Tattoo apprenticeships and where to find them

What is the secret to entering the world of tattooing?

You’ve decided to become a tattoo artist right? That’s why you’re reading this, but you don’t know how to get your foot in the door. What you’re looking for is an apprenticeship. You need somebody that’s already spent years learning the ins and outs of tattoo hygiene, design and application and is willing to pass down their knowledge. So where can you find such a rare opportunity? 

Seeking the right mentor.

Finding the right mentor is crucial to unlocking your potential as a tattoo artist and can often take years. Seek out established tattoo artists who have honed their craft and are willing to share their knowledge. Attend tattoo conventions, art exhibitions, and local tattoo studios to learn about and connect with Artists.

Remember, a true mentor is not just a teacher, but a guide who will nurture your talent and help you grow. It’s also important to find someone you get along with, no one wants to be stuck working with somebody they don’t like. Getting tattooed by an artist you like is a great way to get to know them, if you’re not willing to get tattooed by them why should they teach you anything? Be mindful that not every artist wants an apprentice and there can be many reasons why, don’t take it personally if you’re hit with the “sorry, I’m not looking for an apprentice right now.”

Remember that not all apprenticeships are equal, there are artists and studios out there that exploit apprentices for free labour without ever really teaching them properly. Be on the look out for red flags when approaching a potential mentor. Things like multiple apprentices, not having much experience themselves, poor quality work and a few more that I’ll go into in another blog post.

Apply yourself!

Impatience is going to trip you up. Before ever even reaching out to a studio you need to put together a strong portfolio of your artwork. Show off what you’re capable of. Without seeing the level of work you can produce no good studio is going to give you a chance. It’s really important to have a variety of styles and mediums in your portfolio too so that a potential mentor can identify your strengths and weaknesses as an artist.

Absolute commitment is the only thing that’s a sure fire way to becoming tattoo artist. Taking the time and putting in the effort to craft and a curate a portfolio is a great way to show just how committed you are. Careful not to overload though, keep adding to your portfolio but don’t be afraid to remove stuff too. It goes without saying that the more you produce the more progress you’ll make as an artist. 

It’s taking too long!

Relax, take it easy. I didn’t land my first apprenticeship until I was 23 (I know plenty of outstanding tattoo artists that started even later than that) Every tattoo artist has a different journey and there’s no one size fits all route, a lot of the time it comes down to circumstances, chance and mostly determination.

There’s a lot you can do to get a head start before you even start an apprenticeship and I don’t mean pick up a machine and tattoo your friends. (Seriously don’t. That’s a red flag that may stop you ever getting an apprenticeship) You can with the help of the internet and books take the time to learn the history of tattooing, how did it become so popular? Who were the great artists that paved the way for modern tattooing? Why has public opinion on tattoos changed so much over the last few decades? 

Work on your artistic abilities, take a college course or go to university, studying the foundations of art and design will give you an advantage over any other hopeful apprentices that have not taken that initiative. Even outside of art and history you can take classes in hygiene, cross contamination and dealing with blood borne pathogens. The more understanding you have of these things the easier it will be to apply them in the setting of a tattoo studio. 

Bad habits die hard.

Like I said earlier, don’t tattoo your friends and family. Being a ‘scratcher’ has been a way into the world of tattooing for some but it’s arguably the hardest way to start out.

Besides the issue of it being illegal you’d also be putting your friends, family and yourself at risk of contracting AIDs, HIV, Hepatitis etc as well as bad tattoos that will be expensive to cover or remove in the future. Trying to self teach or learn via the internet will undoubtedly mean picking up wrong techniques. It’s much easier to teach someone from scratch than to try and help them unlearn bad habits. 

There are not many tattoo artists/studios that would be willing to take on a ‘scratcher’ as an apprentice, so it’s a pretty quick way to build a wall between yourself and the door into professional tattooing. 

But what does it all mean?

Well effectively it means there is no real secret to getting an apprenticeship. However hard work, perseverance and passion will get you there eventually if you want it enough. Be wary of some of the tattoo artists/studios that exploit apprentices. Don’t buy a kit from Facebook and scar your mates. Draw, paint, create as much and as often as you can and take the time to learn about the history of tattooing. Make yourself known to artists and find somewhere you fit in. Good luck. 


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