Clark would like to offer some helpful words.... hopefully helping the future generations of tattooers to come.. even though he is not currently taking on any apprenticeships.
To be a craftsman (a working artist)... Be sure that you really want it~ it's usually pretty surprising to people when they find out that being a Tattooer is being a craftsman …
what a tattooers life is actually like: A busy tattooers life consists of: •Early mornings / late nights. •Many associates / few friends. •Often misunderstood. •Industry friends will want you to do good but... never better than them. •Single unless your lucky enough to find a partner that has a similar passion & doesn't need all of your attention.... AND! To become busy - it usually takes a half decade of slowly gathering clients.
Yes, Apprenticeships Are a Good Thing - Most masters of any trade started with an apprenticeship under a mentor. It’s the starting line, the point in the right direction. There are many reasons that an apprenticeship is helpful, two reasons that people tend to bypass - 1. apprenticeships learn from & respect those that came before. 2. they teach how to be a well educated professional, to professionally execute something better and cleaner than amateurs.
…It's important to give patrons more than amateurs can. Amateurs get patrons by "talking-the-talk" - they do things cheaper, and with less understanding or dedication. Amateurs have way less respect for the skill, less respect for it's lineage, less time and knowledge on how to do everything. A pro is educated! Also- a pro generally has their life immersed in it. Sure anyone could figure it out. On your own you could probably figure out how to sculpt marble or even do some sort of surgery, but it would be at expense, injury and waste - you would be a menace.
Tattooing is taking a picture, translating it for the skin and then etching it into the skin. It is no closer to drawing or painting than engraving or sculpting, so don't think because you can get your hands on a tattoo machine that it'll be easy to figure out. Patrons deserve the best possible. No one is born knowing how to tattoo, it’s a learned skill, and you need to be part of it, be around it, exposed to it personally before you even consider it as a career. No master of any skilled craft will even entertain the idea of teaching you if you don’t have a true passion for the craft.
1. Know how. -If you want to be part of it t's important to have a passion for it, because this shit will be on people for “THE REST OF THEIR LIVES”! - Be it, think it, do it, love it, be familiar with it. Know the differences between styles, and don't wait for someone to show you how to get into it. Dove in before you think of doing it. There are many different styles of tattooing (you will be asked to do different styles when you are in a walk-in shop because you are a craftsman). One thing I cannot say enough - If you want to tattoo- Be very fuckin familiar with tattooing. Friendships with tattooers can't hurt and there’s YouTube, web-sites, magazines and books galore.... Put a little money into your education and buy books (buying books will continue your knowledge via a long career of study) and the Internet seems to be all about tattooing these days. do more than look at pictures, read blogs as well (just like this one). There are many different approaches, many opinions, many styles... educate yourself. And of course at the very least - know how to draw!!! A tattoo master / teacher can teach you how to put in a tattoo by tracing a good design. A master tattooer can teach you how to color solid and how to do a good blend. A teacher will teach you how to do a nice shade-out with grey, but one thing a teacher Cannot do is make you a good tattoo designer. That comes from inside each person with the time that is put into it. As a standard walk-in shop tattooer (or tattooist-whatever you want to call yourself is fine by me) its important to draw good designs,... a part of teaching will be how to use existing flash, someone else's drawing and how to stencil in a good tattoo. But if you want to be the one thats designs the flash, if you want to design your own tattoos - and if you suck as an artist... Well a teacher might not be able to change that. Study only well done tattoos-, learn the strength of the line so that in the long run you can translate other imagery into long lasting and enjoyable tattoos for the patrons that choose to give you money and sit in your chair. The tattooing that you do will be cherished for the rest of each patrons life. Tattoos are designed different than most other genre due to the blurring, softening and spreading that occurs naturally with time. Since tattooing is a visual craft that will be looked at for decades after the application. A must for great tattooing is the need that it still be identifiable, and enjoyable to look at even after 30, 40 or even 70 years later. That is- if the patron dose not let the sun green it up and fade it. Translate and create tattoo designs, and do it a lot before you even think about being a standout tattooer. A drawing ability is what separates each tattooer, some can't draw very well but they can do a perfect tattoo via the stencil! These tattooers don't create the custom designs or the original flash that they work from, but they are doing great tattoos. If you can draw well and if you would like to do "custom" tattoos, even then only by constant vigil will you be able to have a clientele . Being able to design good tattoos comes from tons and tons of drawing & practice, simply put by drawing a lot- you will be able to draw and create your own great tattooable imagery.
Basically there are two types of tattooing: - walk-in shop tattooing with ready flash. and - custom shop with tattooers doing custom one of a kind work. Both are great, both are professional... both have been normal forms of this great craft for many decades, "each has its proper place in the tattoo trade". If you give a shit then don't be lazy... draw every day, read every book that you can get your hands on. gather books on how to draw, every tattoo magazine, and every website on tattooing that you can. Learn the whole history of tattooing. and for damn sure know and study the style of tattooing that you have a passion for. Your respect for the design and for the trade will mean a lot to a prospective mentor... and it will mean a lot to your future clients.
2. Build a drawing portfolio to seek an apprenticeship. -This wide-spread thing of not drawing tattoos until an apprenticeship makes no sense to me, because if you can't draw why are you wanting to be a tattooer? not being able to draw creates shitty tattoos. I think if you can't draw then stay away from tattooing.
I feel before you are accepted as an apprentice, to even get an apprenticeship - you need to be able to draw, you need to have a portfolio full of tattoo drawings, thus showing your love for tattooing as well as your artistic abilities. Sometimes this is waved and created during the apprenticeship- i.e. waved usually under special circumstances of being good friends. This means that someone is taking you under their wing to teach you how to draw as well as teach you how to apply a tattoo. To me there are a few different elements to an apprenticeship, one is learning how to apply the tattoo in the skin so that the lines and color doesn't fall out in a couple years, and another is learning about the different tattoo styles or visual techniques. there is also learning the flow of the body and how to use that flow in designing for each individual. Another part of an apprenticeship should be to learn how to paint flash, your own flash, so that your walls have actual designs that you yourself have created... etc..
An apprentice art portfolio consists of 50 to 200 drawing or scans & photos of your drawings and or paintings. Mostly, as best as possible, have them completed and colored as well as a couple sketchbooks with at least 200-300 ideas -all done by hand, in tattoo style… and not 50 little drawings just because a good minimum number is 50 ("at-least-50" means if your drawings are all 8”X10” or 11”X14” then 50 would be plenty, but if your drawings are all 3”X5” or 5”X7” well then there should be way more of em -don’t try to do as little as possible just to pass by at the bare minimum –if you don’t have a passion for drawing, ya might want to re-think the whole tattooing idea… because it’s a job that revolves around drawing, having a passion for it is pretty much what all the well known and established tattooers have in common, they love to draw!!).. Use only your best work, what best showcases your talent for tattooing. Portfolios are an actual professional sleeved book, with “prints” of your work “sized” to fit that book. Choose a portfolio that looks like you take pride and respect your work, don't just use a three ring binder. Presentation is about showing how professional and how serious you are about the craft. If possible a digital portfolio can be built as well, the on-line portfolio should also be professional looking, it should not look like art is your hobby, it should look like a professional business web-site (use one of the free web-site building companies such as "WEEBLY.COM"). As far as each drawing, you can have a wide array of work... and put your showstoppers in the front (catch their attention fast and they’ll stick around for the whole show!). Draw things that people usually get tattooed and of course some of your own creative ideas. If you are having a hard time deciding what to draw, you need to know the actual flash of a professional shops walls, in their books and racks, experienced professional shops are full of flash for the over-all public. Flash is basically trophies and badges of different life experiences that people get tattooed. Walk in shop tattoos are mostly about commemorating a time in someone’s life, “like a trophy” or remembering something or someone... or of course simply for adornment reasons. In your walk-in shop career you will constantly be doing all kinds of tattoos. For an apprentice portfolio- perhaps ask your friends what they would get tattooed -and draw those ideas as well! There's no better way to prepare yourself than to talk to people who may be your potential clients someday. Remain open minded about all kinds of tattooing. Most tattoo careers have 4 or 5 early years under the belt of doing what walks in the door. You should be willing to do any and all designs that come your way, each one should be the best you possibly can. If it’s something you think is dumb or boring, you better be willing to make that the best fucking dumb and boring tattoo in history. In the early years you are not too good to do kanji, tribal or barbed wire, if you are- then you wont get any respect, because you’re a taker and a poser that don’t really love the craft… In time (not in months or a couple years) you may grow a clientele and you and your acquired clients might have a favorite style happening, but in the beginning it’s really not like that. The clientele that you have in the beginning is the client that your lucky enough to have walked through the door during your shift. Draw and sketch at least an hour everyday (yes, I do mean every day, well at least if you want to be “above average”). Don't give up on an idea just because it’s too hard or boring, sketch it a few times first, do different versions before you transfer the image to your final “fine-art paper”. Work on a variety of styles and keep at it even when you don't feel like it because you will not always have a choice when it actually comes to professional tattooing. Arrange your days by the hour, have certain times for waking up, certain times for meals, certain times for drawing, for watching TV or playing games, and when to go to bed etc.. Know your daily goals. Also don't sit idle and wait for motivation, a true working artist knows that inspiration and motivation come “after” action has been started. Again, all portfolio drawings must be complete. Color them using your choice of medium, though it is highly thought throughout the trade that watercolor is the most similar visually to actual tattooing, you don't necessarily need to know how to paint as that is taught during the apprenticeship.
3. The Teacher. You need to learn from someone who actually knows what they are doing, someone that actually wants to teach you. Most preferably someone that actually knows you. Not a random stranger, and definitely someone that has a strong background... and someone who will challenge you. This person is responsible for your whole future, helping you learn the basics and some of their own tricks for this craft, so you want the best. Respect the situation, because it is not easy to teach someone. On average the real apprenticeships cost from around $5,000 to $10,000 (just like college) -so your going to have to put on your big boy pants in order to make it worth your while. Persistence and attention by you is absolutely key in this process. It's not very credible or smart to be apprenticed by someone that hasn’t been in the trade very long, because that person is literally still learning as well. I have seen young, less experienced professionals will take on an apprentice simply so that they can advertise (or brag) that they are so good at their job that they have an apprentice. If you are both learning at the same time you will probably regret it later, most do. Get lots and lots of work from the person you plan on asking for this apprenticeship. A stranger walking in cold and expecting an apprenticeship is all take. By getting work from them you show them that you at least have a passion and interest, and it gives them a chance to gauge and get to know you.
4. The Apprenticeship. -Prepare to be what they call the 'shop bitch'. You pay for your schooling, you don't get paid and sometimes, if you don't have the money- you pay by doing all the dirty work. • Don’t treat tattooing like the kind of thing that just needs an application, this isn’t a summer job, it’s a whole life, a life of passion in the craft ~ treat it that way. During your apprenticeship - With out having to be told- take care of things... i.e. - the trash, bathroom, lobby, clean walls and furniture as well as lights, lamps fans etc. Tare down & set up the stations, make sure these stations are kept stocked of all needs, even possibly on your own doing random things above and beyond ~ such as- sharpening pencils, scrubbing floor boards... all around making the shop look better than when you came- cleaning the inside and outside of everything, sweeping the outside as well as the inside of the shop, arrange all things to look nicer, have good people skills and aid the clients, always make sure to help them feel good and proud of the shop and artists in it that they have chosen. Switch out the magazines, dust everything, straiten the wall art, organize the piles of drawing materials that are needed in this industry, organize the art that the shop artists create, run errands... etc. As well as paying for education- these things are being done to help you develop good professional habits ...and to see if you're lazy and not actually interested or seriously dedicated, this usually does weed out the unprofessional posers. So take these tasks as an honor. You're lucky to be there, so act that way. Usually best not to wait to be asked to do these things, just do them. When you start learning to put in a tattoo it's usually done via- a lot of watching. You should sit and watch most of the tattoos being done and do it daily. Stay attentive, one of the best ways to learn is through watching. You need to learn all the health precautions (including obtaining your own blood borne pathogen certification). later you will start learning to use the tattoo machine (NEVER call it a gun!). At first, you will tattoo on fake skin, fruit and maybe even yourself, depending on your teacher. You will learn about all the different set ups for the machines, the difference between liners and shaders, etc. as well as all the previously mentioned duties you will always have to keep drawing, you need to learn how to draw things quickly and well. It’s a LOT of hard work so don't get discouraged. Apprenticeships can take 6 months to 2 years, so plan your life accordingly. Understand that to be a professional tattooer is a true gift… including and needing constant growth. Most tattooers feel that taking on an apprentice is a very special thing, a lineage. Understand and respect what a huge amount of work, trust and respect that taking on an apprentice is for the teacher. Tattooing is not a job, it’s a way of life, and if you don’t respect that- then you will let your mentor and all of the other people that really love and live this craft down. During the apprenticeship be willing to sacrifice just the same as you would in full time college. You might have to work at the shop for free (that’s instead of paying cash for the teaching that you’re receiving) and still keep a job on the side. You might have to move to a whole different city to find someone willing to apprentice you, it aint a hand-out... and it sure as hell aint easy (nor should it be). If your not paying money for the knowledge you’ll need to pay somehow. You might be asked to do all kinds of menial things like cleaning, running errands, dealing with all sorts of boring things. If you have an attitude problem you should really learn to keep it in control, because you will be judged by anything and everything, and then you might get kicked to the curb. Don't take things personal… just don’t! You should know going in that an awful lot of the experienced long-time-in pro’s had difficult apprenticeships themselves… and many of them believe that is the correct way. Even during your first years as a pro, if you cant deal with some- hard work, critiques, and ball busting. If you don’t have a thick skin or if you take these things personal- well don’t even bother getting in this field because it will be a big surprise to you what it takes to be a busy in-demand and well respected at professional.
5. Becoming a Tattoo Artist. -You will do around 100 tattoos for low cost during your apprenticeship. But you’ll need to pay for supplies and such on these tattoos, so make sure to have the money saved up for these supplies. You can tattoo friends, family, whomever you wish... After that, you may be allowed to (possibly) tattoo some clients at the shop. Then the time will come you take your County test to become certified. You absolutely need to take this test or you will be risking your reputation and possibly get into some trouble with the law. Once you've passed your County and or City’s test, you may start tattooing and be paid in full for it! So Congratulations! You've made it.
6. Professional Work. -Generally, the shop you learned to tattoo at will keep you on or help you get a job at a walk-in shop to get you on your way – sometimes shops will have you on contract with them for 1-5 years after you've completed their apprenticeship (depends on your initial agreement with the boss or if your paid-up in full). Keep working hard, keep drawing every day, keep studying the style that you would like to specialize in... take pictures or scan your drawings, sketches, paintings and of-course photograph every tattoo, use these to grow as a craftsman and to build up your portfolio. A huge part of your work is networking and a large portion of the tattoo work you get will be through word of mouth and on-line media so get to know how to use this and get to know other artists, collectors, etc. Put yourself out there and don't let yourself become complacent. You are responsible for your own success at this point, no more coddling or holding your hand, no more help from teacher. Go for it! Your future is yours to shape.
• Other helpful tips! 1. Have a thick skin and a smile on your face. 2. If you would like to open your own tattoo studio, you should enroll in business management courses that focus on small businesses. You will need to write a business plan, find a location that does not create turf wars between you and other shops. Buy software to track your money, and check with your state regarding the necessary licenses and health codes for tattooing.
PS: you know… I think the best advice I ever figured out to tell people when they were thinking about becoming a professional artist- is to draw at least an hour every day, that is how to get good at creating… so many people tell me that they don’t draw very often because they don’t get enough inspiration or motivation to draw, for me that’s not how it works… if I wait for motivation I’m only going to draw once every 2 or 3 months! The thing is that motivation comes during the action, not the other way around, then once I’m drawing for a while I realize that 3 or 4 hours flew by, it doesn't happen all the time, but way more than once every 2 or 3 months. I still do it, I draw an hour a day no matter if I feel like it or not, I do this because I want to be better, I have learned that the more I draw the better tattooer I am… that’s how I find motivation, I have to look for it - not wait for it.
• The only way to get good at anything is by doing it over and over and over, to put it in modern day terms- just like a video game. We study imagery and designs by drawing, we learn things on paper- not on the skin, that way when we are tattooing it we have drawn it so many times that we know exactly how to tattoo it with no guessing or gambling about this and that in the skin. I tell friends that if they spent as much time practicing, sketching and drawing as they do practicing a video game- just think how good they would be…. Take guitar hero for example, if they spend as much time on a real guitar as they do on a pretend guitar, think how good they would be on the real one.