What Makes a Good Tattoo Artist

Tattooing procedure
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If you want to be a tattoo artist, there are some things you need to know. All tattoo artists are not created equal and you will never make it amongst them if you don’t have the right skills to compete. This article is intended to be very straightforward and will not coddle you in any way. So, if you want someone to tell you that you that anyone can make it in this business as long as they have the desire, you are in the wrong place.
If you really want to know what it takes to make it in the tattoo world, keep reading.

Money & Fame
First of all, let’s talk about money. Tattooing is big business and a lot of the more popular artists are making a killing at it. Some of them have so many people knocking at their door that they have had to resort to creating a waiting list weeks, months, or even years in advance. Customers are lined up and willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a few hours work. Sure sounds like tattooing is a get-rich-quick dream, doesn’t it? Well, snap back to reality because you are only seeing one tiny part of the big picture. First of all, the ones making a killing versus the ones working just as hard and barely making ends meet is a very high ratio. Secondly, there is a lot of money that has to be invested into running a successful, safe, clean, sterile and professional tattooing business.

Artists are in high demand because their patrons know they can be trusted for cleanliness as well as quality artwork.

One autoclave sterilizer can cost thousands of dollars. High quality tattoo machines, power supplies, medical equipment and sanitation supplies also add up significantly. And then there’s insurance, licenses and other legal red tape that can break the bank before you even get started. So, if you’re in this for the money, you’re going to be very disappointed.

Not to mention the fact that anyone that starts any new career or business purely money-motivated has already set themselves up for disaster. If you do not love, and I do mean love, the art of tattooing and would not be willing to do it for free, then don’t waste your time even trying to get in.

The desire for fame is just as ridiculous a motivation for becoming a tattoo artist as money is. Yes, there are a few people in the tattoo community that are considered famous and we find ourselves gushing at the thought of meeting them or being tattooed by them simply because of who they are. Well, trust me – they didn’t get into this business for the purpose of fame, either, and the reason it happened upon them is because they EARNED it. They worked their asses off, dedicating every drop of sweat to the art and they eventually got recognized for it because of that dedication. Someone looking purely for an ego boost isn’t going to be willing to put forth that much effort, so it would be best for them to go try to find their 15 minutes on a reality TV show.

You Think You Got Skillz?
You like to draw and your mom says you do wonderful work. Your friends all tell you that you should be an artist.

Even your teachers tell you that you have real potential. Does that make you a candidate for becoming a tattoo artist? Maybe, but don’t get your hopes up too high. You think you got skillz? Let’s talk about skill. Currently, there are so many people out there tattooing that in some cities there are literally tattoo shops on every corner and a lot of these artists are turning out some bona fide masterpieces on skin. If you don’t have what it takes to either match or exceed the quality of your competition, then you have no business being in this business. Tattooing isn’t about tracing stencils anymore – it’s about creating art. And not just any art – there is a big difference between the ability to draw and the ability to crank out a work of art under pressure. And if you’re looking for an apprenticeship – we’ll talk about that in a bit – you had better be able to “wow” them with your portfolio or you’re going to get nowhere fast.

Page 2: A Look at the Competition

You want to see what kind of skills are currently prevailing in the tattoo community? Take a look at the works of Pat Fish, Tom Renshaw, Kim Saigh, Josh Woods, , Paul Booth, Meghan Hoogland, F. Kirk Alley, and Tom & Mick Beasley. Not humbled yet? How about Aaron Bell, Bob Tyrell, Henning Jorgensen, or Trevor Marshall? This is just a pittance of the tattoo world’s most superior artists and the monumental excellence of art they provide.

Are you ready to count yourself as one of their peers? If you are, then good for you! If you’re not but you desperately want to be, then go get the training that is necessary, like a fine arts class. If you’re not ready and you’re not willing to work hard to get there, then tattooing is not for you. If all you want to do is trace flash and make fast cash, then you have nothing to offer to the continuation and evolution of the art of tattoo. If you have nothing to contribute, then you need to find something else to do.

Anything Worth Doing…..
Ever hear the saying, “Anything worth doing is worth doing right (or well)”? Well, the same thing goes for learning the art of tattoo. Being an artist on paper is one thing – being an artist on skin is another. But before you can be a tattoo artist, you need to learn the other aspects of working in a tattoo studio. Even more important than drawing, more important than tattooing or making money, is knowing how to keep your customers safe.

You need to learn how to clean, how to prevent cross-contamination, how to sterilize your equipment, what can be sterilized and what has to be tossed, how to safely protect your equipment and how to properly dispose of contaminated materials. If you don’t care about any of these things, then you damn well had better not want to be a tattoo artist because you will have someone’s blood on your hands faster than you can say "lawsuit". Safety is the number one priority of any reputable artist and studio owner.

The way to learn it is to apprentice under someone that’s been doing it and living by it for years.

Once you learn the basics, they will then teach you the art. Learning how to effectively apply a tattoo to hundreds of different kinds of skin without damaging your client can take months or even years. You will be trained in how to customize particular designs to meet the needs and desires of your customers. Through many hours of practice you will learn how to increase your speed, improve your consistency and efficiently go from one customer to the next. You will also learn customer relations and possibly how to run a tattoo business and manage the studio. All under the direction of an experienced artist, who is there to answer your questions, correct your mistakes and give you constant guidance. This is the only truly acceptable way to learn how to tattoo. Even artists that once taught themselves will strongly advise against it to anyone else. If you want to make an impression, don’t be lazy and stupid by trying to take the “easy” road. In the long run, it will only hurt you and potentially anyone you tattoo.

Pure Dedication
I said in the beginning of this article that desire alone would not be enough to make it in the tattoo world.

Desire is wanting, but it’s not doing. What you need is a dedication that inspires you to action, and enough dedication to stick with it for the long term. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme; it’s an art form. Some painters become famous and get rich from it, but most don’t – and all do it for the love. The same goes with tattoo artists. If you love it so much that you would be willing to do whatever it takes to become a competitive artist with a honed talent, then you are certainly on the right road. If you love the art so much that you would be willing to do it for free, then I wish you all the success in the world.