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Professional tattooist creating a black and white detailed skull tattoo

How to Get a Tattoo Apprenticeship

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If you dream of becoming a tattoo artist, you’ll more than likely need to get a tattoo apprenticeship first. But as they are like gold dust, it can be difficult to get your foot in the door. So stay determined, build a portfolio, visit tattoo shops and of course, get tattooed!

Oh and read our tips below.

What do tattoo artists look for in an apprentice?

Other than talent, good tattoo artists are looking for hard workers – people with passion who live and breathe the art of tattooing. With the tattoo industry constantly growing, more and more people want to become a tattooist, so you’ve got to make sure you stand out, but for the right reasons.

Unfortunately, a lot of good tattoo artists are simply so busy with their own work, they won’t have the time to train someone new, so, it’s important that you encompass all the qualities they’re after. After all, artists won’t want to waste their time on someone who doesn’t really want to put the effort in.

Get tattooed

Surely this is the fun part?!

When artists are looking for apprentices, they want to see someone who is obviously interested in the industry. If you don’t have any of your own tattoos, it doesn’t look great, so, it’s a good idea to think about this before you start hunting for work.

Also, by getting tattooed yourself, you’ll have the opportunity to learn from other artists and really get an idea into what it takes to be a good tattoo artist. You can use the opportunity to ask for their advice, too, and find out how they got their apprenticeship.

A dedicated female tattooist tattooing her client

Don’t think of it as a qualification

In most industries, an ‘apprenticeship’ is a formal qualification, like a ‘Marketing Apprenticeship’, or an ‘Accounting Apprenticeship’. For these types of work roles, you’ll more than likely have to work and study for a fixed period of time, undertaking a series of tests and/or completing course work.

This isn’t what a tattoo apprenticeship is.

A ‘tattoo apprenticeship’ is what the tattoo industry has called it but there is no formal qualification to obtain. There are no rules or obligations and there isn’t a rite of passage to becoming a professional artist after a certain amount of time or a certain number of tattoos. That is all based on how much hard work you put in, how committed you are and ultimately how talented you are.

The person who has taken you on as their ‘apprentice’ is under no obligation either. They will train you as they see fit so for each individual, a tattoo apprenticeship will be a unique experience. Not everyone is a good teacher either so it’s important to make sure you’re in a studio, working under a person that’s right for you.

Do your homework

Like job hunting, you’ll need to do your homework. Be sure to find out more about the industry you’re wanting to work in; the styles, the people. Imagining you’re in a mini interview situation, think about what you’re going to say and make sure you can explain exactly why you want to get into the art of tattooing. Research the kind of studios you’d like to work in and the artists you’d like to work under. Knowing a bit about the artists you’re speaking to will definitely win you some brownie points.

Some tattoo shops might also be better known than others for taking on apprentices, so it would be a good idea to get in touch with them first.

“I’ve always drawn growing up and the idea of tattooing just really appealed to me. I bought a lot of tattoo magazines and studied the artwork and tattoos.”

Little Andy, The Church, Redditch, UK

Build a portfolio of drawings

Draw. Draw. And then draw some more.

Looking for tattooing apprenticeships is similar to looking for any other job. You probably won’t need to have a CV or covering letter, but you’ll definitely need a decent-sized portfolio of your work (your drawings) to show what you’re capable of.

When you hear ‘portfolio’, you might wonder how you’ll get one together having only just started out as a budding tattooist. But don’t worry, an apprentice’s portfolio is much different to that of an established artist.

Man drawing tattoo designs using pencil and paper

“First I started doing a big portfolio with a lot of drawings. With this portfolio I just went to a tattoo shop and the first one took me!”

Julian ‘Corpsepainter’ Siebert, Corpse Painter Tattoo, Munich, Germany

An apprentice should create a portfolio of drawings – the bones of what led them to becoming a tattooist in the first place. So, get a clean book with protective sheets and display your work with pride. A lot of tattoo artists actually use social media as their portfolios these days, so you could always create an Instagram page too to exhibit your art.

“Draw… draw a lot and draw in a variety of styles. There are hundreds of people looking for apprenticeships but a good, varied and well put together portfolio will improve your chances in getting one.”

Alex Rattray, Empire Ink, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Visit studios

Get yourself out there and speak to people. Getting in front of someone is the best way to find out if they are taking anyone on or if they know of anyone else who is.

Even if they say no, it gives you the chance to build a rapport with them. After all, it can’t hurt to make more friends in the industry.

Don’t be shy. You should always try to get in front of artists rather than simply emailing them. Artists are much more likely to remember you when you speak to them in person, plus, it shows you’re that bit more determined by getting out there as opposed to sitting behind a laptop or phone.

Shop front of the Church Tattoo Studio, Redditch, UK
The Church Tattoo Studio, Redditch, UK

Don’t tattoo at home

You might think that tattoo artists are looking for apprentices with actual experience of tattooing – someone who has had a go on friends unsupervised for free. Well, this is definitely not the case. In fact, it’s quite frowned upon in the industry to have taken tattooing into your own hands. Not only does it show a bit of a lack of respect for the art of tattooing, it’s extremely dangerous.

Be prepared to be unpaid

A lot of tattoo apprenticeships are unpaid and require long hours, and, you could end up spending a lot of time making drinks, cleaning the studio and answering calls. But, if that doesn’t deter you and you’re willing to work this way for as long as it takes, you’re probably getting into the trade for the right reasons.

“I only started to charge after about year.”

Sneaky-Mitch, Gold Room Tattoo, Leeds, UK

Try not to think about the money long-term. Lianne Moule, part owner of Immortal Ink in Chelmsford said that if you get your head down, enjoy the journey, enjoy your designs and enjoy your customers – the money will follow.

Be a sponge

Be a sponge and absorb all the advice and information you can from established artists. You never stop learning as an artist, and the most successful tattooists, depending on how you measure success, will constantly strive to learn more and better themselves.

Apprentice tattooist working on a client

The important thing to remember when looking for a tattoo apprenticeships is to be persistent. Like we’ve said, they’re not easy to get your hands on – but if you’re determined and bear in mind the advice of experienced tattoo artists, you might get one sooner than you think.

Good luck!

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