8 tips for beginner tattoo artists
So you’ve packed your bag with needles, designs and ink and you’re about to start your career as a tattoo artist. What’s in store for you over the next few years? What do you need to be aware of? Just what should you be doing? Here are eight tips for beginners who are just starting out.
1. Constantly work on your portfolio
Louis Molloy, the artist responsible for most of the Beckhams’ tattoos, is constantly asked what his advice for aspiring artists is. “The first thing I’d say is to get a portfolio of your work together,” he revealed in an interview with The Independent. “Don’t just copy designs out of tattoo magazines. That won’t impress anyone. A lot of people want to get into the industry because somehow they think it’s a glamorous rock’n’roll lifestyle. It’s not. It’s bloody hard work.”
Have designs ready that are suited for black tattoo ink. Include ones that will work well for if you’re using the Rake and Striking Stick method, artwork for full sleeve pieces and also small, delicate designs. Build up a portfolio full of variety and don’t limit yourself.
When you start your career as a tattoo artist, it will most likely be quite a while before you’re allowed to actually ink someone’s skin but this doesn’t mean you should be sat twiddling your thumbs until the great day arrives. Doodle on napkins, search Instagram for inspiration and create artwork at every opportunity you can.
2. Seek advice from established professionals
The tattoo industry is an amazingly creative business to be a part of and, if you’re lucky, as you progress throughout your career you’ll be fortunate enough to be able to work alongside established, talented professionals. They’ll talk to you about their experiences over the years and give you invaluable advice to support you on your journey towards becoming a tattoo artist. Make sure you listen to them.
3. Work on your customer service skills
Unfortunately, every now and again you’ll have a nightmare customer come into the shop. They’ll have brought too many people along with them, have no idea what they want and moan about the price.
Worst of all, some of them won’t have the polite hygiene levels required for anyone spending an extended period of time in close proximity to someone else’s body. You’ll need to know how to handle with tricky customers in a diplomatic, professional manner.
4. Ask for (and listen to) criticism
One of best ways to develop as an artist is to be evaluated and critiqued. It may suck a little to hear some of your work isn’t as good as you’d hoped, but it’s vital you learn what your areas for improvement are. Then you can work on them.
Remember, when you ask someone for their opinion on your designs or work, it’s not an opportunity for you to defend your art – it’s a chance to listen and learn how you can improve.
5. Tattoo trends happen – accept it
Tattoo artists are a creative and innovative bunch, so it can be frustrating when a certain design becomes popular and you find yourself inking the same tattoo over and over again. However, you need to accept that now and again you’ll find yourself having to create yet another infinity symbol with black tattoo ink for a customer when all you want to do is try something a bit different. At the end of the day, if your customer isn’t bothered by their tattoo being similar to thousands of other people’s then you shouldn’t be either. Respect the wishes of your client and don’t push too hard to talk them out of it.
6. Be prepared to be self-employed and know what it involves
Even though you may end up working in a shop, complete with a boss to answer to, you will more than likely be self-employed. Many tattoo artists are regarded as freelance contractors and need to file their own taxes etc.
Get clued up about invoices, taxes, expenses and the HMRC and just how to file your returns. If you’re lucky, artists who’ve been working in the industry for a while will happily help point you in the right direction of what to be doing and help you along the way when you first start out.
7. Have a strong work ethic
It’s tough starting out as a tattoo artist but, unfortunately, the hard work doesn’t stop when you become qualified. Phil Kyle, tattooist and owner of Brighton’s Magnum Opus Tattoo, is one of the UK’s leading artists and his typical day sees him running around dealing with paperwork and admin. He’ll be doing consultations and tattooing clients until 7pm before going home to work on more designs in the evening.
“When you’re in, it’s your life,” he says. “You don’t clock out. You have to be inquisitive and eager to master new skills. You need determination and tenacity, too, because it can be hard to get started. You’ve got to be like a dog that won’t let go of a bone.”
You’re going to need ambition, dedication and willingness to work hard – from the second you start as a tattoo apprentice right up until the point you’re running your own shop.
8. Have fun. Have all the fun.
You didn’t want a mundane 9-to-5 job, did you? Working in the tattoo industry gives you the chance to go to work every day in a fun environment and enjoy your work. As tiring and hard as the career can be at first, it’s certainly worth it, so remember to have some fun along the way.
READ NEXT: See Mookychick’s big guide on how to become a tattoo artist.