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Notes on tattoo apprenticeships

We often get asked about tattoo apprenticeships - so here's some notes from Matt on how we take apprentices, what we're looking for in them, and how the process looks.

Please read this before applying/inquiring about an apprenticeship!



We only train artists that we intend to hire

  • Some shops charge for a basic apprenticeship then just send you out into the world, but we take on apprentices that we intend on hiring / having work at the shop. This is important because it means that anyone we train will be taught to the quality and standards of the shop (if you’re paying for an apprenticeship, the person you’re paying gets their money whether you’re taught well or not - if the person training you is doing it so that you can work with them, then they have a vested interest in making sure you’re good enough to represent their shop).

  • This also means that our shop has to be somewhere that you would want to work - so it helps to have been in the shop before and to have met some of the crew!


There’s an apprenticeship contract

  • No one wants to spend all the time and effort training apprentice that is just going to leave and work at another shop immediately, so we usually have an apprentice sign a contract for them to stay working with the company for a few years in lieu of them paying for an apprenticeship. A dollar amount is set, and if they do decide that they want to leave then the apprentice just pays for their apprenticeship at that point - but the hope is that they’ll want to stay working at the shop for many years!


Apprentices are expected to do some of the grunt work

  • On top of watching and learning how to tattoo, apprentices are usually expected to do some basic labour around the shop. This often includes helping to answer the phones, book appointments, cleaning and taking out garbages, etc.


How long it usually takes

  • This depends on how often an apprentice is in the shop and how fast they can build skills. An apprentice is usually tattooing at a discounted rate within a couple months and can usually be tattooing at full rate within 1-2 years.

  • Most apprentices start off part-time while still working another job (as they don’t usually make much at the beginning, and as they build up a clientele), but the more days they are at the shop - the faster they progress.


The rough process

  • Learning health and safety and how to work the front desk

  • Then setting up and tearing down for a tattoo and some hands-on basics.

  • Machine and tattoo fundamental basics

  • Starting on practice skin

  • Starting on friends/family under supervision

  • Moving onto clients at apprentice rates

  • Building skills and getting up to full rate


Things that help get you into an apprenticeship

  • Having actual customer service and or personal service industry experience (it’s a job that deals exclusively with and on other people, so secondary to art, people-skills are a necessity).

  • Showing that you’ve been able to hold a job (no one wants to train someone who just bounces around, so having a decent resume helps).

  • Having a strong illustrative portfolio of art! Digital portfolios are nice, but a tactile portfolio of drawing is necessary, as tattooing is done by hand - some hand-to-paper skills are needed. Airbrushing and dremel carving are also good experience as they require hands-on art skills using small handheld machines.

  • Diversity in art is nice, but a focus on tattoo art is essential; outlined drawings with black and grey shading, as well as outlined drawings with colour fill showing an understanding of gradient and colour theory.

  • You should not start tattooing before an apprenticeship! If you do, you’ll pick up bad habits that are hard to drop (usually involving cross-contamination and health & safety issues) and that’s something that a teacher doesn’t want to deal with. 

  • It helps to have been at the shop / been tattooed at the shop / met the artists etc. - these will be people that you will be working with so it’s good to know that you get along and like the environment

  • Be tattooed!!! No one wants to get tattooed by an artist without tattoos - it shows both that you are committed to the lifestyle and career, and that you truly understand the process and ritual of the experience.


It’s a bit of a lifestyle job

  • Between drawing and self-promotion, tattooing can often stretch into your time outside of working hours. There is a lot of drawing outside of working hours (you’ll have to prepare your drawings before you tattoo them, and if you’re busy tattooing during the day you’ll need to draw after and before the working day). 


It takes a little while to get rolling

  • Most apprentices still keep their current job for a while as they build their skills and build a clientele. It can take months to years before most artists are full-time tattooers.

  • You’ll need to buy your machines and some basic supplies before you really get rolling (so prepare for that).


You have to really want it

  • Becoming a tattoo artist is a long and gruelling process. It is a lot of hours spent drawing and practicing and doing menial tasks. It takes quite a while before you’ll earn any meaningful income and it usually takes quite a while before it can become a full-time profession. If it isn’t something that you are fully dedicated to, you’ll burn out and lose interest - you have to be dedicated.

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