So, You Want to Start a Career in Tattooing: Step One
No Experience, No Problem!
There are quite a few ways to break into the Tattoo Industry. Only a few of these ways lead down the proper road. And I will admit, that when I first started tattooing, it almost cost me my career, because I was not shown the proper way of doing things. All roads, however, on the path to becoming a successful and respected member of the tattoo culture all start with the very first step . . . and that step is the apprenticeship.
And, like many other things in this world, taking the first step is not always easy. A tattoo artist will consider many questions in choosing an apprentice. And while it's not as simple as following a bunch of yes or no questions on a predetermined list, there are a few questions they will always ask, and these are the ones that I will discuss in this and various other articles.
So, without further ado . . .
"Do You Have an Art Portfolio?"
There are many sub-questions, so to speak, when you delve into this topic, but this will always be step one. The tattooist you are seeking an apprenticeship from will ask you to see your artwork so he can determine whether you have the building blocks for the trade. This will be the focus for today.
While the tattooist is looking at your portfolio, he will be asking himself quite a few questions, the most important, or rather, the questions you must convince him are to be answered with a 'yes' are:
- Is this person creative?
- Does this person have artistic talent?
- Does this person draw or paint in a style that is compatible with tattooing?
- Does this person draw things that move me?
Of these first four initial questions, the thing I cannot teach, nor can anyone else teach to you, is how to be creative. As far as artistic talent, you either have it or you don't. It doesn't really matter how much you love to draw; if you're no good at it, you will not get past the portfolio. As far as 'moving' the person you're looking to learn from, well, there are subtle psychological tricks you can use, but we'll talk about this another day.
The thing I can help you out with is adapting your current drawing style to a style compatible with tattooing.
"A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words."
When you are considering the fact that tattooing—by one layman's definition, "putting ink into skin to make some sort of picture to stay there forever"—you have to realise a few things about the human body in order to draw on it.
1) The skin of the human body has no straight lines on it.
So how does this affect you and your drawing style? It affects you plenty if you use a ruler to create most of your drawings, because the last thing you want to put into a tattoo is a lot of straight lines. The body is in constantly flexing and contracting its muscles, as the human body is always in motion. So straight lines will almost always look curved.
Another thing you will want to stay away from is perfect or concentric circles. They are way hard to tattoo, and most shops won't touch a piece that is reliant on more than a few perfect circles (which, for the same reason you shouldn't have too many straight lines, circles get distorted when the body flexes and relaxes).
2) Does your art look like a bunch of tattoos?
While there are many styles to tattooing today, there is still the old stereotype in existence about what tattoo art on paper should look like. I do not recommend that you copy anyone's work to put into your book, but I do recommend that you look up artwork by Sailor Jerry or (the REAL) Ed Hardy, and see if you can emulate their styles. Look at the lining, where are the lines thicker and thinner? how much coverage do the utilize in the color and in the shading? Look at the pieces that move you, and try to look at them from a mechanical point of view.
3) DO NOT use someone else's work, especially someone famous, and pass it as your own.
If you decide to copy these pieces to learn the basic stylization techniques, that's cool (after all, mimicry is the highest form of flattery), but don't even think about putting them into your book. Because you have to remember, the guys you are going to look for instruction from have already seen a LOT in the way of other people's work. They know the intricacies of a Jerry or Hardy copy, or something that is meant to tribute them.
Keep your work your own, as you will get tired of copying flash to stencil before you know it. Besides, stealing is stealing, and if you're willing to steal someone else's work, the shop owner will assume you'd be willing to steal from the shop as well.
4) Create work that is shape-appropriate for body parts, and label them accordingly.
This is one of the times a ruler will come in handy in creating portfolio pieces, and having friends of various shapes and sizes will help as well. This technique is not in very common use, and I'm really shocked it isn't. Read on . . .
Pretend that you are a tattoo artist already, and have two female friends, both of different height and build. Imagine that they are both in your shop to get lower back tattoos, also commonly referred to (inappropriately) as tramp stamps, and follow these steps to document a logical method to your design capabilities
- Get your camera and ruler ready. Have each woman hold up their shirt to reveal their lower back, while the other woman holds the ruler to the other's back as you snap a picture or each woman's lower back. Print this as a half page, leaving the other half of the page blank.
- Get proper measurements of the top and bottom of the tattoo-able area (I call it the boundaries) using a tailor's tape measure. Note that the measurements you'll be taking both start at the spine, and work their way out toward the hips. Since the typical lower-back tattoo is symmetrical along the spine, you will only need to draw one half of it.
- Use the measurements to create a bounding area on a piece of paper. BE SURE to take into account the shape of the top of each woman's behind and the angle at which the trunk transitions to the hips. Not all women have the same figure, and in designing the tattoo, you will either want to enhance her shape or play down her shape, depending on what she wants.
- Go to the drawing board, and create one half of the tattoo on a sheet of paper in a black and white outline. After you ink up the outline, take your trusty ruler, photocopy it at 100%, and cut it out. Paste the ruler to your drawing to show its size without covering up any of your work.
- Write a few comments about your design method, and why you came up with that design on the page you printed out the picture of each girl's lower back with the ruler. In this essay, you want to basically state the measurements you took, the figure she has, and why you believe you have designed something sufficient. Be sure to ask each lady if she liked this design the way you drew it out for her. If she does, allow her to write her name and a short statement saying that she would get this tattoo as you have designed it underneath your essay. If the lady does not like your work, well, its time for you to draw something else up for her, because, just like in the shop, everything you draw is not always going to be accepted as-is. It does help you to be humble once you get your apprenticeship, so be humble while building your portfolio.
5) Repeat this process with different people and different body parts as much as you can.
While you are only going to put about 10 of these types of samples into your portfolio, it helps if you were to do 100 or more of these types of specific drawings. You can pick the best of the best of your work (remember, magazine editors have thousands of pictures to choose from for one magazine, and since you ARE selling yourself, why should you not have as much to work with as an editor?). Besides, practice makes perfect). When you put these 2-page layouts in your book, be sure they're facing each other. Just sayin'.
6) Draw out 20 perfect pages of fully colored, variably sized flash.
Then pick out the 10 pages out that you consider the best of the best and add that to your book.
7) Draw out another 5 pages worth of 'just because' art (to show you have more than one side to your interests) . . .
. . . and add those in as well.
8) As for all the other sides of your artistic self?
In the very first page of your portfolio, you will want to add a small essay about who you are, your contact info, why you want to get into tattooing, and what other creative or artistic things you like to do. You know, the same way you would introduce yourself to an interviewer for a 'normal' job, but on paper. You'll have all the time in the world to polish it, but remember, you're not working, necessarily, with a corporate type of person, so relax a bit, and don't kiss too much ass.
This is only one of many variables that will either get you in the door, or get you a boot in the ass, so look for the next installment soon, were we will go over some of the other factors of what tattoo artists are looking for in a person that they want to apprentice.
Note: I offer a service that I usually charge $100.00 per hour for . . . but I threw the world a bone here and let you in on a few of the inside secrets on how to get into the Tattoo Industry. This article is not meant to be instructional in the way of how to tattoo, as you should only learn this craft from someone who not only has been in the industry for years, but someone who knows how to teach, and who is willing to teach you the proper ways of tattooing by practicing the craft the right way himself.
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© 2012 Boots Iacono