The question I get asked at least once a week is:
“What study did you follow to become a tattoo artist?”
Although I always have my short version prepared, the learning process to become a tattoo artist is a little more complex.
First of all, there are some tattoo schools… this doesn’t mean you will actually learn some proper tattoo techniques. These schools are not only horribly expensive (you will pay easily € 7000 or more for a 2 week course), but beside this it is also simply impossible to learn how to tattoo in such a short amount of time. It takes years to fully master tattooing. And even then, if you do not have a big ego built up by then, you’ll learn more every day. As with computer technology, new kind of machines, needles, power supply etc will develop and will create new possibilities. Not to mention new techniques for lines, shadows, colors. This way I can continue my list for a while.
So… How in hell will you ever be able to start tattooing then? First of all, you will need these 3 basic elements:
- A strong portfolio full of drawings. It is certainly positive to let one style shine through, this shows that you have already built up a personality in the direction you want to go. On the other hand, several styles show that you are diverse enough to face challenges.
- A strong portion of enthusiasm, motivation and perseverance. Rarely or never will you immediately be accepted at the first tattoo shop where you ask for an apprenticeship. In addition to this, it isn’t always in a friendly way that shop owners refuse new artists.
- Patience, patience and patience. Nothing in tattooing succeeds at the first attempt. Falling and trying again are the standard and this way you will learn your way of tattooing.
If you already have a feeling of damn, that’s all a lot, then it will probably be better if you don’t start, because that is not all. An apprenticeship often has no fixed duration. Everybody learns in his own way and one will easily need a year, while another will be able to start doing clients after a few months. Not to mention that an apprenticeship is unpaid (if you are lucky you do not have to pay anything, on condition that you continue to work in the shop after the training) and you therefore will need some financial back up before you start. In addition to the unpaid work, you will have to purchase your own tattoo machines, power supply and all other supplies, during or after your apprenticeship.
Finally, it is not unusual for tattoo artists to be complete assholes towards their apprentices, they may let you clean their toilets or let you do annoying tasks. This may even be a testing period before you even get to see a bit of tattoo techniques. Fortunately, not all artists are like this. Checking out enough shops and meeting artists before taking the step of asking for an apprenticeship is a better start. Ideally, you first get a lot of tattoos from the artist you want to learn from and you first get to know him personally.
Although I had my issues finding a tattooshop for an apprenticeship, I was lucky enough not to have an asshole as teacher. So I’ll give you a brief description of how my apprenticeship went.
So as I indicated earlier, I had just took a new start: a new city and a new study. I had previously searched for a tattoo shop in Antwerp, without success, so my search started again, this time in Leuven and this time with success. Hell Tattoo had just opened his doors and was looking for an extra pair of hands. I took my chance and sent an email to ask if I could come by to show my portfolio. Looking back afterwards, it amazes me that I received a response, knowing now how chaotic Sam can be sometimes with paperwork and mails (it is a sweetheart with lots of qualities, don’t get me wrong). At the moment I got a positive response that I was allowed to come to the shop, I went the following day. After looking at my portfolio he decided that I could start. I was in heaven and since then I was present every day even before the opening hours.
The first four weeks of my apprenticeship were mostly waiting, I was present every day at 11 o’clock, but since Sam went partying every day after opening of his shop, he was present around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Back then it was cold and raining all the time, but it never me stopped me from waiting and being patient. I am not someone who gives up something easily, so in my mind this was all worth it (and in the end I was right). Fortunately, after these few weeks everything changed and the shop started to open at normal hours. As time passed I could do my first tattoo with one of Sam’s tattoo machines. Looking back afterwards, everything went pretty fast for me and soon I started to tattoo my first customers. Starting to tattoo customers fairly quick had it’s positive and negative sides. I quickly progressed and learned a lot, but that also involved the necessary setbacks. Not every evening I ended up being happy with my work.
As I said before, Sam was (and is) no hero with paperwork and e-mails, so I as soon I started to notice this issue, I tried to take over some tasks and help him out with mails and later also paperwork. I worked my butt off, but I had the time of my life at the shop with Sam and his crew. I started to feel myself home somewhere again. Every morning I walked smiling to the shop, and to date I have never had the feeling that I had to work.
After the Christmas break I decided to stop school ‘officially’ and since then I have never touched a course again. I bought my first tattoo material with some Christmas gift money and at that moment I could really get started! Although I had already mentioned that I had started in a tattoo shop to my family, I only announced much later that I was doing this full time now, to postpone the destructive verdict. Oh well, in the end you have to make yourself happy and that is exactly what I did!