One of the most exciting career opportunities can get discovered by you once you learn how to tattoo. It’s a skill in high demand, and getting better at it takes hard work and dedication. There are many ways to develop these skills and even more tips and tricks for getting better.
There’s a lot, from finding a good mentor to knowing how to practice and what to focus on. Tattooing is a process that is client-focused and where honesty is key. Breaking down the process into sections or parts is also vital.
For 11 tips and tricks on becoming a better tattoo artist, read our guide below.
1. Find a Mentor
No one is born with the talent or the experience to become a top-tier tattoo artist. In most cases, taking classes or going to school will teach you the basics, but you still need to take the next step. The first tip you should consider when learning to tattoo is finding a tattooing mentor.
It’s common to cut your teeth working for someone else in the tattoo business. The average tattoo graduate doesn’t open up their shop right away. This requires a significant investment, and you won’t even have a portfolio yet.
There are two main reasons to look for a mentor and work in their shop. The first is obvious. Working with or for them will let you practice and build your portfolio when you strike out on your own.
The second reason is they can teach you everything they know. You can observe firsthand how an experienced tattoo artist works. There are finer details about the sketching and design or needling you might have missed.
You can also learn a thing or two about how they handle customers or the business side of things. Finally, you need a master to study under, which will go a long way in speeding up your improvement.
2. Practice Makes Perfect
It sounds cliché, but if you want to be a tattoo artist, practice makes perfect. You need always to be practicing your sketching and tattoo designs. You also need to find a way to practice with your tattoo equipment.
Some artists practice on themselves, but this can be difficult for many. These days, there are realistic alternatives to practice on. These range from grapefruit skin to synthetic leather designed to mimic human skin.
If you want to improve, you have to draw and tattoo as much as possible. The sooner you get comfortable enough to practice on people, the faster you’ll improve.
3. Visualize Tattooing as a 4-Part Process
When you learn how to tattoo, you should visualize it as a 4-part process. Not all of these parts will be necessary for each job, but mastering them all is still vital. These parts include line work, shading, the actual coloring, and lettering.
Fall short on any of these four parts, and the whole tattoo falls apart. By far the most important is the line work, as it’s the basic silhouette from which you start.
Lettering is the next most important one to master. Many of the first tattoos you’ll practice on might be simple letters, names, or quotes.
Without shading or coloring, you won’t get that next-level detail that great tattoos have. If you can visualize these four parts as distinct categories that all need mastering, you can work on each one. Breaking down what you’re good at and what still needs work is a huge aspect of getting better.
4. Pay Attention to the Needle
This should go without saying, but you need to pay attention to the needle. There are several reasons for this, but they come down to client comfort and the quality of the tattoo. If you don’t watch how you handle the needle or the kind of pressure you use, you’ll cause unnecessary pain and swelling.
You also risk smudging or missing your lines and needing to do corrections. Tattooing isn’t like drawing in a sketchbook. If you make mistakes, the client suffers.
The more mistakes you make the harder it will be to finish with a decent result. You can shade over a mistake or two or change a line a bit to still work. That said, if your client is fidgeting from discomfort or you hold the gun too loosely, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Another reason you want to be careful is because of how deep the needle should go. You want to aim for the middle layer of the skin. This is the dermis and guarantees a permanent tattoo.
If you don’t hit this sweet spot and only tattoo the top layer of skin, it will fade very soon. Your skin cells are always shedding and renewing themselves. Any tattoo that only hits the epidermis, or top layer, won’t even last the month.
5. Keep the Area Clean and Sterile
You need to keep the area you’ll be tattooing clean and sterile. It will make your job so much easier and give you one less thing to worry about while you focus on getting better.
Tattooing will involve blood, and the amount will depend on each client and the job itself. You always need to wipe that away to see what you’re doing and for hygiene reasons. Another reason to keep things clean is to avoid the chance of infections or keloids.
Tattooing is traumatic for the skin, so redness and swelling are normal. Keeping things clean minimizes extra risks and helps you do a better job in the long run. Something else you can do is keep a disposable razor with you to shave any areas that you need to get to.
6. Understand Your Limitations
This is one many tattoo artists have trouble with. You need to know what you can and cannot do. Everyone wants to get better and push themselves, but you have to remember something important.
Tattoos are permanent, and the clients you work with are real people, not mannequins. The last thing you want is to take on a project that’s so far beyond your current skill set that you produce a bad tattoo. Your client won’t be happy, your confidence will take a huge hit, and your business will suffer.
Considering most people who get a tattoo end up going back for another, it’s important to keep clients happy. Instead of taking any request, regardless of how hard, stick to what you know and have mastered. Keep practicing and getting better, and ask for help from a fellow tattooist if you hit a wall.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew until you are confident and ready.
7. Prioritize the Client and Be Honest
Clients have various tattoo options, and they come in knowing what they want. It’s your job to prioritize the client; understand what they’re asking, and then be honest with them about the process. Sometimes clients come in with unrealistic expectations.
The tattoo might be too large or detailed, or you may have reason to suspect it will look terrible on them. It sounds kind of removed from being a better tattoo artist, but understanding how to deal with these situations will boost your skills. It’s important to talk to them about their options and physical realities.
Skin type and color might affect how you shade or what color ink you use. The same might be true depending on where on the body they want the tattoo. If they want more detail on sensitive areas, you should warn them it will be more painful.
Areas that get a lot of use or abrasion will be prone to fading, so that’s key to mention as well. In general, it’s your responsibility to evaluate what they want and figure out how to make it work. Don’t be afraid to suggest alterations if you think the client will be happier with them.
At the end of the day, it’s their decision, but being honest with them will go a long way. A key part of this is letting them know where your skills are at so they don’t force you to do something beyond your ability.
8. Invest in Good Equipment
If you don’t invest in good equipment, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Think about tattooing like a medical procedure. There are certain tools that cannot fail when it comes to medicine, and your tattoo gun should be one of them.
You want your tattoo gun and equipment to work all the time, and you want to keep them in good working order. This means inspecting and cleaning them and knowing you can rely on them not to stop halfway. Were this to happen, it’s less serious than you might think, but it can still derail the tattoo.
A crooked line or serious damage to the skin can be disastrous.
You should also make sure you’re comfortable with your equipment. It should feel great in your hand, and you should never feel like you’re fumbling with it. Some of this will be practice, but personal preference is huge as well.
9. Try to Stick to Your Style Unless You’re Confident
As you get better at tattooing you’ll branch out into different styles. However, when you’re starting, it’s better to stick to your original one. Most artists have a defined style they gravitate towards when they sketch or draw for fun.
Develop it into an applicable tattoo style if it isn’t already. Master it and improve it, and get as many examples in your portfolio as you feel comfortable with. Don’t stop until you feel you could nail that style blindfolded.
If you try to jump or mix styles too early, you’ll end up with two average styles, instead of one master style. When it comes to tattooing you don’t want to be a jack of all trades and master of none. You want to have something in your back pocket you can always rely on, and then get as good with the others as you possibly can.
It will be a huge confidence booster for you and help you improve and gain more experience as well.
10. Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Tattooing is not a race. When a client sits down in that chair, they know it’s going to take a while. Many tattoos, especially complex ones, will involve multiple hours of visits.
There’s no sense rushing to get it done faster. What the client wants more than anything is the tattoo of their dreams. They don’t want their design ruined due to carelessness.
Take a deep breath and take as long as you need to finish. Pay extra attention to your line work, making sure to keep the client relaxed and comfortable. Going slow also lets you take breaks and stop if something comes up.
A great example is if you reach a part that ends up more difficult than you first anticipated. Stopping here lets both of you troubleshoot how to proceed. It also gives you the chance to defer to a more experienced master tattooist.
There’s an ongoing tattoo craze with tons of competition. The priority is the client and the quality of the tattoo – remember that.
11. Take Classes to Improve and Keep Up with Trends
Your tattoo artist career is sure to be long, and as such, you need to keep up. Taking classes will help you get better, give you an avenue to practice, and teach you about new trends. Different styles, techniques, and types of equipment are coming out all the time.
Taking advantage of some supplemental teaching on top of your practice is great. It will help you stay on top of your game long after you’ve gone from novice to master.
Learn How to Tattoo Better
There are many ways to learn how to tattoo better. Most of them start with an understanding that the client comes first. You have a responsibility to deliver the best work you can, so practicing and studying what you need to do is vital.
Finding a top-notch tattooing school will also go a long way. Florida Tattoo Academy has the experience to help you become a master tattoo artist in no time. Visit our site or contact us today to learn more.