Tattoo Apprenticeships: How To Get One? Are They Paid? How Do You Pick A Mentor? - Everything You Need To Know

Written by: Pete

A tattoo apprenticeship is the first step you take towards a career in tattooing. Through an apprenticeship, you learn about this artisanal trade, you learn about the hygienic and ethical requirements for the practice, and you get to put a gun to real skin for the first time. But the road to get there isn’t easy, and it’s often unpaid.

Related: How To Open A Tattoo Shop

What Is A Tattoo Apprenticeship?

Tattoo apprenticeships are more formal training programs that allow aspiring artists to learn the craft under the guidance and mentorship of experienced professionals.

These programs typically involve a combination of one-on-one instruction, hands-on practice, and professional development.

Some of the key benefits of tattoo apprenticeships include:

  • Exposure to a wide range of tattoo styles, techniques, and equipment
  • The opportunity to work alongside established artists and learn from their experiences
  • Access to industry resources, such as conventions, trade shows, and networking events
  • Professional guidance and feedback to help improve technical skills and artistic vision
  • Preparation for obtaining necessary licenses and permits to legally practice tattooing (requirements vary by region)

Are Tattoo Apprenticeships Paid?

Unfortunately, the reality is that most tattoo apprenticeships are not paid, and you will likely have to search out additional avenues of income while you are training. Consider it like college or trades school; you don’t get paid to attend and gain your certification in your department.

Despite this, it is one of the best avenues to build your career in the tattooing industry. No matter what you do, don’t think you can just buy a tattoo kit and begin your journey on your own. This is not recommended and is not respected in the industry.

Will You Have to Pay Tuition?

When you are apprenticing, you are working under a mentor. This mentor usually has a decade or more of experience under their belt, and offering their time to teach you usually requires a fee. Tuition for an apprenticeship is similar to any other schooling, and could range in cost from $5,000 to upwards of $10,000. The fee depends on the artist, their skill level, and their notoriety in the industry.

Some states offer apprenticeship alternatives such as tattoo schools. These are state licensed educational schools that can last between one to two years time, and require no previous tattooing experience in order to attend. These can range in cost as well, but are generally more expensive than an apprenticeship.

The benefit of attending a tattoo school is that some state laws do not allow you to tattoo on skin in an apprenticeship until you have earned certification and licensing in understanding blood-borne pathogens and infectious diseases; a tattoo school provides you with that certification.

Tuition is intended to weed out apprentices who are not dedicated to the craft and to developing their practice and skills. Like any schooling, paying a tuition confirms your commitment to the program and demonstrates that you value learning the craft in a professional manner.

Is There Any Chance of Getting Paid as an Apprentice?

Depending on your skill level, you may be lucky enough to find a mentor who does not charge you for their lessons, but this is exceptionally rare. It is far better to find a shop with an exceptional reputation and an artist with immense skill if you truly wish to build your knowledge, and that will likely cost a tuition fee.

Sometimes tattoo shops will hire the apprentice for part-time shop work such as managing bookings, cleaning the shop, or organizing files. This would be paid work that could help cover the cost of your apprenticeship.

Can I Just Learn to Tattoo on My Own?

This is not only dangerous for yourself but it’s dangerous for others, as well. This industry, like every other artisanal craft, deserves the respect and dedication to learning the trade carefully and under the guidance of a professional.

Buying a kit, learning to tattoo on your own, and then proceeding to tattoo others could cause:

  • Scarring to yourself or to others
  • Putting yourself at risk to disease and unsterile conditions
  • Opening yourself up to being sued by others
  • Breaking laws against legal tattooing licensing
  • Forming a bad reputation in the industry that prevents you from getting a job

Develop Skills During Tattoo Apprenticeship

One of the primary goals of a tattoo apprenticeship is to help aspiring artists develop their technical skills. This includes learning how to properly sterilize equipment, create custom designs, apply tattoos with precision and accuracy, and provide proper aftercare instructions to clients.

Through hands-on practice and feedback from mentors, apprentices can refine their techniques and gain confidence in their abilities. They can also learn about the latest equipment and technologies, as well as best practices for maintaining a safe and hygienic work environment.

Experiencing Professional Practices

Tattoo apprenticeships also offer exposure to professional practices and expectations. This includes learning how to interact with clients, manage appointments and bookings, maintain a professional demeanor, and adhere to industry standards and regulations.

Apprentices can also learn about the business side of tattooing, such as customer service, marketing, branding, and pricing strategies. This knowledge can help them establish themselves as successful artists and build a loyal client base.

Cultivating Creativity and Artistry

Tattooing is not just about technical proficiency – it also requires creativity and artistry. Through an apprenticeship program, aspiring artists learn how to develop their own style, create unique designs, and translate their vision onto skin.

Mentors can provide guidance and inspiration, as well as constructive feedback to help artists refine their ideas and techniques. They can also introduce apprentices to new art forms and styles, broadening their horizons and fueling their creativity.

How To Get a Tattoo Apprenticeship

So, what are the necessary steps for landing your own apprenticeship? We’ll help you launch you career by breaking it down for you in this article. Let’s get into it!

Step 1: Build Your Tattoo Portfolio

The first step to getting a tattoo apprenticeship is to build your tattoo portfolio. Your portfolio should showcase your best work, and demonstrate your skills as an artist. Include a variety of styles and subject matter to show that you are versatile and capable of taking on different types of tattoo designs.

Step 2: Research Tattoo Shops

The next step is to research tattoo shops in your area. Look for shops that have a good reputation and a team of experienced tattoo artists. Take note of the styles of tattoos that each shop specializes in, and consider which ones align with your own artistic interests.

Step 3: Reach Out to Tattoo Artists

Once you have identified some tattoo shops that you are interested in working with, it’s time to reach out to the tattoo artists. Send an email or call the shop to introduce yourself and express your interest in a tattoo apprenticeship. Be prepared to share your portfolio and answer any questions the artist may have.

Step 4: Prepare for Your Apprenticeship Interview

If a tattoo artist is interested in working with you, they will likely invite you in for an interview. This is your chance to make a good impression and show that you are serious about pursuing a career in tattooing. Dress professionally, bring your portfolio, and be prepared to answer questions about your art background and why you want to become a tattoo artist.

Step 5: Start Your Tattoo Apprenticeship

If you are offered a tattoo apprenticeship, congratulations! This is a huge step towards launching your career as a tattoo artist. During your apprenticeship, you will learn the fundamentals of tattooing, such as sterilization techniques, needle depth, and color theory. You will also have the opportunity to observe and assist your mentor in tattooing clients.

Tips To Help You Along the Way

We have a few suggestions that will help you acquire a tattoo apprenticeship that will be most beneficial to you when you enter the industry as a professional.

  • Research the Trade - Prior to diving into being an artist, you should do significant research on the industry. Read all the books, magazines, web articles (we’ve got you covered, there!), and case studies on everything from tattooing, to tattooing health and safety, to apprenticeship practices, to aftercare, etc.. Showing your potential mentor that you are not only interested in the industry but are well-versed in it demonstrates your dedication.
  • Put Together a Portfolio - If you are wanting to get into tattooing, that means you are likely an artist and have a sense of style for your work. Put together a collection of your best art pieces that will demonstrate your skill level with working with your hands.
    A tattoo apprentice portfolio is different from an artist portfolio. You should not, under any circumstances, showcase tattoos you’ve already done on skin as this will deter someone from mentoring you. Your work should demonstrate a style that is consistent and would be applicable for tattooing. It should be in a three-ring binder with easy-to-flip pages.
  • Find a Licensed Mentor - When it comes to finding a mentor, you need to be flexible and persistent. Sometimes you will have to move out of town to find someone willing to take you on for an apprenticeship. Your mentor should be licensed and have at least a decade or more of experience tattooing professionally. You should not seek out mentorship from someone new to the industry.
    When picking a mentor, you need to visit the shop in person and discuss your intentions. Jason of Swallows & Daggers says, “Don't waste our time telling us how much you want it, how many years you have dreamed of it (especially if you are only 18), don’t tell us how “good at it” your friend/mom/baby momma thinks you would be. Talk is cheap, show us by doing, not saying. Most prospective mentors want someone who is a hard worker who is humble, not a deluded maniac who will talk a good game and then baulk when they are asked to mop, practice drawing hands, or do other unglamorous parts of their apprenticeship.”
    You should select someone who has mentored before, is eager to teach new people in the industry, and someone who will challenge you in the process, as well. Tattoo artists are generally very busy, so you will need to be persistent and follow up frequently to ensure you get the apprenticeship slot.
    You should also choose someone who’s work you respect and whose style you could learn from or someone who has a tattoo art style that is similar to your own drawing style. Making sure you are a good fit with your mentor can help you not only develop your craft but could also lead to a connection that manifests in a job opportunity, down the line.
  • Stay Focused and Dedicated - You may have to do seemingly meaningless tasks, you may have to “just watch” for months, you may not be able to tattoo skin for a year, but continue to stay focused and dedicated to the training. Show up to your apprenticeship eager and ready to work, and take this as seriously as you would any other professional training.

Tattoo Equipment

If you’re interested in getting familiar with tattooing equipment early, check out our guides on the Best Tattoo Kits for Beginners and Best Tattoo Machines for Beginners. We don’t recommend tattooing on anyone’s skin without the guidance of an experienced mentor, but you can use high-quality practice skin to mimic the experience.

Are There Other Costs?

There are additional costs to consider when you are entering into a tattoo apprenticeship.

  • Supplies - Tattoo apprentices usually need to purchase their own supplies. This means you will need a full kit, including tattoo guns, tattoo ink, gloves, and sanitary supplies. You do not want to go down the cheap route when it comes to these products, and your mentor will likely tell you which brands to go with. These will follow you into your tattooing career, so they’re worth the investment as it allows you to get to know the machinery and materials well.
  • Licensing and Certifications - These are the most important costs you will likely experience in your apprenticeship, as they will be what allows you to tattoo on people and then get a career in the tattooing industry. Certifications and licensing will be related to health and safety, tattoo training records, vaccination records, certified CPR training, or even cosmetic artist registration. Tattoo licenses vary by state, but here is a list of each state licensing requirement.
  • Record Keeping - If organization and bookkeeping is not your strong suit, you may need to pay someone to do record keeping for you. Sterilization records need to be kept for up to 12 months, and contracts must be stored years after the session.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How Do Tattoo Apprentices Make Money?

A: You can make money by working in the shop as you learn your trade, getting a part-time job elsewhere to cover expenses, or working hard towards completing your apprenticeship and then joining a shop as a beginner artist.

Q How long does a tattoo apprenticeship typically last?

A: A tattoo apprenticeship can last anywhere from 1-3 years, depending on the program and the individual’s progress.

Q: Do I need to have any prior art experience to get a tattoo apprenticeship?

A: While prior art experience is not always required, it can be helpful. Most tattoo artists want to see a portfolio that demonstrates that you have some artistic ability and a passion for creating art.

Q: Do I need to bring my own tattoo equipment to my apprenticeship?

A: No, usually you do not need to bring your own equipment. Your mentor will normally provide you with the necessary tools and equipment to learn and practice tattooing. However, every artist will have their own methods of teaching, so it can be on a case-by-case basis.

Q: Will I get paid during my apprenticeship?

A: It depends on the tattoo shop and the program. Most apprenticeships are unpaid, while others may offer a small stipend, hourly wage, or commission.

Our Final Thoughts

Tattoo apprenticeships are the safest, most thorough, and most highly respected way to enter into the tattooing industry. Though it may cost a fee to learn from a respected mentor, like all professional schooling, it’s worth the investment. Ensure you are doing thorough research prior to beginning your search into tattoo apprenticeship, and be aware and ready for any additional costs that may arise.

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