Tattooing has become such a sought after career that now more than ever people want to get into the business. Years ago, this was a mystery but with the invention of the internet, tips and advice in securing an apprenticeship are readily available, however the vast majority of people can't be bothered to Google even the basics prior to approaching a shop.
This phenomenon has created a distaste in the mouths of almost every artist and shop and has become a sore spot that no one wants to speak up about for fear of offending.
The reality is, if you can't be bothered to respect the industry you want to become a part of, you're in the wrong industry.
Tattooing and respect go hand and hand.
So here's our top nine tips to pissing off the artists' you're approaching and guaranteeing you'll never succeed in your endeavour:
9. Send an Email, Facebook Message or Comment on an Unrelated Status
Nothing says "I respect the industry and am taking this seriously" like a generic email.
BONUS POINTS: If you leave a 4 star review while simultaneously requesting an apprenticeship or ask US to call you to further discuss this offer.
Your offer is not an opportunity to a shop. Apprentices are years of work where the artist gets nothing back but the hope that the apprentice turns out to be worth their time, finishes the apprenticeship and sticks around longer than 5 minutes after they've started tattooing.
8. Apply at a Shop You've Never Been Into or to an Artist You've Never Met!
We wholeheartedly wait with bated breath for a stranger to appear before us that we can eagerly bestow years of knowledge and time onto.
Try investing in your artist and gaining a real relationship prior to even asking, getting tattooed by your artist several times over months or years builds a level or trust in your love, respect and dedication as well as you show you respect the artist as an artist.
7. Only Half Finish Your Art OR Bring in an Empty Portfolio
The best way to show you understand the attention to detail and precision it takes to tattoo is by taking zero time to throw together a portfolio.
Try taking a few hours to curate a meticulous and well thought out portfolio to present to the artists, preferably showcasing multiple styles of art. We want to see as much of your art as possible but it should be shown to us with pride and attention to detail.
As a manager, I will literally take a look at a resume and if it is not aesthetically pleasing, easy to read, well thought out and precise, I toss it in the garbage. Your portfolio is your resume; Take the time to make it stand out against literally hundreds of others.
6. A Good Portfolio Features Your Best Infections & Blowouts!
We look forward to you dropping off your portfolio of scratcher "tats" — your pride in safe and clean practices is worth writing home about, clearly Blood-borne Pathogens and Cross Contamination are your passion, just in the opposite way we are looking for.
BONUS POINTS: Showing off your Turkey Club sandwich behind your setup shows us you can multitask like a boss AND that you're a kitchen magician in more than one sense. Thanks but we're not hungry.
5A. Suck Your Artist's Dick, Literally
(assuming they have one, but hey, we needed a catchy title)
This works best if the artist is married or in a relationship. That ALWAYS ends well.
5B. Suck Their Dick, Figuratively
Try to avoid requiring skill by flattery.
4. Tell Your Artist You've ALWAYS Wanted To Tattoo, Since Watching the Latest Season of Ink Master.
Reality TV shows what the industry is like, EXACTLY. We are just dying to add people to our shop that want to be an artist based on the reality tv parties, glam and money.
The reality of a tattoo artist is literally hours of drawing, self loathing, drawing, tattooing, more drawing and more self loathing. Meaning, it doesn't take a 30 minute coffee break to draw a portrait, and it certainly takes more than one sitting for a full sleeve.
3. Squander the Opportunity IF You Do Get One!
Featuring the hits: Never answering a phone, FUCK CLEANING UP AFTER MYSELF IM A ROCKSTAR, Leaving Early & Showing Up Late, Passive Aggressive Muttering Under My Breath, half ass homework and the bonus track - Excuses.
Apprentice: the nice way of saying shop bitch.
You should be constantly doing everything for everyone, ask what is needed daily, go above and beyond in your tasks, put in 110% in everything you're doing and IF you don't want to do that, then don't bother applying.
We love hearing how hard it is, we have no idea because we were never in your shoes. We also don't do everything we do as a test, us being dicks and making you clean up after us isn't to make you prove your dedication or to teach you something important — we are obviously just useless and mean. Wax on, Wax off.
1. Tell Your Mentor Where You Want Your Art to Go
Since you obviously know much more than your mentor, telling them the direction you want to take your art is appreciated. When we give constructive criticism we look for a complete disregard of our advice — this shows a strong will and rebel attitude. Since it's art, there's no right answer so just continue doing you, You Go Girl.
The tattoo industry can be one of the most rewarding and lucrative careers, but getting your foot in the door at a good shop can seem impossible, you’ll face more doors slammed in your face and you'll hear “no” more than you'll receive the silence to speak. Many would be tattoo artists refuse to listen to these rejections and chose the path of much criticism - learning at home. There are many pros and cons to both “traditional” apprenticeships and teaching yourself - but in an industry based entirely on talent, dedication and art - there is no right versus wrong - regardless of what traditional artists want you to believe.
The path you choose is the one that best suits your life and your personality type, but if you do it right and safe, no one way versus the the other will make you a better artist (now, this applies for learning to pierce as well).
Traditional Apprenticeships are the societal norm and what tends to be perceived as better, the benefits are obvious, you learn faster and make less massive fuck ups. Having a professional hovering over everything you do, from how you scrub tubes (if you even use tubes anymore!) to how you draw a tall ship, to how to tune your machine, how you apply stencils, how you clean the floor with a toothbrush (you can tell I come from a very traditional shop) - gives you a learning curve that may suck for the first few months or years till you're allowed to actually get some real needle in flesh practice but when you do start, the trial and error that comes from teaching yourself - doesn't exist.
In a traditional apprenticeship, you work for normally a year to 3 years for very little to no pay, you exchange grunt work and slave labor for knowledge and instruction, you leave with self loathing and are often pushed to break by your mentor(s) in an attempt to make you prove you're worth it. If you have ever watched Karate Kid, 9 times out of 10 - you're doing something so irrelevant to tattooing that you truly wander if you're ever going to get to hold a machine.
With a traditional apprenticeship, being young is your biggest ally - once you have a family, rent or a mortgage and have to provide - the nature of a traditional apprenticeship becomes to time consuming, however you tend to become a stronger artist faster, you don’t need to be as self motivated and you don't need to be a very independent person who problem solves and goes out of their way to achieve their goals. You have someone beside you, showing you the ropes and allowing you the safety of being in an already safe, sterile and professional environment. When you work at a shop, they have already established suppliers and a reputation that allows perspective clients the comfort of just walking in and trusting their word that you are ready to tattoo them. A traditionally taught artist has a respect and love for their industry unmatched by anyone, because they had to earn their place, through tears, sweat and self doubt - in the shop, they tend to bleed tattooing as more than just tattooing- but as a lifestyle, as their identity.
The worst thing about learning the hard way, is that it’s bloody fucking hard. You run into brick wall after brick wall, it’s long, frustrating and plagued with scepticism and regardless of how safe, sterile and clean you are - the reputation of “kitchen magician” or “scratcher” will surround you for years, if you can escape at all. You need to be smart, extremely determined and hungry, you need to become a business owner and a highly successful one at that, as you need to convince people to trust you. You will jump through endless hoops to get supplies and make mistake after mistake just trying to find out how to pull a clean line. The positives now are that YouTube is plentiful and there are hundreds of books written to teach you the basics, there is even tattoo school out there that can at the very least - teach you how not to give someone HIV. Teaching yourself something will take you at least twice the time it takes a shop apprentice, just because they have guidance. If you walk into a shop as a home based artist and ask for advice, you'll be laughed out the door, and Lord help you if you want to get into a reputable shop once you are a decent artist, as the reputation will haunt you till you become so good that people have no choice but to look past their pre-conceived ideas.
You are able to support your family by keeping a “real” job while you're learning and you can set your own schedule, which allows far more freedom than a traditional route, but you're also fighting against other home artists with ever dropping prices - that come and go like high school girls going through friends, which makes it hard to charge enough to cover your hobby - which is exactly what it is while you're learning.
You'll find that you end up learning on yourself a lot, and end up having legs like my husband (seriously, go lurk Travis Cadeau and check out some of the masterpieces he’s got on those legs….) and you'll end up looking back at your old work with such despair and disbelief that someone actually let you butcher them with that monstrosity - but hey - you're an artist, and in the end, regardless on what medium you are working with - if you don't hate your art then you're a douchebag.
In the end there is no better or worse - there are only good shops and bad shops, good artists and bad artists, and if you're going to succeed - you have to start somewhere, so If you're the type of person who thrives on other people, prefer being taught, like feedback, are patient, a good listener, believe in respect and tradition and are highly ambitious to become the best - I’d recommend the traditional path, but if you refuse to take no for an answer, if you are willing to fight day after day to learn, have a hunger that can only be satisfied by finishing what you start, if you're the type that makes their own path - then go the path of the most resistance and go with the knowledge that you are your only master.
Hand tattoos, are awesome. It's hard to dispute, but there is a huge reason, that many artists won't touch em. It's not a snob thing, it's from our experience being heavily tattooed and being IN the industry through the good times and the bad.
We see so many people in and out of our shop everyday, and one type of tattoo - we've been getting requests for constantly and at a higher rate than almost anything else: the tiny mini finger and hand tattoos that you see on Pinterest and Facebook daily. And they, look great and could make us a killing, but in the end - they cost us, huge. And here's why:
1. they look fantastic at first, but they don't heal well, ever. I don't care who you are, a tattoo on your hand will never heal like a tattoo on your back or arm. So if we offer our standard policy of a free touchup within 6 months, it's going to come back and it's going to cost us double.
Our set up is not cheap - we use the newest and highest quality equipment :
Machine - $800
Disinfection & Health + Safety Regulations Costs $2/tattoo
Paper Towels $2/roll
Stencil Paper $1/sheet
Stencil Application $12/bottle
Green Glide $20/bottle
Gloves $12/100 gloves
Misc Supplies (ink caps, meat packs, machine bags, bottle and cable covers etc) $10/tattoo
Bandages & Wraps $2/tattoo
Artists' Time $100-$180/hr
Shop Percentage - 40-50%
TOTAL: for a $80 tattoo *our Minimum* (using 1 cartridge + 1 ink) the costs are $27.50 approx.
So if a tattoo is $80, the artist gets 50% ($40) and the shop gets $40. ($40-$27.50=$12.50)
so to guarantee a tattoo that we KNOW will not heal perfectly - would cost us another $27.50 to touch it up, so basically your artist is paying out of their pocket, as is the shop to tattoo you twice.
2. From our own experience - we know how visible tattoos affect your life. You get judged even walking your dog in your neighbourhood or getting groceries, and while that may not really seem like a big deal, it's a commitment and sometimes - it sucks!
3. A hand tattoo is a hand tattoo.even if its the smallest and cutest little peace sign on the side of your finger, its still on your hand, and in the end - you might as well tattoo a giant flaming demon eating babies because if someone is going to judge you for having a tattoo on your hand, they're not going to see the difference. And yeah, we get it - that's fucking stupid, but in a world where Trump actually has a chance to be president, are you really surprised?
4. Your future will change. Jobs shouldn't discriminate - but they do, and there is nothing you can do about it. Even if it's against their code of ethics and they promote diversity - if the person hiring or promoting doesn't like your tattoos, they'll find a reason not to hire you, or not to promote you. And if you say - "well I wouldn't want to work for someone who's that judgemental" sometimes life happens and you don't always get the choice or luxury of being stubborn. We can't guarantee your financial situation and we don't want to ruin your life. We got our visible tattoos when we knew we were stable enough in this industry that we SHOULD be ok, but truth is - it may still fuck us over. Your longterm happiness in life - comes before us making money immediately, because trust us- when we say - If you lose your job, or don't find a job after we tattoo you - you'll be pissed and people tend to say things that aren't always the full truth when they're angry, and we don't need angry clients telling everyone we ruined their life in doing something they asked us for and signed a waiver for - in the first place.
5. There are always exceptions. We do tattoo hands, necks and faces IF you're in the industry, are 30+ and in a stable career, self employed or in a trade (mechanics, labourers etc), so heavily tattooed that it doesn't matter (and we mean like 100hrs + of tattoo time or like 50% + coverage) or already have something already on your hands, neck or face. And these exceptions are by our artists' or shop's discretion.
We will always rather have the reputation of saying NO to a bad idea and turning away work then to have the reputation of taking in everything that walks through our door and having no ethics. This is our livelihood and our reputation and we have to stand up for what we believe is right, and sometimes we're wrong, sometimes it may not matter that you have a tiny tattoo on your finger or a huge skull worshipping satan on your hand - but we don't know that and we can't make any promises on what will happen in your life.
And yes, We know - you will probably walk down the street to the very next shop and get it done, but that's on you and on them, and our conscious is clear.
As the tattoo client, you have a responsibility: the responsibility to do your research.
In this age of technology - you have no excuse not to look at portfolios, check out reviews, and compare, hundreds of artists. You don’t even have to put on pants to look through thousands of shops and portfolios
You have a responsibility to not just walk in to a random shop, talk to the random artist and trust that they are capable of doing what they say they can do.
And with saying all that: If you get a bad tattoo - it’s not the artists fault - it’s yours.
This is not a conversation about GOOD art vs BAD, or if a tattoo artist is actually a good tattoo artist. If a client, gets tattooed by a bad artist and they didn't know... it's the client's fault. Period.
I personally have never walked into a shop, walked up to the counter and said “This is that I want” and just trusted that the person I spoke to is actually capable of doing the tattoo I'm expecting or envisioning. and so far, I am very happy with ALL of my tattoo work.
and here's why:
• Many tattoo shops have what’s known as a “walk in” artist or several.
• These tattoo artists vary in quality and skill between artists and shops. A good shop will have good artists doing walk ins, but the issue with most shops, is that it’s a race to the front desk for the artists: whoever speaks to the client first, is the one who gets that tattoo.
• The problem with that is simple; Tattoo Artist A - may be fantastic at traditional tattoos while Tattoo Artist B is great at colour portraits. If you go in asking for a portrait of your grandma and you talk to Artist A in a shop that runs on the premise of who ever speaks to the client, gets that client, they’re going to say they can do it, meanwhile there is an artist in the shop who would give you a WAY better tattoo. You're getting the wrong artist to do your tattoo, but had you done your due diligence, you would have walked into the same shop and asked to speak directly to Artist B, you would have spoken to them about your ideas and booked yourself an appointment (if needed) and waited happily for your appointment and you would have left happy and proud of what you are know wearing permanently. But if you didn't do your research you’ll find out too late that, Artist B would have been the right artist, and you’ll blame the shop and the artists for you not fulfilling your own part of the process.
• Tattoo artists like money, and clients hate the word “No”. So too often clients come in with an idea, that for whatever reason is not a good tattoo. A good tattoo needs to take a lot into consideration, the design needs to work on the area of the body and needs to be large enough to not end up bleeding together. They need to be held in with darks, and some body parts heal badly - like fingers, palms, sides of feet, elbows and knees.
• Some artists are better than others at saying "No" to a bad tattoo idea, but sometimes they get forced into doing something they don't want to do, because of shop rules or the clients themselves. No tattoo artist says no for fun, so when an artist is saying “No” - there’s good reason, A bad tattoo has their name on it, and regardless of WHY it’s bad, it’s bad.
• Sometimes a client leaves unhappy with a great tattoo - because it isn't what they wanted. Sometimes they get talked into a style they didn't want. They didn't understand what an artist was explaining, they didn't look at portfolios, they didn't communicate their ideas well or they just didn't really know what they wanted. Sometimes a tattoo artist is great at talking a client into believing they are more capable, or sometimes - the tattoo is just not exactly they way they imagined.
• Many times, we have had a client walk in with an idea that doesn't translate from idea to tattoo well, and we've tried to explain WHY but the client is set on their idea. The artist is then damned if they do it and damned if they change the tattoo to be a 'better' tattoo.
• Now the issue is that sometimes you see a design you love, and the stencil is perfect, it gets placed on you and you couldn't be happier- so you start getting the tattoo, but when it’s done, it's nothing like it was supposed to be - that's because your artist didn't have the right skill set to do that tattoo well. You, the client could prevent this by looking for tattoos with similar attributes to what you want, for example - if you want a realistic flower, look for photos of other things with no lines, and realistic details. Always look through their work and see their consistency, ask for healed photos, read reviews and ask every question you need too.
Regardless of skill or talent, at the end of the day, YOU choose your artist, they didn't force you to trust them, they didn't hold a gun to your head.
You made the choice to trust their word and that, is on you as a client.
If your first question is "How Much" or you strictly price shop, if you decided to push an artist into an idea they are clearly uncomfortable with, or simply wouldn't take no for an answer or just wouldn't wait, your bad tattoo, is your fault.
Please stop blaming good artists for pieces you don't like.
Stop thinking that all artist's are created equal.
A tattoo is on you for life, do your research, talk to many artists, talk to your friends, read reviews, visit the shop or just scroll through Instagram!
Please don't be one of those people who blame an artist for doing their job, because it’s not their fault you paid them. This is the one time it doesn't matter how GOOD they are, if you didn't do your job and allowed them to do theirs, that's on you. Literally.