should i?
March 13, 2006 5:15 AM   Subscribe

Im a struggling illustrator/designer, but the goal is to simply figure out a way to draw stuff for a living. Im considering becomming a tattoo artist - more inside.

My girlfriend took some of my art to work while i was out of town and showed her friends. Its great having at least one fan, but it seems a little odd for her to have taken it to work...

anyway, one of her friends was impressed and offered to recommend me to her friend for an apprenticeship. Aparently these are hard to come by? And it would allow me to draw stuff for a living - score.

however, i have some concerns about going into it.

am i going to hate it? Will I be able to pay bills while I apprentice? Hell - afterward even? How crowded is the tattoo market in the Seattle/Tacoma area?

How hard is it to go from paper to skin? How does one practice tattooing being that its permanent and all?

Im not a tattoo fanatic. I appreciate good ones and all, but I don't have any myself - mostly because Im really picky and haven't hit on something I want stuck on me forever yet.

Nothing about running my own business, or working in a studio / maintaining sterility practices / dealing with strangers worries me.

What are other things Im not considering?

What should I be aware of?
posted by Tryptophan-5ht to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hokey as it sounds, you could try watching a few episodes of Miami Ink on TLC, it's about a real tattoo shop and they have an apprentice. From watching that show, I learned that much of learning how to tattoo seems to involve repetitive tracing of pictures and shapes, and practicing actual tattooing on artificial skin (when you're not cleaning the shop, answering the phone, etc. etc.). I would think that, like anything else, if you find a knowledegable person to work for who will be honest with you, you should be well on the way, and either way, at least hanging out in a tattoo shop for a few months will probably help you figure out whether or not it's something you want to do. I will say that the really good work I've seen is some truly amazing art.
posted by biscotti at 5:33 AM on March 13, 2006

I have a number of friends who are tattoo artists, although not in the Seattle area, so I will make a few general observations. First of all, although the basic equipment (gun, needles, inks) can be had pretty cheaply, once you start having to buy chairs (Everyone I know uses old dental chairs), autoclaves, copying machines, flash art, it adds up. Then there's the difficulty of getting enough of a reputation to get customer referrals, rent a booth in an established shop and so on. This can take years. Not many people want to be the first, fifth, or even twenty-fifth person you tattoo, so you will have to give a lot of work away at first to get your stuff out there. There is good reason for this, too-tattooing is more than just drawing on skin; you have to carefully control the depth and pressure of the needle in order to put the ink in just the right place without causing too much pain.

Finally, you say something that gives me pause: Im not a tattoo fanatic. Everyone that I know that does tattoos is. They are generally covered with them both from a love of the art and because it is easiest to practice on yourself and your colleagues. If the results are good you become a walking advertisement. Then there is going to shows, entering contests, sending work in to magazines; it really does become a lifestyle. If you are not into it (although you might get into it if you start) you will have a hard time competing with those who are.

A friend of mine who recently lost his lease on his tattoo studio and went bankrupt (he is a better artist than businessman, not to mention has had a string of expensive divorces) is talking about going into the airbrushing business. The equipment is not too expensive, the skills needed are similar (although he says airbrushing is a breeze compared to tattooing), and there are no health considerations to worry about. Custom paint on cars and bikes is huge right now, so the market is there. An additional bonus is that someone will be a lot less pissed off if you screw up the paint job on their Harley than if you misspell their kids name on their bicep. Sorry if this is a little long-winded, but I hope it helps.
posted by TedW at 6:11 AM on March 13, 2006

Finally, you say something that gives me pause: Im not a tattoo fanatic. Everyone that I know that does tattoos is.

Seconding this. There are a lot of jobs that you can do because it pays the bills even though you might not love it. I don't think that being a tattoo artist is one of them. Your skill will be greatly diminished by your lack of enthusiasm, and your potential clients will likewise pick up on it.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:49 AM on March 13, 2006

Thirded. I won't get work done by someone who doesn't have lots themselves.

It is a whole lot more complicated than just "drawing on skin" as well.

and for the record, miami ink is totally staged. Most of the artists work at their own shops around the country and fly down for filming every so often. Although some parts are accurate, comparing it to the real thing is like comparing roommate life with the "real world".

also, no matter how much someone likes your art, they will not take you on as an apprentice if you don't LOVE tattoos and the art of tattooing.
posted by teishu at 9:28 AM on March 13, 2006

teishy, is miami ink really staged? how do you know that? i have only caught a few episodes when really bored, but it never occured to me that it wasn't at least somewhat realistic.

oh and on the main subject, i definitely think you'd have a hard time fitting in at a tattoo shop if you done have tattoos/piercings. people do that kind of work because they love it, not because they want to get rich on it.
posted by radioamy at 10:26 AM on March 13, 2006

I'm a struggling artist myself and my best advice is to find where you fit in. Doing a job to pay the bills is alright for a while, but eventually you have to discover what you love to do and do it.

Don't be afraid to take risks.
posted by spakto at 10:28 AM on March 13, 2006

You could try asking your question in a tattoo forum

I was on "Fox's" the other day and alot of the Miami Ink dudes have profiles and they actually mention they fly in for the show, so I don't think it's a big secret
posted by matimer at 11:35 AM on March 13, 2006

i know one of the dudes. not well, but enough that i've heard all about it from him.

also there are aspects that as someone who hangs out with a lot of tattoo artists its easy to see through the staged-ness.
posted by teishu at 11:39 AM on March 13, 2006

I would never get tattooed by someone who was not already heavily tattooed themselves. It's not a job you want to get into unless it's already a part of your lifestyle and passion.
posted by RoseovSharon at 12:07 PM on March 13, 2006

I agree with you having to love tattoos to go into that business. First, you won't make anything as an apprentice. You're a student, the artists are teaching you. (Some shops will pay a bare minimum wage but, those are few and far between.)

Second, it takes years to become even a mediocre tattoo artist, you aren't going to hop into it and be great your first time out. Working on skin is an entirely different animal than on any other medium. Skin moves, people whine and stink and bitch, etc.

Third, most people will not be tattooed by someone who isn't tattooed, and heavily tattooed at that.

Last of all, the vast majority of tattoo artists do not make much money, they are struggling to get by as the market is flooded with cheap but, bad, tattooists.

It's just not the job to go for on a whim. Tattooing requires a true love of the art to be good at it and a willingness to sacrifice for a long time to make any money at all.
posted by SuzySmith at 1:47 PM on March 13, 2006

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