Becoming a tattoo artist takes a great deal of time and talent. Whilst anyone can order tattooing equipment and learn the basics of tattooing, the art of tattooing is far more complex than being able to use the tools of the trade: it is an ancient art form and in order to establish yourself as a successful tattoo artist, you need to fully explore every single aspect of this fascinating and beautiful form of artwork.
Unlike other forms of art, a tattoo is permanent. If you make a mistake in a drawing or painting you can erase it and start again, but if you make a mess of a tattoo, the customer will be very unhappy and your reputation as a tattoo artist will be irrevocably damaged.
There are also other issues that you need to consider before becoming a tattoo artist. Health and safety is a big concern for tattoo artists due to the nature of the procedure and a failure to adhere to strict rules of hygiene could potentially lead to transmission of deadly diseases such as hepatitis or HIV.
What skills do you need to become a tattoo artist?
The very best tattooists are artists first and foremost. You do not necessarily need to have extensive artistic training prior to becoming a tattoo artist, but you do need to have a talent for drawing and a good understanding of form, colour, and shading. All these skills can be taught, but the best tattoo artists will already possess a great deal of natural talent as well as an “eye” for a good design.
Most customers will only have a basic idea of the type of tattoo they want. They might bring a rough sketch along for the tattoo artist to develop, or they might only have a description of what it is they are looking for. This means that the responsibility for tattooing a great design will inevitably fall on the shoulders of the tattoo artist, and it is therefore essential that they are able to use their talent and creativity to produce a beautiful design from the bare bones of an idea.
A truly talented tattoo artist will be able to work from the bare minimum of input from the customer and still be able to create a design that the customer loves. Like any artist, tattooing requires the ability to create excellent images, so if you are interested in tattooing as a potential career choice, it is a good idea to spend lots of time observing other tattoo artists in action as well as having tattoos drawn on your own body.
If you are confident that you have lots of innate artistic talent, spend some time building a portfolio of artwork designs and practise your drawing skills. It is important that you have a love for art and design as tattooing is a lifelong vocation rather than a 9-5 job, and if you do not love your work, your tattoos will probably reflect your indifference and lack of artistic commitment.
Once you have built a good design portfolio, it is probably a good idea to ask other people to check out your work in order to obtain some unbiased opinions. Your family and close friends might tell you that your work is fantastic, but always ask for a second opinion from a respected tattoo artist before making a decision to learn tattooing as an art form.
What is the best way to take the first steps into tattooing as a potential career?
If you already have extensive tattoos covering your body, you probably have a good idea of how the tattooing process works, but if you are new to tattooing, it makes sense to go along to your local tattoo shop and check out a few designs so you can gain a better understand of what tattooing is all about.
But even when you have had tattoos inked on your own body in the past, you might not necessarily have taken much notice of how the actual procedure works, so it can help to observe somebody else having a tattoo design done. If you are lucky enough to know a friendly tattoo artist, ask them if you can observe their tattooing and take note of how they work.
Every tattoo artist is a unique individual, but there are certain protocols to be followed and it will help to see how they take a basic design and use it to create a beautiful work of tattooing art. Even simple things such as which order the different colours should be applied need to be learnt, so observe and make notes to help you when the time comes to start drawing your own tattoos.
If tattooing really appeals to you as a career choice, working in a tattoo shop is an excellent way of learning the ropes before actually working on a real tattoo design. You can spend time learning how the equipment works as well as the many safety and legal protocols that govern safe tattooing. A job in a tattoo shop will also give you the opportunity to learn the different methods of creating an eye catching tattoo design, plus you can observe how other tattoo artists work.
A tattooing apprenticeship or internship is a good way of learning the necessary skills to become a confident tattoo artist. If you are able to persuade an established and well respected tattoo artist to take you on in the role of trainee, you will be in the best position possible to learn the ropes and embark on a career as a tattoo artist.
Most trainees will not be asked to tattoo straight away. Instead they will be taught the basic skills and expected to learn by observing experienced tattoo artists in action. Typical trainee tattooing apprentices will be expected to do all the mundane tasks such as cleaning the premises and sterilising the equipment, but this will be time well spent as it represents a great opportunity to see how tattooing works on a commercial level.
Over time, assuming you have proven that you have the necessary skills and dedication, you will be given more responsibility and eventually you will be allowed to draw some simple tattoos. But although the best way to learn tattooing is to actually have the opportunity to draw tattoos, you can still build your knowledge of artistic design by researching new tattoo designs and techniques for shading and colour. Read magazines and books and practise your drawing as often as you can.
What is the basic tattooing process?
Before any tattoo artist begins drawing a tattoo on their customer, the chosen area of the body must be cleaned and shaved (even fine hairs can create problems during the tattooing process). A special cleansing solution will be applied to the skin to remove all natural oils and any bacteria that might be present so as to reduce the risk of any post tattooing infection.
Tattoo designs can be transferred on to the skin using a special stencil and in many shops this is done using a thermal fax machine that copies the design directly on to the chosen area of skin. Alternatively, the tattoo artist can work directly on to the skin without a design outline to guide them.
Sterile needles are placed in the tattoo machine and the inks are poured into cups. Antiseptic ointment applied to the area will reduce the pain of the tattooing process and allow the tattooing needle to glide across the skin more smoothly.
During the first stage of the tattooing process, the tattoo artist will draw the outline of the design. Once the outline has been completed, the area will be cleaned and the shading work can begin. Shading adds colour and depth to the chosen design and can turn a simple design into a work of extraordinary beauty.
One of the skills required by a tattoo artist is an understanding of how deep the tattoo needle should penetrate. If the needle penetrates too deep, the subject will experience far more pain than necessary, but if the needle does not go deep enough, the lines will be too faint. It is also important to use the correct amount of ink: too much and the tattoo will be lumpy and unattractive, but not enough and the design will be indistinct.
Once the tattooing session is over, either because the chosen design has been completed or because the design is very large and complex and is being done in several stages to reduce the level of discomfort to the customer, the tattooed area will be sprayed with antiseptic to help prevent infection. Any residual blood will be wiped away and a plastic cover will be placed over the tattoo for a short while until the skin has healed over.
Learning how to become a dedicated tattoo artist is not easy, but tattooing is a very rewarding career and seeing your designs on the street will more than make up for the blood, sweat, and probably tears, that will go into your long and arduous journey learning the art of tattooing.