Tattooing is a vocation rather than a job, and to be called into the industry means you must have a passion and dedication to the field. Like all creative careers, you can immerse yourself in hours of skill development and practice that will advance your knowledge of the industry, but learning to tattoo through self-study lacks the professionalism that you gain from an apprenticeship.
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How To Become a Self Taught Tattoo Artist?
A good tattoo artist will make their craft look like it is a breeze to do, but in reality, being a tattoo artist is anything but easy. It requires years of dedicated practice before you can even touch human skin, and to become a good artist, you need full-time dedication to developing your skills. In addition, it is a big financial investment that you must be willing to sacrifice.
Becoming a self taught tattoo artist requires a few key steps:
- Practicing your artistry and design skills
- Getting high-quality equipment and materials
- Practicing tattooing on skin alternatives
- Developing basic tattoo techniques and skills
- Studying safety and sanitation standards
For a complete understanding of everything you should know about becoming a tattoo artist, check out our article on Tattooing For Beginners.
Can I Teach Myself to Tattoo?
Tattooing is not meant to be a hobby but should be considered like a vocation. Those who are pulled to tattoos make it of primary importance in their lives and spend hours, daily, honing their craft. But like all creative avenues of expression, tattooing can be something you develop on your own time as a part-time passion.
It is not recommended that you try and market yourself professionally, or that you tattoo on any human skin, if you are only pursuing tattooing through self-study. This is because of the multiple dangers that could be involved with this practice, such as:
- Tattooing in a poorly sanitized environment
- Not having sterile equipment
- Causing an infection to you or others
- Being sued due to malpractice
- Tattooing illegally due to state licensure laws
Tattooing is not just drawing on a piece of paper, it’s inserting needles into the largest organ of the human body and creating a permanent wound. The responsibility that comes with this is no laughing matter. Just as you wouldn’t want a self-taught surgeon cutting into you, how comfortable would you be with a self-taught artist tattooing you?
Being “self-taught” implies learning from home with a kit on your own, and if you are thinking of proceeding down this route, there are a few factors to consider.
Develop Your Artistry
While you don’t need a natural talent for drawing, as many tattoos can be simple tracing or lettering designs, you still need to practice your artistry. This can be copying, drawing over scripts, or learning to develop a tattoo style you are comfortable with.
Tattoo artists are always drawing and developing their skills, and you should learn about line, shading, tones, and the traditional art of tattooing to gain a thorough respect for the culture.
Understand the Sanitation Practices
There is nothing more important than understanding the health and safety regulations of the tattooing industry. A sterile environment and antiseptic solutions used to clean your equipment are essential to the health and safety of you and your clients.
You should begin your training, certification development, and practice of health safety even as you are tattooing fake skin and fruit peels. Learn about cross-contamination, blood-borne illnesses, and wound healing. Learn about the human body and its largest organ, the skin. Having general knowledge and implementing a hygienic routine early in your practice will help it become second nature to you. Your health and the health of your clients depends on you dedicating the most time to this step.
Take It Slowly
Consider that an apprenticeship takes around two years to complete, and that is with the guidance of a professional and experienced mentor. Your self-study journey should take even longer. Nothing about this craft can be rushed, and just when you think you’ve nailed down how to tattoo skin by working on alternatives, you’re thrown into a scary loop by trying it on your own skin.
You need to educate yourself on all the techniques and skill basics such as:
- Shading and coloring
- Blowout and fading
- Needle intensity
- Machine settings
- Stretching the skin
- Needle jumping
- Ergonomic comfort
Simply watching YouTube videos or watching a friend tattoo in their shop is not the same as having hands-on experience and step-by-step education by someone who is more knowledgeable. You will need to read all the books, watch every video, speak and discuss with professionals, read the forums, talk to healthcare service workers, study the skin, try your luck on skin alternatives, and practice, practice, practice.
Invest hours working on synthetic skin before moving into tattooing your own leg. Beware of the risks involved in tattooing others, as well as your state laws regarding licensure.
Get the Best Equipment
If you are not willing to invest in your apprenticeship, you should at least be willing to invest in the best possible equipment. High-quality equipment and inks will make or break your tattooing experience. If you choose to go with a cheap kit, ensure you’re using it just for practice but don’t risk using it on human skin.
You will have to consider purchasing the following:
- A machine with at least two guns (shading and lining)
- A quality power supply
- Single-use needles
- High-quality ink
- Hygienic supplies such as gloves, saran wrap, antibacterial soap, etc.
- Something to make stencils; a stencil pen or a stencil printer
It’s also recommended that if tattooing is truly a passion you wish to pursue long-term and self-study is your primary means of pursuing that, you should buy one machine to use and another to take apart and examine. By better understanding the components of the machine, you become better at understanding how to use it and how it affects yours and the client’s tattooing experience.
Seek Out Certifications and Licensure
Licences as well as the necessary certifications you need cost money, and in order to tattoo legally, you must find out which ones you require and to comply with the regulations of those documents. The most responsible thing to do to protect yourself and others is to determine what is legally required by you, as a tattooer, to practice.
Our Final Thoughts
If you are not willing to dedicate the time and the financial investment into being properly trained in the craft of tattooing through apprenticeship, you need to ask yourself how important it is to you, or how serious you are about it. While many of the best known artists did start out with self-study, none ever did it without some assistance of a professional in the business.
Be careful and fully aware of the risks involved in teaching yourself to tattoo. It is much better to teach yourself to tattoo if it is just a hobby or curiosity, rather than going the self-study route if you wish to make this into a career, as most shops will not hire you if you haven’t received proper training.