Disclaimer: I am, by no means, an expert on how to get an apprenticeship. I have never tried to get an apprenticeship, been offered an apprenticeship, or witnessed someone successfully get an apprenticeship. People call and email the shop all the time asking if we do apprenticeships or how they would go about getting an apprenticeship. One thing I can say for sure is that, if you’re asking me, you’re already doing it wrong. Tattoo shops don’t hire anyone they don’t know, so walking into a random shop and asking the counter person for a job won’t get you very far. There is a rich culture running through the veins of each tattoo shop. It isn’t the type of culture that can be taught at an orientation, job training, or dare-I-say ‘tattoo school’. The culture at each tattoo shop is so specific that you really have to spend a good deal of time in the shop to understand the specific culture of any particular shop.
That’s My Job You’re Asking For
Tattoo shops are usually run by friends, family members, or anyone that the shop owner knows and trusts. When you call or walk into the shop and ask the counter or floor person, if the shop is hiring for those positions, what the owner’s friend/sibling/cousin/etc. will hear is, “Hey, how can I get your job?” Chances are your resume won’t be placed on the owners station for review. So you ask to talk to the owner, right? Wrong again. Tattooers are in a tattoo shop to make money and any hiring will usually be done outside of business hours. If a shop advertises that they are hiring for floor or counter positions, pay close attention to how they want to be contacted.
Getting Your Foot in the door
Shops don’t hire counter people and floor people that want to tattoo and often state this when hiring for the positions. This would essentially put an expiration date on the position that the shop is hiring for right out of the gate. You’re also asking to be privy to knowledge and experience that has been cultivated for years to compete within the industry, before an artist has deemed you worthy of such information. Good shops are also extremely busy and need at least one person–sometime multiple people to take care of everything NOT tattoo related that pertains to running a business. Hiring someone who will be distracted by learning to tattoo would be a total waste of time and would end up costing the shop money.
How Hard Can Tattooing Actually Be?
Hard. Really, really hard. It’s pretty common for tattooers to let shop help, close friends and family try to tattoo. It leaves a meaningful mark on the tattooer and let’s the person experience the sacred trade first-hand. After my 9th year of working at Think Tank, and a handful of tattoos from Jake Bray, Jake asked if I had ever tattooed anyone. When I responded no, he told me he’d let me tattoo him. We agreed on a pair of boobs. They would be easy for me to draw on his leg, I wouldn’t have to pull a straight line, and the tattoo wouldn’t take long. After a few pairs of practice tits on a piece of paper, Jake set up his station for me and told me he was ready. He cleaned the area, I put on a pair of gloves, drew a pair of decent looking boobs on his shin, and grabbed the machine. I was hoping the machine would feel like a large pencil, but it felt more like a 12oz bottle of water in my hand, awkward and unbalanced. “Ok,” I said, “I’m ready.” Jake told me that the power supply was on all I had to do was dip the needle in the ink, put my foot on the petal to start the machine, and”let ‘er rip.” I tried to pull the needle over my sharpie lines, but I couldn’t see anything, so I leaned down to try and see around the tube. I still couldn’t see anything. The tube I was holding was vibrating and jumping around in my hand. After I was finished I wiped away the extra ink and to see my handy work. There was nothing there. I hadn’t gone deep enough to get any ink into Jake’s skin. I looked up at him and asked if I could get a re-do. He laughed, shaking his head, and told me to take one more pass. This time I felt like the vibrating machine was bouncing off of his leg and into my hand and I had almost no control. When I wiped the second time, I revealed the shoddiest outline I’ve ever seen. The tattoo looked like it had been done by a 3 year-old with a magic marker. “It’s so bad!” I exclaimed, laughing, but Jake told me I did pretty well for my first time tattooing. The experience really made me appreciate the time, commitment, practice, and patience that has to go into tattooing clean, straight lines or even a photo realistic tattoo.
You Scratch My Back, I’ll Scratch Your’s
Tattooing isn’t all partying, starting work at noon, and drawing awesome art for a living. Artists have to draw art for clients (usually complete strangers) that are trusting the tattooer to permanently alter their appearance. Divulging any information about how to tattoo essentially means a tattooer is creating their own competition. Tattooing is a way of life. It is how tattooers support themselves and their families. Tattoo artists have to live, breathe, and bleed tattoos to remain competitive with their peers.
So, before you start asking a tattooer or shop person how to get a job or apprenticeship ask yourself a few questions first: Do I have a lot of tattoos, and am I getting tattooed by an artist that I respect as much as possible? What’s in it for the tattoo artist? Why do I want to tattoo? The best way to get to know a tattooer is to get tattooed by them as much as financially and physically possible. Offering something that could benefit a tattooer as much as an apprenticeship would benefit you is a great place to start. Knowledge and appriciation for the industry is a must. Nobody starts out good at tattooing therefore all tattooers and apprentices struggle finically for much of their career.
I can’t guarantee that any of these suggestions will result in a position in a tattoo shop. I also can’t guarantee that you won’t get chased out of a shop or kindly asked to leave if you’re not there for the sole purpose of getting tattooed. But I can guarantee that approaching a tattoo shop as a stranger wanting the knowledge to start a career for nothing in return will get you nowhere, fast.