Tricks of the Trade Breaking in to the Tattoo Industry

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Over the last several decades, getting tattoos has become a popular practice in mainstream culture. According to a Life magazine article published in 1936, an estimated 10 million Americans, roughly 6% of the population, had at least one tattoo. A study conduction by the Pew Research Center in Apr. 2015 shows that nearly 45 million Americans, or 14% of the population, have at least one tattoo.

Tattoo art is a hot, lucrative industry for those who want to become a tattoo artist. The same Pew Research study revealed that more than $1.65 billion is spent annually on tattoos in the U.S. Today, more than one-in-five adults in the US have tattoos.

The key to becoming a great tattoo artist is to, first, become a tattoo apprentice. Here are a few helpful tips to becoming a tattoo apprentice.

1. Be Prepared

A love of art and excellent artistic skills are necessary to become a tattoo apprentice. First, compile a portfolio. Put together a set of drawings and sketches that will show an established tattoo artist your skill set and commitment to the craft.

2. Find a Reliable Mentor

In 1846, German immigrant Martin Hildebrandt arrived in Boston and became the first tattoo artist in America. Tattoo education has come a long way since then. Proper instruction is necessary to become a licensed tattoo artist.

In order to become a tattoo apprentice, finding an established tattoo artist willing to teach you the tricks of the trade is a must. Official associations suggest finding a licensed tattoo artist with at least five years of experience. Choose someone you respect and get along with, since most tattoo apprenticeships last at least two years.

3. Learn the Ropes

Don’t expect to start inking people on your first day. Most tattoo artists do not allow their apprentices to actually tattoo anyone for the first year of the tattoo apprenticeship. Consider your apprenticeship as a tattoo school, Your mentor will show you the proper way to safely clean tattooing instruments and the studio, how to manage the shop and all the necessary health guidelines you must know to become a tattoo artist. Continue building your portfolio and observe how other tattoo artists develop their craft.

4. Get a License

According to the Pew Research Center, 49% of Americans with tattoos consider the reputation of the tattoo artist or tattoo studio as the most important factor when deciding to get a tattoo. Obtaining an official license is important to establishing a successful career. States vary on requirements for getting a license, but all demand several hours of work at a tattoo studio and examples of past tattoos completed.

It is also wise to join an official tattoo association. Organizations like the Alliance of Professional Tattooists (APT) and The Association of Professional Tattoo Artists (APTA) provide great information and continuing education opportunities.

Use these tips to become a tattoo apprentice, and take the first steps to build a successful career in the tattoo industry.


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