How To Get a Tattoo Apprenticeship To Start Your Career

Updated July 31, 2023

A tattoo apprentice gives a tattoo to a customer.

Training as an apprentice is a traditional step in the process of becoming a tattoo artist. Tattoo apprenticeships give you the opportunity to learn from an experienced mentor who can show you safe methods to permanently tattoo artwork onto your clients. Learning how to get a tattoo apprenticeship is an important aspect of getting started in the tattoo industry and becoming a licensed tattoo artist yourself.

In this article, we explain what a tattoo apprenticeship is, discuss why they're important for starting your career as a tattoo artist and share advice on finding an apprenticeship where you can begin learning your craft.

Related: Your Guide to Tattoos in the Workplace

What is a tattoo apprenticeship?

A tattoo apprenticeship is a training program where experienced tattoo artists train students and teach them all aspects of tattooing clients, from sanitation standards to artistry. They're standard requirements for many state licensing programs for tattoo artists. Tattoo apprenticeships can last from one to three years depending on the shop, and they're typically full-time commitments.

During apprenticeships, students observe tattoo artists to learn their techniques, then slowly start gaining more responsibility by practicing on fake skin, working with clients under close supervision and eventually tattooing independently. Tattoo artists teach their apprentices how to build tattoo machines, maintain a sterile environment and use various techniques to achieve specific visual effects. They also discuss topics like creating designs, placement on the body and working with different skin textures and tones.

Related: What Does a Tattoo Artist Do?

How to get a tattoo apprenticeship

Here is a basic guide explaining how to find and secure an apprenticeship with a tattoo artist:

1. Develop your visual art skills

Before you look for tattoo apprenticeship opportunities, independently cultivate your skills as an artist. Being able to create interesting, beautiful sketches and artworks on paper is an important first step before you can convince a mentor to teach you to tattoo someone's skin. Understanding the basics of composition, value, texture and line can give you the fundamentals to create compelling design and show licensed tattoo artists that you have the potential to be successful in their shop. It can also make it easier for you to prepare an interesting portfolio of tattoo designs.

Consider taking art classes to learn about the elements and principles of art. You can also start practicing on your own by drawing in sketchbooks and experimenting with patterns, shading and techniques. The more time you spend drawing, the more you can refine your style.

Related: 14 Careers for People Who Like To Draw

2. Practice common tattoo art styles

Look at pictures of tattoos and research common tattoo styles to learn how to apply your knowledge of art to the tattoo industry. When you approach a tattoo artist about an apprenticeship, it's useful to have pieces in your portfolio that emulate popular styles of tattoo art to show that you can provide clients with pieces that interest them. It's also a good idea to explore popular script and lettering styles that tattoo artists use when inking words and phrases on their clients. Examples of art styles to research include:

  • American traditional

  • Neotraditional

  • Japanese

  • New school

  • Realism

  • Dotwork

  • Geometric

Related: How To Become a Tattoo Artist

3. Create a variety of original art pieces

Dedicate yourself to producing several finished artworks to feature in an apprenticeship portfolio. It's important for these artworks to display a combination of your technique and creativity. The exact number of pieces to include in your portfolio can vary depending on the quality of your designs, but having 50 or 100 artworks in a tattoo apprenticeship portfolio is common. Select your most impressive, complete designs for your portfolio that show a variety of art styles, including some works in black and gray and others in full color.

4. Prepare a professional portfolio

Once you choose the works to feature in your portfolio, assemble them so you can display them to potential employers. It's a good idea to have both an online and a physical copy of your portfolio so you can connect with tattoo artists digitally and in person. Scan your pieces and upload them to a professional website with an online gallery. Then, purchase a portfolio book with a hard case and sheet protectors and display your artwork. You can bring this book with you to tattoo shops as an easy way to advertise your skills to potential mentors.

5. Plan your finances

When you're ready to begin a tattoo apprenticeship, start planning your finances. Although some tattoo apprenticeships offer payment, most are unpaid opportunities. Many tattoo apprentices even cost money for the education you receive from the artist. Because tattoo apprentices work full-time learning to tattoo without getting paid, it's important to have a plan for income. Saving up to support yourself or securing a flexible part-time job is essential for ensuring that you can complete your apprenticeship.

Related: How Long Does It Take To Become a Tattoo Artist? And Other FAQs

6. Research licensed tattoo artists

Explore apprenticeship opportunities by researching licensed tattoo artists in your area. Some tattoo artists may advertise when they have an apprenticeship opportunity available, while others may simply accept apprentices when someone approaches them with a portfolio that they like. If you want to learn how to tattoo in a specialty style, look for tattoo artists who have experience in that area. Consider factors such as their years of experience, reviews from clients and reputation in the industry.

7. Promote your work in person

Visit the tattoo shop in person and ask if the tattoo artist is available to look at your portfolio. You can ask the staff at the front desk if they have any advice for approaching that particular artist about an apprenticeship, as every artist is different. If that artist is unavailable, ask if you can leave them your portfolio to browse or give them your contact information and schedule to meet later.

When you do meet with an artist, compliment them on their work and tell them you're interested in learning from them. Ask them about the process of becoming an apprentice and explain why you're specifically interested in being their apprentice. Be confident, friendly and have a positive attitude when interacting with the shop staff.

8. Ask for feedback

Ask the tattoo artist for genuine feedback about your work and listen to what they have to say. Even if they aren't interested in hiring you as an apprentice at the time, their advice can help you improve your work to make you more appealing to another artist in the future. Remember that they're doing you a favor by teaching you their skills, so showing gratitude is important.

9. Make connections

You can increase your chances of getting an apprenticeship by networking with others in the tattooing industry. Getting tattoos yourself and making friends with your artists is a good way to learn about tattoo culture and the process of starting this career path. You can also go to tattoo conventions to meet artists and their apprentices. Be persistent and dedicated to advertising your portfolio, meeting new artists and improving your work until you find someone who wants to invest in your skills.


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