Becoming a Tattoo Apprentice
(Better read all the way to the bottom)
Tattooists have ALWAYS been swamped by people asking for apprenticeships. But few know what is normal, what to expect, or perceive the career choice as an easy, Rock Star job. If you cannot read this whole thing and accept everything within, you're not ready for an apprenticeship.
#1. Everything an apprentice does reflects on the Mentor, their reputation, and their ability to earn a living. An apprentice needs to be someone the Mentor can trust, whose behavior in and out of the shop is compatible with the Mentor's life, and who can be counted on to be as committed as the Mentor.
#2. The apprentice must be someone that the Mentor LIKES as a person, since he or she will be there every day for several years.
#3. Most people asking for an apprenticeship "want to be a tattooist", but don't do anything about "being an artist". A good apprentice will already be an accomplished artist and will spend part of EVERY DAY drawing.
A good tattooist will use other media as well; pen & ink, watercolor, acrylic, oil paints, sculpture, pencil, colored pencils, pastels, etc. An "artist" is not going to need to be told to "draw every day". An artist lives to create art and that will be apparent.
Someone who "wants to be a tattooist", but who has never considered the commitment an Artist makes to Art, is not going to likely impress a Mentor who is also an artist. - Tattooing is a BUSINESS and it takes interpersonal skills, retail skills, and customer service skills.
**Art is also more than doodling in a notebook every day. It starts with understanding important elements of art, such as; composition, focal points, shading, light sources, perspective, color theory, anatomy, still-life, art styles (abstract, realism, cartoon etc) and tattoo styles (old skool, traditional, photo-realism etc).**
#4. Any Mentor teaching an apprentice is taking time from his/her own life and should be compensated. Most apprenticeships cost $5,000-$10,000. Some are not based on cash, but in labor, to pay this cost. This is not any different than paying for a few semesters at college.
Most Mentors prefer to pick people they feel they can trust. A person that will be committed to the shop, the Mentor and to remaining at the Mentors shop after the apprenticeship is over.
The Mentor's "investment" of time, knowledge and reputation" will be returned by the new tattooist earning money for the shop for several years into the future as well as continued learning by being in a thriving work environment. Tattooing is a constantly evolving career.
Tattooing for a living is for a lifetime and by teaching someone the right skill set, the Mentor is giving them the ability to earn a GOOD living doing gratifying work. That education is going to be something that the Mentor will consider valuable, and the apprentice MUST treat as something worth committing MANY YEARS to; particularly, years working for the Mentor who teaches him/her.
That apprentice may merely be learning the skills of tattooing and machine maintenance, but typically, a good Mentor will be teaching the apprentice ALL aspects of tattooing as a business and as an art form.
Finding an Apprenticeship the Right Way
Finding a Mentor isn’t easy. Walking in the door, introducing yourself and asking for an apprenticeship is not the right way to do it. You wouldn't pick a college this way, why would you pick a Mentor and business to start your career this way?
Visit the shop, hang around, get tattooed (as a customer); there is no better way to get a feel for a shop than to actually SPEND TIME there. Getting to know the tattooist and/or shop owner well is going to help you decide if this is the right place for you, and prevent you from wasting yours and the Mentor's time.
The "I keep getting told NO when I ask for an apprenticeship" response heard often, makes NO mention of "getting tattooed", "getting to know the tattooist", or "liking a tattooist enough to know that's who you want to teach you to tattoo". Getting an apprenticeship is getting a JOB - it is not just sitting around, having a good time, and partying.
What to Expect Once You Become an Apprentice
Once you do find a Mentor – you wonder what would be an apprentice duties and hours? He or she is usually the person who:
1. Opens the shop
2. Checks voicemails
3. Sweeps, vacuums, mops, dusts – CLEANS Everything.
4. Collects and takes out the trash
5. Picks up the mail
6. Washes the windows
7. Sets up the tattooist' work-stations before each tattoo
8. Breaks down and disinfects the tattooist' work-stations after each tattoo
9. Fills each artists cleaners and disinfectant bottles
10. Learns Infection Control and Sterile Tattooing Procedures
11. Does all the scrub-biohazard work - scrubbing out tubes, and autoclaving them
12. Answers the phones and takes messages
13. Greets customers
14. Discusses ideas with customers
15. SELLS tattoos (as opposed to just standing there in case the customer wants something)
16. Makes stencils for each tattoo
17. Keeps the shop clean during busy times
18. Cleans up at the end of the night
19. Turns off the lights
20. Locks the doors
21. Does all the things that a manager, a wife, a secretary, a pet, a slave, a roadie, and a guitar tech might do- fetch coffee, fetch food, runs errands for the shop, etc. ......
All this BEFORE picking up a tattoo machine for the first time!! Once the apprentice is tattooing, many of these duties are passed back to the other tattooists or to a new "shop guy or gal"
The point is that the apprentice will often work longer hours, doing harder work than most of the people in most jobs for as long as they are an apprentice. These duties allow the Mentor to focus on the business of tattooing and making money while the apprentice learns how important customer service and a clean shop are to keeping clients. An apprentice that isn’t willing to work this hard doesn’t really want it. It is about passion.
An apprentice becomes part of the business and the shop before ever doing a tattoo. If an apprentice does their job properly – they will become indispensable to the Mentor and the other tattooists. They'll tell future apprentices about how, "Sammy was THE BEST apprentice and shop dude we’ve ever had- the shop was off the hook when he was working. Never had to worry about anything, it was done without us having to ask!”
Quitting your apprenticeship because of ego or laziness because you think you’ve learned everything and you can open your own shop is naïve.
If those friends who say you’re so amazing knew anything about art and tattooing, then why aren’t they doing it? Take your job seriously from serious artists that are succeeding at their chosen profession. An improperly trained apprentice becomes exactly what all the negative stereotypes of what a tattooist are or can be.
Tattooing is not like drawing or painting. “Figuring it out” is rarely the best course of action, and shows a lack of respect to the entire industry. Remember, just because you’ve finished your apprenticeship doesn’t mean you’ve stopped learning.
At Junkyard Ink, the artists are family – from ribbing one another, to being the Designated Driver at a party, to helping one another on designs and tattoos to arguing about differences in opinions. But everyone has something in common, and it is respect for their profession and peers. You’ll find any shop where the tattooists are essentially strangers is a shop that's filled with unnecessary drama and tension.
Furthermore, people often ask “How do I support myself while doing my apprenticeship?” The same way you would going through college, like many people have – You work a full-time job on top of your apprenticeship duties. It is something you should strongly consider when thinking about taking on an apprenticeship; especially if all you want is to move out of your parents’ house.
So You Want an Apprenticeship at Junkyard Ink
- You must be 21 years old
- Prepare a professional Portfolio (artworks of any medium)
- Any prior experience at other shops disqualifies you
- You will have no days off and must be at the shop from 9:00am to 10:00pm or later
- There will be no pay
- Must be committed to the work – relationships are not suggested
- For more detailed info, please contact us at any of our business hours!