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Are tattoo apprenticeships really not worth it? Expert insights

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When you want to become a tattoo artist, you might think about starting with an apprenticeship, where you learn from an experienced artist. But lately, people have been asking if this is really the best way to learn. Some have had bad experiences, like not learning much or being treated more like free help than a student.

Now, with new ways to learn tattooing out there, we're wondering if the old way of learning through apprenticeships is still good or if it's time to try something new. We're looking into this to help decide if apprenticeships are worth it or if there are better options.

 

 

a tattoo apprentice assisting the professional tattoo artist

 

What are tattoo apprenticeships?

Tattoo apprenticeships are specialised training programs where aspiring tattoo artists learn the craft under the guidance and supervision of experienced tattoo professionals.

During an apprenticeship, the apprentice gains hands-on experience in tattooing techniques, safety and sanitation protocols, skin anatomy, design principles, and customer service. It's a critical step for those looking to enter the tattoo industry professionally, as it provides both the practical skills and knowledge necessary to become a competent tattoo artist.

Apprenticeships can vary in length, but typically, they can last anywhere from 1 to 3 years. It involves a combination of observation, practice on synthetic skins or volunteer subjects, and learning the operational aspects of running a tattoo studio.

Benefits of getting tattoo apprenticeships

Tattoo apprenticeships offer a foundational step for aspiring tattoo artists to gain the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to thrive in the tattoo industry.

Here are some of the key benefits of pursuing a tattoo apprenticeship:

  1. Professional guidance and mentorship: Apprenticeships provide the opportunity to learn directly from experienced tattoo artists. This mentorship is invaluable for gaining insights into the technical aspects of tattooing and the nuances of running a successful tattoo business.
  2. Hands-on experience: Unlike learning from online tutorials or classes, apprenticeships offer hands-on experience in a real tattoo shop environment. This experience is crucial for understanding shop dynamics, tattoo machine handling, sterilisation processes, and the intricacies of creating tattoos on different skin types and body parts.
  3. Building a portfolio: During an apprenticeship, you'll have the opportunity to work on various designs, potentially even on real clients under supervision. You can build a diverse portfolio to attract future clients and employment opportunities.
  4. Networking opportunities: Being in a tattoo shop environment exposes you to a network of artists, suppliers, and clients. These connections can benefit future collaborations, job opportunities, and client referrals.
  5. Learning business skills: Tattooing is not just an art; it's also a business. Apprenticeships often cover client consultations, booking appointments, marketing, and managing finances. These skills are critical for anyone looking to open a shop or build a freelance career.
  6. Certification and licensing preparation: Many regions require tattoo artists to have specific certifications or licenses. Apprenticeships can provide the necessary training and hours to qualify for these credentials, ensuring you meet all legal requirements to practice.
  7. Professional development: Beyond technical skills, apprenticeships foster professional growth, teaching you how to interact with clients, manage workloads, and maintain high standards of hygiene and safety.
  8. Cultural and artistic growth: Being part of a tattoo shop culture can inspire creativity and expose you to various artistic styles and techniques. This environment is conducive to personal and artistic growth.

What to expect in a tattoo apprenticeship?

 

a tattoo apprentice watching during tattooing session

 

In a tattoo apprenticeship, you can expect a rigorous and hands-on learning experience that will introduce you to the world of professional tattooing. Here's a broad overview of what to expect:

  • Learning the basics: Initially, you'll focus on learning the foundational skills of tattooing, including understanding different tattoo styles, safety and sanitation protocols, skin types, and how to handle and maintain tattoo equipment.
  • Observation and practice: Much of your time will be spent observing your mentor and other experienced tattoo artists. You'll learn by watching them interact with clients, execute designs, and manage the day-to-day operations of a tattoo shop. You'll also practice drawing and tattooing techniques on various mediums, eventually progressing to practising on synthetic skin and, much later, real skin.
  • Shop duties: Apprentices often help with the daily operations of the tattoo shop. This can include cleaning, sterilising equipment, setting up workstations for tattoo artists, managing appointment schedules, and assisting customers. While sometimes seen as menial, these duties are crucial for understanding how a tattoo shop runs efficiently.
  • Client interactions: As you gain skills and confidence, you'll start interacting with clients under supervision. This includes consulting with them about their tattoo ideas, understanding their needs, designing tattoos, and, eventually, tattooing clients.
  • Constructive criticism and growth: Expect regular feedback on your work. Constructive criticism is a crucial part of the learning process, helping you improve your tattoo skills and technique. A good mentor will not only highlight areas for improvement but will also encourage your strengths.
  • Commitment and hardwork: Tattoo apprenticeships require dedication. You might work long hours, and much of your time will be unpaid. The commitment can last from one to several years, depending on how quickly you learn and the specific requirements of your mentor.
  • Professional development: Beyond tattooing skills, you'll learn about the business aspects of running a tattoo shop, including licensing, health regulations, and customer service. This knowledge is essential for anyone looking to make a career in tattooing.

Reasons to avoid tattoo apprenticeships

Starting a tattoo apprenticeship might seem like a good idea, but there are some reasons to think twice.

First, the quality of training can vary a lot; you might end up cleaning more than learning. Plus, these apprenticeships can be unpaid or even cost you money, which can make things tough financially. There's also no promise of a job at the end, so you could spend all that time and effort and still not have a way to make a living.

Finally, finding a good apprenticeship can be really competitive, and you might have to settle for less-than-ideal conditions just to get your foot in the door. So, it's important to really think about these challenges before diving in.

Alternatives to traditional apprenticeships

 

a tattoo apprentice watching the tattoo artist

 

If you're interested in becoming a professional tattoo artist but are hesitant about the traditional apprenticeship route, there are several alternatives to consider:

  1. Online courses and workshops: Many experienced tattoo artists and professional schools offer online courses that cover fundamentals, advanced techniques, hygiene practices, and more. These can provide a structured learning path with the flexibility to study at your own pace.
  2. Art school or classes: Enrolling in an art school or taking classes can significantly improve your drawing and design skills, which are crucial for a successful career in tattooing. Focusing on anatomy, ink colour theory, and different art styles can provide a solid foundation.
  3. Self-study and practice: With a wealth of books, videos, and online resources, self-study is a viable option for highly motivated individuals. Practice on synthetic skin or fruit to refine your technique before moving on to human skin.
  4. Seminars and conventions: Tattoo conventions and seminars are great places to learn from experienced professionals and network with others in the industry. Many events offer workshops on specific techniques, safety protocols, and business practices.
  5. Private tutoring: Some established tattoo artists offer private tutoring sessions. This one-on-one instruction can provide personalised guidance and feedback, helping you to develop your skills more rapidly.
  6. Health and safety certification: Even if you're not in a traditional apprenticeship, getting certified in health and safety practices specific to tattooing, such as bloodborne pathogen certification, is essential. This knowledge is crucial for your safety and that of your clients.
  7. Volunteering or observing: While not a direct route to learning tattooing, volunteering at tattoo shops or observing experienced artists can offer insights into the daily operations of a tattoo studio and tattooing techniques, providing valuable learning opportunities.

So, is a tattoo apprenticeship really worth it?

Whether a tattoo apprenticeship is worth it largely depends on your goals, learning style, and the quality of the apprenticeship you're considering.

A good apprenticeship offers hands-on experience, one-on-one mentorship, and a deep dive into both the artistic and business sides of tattooing. It can be a valuable path if you find a mentor who is committed to teaching and if you're ready for the challenges of learning in a real-world environment. However, it requires a significant investment of time and sometimes money, with no guaranteed job at the end.

For those passionate about tattooing and willing to navigate these challenges, a tattoo apprenticeship can be a rewarding experience. But weigh the potential benefits against the drawbacks and consider alternative routes to becoming a tattoo artist if the traditional apprenticeship doesn't seem like the right fit for you.

 

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  • Mark Joshua Luz
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