenous, warrior marking kind of culture, yet you bark and cry about it being all about respect and tradition when tradition is not more than a good idea that became a trend for a long time. However, like old schoolers crying cause THEY had to prostitute themselves to learn, they’re faded to be forgotten very quickly in the bigger scheme. Stay safe with your carps and sailor jerry designs, change and self growth was never intended for cowards. :)

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      James Brooker 5 months ago

      Do they HAVE to all be coloured in? If the tattoo designs in my portfolio are meant to just be black, will I still have to present a few designs with colour, even if its only a few of them?

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      scratcher 6 months ago

      many great artists started as scratchers. some never had apprenticeships in the first place, just started their own shops, you can't get more old school than a scratcher. and you're more likely to be original as an artist, lots of boring stuff out there that looks like whatever shop you'l go to and now i'm talking about people that call themselves old school while making a limited imitation of an imitation of someone elses school of tattooing, and for the hygiene, all you need is an new needle, plastic on the table and gloves (and be in a more or less clean room) , that is how used to be done in shops before all the hysteria. if you get an infection or decease from a tattoo it's most likely you're own fault for not taking care of it.

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      Eileen Kennedy 7 months ago

      Can I start a tattoo apprenticeship in one place and finish in another

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      Brett Von Martin 8 months ago

      What if you've done a hundred or more tattoos in prison? You can't get photos of them. So now what is my direction?

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      Blackmala 8 months ago

      @leafymonkey it'd be nice if I knew your name to talk about all you asked. I'm graduating this year but would like to find this problem with you

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      kristin anderson 10 months ago

      your information was very useful. thank you for letting me read what you had to say and learn

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      Shi 11 months ago

      How old do you have to be to start tattooing

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      pratyunsha 14 months ago

      what kind of test? what is it 'bout??

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      Jay 15 months ago

      I understand that these days an apprenticeship is required, and that somehow nowadays people who learned to tattoo in prison are 'scratchers'. What I don't understand is that tattooing has been around since time immemorial, from dirty, hand-picked tribals to getting tattooed on moving ships with whatever lay around.

      My point is...THAT is the essence of tattoo history. I have seen many many tats that came out of the joint that are far superb to most work I've seen done in street shops, never got infected, scarred, or blown out.

      My point is, if people are willing to be 'scratch pads' for you to practice your craft, and you have done tattoos on hundreds of people (not myself, just saying..) and actually perfected many is sitting around in a shop mopping the floor and not actually tattooing ANYONE supposed to make you better? Is it a rite of passage if your work still sucks compared to a person who's done it many times? Or if the 'untrained' tattooist has learned their skill by actual experience and not just what they've been told? Who's to say their teacher doesn't have bad habits?? I've even seen a shop with a good reputation where the artist didn't even autoclave his shit. Hmm..

      Or is a long list of satisfied customers a rite of passage... Think about it. I don't know when tattooing became basically new-age white collar work, but apparently its rich history has been forgotten. It used to be for tribes, scumbags, people who were shunned by society...nowadays if you learn tattooing in the actual historical sense (sans Asia..) its considered a no-no. I don't get this. Why can't the person receiving the artwork determine for themselves whether they want the artist's needle in their skin?

      Everyone is too good for everything these days....and not every state requires an artist to pass a test. Again I say I have seen many tats from shops I would NEVER go to.

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      Sitch1221 17 months ago

      i understand spending as much time in a shop as possible, i mean i could spend all day in a shop now and i dont even have an apprenticeship yet. But in order to pay for the apprenticeship, and all the equipment i am going to need, will the tattoo artist that decides to take me on have an issue with me working a job while going through my apprenticeship?

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      Dennis Allen Burke 17 months ago

      Curious if you know what you have to do if you've owned a shop in a state that didn't require a tattoo license like wv fur over 3 years to get a license in VA

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      Leafymonkey 19 months ago

      hello there.

      Ive been studying tattooing ever since middle school because it's my lifelong goal to become a tattooist. I've drew tons and tons of pictures, did tattooed on myself as basic training. But one problem, im Deaf. Will it affect other shops not to accept me due to my disability? Im currently looking for an apperenticeship but couldnt find one. Its kinda hard for me to break that barrier that prevents me from tattooing. I would like to be a deaf tattooist. I need some advice how to get some appertenceship, please.

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      Raymond C. 22 months ago

      Im 30 yrs old and am really in need of professional training....i draw regularly and have recently quit doing home tats just for safety and sanitary issues....constantly trying to get a portfolio i to old to get a apprenticeship?....and it seems like every shop i go to speak with to try to get a apprenticeship is so secretive about the industry why is that?

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      Kath 3 years ago

      Hey with the portfolio does it have to be of just tattoo designs or can it be art work?

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      Alex 3 years ago

      When I was in Seattle, WA (love it there) I went into every tattoo shop there and they all wanted my portfolio but not color drawings. They wanted to see all the Tattoos I've done. I tried to show my color drawings an was told to go out an learn to tattoo an when I have a portfolio of Tattoos come back. I meet with one of the Tattoo Apprentices an ask him how long it took him an he said he had to tattoo how of his apartment for 3 years charging $60.00 an hour before they would Tattoo Apprentice him. Then he said they just looked at my 3 year portfolio an put me to work tattooing.

      Is that common in a lot of states or cities? Thanks.

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      Kerry Taylor 3 years ago

      I'm over 50 and would love to have the opportunity to tattoo, I love to draw, I copy, but love doing black and grey, do you think that there would be a spot out there for me, I'm persistent, am eager to get out of the night shift job that I do at the moment and do something that I love and that is to draw. I have been experimenting with a tattoo gun at home , not on people just getting the feel for it and I can honestly say I feel confident, with guidance and teaching I'm sure I can become an asset to a tattoo shop if they accept me.

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      stephen 3 years ago

      I worked in a shop during my twenties. I am a professional chef now. I still freelance tattoo to this day. While I agree with you that an apprenticeship is a vital avenue towards a career in tattooing I feel like you are making to much of it's importants. Tattooing is an art. It is intuitive. A natural ability. No apprentiship can, no matter who the master may be, make up for the lack of natural ability. There are a lotof "artists" out there putting bad work on people who get to do it because they had an apprentiship. I feel like you are giving people the wrong idea. That an apprentiship is the only way you can be a tattoo artist. It is not. A tattoo artist is born not made.

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      ering 4 years ago

      I've been looking into getting a tattoo apprentice and this article answered a lot of my questions! Reading over a bunch of the comments and the authors responses to questions was also super helpful. Thank you for taking the time to write this!

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      Jennifer V 4 years ago

      Awesome Article! Great advice and very straight forward.

      I have done a "apprenticeship" out of a house that did not become official, tried again at a shop and walked away due to the artist wanting only one thing from me, then went to a shop and attempted another apprenticeship. He had me come in once a week to watch, taught me how to clean and made a couple stencils. This was a total of a weeks worth of time he wanted me to be there. He then had me bring someone in to tattoo them. I was so excited but he was busy with a client, I was under the impression that he was going to teach me and walk me through it. I was all on my own. I offered all of my time to the shop and I was incredibly eager and respectful of the artist, but for some reason he didn't teach me at all. I never paid and never signed a contract. I have no problem paying and have expected to. My question is how do I get a solid legit apprenticeship? I am worried of going to another shop because I do not know how it is supposed to work. All I want is to work hard, dedicate my time and doing all the "bitch" tasks that are needed (happily to do so) and develop into a tattoo artist eventually. Are there any red flags I should look for? How do I know when an artist says; "yea I'll give you an apprenticeship," it's going to be the real deal? If you have any advice, pointers, please I could really use them. I am lost and have so much drive to tattoo.



    • sammcandraw profile image

      sammcandraw 5 years ago

      I love drawing, i spend all of my free time doing so and have an extensive array of drawings, it wouldn't faze me to clean/ be the shop 'bitch'. I would put everything into getting an apprenticeship, but this article has proved useful yet rather daunting as the cost is very worrying. It sounds like only people with money will be able to accomplish this. I have been told by past teachers and family that I could achieve much more, after eventually convincing them this is what I want, it feels that this is an unreachable goal.

    • HotMommy0124 profile image

      HotMommy0124 5 years ago from Tennessee

      I am 24 years old and have just recently been thinking about working to become a tattoo artist. I have always loved drawing but have never been able to find a job where I could just draw for a living. Technological art like web design just doesn't interest me. I haven't drawn much lately but have been starting back and drawing daily. I was wondering if me being the age I am will hinder me from getting an apprenticeship. I know there's nothing I can do about my age but are tattoo parlors generally looking for younger people like 18 or 19? I also have a son so I may have to work a part time job if I can't get an apprenticeship within the next two years.

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      Angie 5 years ago

      Hi, I am thinking of learning the craft, but I am 54. Am I too old? I love drawing and painting. Thanks

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      RADICAL DESIGNS 5 years ago

      Hey, I've been tattooing for 18+years, without a license. I am very interested in getting a license, BUT, i am to old to apprentice under someone or be a " SHOP BITCH". If you know of any short cuts, they would be greatly appreciated.

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      tattooed mom 5 years ago

      My 18 year old daughter just started her apprenticeship at Acheron Studios in Tennessee. She has been drawing all of her life. Lately, she has done some very awesome sharpie pen tattoos for people. The shop she is at is where I get my ink. I showed the owner(awesome guy by the way) her art book. He saw a lot of talent in her and very clean lines. She has been there since August and loves it. I am so proud of all she can do and will do, in this profession. But its like you say, she is the shop bitch. She cleans everything from floors to toilets. But still loves it. She has been setting up the stations and has already taken her airborn pathogens class. So, if you can find a good shop with good people and can get an apprenticeship, you better take it. Thanks!!

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      AmandaSLynn 5 years ago

      I'm 24, graduated with a degree in Fine Art in 2010, I was always fascinated with the idea of my art being on someone's body. My art is a piece of me, and it would be an honour and very rewarding to have people want that on their bodies. I can't even pin point a time I liked art put it this way I was probably about 3, found a pencil, became an artist lol. Some people decide they are an artist when they get into tim burton and buy some water colours at 19, this is a pet hate of mine. I don't do art to be cool, it's who I am. Every new drawing/painting/sculpture/photograph and various art-related things I do is my best, I think I get to my best then I pick up a pencil again and realise I can be better. Saying this, I finally think I've reached that level of beyond the average of most young artists so I'm confident my art is enough to impress but I'm always open to constructive criticism. I've also managed to save up £2000 so I have money as I know I will be working without pay.

      I'm going to create a C.V to leave at studios after I visit them, what sort of things would you advise me to say on my CV? I am a member of two artists groups and take part in all the exhibitions I can, shall I mention this? I am going to be the cover artist for a local magazine next month, will this be a good thing or will they take this as me not staying "loyal to tattooing"?

      I've not had any tattoos done, there is a reason for that: I want to do my own first tattoo. Will this put mentors off or will my artistic background, skill and passion be the most important thing?

      I had a friend who got an apprenticeship, but she got in with the wrong person and the studio closed down. I want to aim high and be a tattoo artist, any advice on how to present myself would be great!


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      niki 5 years ago

      Thank you all for you questions and comments. I'm a mom of an apprentice and have been going crazy over the hours my son puts in at the shop. After reading article and comments I realize what a blessing it is for my son to be in a very respectable shop for free. I'm also realizing that he knows this. I wish the best for my son in achieving his dreams. Thanks again.

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      Rosie 5 years ago

      Tattoolady - do you have any ideas, thoughts, comments on learning how to cosmetic tattoo?

      I wonder if there are apprentiships for this type of tattooing.

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      Peskus 5 years ago

      Corey Miller, Kat Von D, Guy and Hannah Aitchison, Nikko Hurtado; none of these guys had a formal apprenticeship. Corey Miller made his own machine using a guitar string as a needle. These people are among the best in the world. There are 8 or 9 tattoo shops within a 20 mile radius of my home. Only 3 of them have apprentices, the others aren't interested. Their attitude is "what's in it for me?" (yes, they were actual words used by a tattooer I asked to apprentice me). I have been tattooed by 20 different so called professional tattooers, and I'm only actually happy with the work of one of them. If you're good, you're good. If you're not, well.. then you're not. The guy who asked what was in it for him has a dirty studio where the floor doesn't look like it's ever been cleaned. A tattoo I got from him took nearly a year to heal and was infected and resulted in huge split holes in my skin. By the time it had healed most of the ink had faded. So with respect to earning your dues or whatever, quality training from a quality shop that does consistently quality work is rarer than hen's teeth. If you can get an apprenticeship and you're happy with how and what you're being taught, then that's awesome, but I don't think that everyone else should just give up and go home. Google the names of guys you admire, read their blogs and history. I bet you a crisp pound note you find very few that went the apprenticeship route...

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      inkedbyv 5 years ago

      I am a frustrated late-bloomer. After finding some success in my publishing related career, my dream has long been to retire into a new career as a tattoo artist. Watching L.A. Ink and Miami Ink is only making the desire stronger. I am 50 years old (but a young 50 year old... not stodgy but not pretending to be 20 either) and got started looking into an apprenticeship, but nobody returned my email requests. Eventually I bought a kit and started doing work on my friends. I don't know if it just came naturally to me or what, but it is going really well. I emailed again and this time sent my portfolio, which I honestly think rivals the work at most of the shops I've enquired at, but still, nothing. I hate to say it, but the tattoo industry is creating scratchers. When there are people like me willing to apprentice, and not getting the opportunity, we'll just find our own way. My question is, is there a way to become licensed without going through an apprenticeship?

    • dawind profile image

      dawind 5 years ago from Urantia


      Had to join this site just to comment.

      I find all of this very interesting! I agree a lot with what LAtyme (above comment) has to say....

      I also find it funny how people say you "need" an apprenticeship.....come on, really? Polynesians have been doing it way before there were "machines" or any of this stuff!

      From what I have seen many of the tattoo artists out there have NO business tattooing anyone, I mean people with their own studios!

      I went thru this same crap 35 years ago when I first began to airbrush, it was just a bunch of people trying to keep the competition out! Same deal for the most part.

      The health stuff is serious business, autoclave is totally a must in this day and age of disease.

      So, my personal opinion is that if you really want to learn to tattoo, go for real about it and don't practice on anyone you

      Experience is the master of all teachers, you take that how you will, for me, I will not be using an apprenticeship, I won't be a "scratcher" either!

      I will learn all I can and practice as much as I can and when I feel I am ready, I will be doing tattoos.....simple as that...I don't need anyone's approval, doesn't matter to me, I know myself and what I am capable of......that's all that is needed.

      aloha nui

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      Chinge Su 5 years ago

      apprenticeship are made for 2 real reasons to keep people from flooding in this career and to teach you how to tattoo the proper way and that's the thruth.

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      Severn 5 years ago

      I started my apprenticeship a little over a month ago and it was great. Now the owner is showing he is disrespectful to employees and customers and he likes to talk behind peoples backs. I understand an apprentice is "shop bitch" but being talk to and treated like a dog is not part of the deal. I'm curious if all owners/bosses are this way and are they doing it to see if you can handle it or did I just get lucky?

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      Jaqui 5 years ago

      Tattoo lady

      I forgot to give yo my email: :)

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      Jaqui 5 years ago

      I will like to know if you can point me to the right direction, my husband is starting his apprenticeship in a couple of days, but since we are paying a good amount of money i wanted to have something in paper (legal) that within the year he is teaching my husband he does not back out? I don't know how to set this contract legal paper up or who to do it for me or what should be on it? Can someone help me?

      Thank you so much!!


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      Mushroom 5 years ago

      I am currently building my portfolio for an apprenticeship i have a few friends that are an apprentice at the moment

      so i get few tips off them but is there any important tips that i need to know first could you e-mail me at thankyou.

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      thejohnlennon 6 years ago

      tattooed lady could you email me at would like to ask a few questions and send a few pics to you... it would be greatly appreciated thank you

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      davedevil 6 years ago

      Hey I found a shop that's not quite the cleanest and who a friend works for that is willing to take me as an apprentice. I'm 38 and time is getting short, I haven't been drawing too much but I am passionate about learning. It seems to me that this is the only place that is willing. My friends work is great! , Its just not that reputable of a shop. What is your advice?

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      Jay 6 years ago

      This is amazing im seventeen and looking to apprentice one day the funny thing is I learned all this when I was five growing up in a shop

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      TinyTattooer 6 years ago

      Some of the comments on here about apprenticeships just sound like they were written by big babies. Tattooing is different from drawing or any other trade. There is a reason you need to spend various months, if not years to learn how to be sanitary and how to properly tattoo. If you really want to learn the trade, then you better be willing to spend at least 6-12 hours a day at the shop, with very little days off in between. That's including juggling jobs and school and life. Tattooing consumes you. You better be ready to test your relationships and friendships and say good by to your self respect and self confidence. It's not for everyone, and there is always a reason for the long hours and endless cleaning.

      Survival of the fittest.

    • tattooed lady profile image

      tattooed lady 6 years ago from Minneapolis

      Keep drawing, but DO NOT use those machines. You are still developing your skill as an artist and part of being any kind of artist is patience and discipline. I know its hard to wait, but if you want a solid future as a tattoo artist, remember to respect the industry and those who work within it!

      Best of luck!

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      C.h 6 years ago

      Im prolly on of the youngest people on here im only 14 been drawing ever sence i can remember ive been doin graffitti for 2 years now i already have 2 tatoos just gott em done not to long ago ive wanted to be a tattoo artist sence i was ten but like u said they want aprentiship people under 18 , i draw shiit everday i already got 3 tattoo machines ,i just wanna know what i should doo sence i cant get an aprentiship ?

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      craig 6 years ago

      hi i live in england and most of the tattooist that i know have been tattooing for 20+ years i know this because i was at school with them and that was when they started tattooing most of them have tattoo shops now but never did proper apprenticeships. but having said that they are still really good tattooist. most of them were around thirteen or forteen years old when they started that's what happens when you go to a all boy school.

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      avalon 6 years ago

      How can u tell you're not being used.... Like being at the shop often without your mentor being there.?...letting the artist go home on call and expect me there mon~saturday. And must give advance time off. Plus i work another job to pay for this apprenticeship.... I know that if u want somethng u gotta do it... But does it crossed the line of respect..... I would do anything for the shop....

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      Amy 6 years ago

      Hey great article! :)

      i don't know if this question has been asked, but i have 2 haha, my first: do you have to have tattoos to become a tattoo artist? also my second question: what kind of art do you have to be good at? graffiti, portraits, landscapes etc.

      i may sound stupid, but please help? thankyou :)

    • Greg Collins profile image

      Greg Collins 6 years ago

      Hey There,

      I've been looking into becoming a tattoo artist for several months and I'm a little anxious that I may be looked upon as too old to start. I'll be 29 this year and have done a few different things for jobs in the past few years and I'm looking for something I can commit to. Currently I work as a skin tech for a tissue bank, so obviously I work with sharps, biohazardous materials, and skin all day. I also spent 3 years as a commercial photographer and got to work with some big celebrities and photographers here in Denver and in NYC. Finally, I have a degree in microbiology from CU. Are any of these things worth bringing up when I do go looking for an apprenticeship (I'm still working on a portfolio)?


    • tattooed lady profile image

      tattooed lady 6 years ago from Minneapolis

      No, that is not my work.

    • tattooed lady profile image

      tattooed lady 6 years ago from Minneapolis

      Hey guys!

      I've been getting TONS of e-mails just about every day, so I'll be using a new e-mail address specifically for answering your questions from this hub. PLEASE KEEP IN MIND: I don't often visit this hub to read the comments because I am very busy, so if you have questions PLEASE send an e-mail if you are looking for a response!

      Thanks for all your support! This hub remains the number one search result on Google for tattoo apprenticeships!

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      DarkJester 6 years ago

      I am looking into the world of tattoing, ive have about three portfolios of my own recorded flash, it just seems that somehow, everytime I go to relocate, my portfolios come up missing, generally because people want to claim my work themsleves. I know im an artist, so what can I tell my "master" when I want to see about an apprenticeship?

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      cheree thompson 6 years ago

      omg i love tattoos and who ever made this site i frekin love u lol jkjk but thanks for making this info so easy to find

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      RaRa 6 years ago

      As someone who has an apprenticeship the scratcher comments are missing a really important point. Hygiene.

      Regardless on how good or neat a tattoo looks (wether it will still look good in 10 years remains to be seen, as learning depth and pressure is something you cant get off youtube) unless you are using an autoclave your equipment isn't clean. Unless you are trained in how to sterilise your equipment you are risking spreading hepatitis C not to mention various other diseases and infections.

      I don't know about the States but the UK it is illegal to dispose of needles in general waste and it has to be put in bio hazard medical waste bins.

      Everyday we have people coming in to get god awful tattoos done by home tattooists covered up. Patchy work, shaky linework and stuff that is just technically god awful.

      Get yourself checked.

    • profile image 6 years ago

      I am 20 years of age. I have been doing my own tattooes and my friends for about 3 years now. I have my high school diploma I am interested to get into appreniceship

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      Tasha Leanne 6 years ago

      I'm only 17 and being wanting to find a tattoo apprenticeship for atleasta year now, but the only trouble is i live in a small town and both the tattoo shops around here don't really want to teach young people. should i make my search range wider and what is best to use for a portfolio and should the pictures consist of pictures you have drawn for ideal tattoo's for yourself and what friends have asked you to draw for them?

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      Alfonce prince 6 years ago

      What age can I get a apprenticeship?

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      E-Young 6 years ago

      Hey, killer article tattooed lady, i was just hoping to get some advice.... I just turned 17 in january and have taken a realll interest in becoming a tattoo artist. I'd say im an all right artist, but my art is better when i have a reference... and even then i dnt think that its "tattoo portfolio" material. And i tend to get real disappointed when my work comes out bad...

      Any suggestions to help me out with my probelems would be greatly appriciated!:)

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      Mark (different one...) 6 years ago

      I think the thing that you are missing is that no matter what other medium you work in, whether it's writing, graffiti, painting, digital, etc... You can always erase it, paint it white and start over, or undo. Tattooing is permanent. It's the only medium where you can't go back and start over. Not only that, but the canvas you work on walks, talks, eats and breathes. Is it really fair to have them stuck with a bad piece of art on them? That's a lot of responsibility, and you should understand the gravity of the situation before ever even thinking of picking up a tattoo machine. This person is entrusting you to put something on their body for life.

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      LATyme 6 years ago

      so let me get this straight. no matter what in order to be recognized as a tattoo artist you need an internship. so would this mean that in order to do lettering you would need a street internship. maybe some jail time behind yer belt? who dictates an artists work. practice creates perfection, an understanding of the medium, paper, paint or flesh. true an internship will shortcut the time needed to engage and understand. but a good artist is a good artist no matter what. so who is the authority. a few white folks trying to police ink? the cleanest lines have came from behind bars, and that clutter and color is cover up. i have seen some good trained tattoo artists, but they are also good artist regardless the medium. just like graffiti there is very few original work from real artists, most everything is recycled ed hardy garbage. Mr. Cartoon was famous before his internship, and he said he did learn from it, but i don't think he payed for it? some chumps been mainstream for years and cant do portriats, some folks got half a decade and do perfect portriats in ink! so who really dictates these rules? you MTV kids crack me up. what's next to try and dictate? gonna say u need an internship to skate, did Van Gogh create his style through an internship?

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      Mark 6 years ago

      Hells yeah Joseph! They can't hold us down!

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      joseph 6 years ago

      amen mark!!! i taught myself from youtube, and practiced on my prision buddies going over picked tattoos by making them look better and smooth. Ive done about 15 tattoos and everyone says my work looks like a shop did it but for half the price. i don't understand why shops have to be so stuck up and such haters when it comes to sharing the wealth and the fun. and common sense helps out a lot when it comes to tattooing, its key in knowing what to do for all situations. and if i never get an apprentinceship im still going to side hustle what i do know and have learned on my own and let the haters hate!

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      Eggy_ 6 years ago

      Hey there I have been reading through all the comments and would really love a professional opinion on my dilemma,So I have been drawing my whole life and started getting really influenced on the art of tattooing I soon realised this was what I was born to do, So started putting my portfolio together, After endless searching for a apprenticeship I found one and was amazed, So I was working for 11 months at the tattoo shop and realised they were quite unprofessional as I could see the mistakes and risks they were making so ended up leaving, To my surprise I had the best news that another shop was eager to take me on, It didn't take long to realise I had picked up a few minor bad habits from the other studio which was through no fault of my own, The other studio have seen this and now are been very BITCHY with me and not in the sense off been treated like an apprentice but more on a personal level they make remarks like your work is not worthy when I know and other artists have told me I am doing really well and can notice the improvements after days of sly comments I find my self coming home with no confidence, feeling down, Stressed out So my question to you Tattooed Lady is should I be putting up with this as I am grateful and feel very blessed but its knocking my confidence especially when tattooing in the studio and plus I am not learning anything they are just been straight up rude and disrespectful. Oh yeah and the best bit is the person that makes these comments are coming from is not an artist but a business owner. I can not wait for your reply.

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      amanda 6 years ago

      I really want to be a tattoo artist when I'm older. I am seventeen years old, and almost done with my junior year of high school. I live in a small town, and I currently and unemployed. how should I prepare myself to get a good aprentinceship? should I go to college and study art, or would that just be a waste of money? I'm very passionate about drawing, and I know I can be a good tattoo artist. what should I do?

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      Mark 6 years ago

      Let me clarify. Im a commercial artist. I airbrush, paint, etc. And I get paid well for my work. I never had to get an apprenticeship to do those things, so why should you do for tattooing. Its just a different medium. Its just another way for the people who are tattoing now to keep everyone else from taking there work or money. I know people who 'scratch' from home that blow away people who have been tattoing for years. Don't take offense for all you tattoo artist that had to apprentice but I don't care if you paid your dues or not. If your a bad tattoo artist who went thru an apprenticeship or a scratcher who does phenomenal work. Guess who im choosing.

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      Mark 6 years ago

      Hate to say it but I think the whole apprenticeship is a bunch of bull.

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      DumpTruck 6 years ago

      Ive been browsing the net for the last hour trying to put together an idea of what a proper artists portfolio should consist of. (your site came up as #7 under google search "what does a good art portfolio consist of")

      Anyways, Im confused about still life. I believe doing it builds foundation and its something you should display in a college acceptance portfolio but what about the world of tattooing?

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      azarius shaw 6 years ago

      I'm 14 and I have been drawing my whole life. I plan on being a great tattoo artist and be the best there is. My goal as a tattoo artist is to prove that I am somebody and color the world with ink.

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      mike pedross 6 years ago

      true words. :-)

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      DestinyDear 6 years ago

      Hi, im 15 turning 16 in june, this article has helped a lot, but i was wondering, what classes and certifications do you need? Ive asked around but have never really gotten a good awnser. Also would i be allowed to work a front desk at a tattoo parlor with parental conscent? Ive been drawing since i was a young girl, ive taken many classes, and i know that tattooing and drawing are two completely different things, but i really want this, and im wiloing to do anything it takes to make it out there. Im passionate about this, i feel it has great meaning and its a big responsibility, this means a lot to me, please help. Thank you so much.

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      bobby d 6 years ago

      I'm currently in a career that i feel isn't what I'm supposed to be doing...I'm 33 years old now and I've been drawing ever since I was a little kid. I actually went to school for art for a little but when finances were tight had to switch career paths and learn a trade in construction to make ends meet. I feel like I'm wasting my talent and always wanted to do this, but the question i have it too late for me to start this appreticeship?

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      leon 6 years ago

      I've been on my tattooing journey for three years and no apprenticeship no one wants take a chance on someone new I have a portfolio and I draw every chance I get I've done over 100 tats is there anyone I'm the ny area I'm in yonkers.still looking to learn more and if if not I'm still doing me and Ive been doing good work if you can guide me to an apprenticeship would be nice

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      wsmithpa 6 years ago

      Iam 36 years old and want to get an apprenticeship. i have been looking for a while now and even have found through friends, shops that want this position filled. i'm not super ugly or brad pitt. i do pride myself on good hygene though. i have my portfolio and am ready to do all that is needed of me without any bitching... but nobody is willing to give me a chance with so many young guys out there. please help!!!!!!!!!!!!

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      HannahByrd 6 years ago

      Is this yours? I just happened to see this on reddit today and the user's name is thetattooedlady. So I was just wondering.

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      Toni' SynystEmotion 6 years ago

      My sister whom has been tattooing for over 10 years is considering giving me an apprenticeship. She is giving me a discount for it. Should I take it? I'm 15.

    • profile image

      Kirsty 6 years ago

      Where would I look for an apprenticeship?

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      neighborchick 6 years ago

      i am 16 and i have been wanting to start apprenticing asap. i already asked my rents if it was ok and they said yes.... does anyone know any places that are looking for apprentices or any numbers i can call to start finding out?

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      Jay 6 years ago

      I've been tattooing for 5 years learn some things from a friend pro tattoo artist I draw my own work I'm not a scratcher I know how to ink never had any problems ! My point is some people have a gift not all tattooists get the opportunity to get the apprentice job! Remember tattooing never started in a studio ppl I've got lots of respect but if nobody willing to give you the chance ya gotta go for it draw tattoo ya self small stuff then work up clean lines !

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      Little Miss Tattoo Lover 6 years ago

      This article was very helpful., because I wanted to understand all the work that went into apprenticeship. I'll be 18 in July, but for now I'm going to start building up my portfolio & working hard. Thanks for the information Tattoo Lady

    • tattooed lady profile image

      tattooed lady 6 years ago from Minneapolis

      Hi guys!

      Thanks for all the kind words. Remember, if you have questions it is better to send me an e-mail rather than leave a comment. Just click the little envelope icon under my picture. I'd be interested to see what everyone is working on. Send me pictures of your drawings if you'd like some extra guidance!

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      drag1 6 years ago

      tattoos are a story line meant to help u complete a great part of your life. weather the creation of the art is to remember a past love one or the changes in life that have happened for the good from the bad .

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      Cori 6 years ago

      Amazing, very informative article. I've read a lot on the internet about apprenticeships and a lot of it is quite off putting. Thanks for putting my mind at rest about a lot of questions I had, and giving me an extra kick up the bum to get my portfolio done and dusted!

    • profile image

      mashenka 6 years ago

      Had a question about the portfolio...should I put there my actual artwork or just take photos of them???

    • profile image

      skinner 6 years ago

      i really wanna do an apprenticeship and i understand that its gonna be hard work,. but im glad i came upon this site,. kinda helped me out a bit to what i seriously need and thanks!

    • profile image

      Meleasha 6 years ago

      Thank you to everyone that commented on this page and of course tattoo lady yourself. I've loved drawing since I was a child and have carried on this love throughout, I'm 18 and about to start a fine art degree at university. I am constantly doodling as well as drawing large scaled images on myself and my friends just with pen, but my friends are always fasnitated watching me do it so I prosume I'm at least kinda good, I became interested In tattooing about 3 years ago and since then it's become my main dream. The main question I wanted to ask is if it possible to carry out a tattooing apprenticeship while undertaking my degree, as I'm going to spend 3 years having not much money being a student and it would be a great advantage to be able to learn both at the same time. Great article tattoo lady you've really inspired me

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      Evey 6 years ago

      hi TattooedLady,

      Great article - First off.

      I have an interview for an apprenticeship coming up soon in a really respectable studio that has Four amazing artists working there, and I'm just over the moon!

      I found it quite a lot more difficult putting together the Portfolio than I expected, as I'm more comfortable with a pencil or charcoal than paint or letrasets, but I got it done and I'm really proud of myself.

      I'm 21 now and I've been preparing my Folio non-stop since the age of 18 - and luckily I have had a lot of advice and input from a close friend who's been Tattooing for about 12 years and has done some of the most incredible work I have seen to date (if only he hadn't moved halfway around the world, I'd be hounding him for an apprenticeship!). Even to get to this stage it's been a lot of hard work and I can't wait for the next stage :)

      Basically I just wanted to say to everyone in the same place as me right now - We can do it!

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      Enrico 6 years ago

      I actually had an Intrest in tattooing my whole life, I am currently in a job I hate to death!!!

      I studied Graphic and Web design and hate it to bits I am in the current stage of deciding what I want to do, I deffnatly know that tattooing is what I want to do the rest of my life. except that I live in SA and the amount of great even good tattoo artists is very limited.

      I'm in the process of doing my portfolio, updating redrawing, making new ones etc. seeing as there is so little amount of great tattoo artists. How do I increase my chances of getting the apprentinceship??

      I do have a few parlors in mind but would like to know what would be the best to land the aprentinceship??? and will my Graphic knowledge be a plus?? And do you recommend me keeping the job I have currently even though I hate every second I'm still young and willing to do more in my life...

      I know that this is hard to find but every suggestion and/or positive advice is helpful.


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      Kimberly 7 years ago

      "Tattoo schools are the biggest joke in the industry. If someone comes into a decent studio looking for a job after 'graduating tattoo school' they will be laughed out of the shop and maybe roughed up a little." Is this true? I'm seventeen and planned on attending this place called "Tattoo Learning Center", just for the hands-on training.

    • tattooed lady profile image

      tattooed lady 7 years ago from Minneapolis

      Remember: I'm always available via e-mail for faster responses!

      Boing- My mother was the same way. In all honesty, how much money you make depends on your talent, your reliability, your location, and your clientele. It's definitely taking a risk getting into tattooing as a career. However, both you and I know that tattooing is worth taking the chance. Remember, money should never be a deciding factor when following your dreams.

      Lauren- You're feeling something natural for any artist of any medium, its especially prevalent in younger people. I myself suffer from the same complex. While yes, it is very discouraging and frustrating, its important for you to just keep working. Remind yourself that it doesn't matter if someone is "better" than you. Art is a never ending learning process that even the greatest artists ever known have never perfected. Strive to be great and know that there is always always room to improve. I can't honestly say if you will ever feel completely confident, but I can say that you will learn to trust yourself in your work, and that to me means much more.

      Bling- It doesn't necessarily mean you can't get an apprenticeship. It does mean that if you haven't been trained properly, you will have to be untrained in bad habits and retrained in techniques. I strongly suggest you retire the tattooing for awhile until you get an apprenticeship!

      Sean- While you think you may be a great tattoo artist, it would not hurt at all to get training. Its the fundamentals that count the most when learning tattooing, and I have to wonder what you have missed out on because you "taught yourself". As far as what to do next, I would strongly suggest a proper apprenticeship, however it being your decision, just look up your state laws on tattooing. That'll give you an idea of where you need to go next...

    • profile image

      fatkat von k 7 years ago

      With years of searching, blood sweat and tears, I found a free apprenticeship. A fantastic one. Who say they will also teach me piercing. They say you can learn piercing in as little as three weeks. Along with the portfolio advice, draw lightly, as far as, don't make huge sure dark lines as this is like being a 'scratcher' and listen to everything tattooed lady is saying, she's not telling you wrong. I say good luck to every one of you, especially the kids. And also don't follow suit if there's drugs around, be a role model yourself! -havoc harris

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      sean 7 years ago

      i need to know what to do. i'm already a great tattoo artist. i taught myself. is there a way to get my license without school or apprentice?

    • profile image

      Lauren Baker 7 years ago


      This article has really inspired me. I have been emailing around my local city's such as Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings (were I live ... England) Just trying to get advice off many different tattoo artists. But this article was by far the best piece of advice I have heard. I am doing an A-Level in art at college; I am also always drawing, doodling, if I have no paper it will be on a wall, table, myself. Everything. I know a lot of people just see being a tattoo artist as a 'rock n roll' life style, I know it's not. I can see it's not, yet I am really wanting to pour my heart and soul in trying to be one of the best in East Sussex, even if that means being the 'shop bitch' for a rather long time. The only Issue I have is I don't think my drawing are anywhere near up to scratch. I am very creative some of my best drawings just come off the top of my head or from a pencil line on a table. I have drawn some pieces I am really Proud of that people are wanting as tattoo's at college people are asking me to draw them tattoo designs, BUT my big issue is I don't know how to feel confident in my work. I get discouraged by other peoples work. And then annoyed when they don't do anything with their talent. Should I just carry on drawing and confidence and pride will come naturally?

    • profile image

      Boing 7 years ago

      Hey. I'm 15 and I really take a shine to tattoos and I really aspire to becoming a tattoo artist. I know, it's along way off because I'm nowhere near the legal age for a tattoo.

      My mom knows how much it means to me, but she keeps making me feel bad about wanting to do this for a career by saying 'it's not a money maker'. Any advice?

    • tattooed lady profile image

      tattooed lady 7 years ago from Minneapolis

      Hello everyone!

      As far as age goes, any respectable tattoo artist will not start training you until you are at LEAST 18 years of age. For now, keep drawing, find inspiration in local artists and spend some time in shops if they will allow you to be there at your younger age.

      @lindsay What do you mean "on skin"? I'm hoping you don't mean you're tattooing without training. That could seriously hinder your chances in getting an apprenticeship. If that's what you are doing, don't keep doing it!

      @amy All you have to do is continue to draw, CONSTANTLY! Keep improving yourself and your portfolio every day. Spend time getting to know local shops and artists, the best way to do this is getting tattooed yourself!

      @kleenboy9191 Apprenticeship terms are decided by the shop and artist you are learning under. It is best to discuss your availability with them after they offer you the apprenticeship.

      @Ric You do NOT have to use Photoshop to build your portfolio. There is no right or wrong way to assemble your artwork. I personally hand draw everything. More than likely, tattoo artists will be more impressed with your ability to draw by hand as that is a MUCH more comparable practice to tattooing than using a digital method.

      @leeclark Aesthetically speaking, cleaner drawings show more professionalism and care, but if you feel your drawings are something you feel proud to stand by at the point they are at, that's fine too. Just remember there is ALWAYS room for improvement!

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      lindsay 7 years ago

      hey im also 16 and have wanted to become a tattoo artist for some time now, i have great drawing skills on paper but also on skin, im still in high school but i was wondering if i could get an apprenticeship at this level? is this possible?

    • profile image

      AMY 7 years ago

      hey i just turned 16 and want to become a tatto artist im good at drawing and should be leaving school with an 'a' my question is how i set up a really good portfoilo?and get on the right track to becoming a tattoo artist?.

    • profile image

      (sic)Ric 7 years ago

      hey tattoedlady im 17 n really want 2 become a tattoo artist my drawing skills are quite good been drawin since i was a kid and hav had a couple diff clases. My question is i have seen sumwere that u hav 2 colour sum drawings using photoshop 2 make them look flash i guess is this neccasery? Also how do u set out your portfolio?

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      kleenboy9191 7 years ago

      I am a Marine stationed in Okinawa, Japan there are lots of tattoo shops here. I work from about 730 am to 430 pm Monday thru Friday and I am deployable. Do you think I could get an apprenticeship cuz I could only be availiable after work and on weekends. I do make really good money too if that helps. How often is an apprentice at the shop?

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      georgia 7 years ago

      also im from the uk, but the answer would be similar..?

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      georgia 7 years ago

      hi im looking for an apprenticeship, but i am also at college 5 days a week 8 till 4 as i want to be an osteopath also so i need my a levels.. i don't doubt i can do both, but will being at college effect my chances badly of getting a tattoo apprenticeship? its something i really want to do and i will work all possible hours in the shop but will a mentor take this offensively? i think i answered my own question as someone who can give more time would be a better candidate..? im 17

      thanks, georgia

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      Kolo 8 years ago

      This is a good article , Im excited , I've been trying to get an Apprenticeship for a while and I just happen to get one for free. I have tried tattooing myself , and friends but I wanted to learn the professional way of tattooing and Im glad to get this one for free. I am ready to go clean the window and the floor just to be around the shop....


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