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tattoo apprenticeship

Are you looking for a tattoo apprenticeship? Trying to learn what a tattoo apprenticeship is? Trying to pick the right apprenticeship?

If you are asking any of those questions this article is for you, but before we dive into what a tattoo apprenticeship is, we first need to cover what it is not.

A tattoo apprenticeship is not an art school. An apprenticeship will not teach you how to draw or be an artist, so you will need to develop your artistic ability to draw before you concentrate on pursuing a tattoo apprenticeship.

What is a Tattoo Apprenticeship?

A tattoo apprenticeship is a way for a student to learn everything they can from an established tattoo artist. It usually starts as a hands-off experience where they are trained on safety, proper sanitation, and how to build a machine. The average apprenticeship takes about 2 years.

How an Apprenticeship Works: Becoming a Tattoo Artist

Becoming a tattoo artist in the United States involves a structured process. It combines artistic talent with technical skill and mentorship. Below, we’ll break down the journey to becoming a tattoo artist into steps:

1. Develop Your Artistic Ability

Before pursuing a tattoo apprenticeship, aspiring artists must cultivate their artistic skills. A tattoo apprenticeship is not an art school. It’s crucial to have a solid foundation in drawing and design.

2. Find the Right Apprenticeship

Choosing the right tattoo apprenticeship is crucial. Look for established tattoo artists who have successfully trained multiple apprentices on how to tattoo. Research the experiences of previous apprentices to gauge the quality of the program.

3. Build a Portfolio

As you prepare to enter the industry, create a portfolio showcasing your artwork. This portfolio will be your visual resume, demonstrating your artistic capabilities to potential mentors and clients.

4. Apply and Interview

Approach reputable tattoo shops with your portfolio and resume. Request an interview with an artist who might consider taking you on as an apprentice. During the interview, ask questions about the apprenticeship program. It’s also important to ask about the likelihood of being hired upon completion.

5. Understand the Duration

Tattoo apprenticeships can last 1 to 3 years (or even longer). Inquire about specific milestones, such as when you’ll start working on human skin when you learn to tattoo. If you’re looking to get paid during an apprenticeship, be sure to ask that, too.

6. Embrace the Learning Process

Recognize that being a good artist doesn’t automatically make you a good artist with a high tattoo artist salary. Tattooing involves unique skills like:- machine operation- safety- hygieneYou will learn all these skills during your apprenticeship.

7. Consider Alternatives

While apprenticeships are a traditional route, alternatives like state-licensed tattoo schools have emerged. These schools offer structured tattoo courses and often offer a faster path to licensure.

8. Master the Art of Tattooing

Tattooing is an ongoing learning process. Even after completing your apprenticeship, you’ll continue to refine your skills. Be open to learning from mentors, peers, and your own experiences.

9. Passion and Dedication

A successful tattoo artist’s career must have a genuine passion for both art and tattooing. It’s not just about creating beautiful designs. It’s also about turning a client’s vision into reality.

10. Build a Strong Portfolio

Continuously add your tattoo work to your portfolio. Quality tattoos and a strong work ethic will make you a sought-after artist in the industry.

Becoming a tattoo artist in the United States involves a combination of artistic talent, mentorship, and dedication. Starting with a solid artistic foundation, finding the right apprenticeship or tattoo school, and honing your skills are key steps in this creative journey into the world of tattooing.

How do I pick the right Tattoo Apprenticeship?

There are so many horror stories about apprenticeships out there, so you need to be careful if you decide an apprenticeship is right for you. All apprenticeships are not created equal.

1. Make sure you get with an artist that has graduated multiple apprentices. 

You do not want to be a tattoo artist’s first apprentice. Remember, you do not need to have an apprenticeship, all you are doing is getting training – and just because someone is a great artist does not mean they know how to teach or even want to teach. Some artists are simply looking for a free assistant and we want to make sure you do not get caught in an apprenticeship for these reasons.

2. Talk to a few of the apprentices that have worked under the artist before.

This may sound like a lot of work, but before you commit two years of your life to an apprenticeship, see what others have to say. Some people loved the apprenticeship they had, so make sure you only sign on with artists that have had previous success.

3. Ask about the likelihood of getting a job at the shop you do the apprenticeship.

Your apprenticeship is not worth anything except experience and if the place you do your apprenticeship will not hire you, what makes you think anyone else will hire you? You should see other artists working in the shop who have been an apprentice at that shop previously.

4. Ask about if you will get to work on human skin.

If you are not going to be able to work on actual clients with your teacher watching you, you will only have just a classroom education. In a hands-on business like tattooing, you need hands-on experience. Simple classroom education can be found these days at your convenience on YouTube. It is important to discuss and understand when you will be able to work on human skin with your teacher’s assistance.

5. Ask how long the program will be and when you will graduate.

How long is the program? What are the milestones? When can you work on human skin? Is it paid?

Some apprenticeships are focused on quickly training an apprentice to become an artist and others are more focused on forcing an apprentice to earn the right to be a tattoo artist. It is important to find a shop and a teacher that cares about you and wants you to be part of their business.

Apprenticeships are amazing when the apprentice and the teacher have a strong connection.

If you get a weird feeling about the teacher or the shop just don’t do it. There are a lot of ways to become a tattoo artist and if you are doing an apprenticeship, make sure the artist is someone you would consider a mentor.

students giving each other tattoos

Where can you find a Tattoo Apprenticeship?

Again, don’t just take any tattoo apprenticeship as they are not required to be a tattoo artist. You are only doing it for experience and with the hopes to get hired at the end and remember all apprenticeships are not created equal.

Start by asking around to find out which shops are the best in town.  Once you get a list, stop in and drop off a portfolio of your art as well your resume.  Your goal is to make a good impression and show that you’re a respectful and talented artist – a future artist that would make a good addition to their shop.

Remember, the goal with an apprenticeship is to get experience and then get a job. If you don’t like the shop or the artists are not very good don’t expect to learn or gain much by doing an apprenticeship at that shop.

Once you drop off your information, follow up with the shop every week to try and get a quick interview with the artist that may do the apprenticeship. Once you get the interview, ask the questions mentioned earlier and demonstrate the eagerness and excitement you have about the tattoo industry.

Getting an apprenticeship is a lot like making a sale. You have to cold call and work your butt off to work for free for two years so at least make sure you don’t waste time trying to land an apprenticeship with a bad artist or bad shop. Another tip is to invest in getting a tattoo or two from the person you want to be your teacher. This is a good way to watch how they operate as well as form a connection with the artist.

How long does a Tattoo Apprenticeship last?

A tattoo apprenticeship can last anywhere between 1-3 years. Some have been known to last even longer depending on what speed your mentor chooses to teach you at. Some apprenticeships are even paid and working apprenticeships. Remember to ask a lot of questions when you are looking at becoming an apprentice.

Why does everyone tell me I need to go through a tattoo apprenticeship?

The answer to this question is simple… That is how the majority of tattoo artists learned how to become a tattoo artist.  So when you ask an existing artist how to become a tattoo artist they will likely give that answer to you.  It’s just like how everyone used to take a TAXI before UBER. It took a while for everyone to get used but eventually, the new ways took over. 

Right now the majority of artists still learn through apprenticeships.  We forecast this will change over the next 5 years for the simple fact that it’s:

1. Hard to find a good apprenticeship
2. It takes a lot longer to go through an apprenticeship than a school (1 year vs 11 weeks) 
3. You have to in many cases, do things other than learning tattoos such as clean floors and other duties

As the tattoo industry continues to grow more and more state-licensed tattoo schools have opened and provided additional ways for students to get licensed. If you look back into the days of being a barber for instance the process evolved in a similar way. Tattoo apprenticeships are still a great way to become a licensed artist but they are not the only way.  Learn your full options and take the time to talk to a few schools to find out which option is best for you. 

Tattoo Apprenticeship Alternatives

Many prospective tattoo artists feel apprenticeships are the only way to become a successful tattoo artist. 

This is simply not true.

Tattoo Schools

You have many options to become a tattoo artist by both teaching yourself or attending a state licensed educational school like Florida Tattoo Academy.

tattoo artist ink

Many tattoo artists feel that if they went through a grueling apprenticeship anyone gets in the industry should have to do the same thing.  Almost like a rite of passage or something that resembles a college fraternity. The correct apprenticeship is worth its weight in gold however all apprenticeships are not the same.

The majority of apprenticeships are not bad but they all will take time with the average one taking about 2 years to complete, plus you are not in control of when you start or complete your journey to becoming a tattoo artist.

During the typical 2-year tattoo apprenticeship, almost all the instruction happens at the end of the apprenticeship. We have seen many artists leave an apprenticeship after 2 years and never performed a tattoo on human skin.  Make sure you ask about the apprenticeship you are looking at, they are all different and not regulated.

In our experience, most great tattoo artists are not great teachers.  We have found that very few artists have the patience, time, and ability to properly teach their crafts to others.  When we hire a teacher for Florida Tattoo Academy, hundreds of hours of instruction are given to the teacher before they are allowed to teach their first class. We have found that finding a world-class artist that has a passion for education is key when selecting a teacher.

At Florida Tattoo Academy we also follow a curriculum that is endorsed by the state of Florida to cover all the essentials.  In all the apprenticeships we’ve seen, very few had a syllabus or real plan in regards to the instruction. Organization and education go hand in hand and without organization, you have the potential for a lot of wasted time.

tattoo artist baby yoda

No matter which you choose to pursue, in many aspects, learning to tattoo never truly ends. You will continue to learn for the rest of your life whether it’s continual knowledge you gain from your mentor directly or through your peers in the workplace.

Can I just learn to tattoo on my own?

Teaching yourself to tattoo is the absolute worst way to become a tattoo artist. Without the proper technical training & medical hygiene training needed to tattoo correctly you will:

  • Scar yourself and others.
  • Put yourself at the risk of catching a number of serious/permanent diseases.
  • Make it extremely difficult to land a job within the industry.
  • Risk being fined for illegally tattooing without a state license.

Simply put, learning to tattoo on your own is not the preferred or fastest method to become a tattoo artist. Luckily for those that can’t find the right apprenticeship or those who are looking for a faster way to become a tattoo artist Florida Tattoo Academy offers a 12-week program that lets you be in control of your destiny.

Does being a good artist mean I will be a good tattoo artist?

Being a bad artist will almost always mean you are a bad tattoo artist. The only exception would be if you were in the medical tattoo space. Many tattoos are created mostly by the customer and modified to what the client wants but the majority will require some artistic input. The real question is do you have a passion for tattoos?

A tattoo artist loves art but also enjoys helping someone take a vision and turn it into reality. Many customers are doing something special in memory of loved ones for instance. It is a very special experience to deliver a quality tattoo to a customer and see the customer’s reaction.

Don’t entertain becoming a tattoo artist if you were not passionate about art and tattooing. If you are not a world-class artist that is not an issue necessarily since templates and computers are making it much easier to take the client’s vision and turn it into something easy to execute.

How should I build a tattoo work portfolio?

This question is so important. Without a good portfolio, all the training and licensing will not get you a job.

We have hired hundreds of tattoo artists and we can tell you what really gets us going is the quality of the tattoos in the portfolio. This will also really help to get you hired by a younger shop.

However, the more seasoned shops are going to want to see a lot more than quality artwork alone. We suggest building a work portfolio, but you should also include a page with the following:

  1. Hours you can work
  2. How you plan to bring business to the shop, could be social media or networking
  3. If you can pierce… this is huge, if you can’t get hired get a piercing license and many shops will make room for you
  4. Everyday tattoos you have done
  5. More elaborate tattoos

In most cases, if you are asking this question you may not yet be a master-level artist. There is nothing wrong with this. Many shops need someone to work the hours and handle the customers that come in during off-hours and just want something generic.

About Florida Tattoo Academy

Florida Tattoo Academy is the premier licensed tattoo school in the Tampa Bay Area, committed to shaping aspiring artists into world-class tattoo professionals. Choose us to embark on your path to becoming a skilled and successful tattoo artist. We’ve covered how to become a tattoo artist with a tattoo college if you’re looking for more information. 

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