I am not sure a degree is necessary to be a tattoo artist. It would seem like an apprenticeship would be a better path, however, if you might want to take some general business classes at your local community college if you seek to own and/or manage your own tattoo business someday. You might also check into a drawing class to hone your graphic skills or a digital design class to be able to design your own patterns and tattoos.
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Tattooing is an age-old form of body modification that involves permanently embedding ink in skin to create designs or images. Tattoo artists are professionals who design and apply tattoos to all areas of customers' bodies with specialized needles. When dealing with customers, tact and patience may be required. Long periods of sitting are often a part of the job, as some designs take a considerable amount of time to create. Evening and weekend work is usually necessary as well. A tattoo artist license is necessary to practice. A tattoo artist's job outlook depends on location and quality of work. With tattoos becoming more socially accepted, opportunities are available in more locations. However, there must be a large number of potential clientele and a moderate amount of competition in the location chosen. Similarly, an artist's quality of work is a factor that contributes to job outlook. To have a successful tattoo artist career, clients must appreciate, and desire an artist's work; this can be accomplished by constant practice and social media outreach.
Typical Job Duties of a Tattoo Artist
Cleaning and sterilizing tattoo equipment & work areas
Artistry with new design ideas & daily sketching practice
Staying current in the latest tattoo movements and trends
Booking appointments and client communications
Tattooing clients & educating them accurately on aftercare routines
Continual updating of knowledge on current health and safety practices
Degree Level Needed None
Degree Field(s) None
License/Certification Licensure required in most states; Voluntary certification available
Experience 3-year apprenticeship recommended
Key Skills Creativity and artistic ability; tact, patience, and communications skills
Steps to Becoming a Tattoo Artist
Step 1. Take Tattoo Artist Education Courses
Many skills needed for a successful career as a tattoo artist can be learned from an apprenticeship with a knowledgeable artist, but some health departments and other state and local regulatory agencies also require classroom experience. This experience accords a tattoo artist certification. A tattoo school or tattoo college is where one can develop their skills while learning the necessary practices for how to be a tattoo artist. Tattoo artist college courses include seminars in disease prevention, skin diseases and infections and training in blood-borne pathogen prevention, and may be required for licensing. Similarly, tattoo artist school includes tattoo classes where one will actually learn to tattoo on bodies while also gaining tattoo artist training in fields like line shading & color blending, stencil construction, and tattoo history. While not necessary, tattoo education training increases one's skills and knowledge, future hiring potential, and reputation in the community. Once these courses are completed, students receive a tattoo certificate.
Step 2. Compile a Portfolio
Aspiring tattoo artists should possess great artistic ability and creativity. Before an artist can gain an apprenticeship working in a shop, he or she needs to complete a professional portfolio exhibiting his or her best works of art. The portfolio should showcase the artist's versatility and ability to draw a variety of subjects. A portfolio can contain both original works and high-quality photographs or drawings.
Taking art classes, either in high school or through a local community center, can help an aspiring tattoo artist learn various art skills, including scale, proportion and shading, all of which are necessary to work successfully as a tattoo artist. Portfolios should contain 25-200 completed drawings and tattoo designs. Make sure these works are completely original and showcase the artist's imagination and versatility.
The best practice for how to become a tattoo apprentice is to include a cover letter and resume in your portfolio. The resume should feature your tattoo education and experience; your cover letter should be addressed to the artist you wish to apprentice under. Include a few highlights of your relevant experience and passion, as well as a main point about one piece in your portfolio. You might consider investing in personal business cards to attach to your portfolio as well.
Step 3. Complete an Apprenticeship
An apprenticeship is one of the necessary tattoo artist requirements for how to become a licensed tattoo artist. The Alliance of Professional Tattooists, or APT for short, recommends an apprenticeship of at least three years. During an apprenticeship, a prospective artist will work in a shop alongside a professional tattooist learning to design tattoos, to operate a tattoo machine, and to sterilize equipment. Additionally, some apprenticeships include lessons on business aspects of tattooing and may prepare aspiring artists to have their own shop. According to the APT, free apprenticeships are rare. An apprentice often pays the artist to teach him or her or signs a contract agreeing to work for the shop he or she apprentices in for a set number of years after the apprenticeship is complete. The average apprenticeship costs $5,000, but could be as expensive as $10,000.
When looking for a mentor, you want to make sure you are searching in established and trustworthy tattoo shops. One of the most important things is that your mentor and his/her/their shop follows proper hygiene guidelines and standards. Learning health and safety protocols is crucial for a successful apprenticeship. Similarly, make sure your desired mentor has plenty of clients and has apprenticed someone before. This relationship can be challenging and you want to make sure your mentor is experienced at the skills necessary for your success. Remember that your apprenticeship is meant to challenge you, so make sure to pick a mentor who will provoke and stimulate you during your time working together.
When you contact and request to work with your mentor, remember to be professional, respectful, and knowledgeable. Try to initiate a face-to-face meeting, do the necessary research, and bring all of your materials to present.
When applying for an apprenticeship, all you need is your portfolio. However, as you advance, you may want to invest in some equipment and a basic tattoo kit. Make sure to communicate with your mentor before spending any additional money on your career.
Rubber surgical gloves
Stencil paper and a heat transfer machine
A power supply and foot switch
Various inks - basic pigment colors and black
Multiple needle configurations, including tubes and tips for each configuration
Ink caps and Vaseline
Spray bottles - one for soap and one for alcohol
Step 4. Get a License
A tattoo license is absolutely necessary to becoming a successful tattoo artist. The requirements for how to get a tattoo license vary from state to state. Oregon, for example, requires licensees to complete a minimum of 360 hours of training under an approved artist as well as 50 tattoos completed. A universal answer for the question of 'how do you get a license for tattooing' almost always includes a written exam and skills assessment. There are some states, like Arizona, where tattoo artists do not need to acquire a license, but be cautious of such absences of restrictions as your experience will be greatly affected by them.
Once you obtain a tattoo artist license, you will want to start finding clients. The easiest way to do this is to use social media platforms. The smartest, most effective way to begin sharing your work is to keep constant documentation of your drawings and designs from the beginning. You can even create your username and begin contributing to your page while taking your education courses to get a head start. Research your favorite tattoo artists and make sure to follow their pages as well; if you do this once a month with intention, you will be able to build an expansive network, and be able to share your professional work and access potential clients when you are ready.
Step 5. Continue Education for Advancement
Some states require tattoo artists to complete a specified number of continuing education credits to renew their license. Continuing education options are available in the form of seminars and classes.
Joining a professional organization, such as the APT or the Association of Professional Tattoo Artists, can provide a tattoo artist with a variety of continuing education options, as well as networking opportunities in the industry. Some organizations, for example, provide services that link potential customers to tattoo artists' online portfolios and hold contests where artists can hone their skills.
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