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How to Become a Tattoo Artist

Majors Overview December 14, 2012

Pre-requisites of a Tattoo Artist

Tattooing — an ancient art form — involves modifying a human body through the creation of images or designs on skin accomplished by permanent embedding of ink. In ancient tradition, tattoos had symbolic meaning and humans have practiced tattooing for centuries. Currently, adults use it as a form of self-expression. The professionals who engage in designing and applying tattoos to their client’s bodies are known as tattoo artists. While a tattoo artist does not need to obtain a degree, they will need formal training via an apprenticeship program in order to satisfy licensure norms.

The most common educational requirement for a tattoo artist is the completion of a high school diploma or GED. Usually, a prospective tattoo artist would be required to have three years of apprenticeship experience. Most states have licensure requirements in order for tattoo artist to work professionally there. Tattoo artists must have exceptional artistic ability apart from manual dexterity and creativity. In most states, a practicing tattoo artist must be at least eighteen years old; some employers want the tattoo artists to reveal visible tattoos on their own bodies (Source: the Alliance of Professional Tattooists (APT)).

The following is a step-by-step guide to becoming a tattoo artist:

Stage One: Compiling a Portfolio

Creativity and outstanding artistic talent are the essential requirements that a prospective tattoo artist need to possess. A tattoo artist can pursue an apprenticeship in a shop after they have put a portfolio together to showcase their work. The portfolio must demonstrate that the artist is versatile and is able to create drawings of various subjects. Both high quality photos of drawings and unique creations can constitute a tattoo artist’s portfolio.

If you are an inexperienced aspiring tattoo artist, you should consider taking tattooing classes in your local community center or in your high school; the classes will teach you a variety of artistic skills such as shading, proportion and scale, necessary to succeeding as a tattoo artist.

Stage Two: Completing an Apprenticeship Program

A minimum apprenticeship of three years is recommended by the APT. A prospective artist, during an apprenticeship in a shop, will be taught by a professional tattooist on how to go about sterilizing equipment, operating a tattoo machine and designing tattoos. Some apprenticeship programs will help the prospective tattooist understand the business aspects of the art and prepare them to set up their own tattooing shop.

Free apprenticeship programs are rarely offered (source: the APT). Students are required to pay for the lessons they received from a professional tattooist. Alternatively, they can sign a contract where the students will be require to work for a certain number of years at the shop after completing their apprenticeship.

Stage Three: Taking Tattoo Artist Education Programs

A tattoo artist can expect to learn specific skills in an apprenticeship program, skills they will need to establish a successful career in the field. Such apprentices are taught by a knowledgeable tattooist; however, in certain states and health departments, the regulations in place require tattooists to have classroom experience before they are allowed to practice. The coursework will include seminars where they are taught about how to prevent diseases including skin infections. They will receive blood-borne pathogen prevention training.

Stage Four: Getting a License

Tattoo artists need licensure in order to operate in most states. However, licensure norms can vary from state to state. For instance, a tattoo artist who wants to work professionally in Oregon will need to train for at least 360 hours with an approved artist and must have a portfolio of fifty tattoos to show their success. Licensure norms include taking a skill assessment test as well as a written examination.

Stage Five: Continuing Education

A certain number of continuing education credits are mandatory for renewal of a tattoo artist’s license in some states. Tattoo artists can choose to attend classes and seminars. Joining the Association of Professional Tattoo Artists (APTA), the APT or any other professional organization will improve a tattoo artist’s career by providing them with various continuing education choices and opportunities to network in the industry.

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