Tattooing is done by constantly piercing the skin. This creates pathways for the tattoo ink to enter your skin and settle in the dermis layer. The act of piercing creates trauma on the skin, causing it to bleed and become an open wound that requires time to heal. It is important to take care of the tattoo after getting it.
Due to the piercing and bleeding, there is a risk of infection. Not only that, the infection could be spread from person to person if the person getting the tattoo and the tattoo artist aren’t careful. This is why a license is required so that you have a working knowledge of infection and prevent it from spreading. It both certifies your ability to tattoo and gives you credentials that you know what you are doing.
So getting a license is important. However, that license depends on where you are getting it from. There are some similar steps you have to take before being certified.
These will be discussed more in the following steps on how to become a licensed tattoo artist:
The very first thing you will need is a high school diploma. Most shops require that you are at least a high school graduate to clear the basic requirements of the job. And of course, you have to be over the age of 18 to apply for the license. This is the minimum age requirement and you cannot become a tattoo artist at a younger age than that.
To get better job opportunities, you can opt to get an art degree from a college or university. The more qualifications you have, the better your chances of becoming a tattoo artist are. An art degree especially certifies that you have the necessary drawing skill to become a tattoo artist. This is a completely optional part because a high school diploma serves the basic requirements anyways.
If you do not have a high school diploma, start working on your GED so that you meet the basic job requirements for anywhere.
Let’s be honest, if you aren’t good at drawing, your dreams of being a tattoo artist are already over. Tattooing might be different from being able to draw, but the skill of understanding design is crucial. Not to mention that before you start the tattooing, you will need to draw or stencil your client’s design on paper to show them how they might look. Thus, drawing is a very important, if not the most important base that you need to become a tattoo artist.
If you aren’t good at drawing, then you don’t need to worry about that! There are courses available to help you improve your drawing skills. And through these courses, you might find that tattoo design isn’t for you because art for tattoos has to take into consideration loads of different aspects of the body.
Unlike paper, the human body isn’t all that flat. There are bumps to worry about, muscle contours to take into account, and curves as you move the body as well! That is why learning to design a tattoo is a bit more difficult. But worry not! There are also courses available so that you can learn that as well.
You could do this by copying famous tattoo designs of your favorite tattoo artists to see what concepts they take into account when designing one. This is where your drawing skills come to play. If you understand the design concept, then you can create your own designs as well! You could also get fake skin or practice drawing on fruits to understand depth and curves. Or you get a friend and draw on their bodies with a Sharpie or henna to learn. It is all about your application to the trade so that you can prepare yourself for the future.
Alongside honing your art and design skills, it is also the perfect time to work on your portfolio. A portfolio is a place where you gather all your artwork and design, completed or otherwise, to showcase your artistic skills. It is the best way to display to other people, especially other tattoo artists, how your designs will be and look. Usually, a physical portfolio is a binder with plastic sleeves where you can insert your artwork. You could also set up an online portfolio through Instagram or other social media. That way other people can see your design and evaluate your work, commenting if it is good or not.
Some mistakes you want to avoid with portfolios are including copies of designs of other artists. A portfolio should include your original works to showcase your designs, not how well you can copy others. Also not having your cover letter and resume included in your portfolio is a mistake. You want your portfolio to be as professional as possible so that you can present it for job and apprenticeship opportunities.
To make your portfolio better, you should include somewhere between 30 to 100 of your original works. Make sure that most if not all are completed and have an understanding of why you chose the particular design. This is because you might be asked about your design concepts. As a beginner, you don’t have to include tattoos that you might have already done. Your goal as a beginner is to showcase your artistic skill first.
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After making your portfolio, it is time to start browsing your local tattoo shops for potential tattoo artists who are taking in apprentices. The good thing is you don’t need to be certified to be an apprentice of a tattoo artist. The goal here is to learn the trades of the skill from an experienced mentor.
An apprenticeship is a big investment where you are expected to work for free for about a year or more. Plus, there is usually an additional apprenticeship cost that you would have to pay your mentor. So choose carefully, where the place you are working is somewhere you are comfortable.
Usually, you will be given tasks of designing and will not be holding a tattoo gun anytime soon! But that is all part of the process. Your mentor wants to see how your tattoo-designing skills stack up in the work environment. This is to get you used to the pressures of work, where you have to design on the fly!
Starting from your second year of apprenticeship, you will probably start working with a tattoo gun and start tattooing on fake skin and body parts. You are expected to buy your own equipment at this point of your apprenticeship, so start gathering your supplies.
This should include:
Your apprenticeship will teach you all about how to use the tattoo gun so you start getting used to the weight. Before starting your apprenticeship, you could practice on a tattoo gun, replacing the grip with a pencil to get adjusted to the weight distribution ahead of time. You will also be learning about the business, how to maintain your hygiene, and everything to do with the tattoo industry! The beginning might be difficult but this is where your tattoo artist aspirations begin.
Don’t worry about sticking to one mentor. If you feel that a certain mentor is not working out for you then look for a new one. It might be hard to find tattoo artists looking for apprentices, but it is worth it to get a mentor who both sees your potential and helps bring that potential out!
Alongside working on your apprenticeship, it might be the perfect time to start getting your bloodborne pathogen training (or BBP training). Some states in the United States don’t require this training, but it is better to have it so that you understand all the necessary steps you need to take so that you and your future clients are safe. Tattooing could cause infections to spread so you should understand and learn all the necessary hygiene and procedures.
You can take the BBP training online through Red Cross but it is better to get the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Certification for Tattoo Artists. This will guarantee your certification anywhere in the US.
After your apprenticeship has ended, it is time to finally apply for your tattoo license! This depends on which state in the US or the country you are living in and their own requirements. In California, you would need to show your apprenticeship and your BBP training certification. In Florida, you would need to complete a tattoo artist education course and pay the licensing fee. Whatever the requirements might be for the area you want to become a tattoo artist, search online and check what you need to start your certification.
Usually, it takes about 4 to 6 weeks for your license results to come back. If you are rejected, then try to understand what caused the rejection and make sure to apply again after correcting any mistakes in your application.
After your certification comes back, it is time to hunt for a job! If you have impressed your mentor at their shop, they could hire you right after getting your certification. Otherwise, search job listings for a new tattoo artist, prepare your portfolio including works from your apprenticeship, and get all your references ready. Job hunting might be the last part, but it is also your first step as a licensed tattoo artist.
How to become a tattoo apprenticeship?
You have to look through your local tattoo shops and find artists who are willing to be a mentor. Often it will be an unpaid apprenticeship so be prepared.
Are there schools specifically for tattoo artists?
Yes, there are schools and institutes where you learn to become a tattoo artist. You will need to find one near you and see what they require to enter.
How long does it take to become a licensed tattoo artist?
This could take anywhere from 2 to 3 years, up to 3 to 5 years before you become a licensed tattoo artist.
It is a long, difficult journey to become a licensed tattoo artist. It will take years before you are licensed so you have to be prepared. Tattooing is a big job. Not only are you marking your client for life, but you also have to make sure that you are doing it properly and maintaining all the industry’s hygiene standards. It might be a hard job to get, but at the end of the day, being able to express yourself as a tattoo artist is worth it if you are passionate about it!
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