How to Get a Tattoo Apprenticeship

One of the problems with being a passionate artist is that there aren’t a lot of high-paying jobs in the art world. One of the best-paid (not to mention most fun) is as a tattoo artist. You can make $35,000 a year, on average, just for helping people live in the decorated skin they want.

Unless you’ve already got a lot of money, though, it’s hard to set up your own shop. Even if you do, no one wants to be a tattoo artist’s first client. Fortunately, you can get experience and build a following by doing an apprenticeship.

Tattoo apprenticeships put you in a position to learn the trade from experienced professionals. You’ll spend time in the shop doing intern-like duties: cleaning, paperwork, answering phones, and so on. In exchange, instead of a paycheck, you’ll get exposure to willing customers and knowledge of how to tattoo properly.

These apprenticeships are rare and hard to come by. Tattooing is still a taboo industry where most of what goes on isn’t well-known. Luckily, these few steps can bring you closer to the apprenticeship of your dreams.

1) Build a portfolio

This is the easiest advice in the world to follow. All you have to do is draw. Keep a collection of your best pieces. You’ll want to show a potential employer that you have design and drafting skills. Don’t bring in photos of tattoos you’ve done. Self-taught “scratchers” are not well viewed by professional artists, and most will worry about breaking your existing bad habits before teaching you good ones.

2) Get tattoos

This is another easy path to the apprenticeship. When you’re a professional, your body is a walking billboard. You want people to walk up and ask you where you got those inks so you can plug your shop. Ideally, you’ll get tattoos of your own designs done by professionals, so you can show off your art styling and your willingness to be your own guinea pigs when the boss lets you handle the tattoo machine!

3) Pick your targets

Find a tattoo shop or artist who does really cool work. Look for people who draw and tattoo the way you’d like to someday. It might be wise to pick a couple. Have a first, second, and third choice for places to apprentice in case the first says no. Take that rejection in stride, and be respectful. Once you find a place you’re interested in working with, get a couple of tats done there. This will give you time to get to know the artist so the first time they meet you isn’t when you’re asking them for a job.

4) Stay clean

As much as the tattoo industry seems to be rebellious and outside the rules, the best artists are consummate professionals. They would never show up to work drunk, hangover, or under the influence of drugs. If you want to be like them, neither should you. What you do in your spare time is up to you, but if you want to be a professional tattoo artist, you need to act like one from the beginning.What you do in your spare time is up to you, but if you want to be a professional tattoo artist, you need to act like one from the beginning.