Now, this is a really tricky one. Ask the question “Can I become a self taught tattooist?” on any tattoo forum and you will be immediately shot down in flames and called an evil scratcher. No one wants to address this question and the standard answer is “NO. Get an apprenticeship” but it isn’t quite that straightforward… Lets look at the question from all angles.
An apprenticeship is the best way but…
Getting an apprenticeship is like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. This book equips you with the best information to help you find and secure that apprenticeship. However I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it’s an easy journey.
The potential tattooist can face the following difficulties when trying to find an apprenticeship.
● Local tattooists may not want to apprentice “potential competition” and may be hostile.
● Tattooists who offer you an apprenticeship may be standard with poor hygiene practices. Do you want to learn the “wrong” way?
● Personal circumstances, family or children may make it impossible to move or be available for the hours needed in a tattoo shop.
● The need to be able to continue to make money for rent etc during an apprenticeship may make it impossible to work in a shop depending on your employment.
● Tattooists may ask you to pay for an apprenticeship, but the costs may be too high to afford.
● Some unscrupulous tattooists are just out to rip off potential apprentices
● And really, at the end of the day, why would a tattooist want to hand out his own hard earned skills for free? Many tattooists won’t apprentice people as they don’t trust the apprentice will continue to work with them but will set up their own competing studio. You cant blame tattooists for wanting to protect their livelihood as they had to go through the same uphill battle to gain the skills they have…
But where does that leave you? Do you just go “Oh OK. I cant find a tattoo apprenticeship – Ill just go and get a job in McDonalds etc etc” Most people are driven to tattoo by the inner demon of the tattoo god making it THE ONLY think they want to do in their lives. They can’t just give up at the first hurdle. If you want it badly enough you will find a way through the obstacles.
I personally know of some legal registered tattooists in shops who SHOULD NOT be tattooing and have truly awful hygiene standards. They are nothing better than legally registered scratchers. I also know an amazing tattooist who started out teaching himself, got legally registered and now owns his own shop.
Nothing is cut and dried.
HAS ANYONE MADE IT AS A SELF TAUGHT TATTOOIST?
It IS possible to become a self taught tattooist. In fact many of the top tattooists are self taught and many old timers started off working out for themselves the techniques involved. The following amazing artists are all self taught and these are just the ones I like. There are many more.
● Jeff Gogue
● Jo Harrison
● Bez at TripleSix
● Miss Jo Black
IS IT EASY TO BECOME A SELF TAUGHT TATTOOIST?
Here is the truth. Whilst it IS possible to teach yourself how to tattoo, it is the most difficult route into tattooing you could possibly take. It demands the most responsibility and the most work to do it and to do it right. You think doing an apprenticeship is tough? Think again! An apprenticeship will show you how to do things but learning yourself can take years of trial and error to get even half decent.
That’s why tattooists frown on this route. They don’t believe most people have the dedication, stamina and intelligence to do this properly. They are right. Most people don’t, but not ALL people. Ask yourself truthfully. Are you the exception to the rule? The people listed above who have taught themselves are all very dedicated and driven people. Do you measure up? If so, maybe you can do this.
However, trying to teach yourself to tattoo is a MASSIVE RESPONSIBILITY NOT TO BE TAKEN LIGHTLY. You can KILL people if you do this wrong. At the very least you can scar them for life. Teaching yourself is NOT about buying a starter kit and “having a go” on some mates. It is about living, breathing, eating. sleeping tattooing and researching every single facet.
You need to take an honest look at yourself and ask
● Can I draw and design well? Honestly? Really? Not just some mate telling you that misshapen skull you scrawled on a beer mat was wicked!
● Do I take enough responsibility to learn about bloodborne pathogens, cross contamination and hygienic practices inside out and back to front.
● Do I want to do this for the love of the art of tattooing or just because I want to make a quick buck?
● Do I care deeply about the quality of the art I put on a persons body and want it to be as perfect as possible?
● Will I put the hours and hours of practice in on practice skin before I go anywhere near real skin?
● Will I treat my clients with respect?
● Do I have the responsibility, honesty, integrity, passion, drive and professionalism to do this?
If the answers are YES, you might just be the kind of person who can be a self taught tattooist. Maybe you will be able to make it if you can keep going in the face of adversity.
SO HOW DO I BECOME A SELF-TAUGHT TATTOOIST?
If you have exhausted EVERY possibility of getting an apprenticeship and find yourself looking at this option here are some important guidelines.
The answer is LOTS OF PRACTICE, dedication and learning. I understand that some people will have to go this route so I think it best to give you good information on how to do it safely. People without good information make dangerous mistakes.
YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND GOOD HYGIENE PRACTICES.
Enroll and complete a blood borne pathogens course. There are many good online video based courses which do not charge too much and will explain the theory of cross contamination. These courses are aimed at health workers but equally apply to you. Don’t skip this. Your life and the life of your clients depends on you understanding this inside out.
TAKE IT SLOWLY.
Don’t dive straight in to working on people
GET A MENTOR –
If you can find a tattooist who will help you with questions and problems this is an amazing help
DRAW, DRAW DRAW… AND DRAW SOME MORE…
READ EVERYTHING YOU CAN POSSIBLY FIND ABOUT TATTOOING.
DON’T JUST BUY A “HOW TO TATTOO DVD”
Invest in DVDs from top tattooists explaining their work.
DO NOT BUY A TATTOO STARTER KIT FOR $50 OFF EBAY
Invest in a good quality tattoo machine. You are probably looking at spending $700 or more for starters for a machine and power supply. I recommend buying a rotary machine. These avoid many of the frustrating set up and tuning issues from coil machines that can be impossible to fix if you have no mentor. The Cheyenne Hawk is a great machine and uses an easy cartridge needle system. It’s expensive but you get what you pay for. A $50 machine will make a terrible tattoo no matter how skilled you are. If you want to make the best tattoo you possibly can, get the best equipment.
BUY YOUR EQUIPMENT FROM A REPUTABLE ONLINE TATTOO SHOP.
Many inks sold on eBay are fake and you don’t want to be putting that into people’s skin. Make sure you use the best quality and genuine stuff. This goes for everything you use. Make sure it’s the best. No cutting corners.
USE FULLY DISPOSABLE EQUIPMENT.
You cannot sterilise anything using boiling/bleach or anything less than an autoclave. Buy everything disposable and throw it away.
INVEST HOURS AND HOURS IN PRACTICING ON PRACTICE SKIN AND PIG SKIN (GET IT FROM YOUR LOCAL BUTCHER) BEFORE YOU TOUCH A PERSON THEN PROGRESS TO WORKING ON YOUR OWN LEG.
If you want to be a tattooist you need to sacrifice your own skin first.
This is not about being some fly under the radar scratcher working from their dirty kitchen. Register legally with your local authorities and comply with their rules.
BUILD YOUR CONFIDENCE SLOWLY.
Start with small simple tattoos and work your way up as you gain more confidence. It’s really easy to scare yourself if you try to do it all too quickly.
Then maybe you just might make it… Good Luck