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A tattoo artist apprenticeship is the most important part of a tattoo artist’s training. As an apprentice, you will work in a tattoo shop under the guidance of a professional artist. You will learn tattoo technique from your mentor, as well as how to use, clean and sterilize equipment. You will learn the health aspects of your job including vital information about blood-borne diseases. Your state may require that you spend a certain number of hours as an apprentice before you can be licensed to work on your own.
During your apprenticeship you will be asked to do all kinds of work around the studio, including cleaning and assisting other tattoo artists. You will spend a lot of time just watching others apply tattoos. Once you are allowed to begin tattooing, you will start by working on yourself and your friends. Some clients may allow you to work on them, but it will probably have to be for free (although you may get tips from customers or artists you assist.) You will refine your drawing skills and create your own custom designs.
Plan to spend several years in a tattoo artist apprenticeship – as many as five years. You won’t be applying tattoos for at least six months and perhaps as long as a year. Taking classes and getting certifications during this time will allow you to progress faster. After five years, you are considered a journeyman. At 10 years you are considered a well-seasoned tattoo artist. Your teacher will decide when you are ready to move into the next phase of your career. Sometimes it is pre-arranged in a contract. Contracts also may include stipulations that you cannot work for a competing shop or open your own shop for a certain number of years.
The Cost of an Apprenticeship
You may be able to find a free apprenticeship where you work in the shop in exchange for training. But more often, you will have to pay the shop owner. You may be using the shop’s supplies, or you may have to buy your own. But – you have equipment, potential clients and a world of knowledge at your disposal. Apprenticeships can cost as much as $5,000.
Finding an Apprenticeship
Apprenticeships are not easy to find. As you can imagine, a tattoo studio owner is taking on a risk by bringing on an apprentice. It will take a lot of time to train you. Tattoo artists are a proud bunch – it is important to them that the profession is seen as legitimate, that rules are followed and that only the best and most skilled become professional tattoo artists.
Look for an apprenticeship in your local area by visiting tattoo studios. Find someone you are comfortable learning from. Ask for an appointment to talk about the profession in general, and to see if there is an opportunity for you to work there. If you find someone you think would be a good teacher, get a tattoo from them. This will let you see how they work and whether the two of you have a good rapport. Don’t expect them to do this for free!
Tattoo artists are always learning throughout their entire careers. There are new techniques, new equipment, training to renew licenses, and learning to work with customers and run a business. When you are a successful tattoo artist, remember who gave their time to train you and pay it forward by taking on an apprentice.