Monday, March 22, 2010

So You Wanna Be A Tattoo Apprentice?...

Tattoo apprentice.

For some (hopeful wannabes) this title is a pipe-dream come true.

For others (aka tattoo professionals who cringe at the thought of yet *another* apprentice) it is a thought that invokes untold horror.

Why horror? Well, if you could see how many "hopefuls" approach your average shop owner in a month, you might begin to understand.

For one thing, it seems that many tattooist hopefuls are not interested in the craft itself. Thanks to such reality t.v. fodder as LA Ink, it seems that a lot of folks seeking an apprenticeship are more interested in gaining some kind of "rock star" status; that remains their only motivation. On top of it, maybe a fraction of these hopefuls can actually draw. I have sat with my teacher on more than one occasion while she humored someone walking in with a portfolio and had to bite my tongue (and she would be doing the same thing). No, it's not arrogance. It's just the fucking truth.

Yes, drawing well IS important, believe it or not (cringe). Certainly there are plenty of crap tattoo artists out there who still bring in business. But how is that benefitting the craft, the beauty, that is the tattoo? How is that good for art in general? So PLEASE, kids: Draw, draw, and draw some more. How was I offered my apprenticeship in the first place? I COULD DRAW. 'Nuff said.

What a lot of hopefuls also don't seem to realize is that being a tattoo apprentice is NOT a cake walk. Not in any way, shape or form. It is not glamorous. It is hard work, often heart wrenching, filled with pitfalls and myriad frustrations, big and small. You will break down and cry rivers of tears. You will be broke (this is not a paying gig--you will have to pay for everything, including your teacher's time, and this can add up to quite an investment). You will most likely be working a full time dayjob BESIDES apprenticing (unless mommy and daddy are supporting your princely ass).

You must take every task very seriously, or else you will put other's health and well being at risk (including your own or your teacher's). If you make a mistake, you will hear about it, and it will NOT be the candy coated version. If you are already an experienced fine artist (especially a painter, like me), prepare to get humble REALLY FAST--although you may have a buttload of experience in the fine art arena, tattooing is a different game altogether. Socially, systematically, aesthetically. At times fine art and tattooing can cross paths and get along--but less often than you'd think.

A princess act will get your butt fired faster than you can say "uncle". Apprentice= BITCH. That's right. Bend over. Stick your butt cheeks out. Take your medicine. Then say, "Thank you, Sir/Ma'am, may I have another?"

No, this doesn't mean constant abuse from your teacher. My teacher is a close friend and has begun to feel like family to me--I am even dedicating an upcoming novella to her. Yes, I have been yelled at/scolded/put in my place. But never when it was not warranted to keep me on the right path. And I have also recieved tons of encouragement, love, and companionship from her--the better I get at tattooing, the more our work together feels like a partnership, which is the end goal. But I also show her incredible respect and am pretty much at her beck and call whenever she needs it, even if that means driving to the shop last minute after a long tiring day elsewhere and cleaning the floor with a Q-Tip. Don't like the sound of that? DON'T APPRENTICE. Be willing to buck up and stick it out or choose a different career path.

I take pride in the fact that Beth can trust me. She knows I am in this for the long haul and I want to make her proud and be the best I can be at this fresh aspect of my artistic career. I am humble, always willing to help out (including carpooling and pet-sitting the shop bulldog, Noodles *love*). I know why I am there and that I have a LONG way to go to reach her skill level--and when I do make mistakes, I grovel like a slave. I am not apprenticing because I want to be a rock star or the next reality t.v. fodder star. I am doing this so that I can make an excellent living doing what I love, because I love the craft itself, because I love being tattooed and contributing to a positive image of the tattooed individual--someone who is beautiful and unique, a living canvas.

So if you are going to seek out an apprenticeship, PLEASE give it some real thought before you waste anyone's time (including your own).

And if you are lucky enough to land one, prepare yourself for the wildest (and most satisfying) ride of your life.


  1. Don't think I could do it, but kudos to those who can.

  2. "dedicating an upcoming novella to her"

  3. iv always wanted to tattoo ever since i can remember and iv been working on my portfolio for a good wile now and plan on for a good bit longer i wanna impress when i start reaching out for an apprenticeship,this has been a very helpful read thanks:)

  4. is there anything in particular i will need to be able to draw or should i just draw a large variety of things
    forgot to add this to the above comment.


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