So, you think you might want to be a tattooer but your aren’t sure how to make the best impression when approaching an artist for an apprenticeship. One way to stand out (aside from your winning personality) is by having a solid portfolio to prove your artistic skills and commitment to the arts. There are several things tattoo artists will look for when considering an apprentice. Here are a few basics.
Solid, completed art. NOT A SKETCHBOOK! As I have mentioned before, any high school student can assemble a sketchbook to doodle in and make pencil sketches, but it takes a serious artist to create a portfolio of professional, quality work that demonstrates knowledge of design concepts and proficiency in multiple mediums. Do the work of a professional and that is what you will become.
If your work shows a serious influence from the tattoo world, chances are you are seriously into tattoos. What does that influence look like? Take a look at some “tattoo flash” and you will notice that the designs are not filling the entire page, but rather have a shape of their own, making them more transferable to a 3D canvas. The designs are not busy or full of multiple tiny subjects. They can stand alone or be added to a flash sheet and put emphasis on clean lines and high contrast to hold up well on the skin. There are countless subtleties that will indicate how much your art takes inspiration from tattooing. Not only will this stand out to a potential mentor and teach you to spot those subtleties, but it will also give you a library of original work to tattoo on your future clients. The best platform for finding inspirational tattoo art is Instagram, so follow as many artists as you can. (Be mindful of original artwork as design stealing is highly offensive!)
Vary your subject matter. We get that you have a style and subjects that you prefer to draw, but if you are not willing to leave your comfort zone, tattooing might not be for you. Humans love variety (it’s like a spice or something) and you don’t want to be pigeon-holed into the latest tattoo trends by always letting the client choose the design. Increase your skills and try drawing subjects you have never drawn before. This will show your commitment to growth and your versatility as an artist. Even if you just really love drawing faces, there is not a huge demand for tattoos of faces by apprentice tattooers for a reason. Learn/prove you can draw different subjects and it will help you add variety to your face drawings later on.
Do not include tattoos you have done! This was another tip I included on how to get an apprenticeship. But let me reiterate; a professional tattooer does not want to see your home-made tattoos any more than a dentist wants to see the cavity you filled yourself because you really want to be a dentist. It is not legal to tattoo without a license in most states, and tattooers work very hard to get into the profession. Skipping ahead without knowing what you are doing is not only disrespectful to the industry, but it shows you assume tattooing is easy and requires no skill or learning. If you bought a “tattoo kit” and started tattooing all of your friends in your basement, you might want to keep that to yourself.
Don’t get discouraged if no one is interested in taking you on right away. Apprenticeships are not easy to do or to give, and the responsibility of someone’s education is not often taken lightly. The tattoo industry is relatively new to the main stream and many tattooers still resist the idea of it being a widely accessible career path. It can take 10+ years post-apprenticeship for an tattooer to feel skilled enough to teach and there are no guidelines or requirements to follow, making expectations unclear and misunderstandings more likely. All of this makes many tattooers very hesitant to accept an apprentice. So, if you are not well received at some of the shops you approach, just go on to the next one and try not to take it too personal.
These tips should be a good jumping off point for anyone interested in creating a portfolio for a tattoo apprenticeship. Putting in the hours developing your skills is paramount to stepping foot in on any career path.
Want to know more? Just ask in the comments or let me know what else you want to learn about! Interested in apprenticing with us? Send a link to your portfolio and resume to email@example.com.