How to Create a Killer Tattoo Portfolio

Tattoo Portfolio
When it comes to showcasing the very best samples of your drawings, paintings, and artwork, explore how to put together an amazing tattoo portfolio!

44% of Americans have at least one tattoo, and that number is rising. With the taboo on tattoos coming to an end, becoming a tattoo artist can be a lucrative career choice.

But there are several steps that you need to take before you can start your career as a professional tattoo artist. One of those steps is preparing a tattoo portfolio.

The right portfolio can get you an apprenticeship in the shop of your dreams and start you off on the right foot for your whole tattoo artist career.

Why Do You Need a Tattoo Portfolio?

Being a great tattoo artist involves excellent interpersonal skills as well as strong artistic skills and knowledge. In the social media age, everyone has the opportunity to share their art and artistic process. A high-quality artist portfolio can make you stand out from that crowd as someone who doesn’t just have the drawing skills but the professional know-how as well.

Your first step as a future tattoo artist is to secure an apprenticeship at a reputable tattoo shop. In order to impress the owners and employees of the shop, you need to show off your drawing work in a professional manner. That’s where the portfolio comes in.

Your portfolio is a document that shows your potential as an artist and can demonstrate to potential mentors whether you’d be a good fit for them. It’s a good idea to keep your portfolio up to date because you may not get the first apprenticeship you apply for. Keep an eye out for openings and be ready to send that portfolio out.

What Makes A Portfolio Good?

The best portfolios are made with thought and intention. You can’t just gather up your favorite drawings in a folder and call it a portfolio. This collection should be curated to intentionally show off your strong points. 

You need it to stand out from other hopeful apprentices and make you look talented, creative, unique, and professional. Here are some of the characteristics of a strong tattoo apprenticeship portfolio.

Uniquely You

Your unique voice is important to demonstrate in your portfolio. You need to show your potential mentor that you not only are good at drawing but that you can come up with creative ideas too.

Sometimes a client comes in with only a vague idea of what they want and you have to be creative enough to fill in the gaps. It’s also important to be creative in order to keep flash sheets up to date and interesting.

Showing your unique style, voice, and ideas is also important in the mentor/apprentice match-up. Only through being your authentic self will a mentor be able to tell if they’re a good fit for you. The relationship between you and your mentor is important because if you have the wrong mentor you won’t grow the way you hope to.

One great way to show off your unique perspective is to take a classic tattoo image – for example, a pinup sailor girl – and then give it a unique spin! Avoid anything bland, styleless, or expected.

Demonstrates Technique

Few tattoo shops are willing to take on apprentices who lack impeccable drawing skills. If you have great ideas but don’t have the skills to execute them, they won’t want to take the risk with you. They’ll go with another option for an apprentice.

First of all, make sure you get yourself in drawing classes. You can go to an art college to get a degree, you can work with private instructors, or you can even take online classes. The important thing is that you receive formal instruction in drawing and that you constantly practice making sure that your drawing is excellent.

Your portfolio should include pieces that show off your ability to do a number of kinds of drawing. Show your ability to draw the human form, interesting or complex perspectives, and lettering.

The drawing doesn’t necessarily have to be perfect in your portfolio, but it should show that you have a good base set of skills to work with and a knowledge of what is right and good.

Use High-Quality Materials

Make sure that you’re using high-quality materials in your drawing mediums. Some good options for medium include pencils, markers, digital, or ink. Whatever medium you choose, make sure that it’s one you are comfortable in that will show off your work in the best light.

When you choose your medium, make sure that you also have access to good products. Your work simply won’t look as good if you use cheaper materials to make it. Set yourself up for success with the right tools.

Exhibits a Wide Range of Styles

As you progress as a tattoo artist, you can eventually specialize. But right now, it’s important to show that you have potential in a number of styles and that you’re teachable. Include examples of classic, neoclassic, tribal, geometric, realistic portraits, and lettering. Give them your own unique take, but make sure that the essentials of each style are there.

Keep up to date with tattoo trends. Show your potential mentor that you have a knowledge of current tattoo trends and that you can learn a new style if need be. Look at what the coolest tattoos of the moment are and try to replicate them in your own style.

Includes As Many Good Examples As Possible

A lot of people ask how many tattoo drawings they should include in a tattoo artist portfolio. The answer is complicated. While you should have about 50 – 100 drawings in your portfolio, it’s important that they’re all finished pieces.

You should not include any sketches or incomplete ideas in your portfolio. Everything should be finished pieces that serve a specific purpose in your portfolio. Most importantly you should be proud of every single one of them. If you only have about 50 that meet those criteria, only include 50 pieces.

In this case, quality takes precedence over quantity. Don’t submit a portfolio until you have enough pieces to fill it out, but don’t rush making those pieces to make it happen.

Remember! You can also always include smaller pieces in your portfolio. Not every piece needs to be full-sized – especially since as an apprentice you’ll start out with smaller tattoos anyway. 

Where Should Your Portfolio Be Available?

Once you’ve made your portfolio, where should you share it?

Your portfolio should exist both as a digital and physical entity. Your digital version can be shared on your social media and on business cards that you can hand out to interested parties. But your physical version should be your go-to option when visiting shops looking for an apprenticeship. Few tattoo artists will want to see your digital portfolio over your physical portfolio when you come in.

How to Organize Your Portfolio

Both your digital and physical portfolio should be easy to take in quickly with opportunities to stop and admire your work. To create that experience, you have to have excellent organization. 

The whole thing should flow naturally and have noticeable climaxes of excitement worth stopping for. Here’s how to organize it both digitally and physically.

Create a Gallery Page

Your professional website should include a gallery page that clearly demonstrates your best work. Through this, a person should get a good idea of what kind of styles you like best and what your unique perspective is at a quick glance. You can choose a grid of various sizes to showcase your best work in an even more highlighted manner.

Make sure all your images are free from dust or little marks in a photo editor before you post them.

Categorize Tattoos By Type and Style

Separate different styles with different tabs on your website. You should also group them this way in your physical portfolio which can include physical tabs for easy navigation. An interested mentor will likely want to look through the whole thing, but it’s a good idea to give them the option to flip to specific things they may want to see.

Each style section should include flash tattoos, small pieces, and larger pieces. Include some options in full color.

You can also separate pieces based on whether they’re in color or black and white within each style. You can show off your knowledge of color theory and aesthetics this way.

Keep It Neat and Sleek

Your physical portfolio should always be in a black folder. Black is the easiest shade to see your work stand out on. You definitely don’t want to put your work in a colored folder as it can be distracting from your own drawing and color choices.

Each page of your physical portfolio should be in its own protective plastic sheet. This not only makes the whole thing look more professional and clean but it also protects your artwork from accidents! The last thing you want is a tear or stain on the piece that you’re most proud of.

If you include multiple pieces on a single page, make sure that they’re all done directly on that page. This is not an opportunity to scrapbook. Make it all look intentional and professional – like you sat down to make a portfolio.

Include a Cover

Your cover should be the most carefully planned and executed piece in your portfolio. It should be full-page, intricate, and in your own style. Think of it as the cover of a comic book making its debut. Give it a feel, an artistic style, and a theme that will grab the right audience.

You can include your name and contact information on this page as it’s the one that people are most likely to come back to with frequency. Make their job of figuring out who the fantastic artist is easy. 

You can make your cover the very first page of your portfolio to get the viewer excited about the rest, or you can include it as the last page. Then it’s the grand finale. Either way, make sure that it’s in a notable location.

Don’t Forget Flash Pages

Flash tattoos are a great way to make consistent money, and they provide the opportunity to show off several quick and small pieces at once. Choose a theme for each of your flash pages so that you can show off your ability to be creative within a theme.

This is a great way to pad up your portfolio too if you’re coming in under the piece count. Spend an appropriate amount of time and energy on them, and make sure they’re finished pieces. But this should be easier than making several larger pieces to share.

Include Information About Yourself

On your website and within your portfolio you can share some information about yourself. Include a little about me page that includes a bio and an artistic statement. 

What made you want to be a tattoo artist? What work excites you the most? Who are your artistic inspirations? These are all useful questions to answer on your about me page.

Keep it brief, but make sure you show off the truest version of your personality. This is a great way for a mentor to decide if the two of you would work well together and have chemistry as a team. You can be funny in this section if you want to.

Link to Social Media and a Contact Page

If you’re leaving your portfolio in the hands of someone for a longer look, they need to know how to contact you! Include a contact page on both your website and in your portfolio. Make it easy for people to contact you about that dream apprenticeship.

Ready to Start Building a Portfolio?

Are you feeling inspired to start your tattoo portfolio and pursue a career as a tattoo artist? Now that you know the steps, you just need the proper guidance!

Check out our essential tattoo course to get started on making your dreams happen!