Jump to content
  • entries
  • comments
  • views

My response to Tattoo Schools, and why there BS

Joe Capobianco


The question posed to me in response to my previous post.

"Why is the master teaching an apprentice relationship the only valid way of passing knowledge in this particular craft?

Could a school be crafted that would offer a valid way to pass along tattoo knowledge?"

Hey Jaycel, I understand what you mean, and yes trade schools do work when your talking about teaching many individuals the proper way to perform there trade. Electricians, Plumbers, bricklayers, Hell even cooks, should all be taught the proper way to perform there tasks, if there going into a certain type of business.

Fortunately for these individuals, these jobs are usually very numerous, and sometimes easier to find work in. Tattooing is a small world, with already too many people performing them. Shops open on a daily basis sometimes, and quite a few of the individuals getting in. have already had a poor apprenticeship. Now add schools that claim to be able to churn an individual artist out in just 2 short weeks. The results can be devastating!

Also lets not forget that with most "trade schools", there is an organization, or union that governs its curriculum, and controls (most of the time) there schooling, and where and if these individuals work (in some union jobs). IM gonna side with most peoples beliefs that just about every individual involved with these So called tattoo Schools barely have a clue as to what there doing, let alone the ability to teach others. Also note, that to my knowledge this is not an accredited (by state, or law) school in any way, shape, or form. SO to say that there is a certificate given at the end of said course, is total BS. This certificate is literally, not worth the paper it is printed on.

There are already states in this country that do require a tattooist to attend 1 of these so called tattoo schools. This I believe is simply to ease the jobs of local health departments, and have all individuals learning, & working under the same guidelines. Do I agree with this. Hell no. I've met individuals from these schools (forced to attend by there states laws), and they were both Upset, and sadly disappointed by both the quality of teacher, and artists teaching said classes.

My recommendation (And I hope this never happens) is that these states mandate that the "Schools" themselves be forced to take classes on proper procedures, and teaching abilities. I believe that being a greedy as fuck, People Person, does not make one a teacher! Also these schools should be accredited. Hell lets make it official than. These schools should be forced to pay the same dues, taxes, and licenses as a proper school. And should have to abide by the same standards. Or not be called schools at all. Call them for what they are. Crooks, taking money from ignorant, impatient people, who have chosen to take the easy way in to tattooing.

I've often said that while getting into tattooing can be both tedious, and frustrating. Not everyone is meant to be a tattooist. There is a reason why a person apprentices. Things to be taught, and handed down. Granted not all apprenticeships are worth a damn. And in my eyes those are just as bad as schools (all together another rant). But I believe that by making an individual find there apprenticeship, making them jump through a few hoops, and creating an environment that perhaps forces, or intrigues them to learn a bit about the history of this business. Than I think over all you'll end up with a tattooist who cares a bit more about what he does, and when and IF they choose to take on an apprentice later in there career. Its hoped that they will instill the same amount of respect for this industry, as they learned.

Of course, I personally half think this is all a pipe dream, because I think that the majority of the reason we're in the position we're in (too many shops, too many tattooists, too many suppliers, and too many conventions), is because all that I just said was forgotten a long, long time ago (by many, but not all), and the main reason were in the fix were in today, is because of US. The lowly tattooist, trying to make a living, any way they see how. Greedy Fucks, are greedy fucks. No matter what they do for a living.

Not certain that this response/post made a ton of sense. There really is so much on my mind, and too much to say. I guess this is just the beginning. Especially as things in my life, and career start to change.

I hope this answered some of your Questions Jaycel.


Recommended Comments

Hello Mr. Capobianco,

Thank you for posting a reply to my questions.

As is the nature of most things, your answers lead me to think of more questions!

I very much appreciated your point of view concerning my questions, particularly in regards to the following:

effect of supply/demand on the tattoo industry

Like most of the public, I mistook the growth of tattoo culture in the general public's awareness to be translated into more clients overall for everyone. But, it appears to have just forced a sort of 'death of the middle' cycle, where 'popular' tattooers at the top of the pyramid are able to support themselves via long wait lists, merchandising, etc. that are an outgrowth of 'fame.' Then at the bottom of the pyramid, you have all the people who are recent 'scratchers', who are opening fly by night shops, 'home-based' businesses, etc. Then you have artists in the middle, who are good to great, in terms of craft getting out-branded from the top and then undercut in terms of pay, from the bottom.

In terms of volume of work for graduates of trade schools vs. tattooists, that point is spot on, once I started to think about the brass tacks of it, prompted by your reply.

My hope had been that people seeking out to be tattooed would be much better informed, given the exposure the public has had to what great tattoos look like via the internet and yes, even the Ink shows on the network Who Must Not Be Named.

Using those shows as an example, how someone can see the quality tattoos put out by a Chris Garver, Tim Hendricks, or Corey Miller and then get some of the tattoos that have been linked to in relation to this 'school' is jaw-dropping.

and how far short current 'schools' fall from even the levels of professionalism found in other arts and trades.

edit: I want to acknowledge that I know that you are against the idea of schools, period. What follows are my own thoughts.

I think that any school should be accredited in some fashion. The fashion is where I think this notion of tattoo schools ultimately falls to pieces, probably, like you state, given ego and the ole mighty dollar.

While I think that you are right, that a fully-accredited tattoo school that is a stand alone, like the Culinary Institute of America is, in the field of cooking, is a bridge too far.

But there could be a middle ground, by having tattoo artists partnering with local art schools/colleges/universities in some form of an interdisciplinary program where an apprentice could learn some fundamentals: health concerns, anatomy, drawing, etc. and then an internship in a shop for six months or a year. That gets them to an Associates of Arts Degree. Then to get their Bachelors, they have a traditional apprenticeship in a shop that ultimately results in producing a portfolio that's graded by both professors and tattoo artists.

I'm sure that many tattoo artists will immediately reject such a notion as outside interference, etc.

But, while everyone has been concentrating on the school and instructors, I do believe some of the students have entered the school for reasons that are not entirely mercenary, namely, bad apprenticeship experiences. For some it is a cop-out, I'm sure, but I'm sure that it's not a cop-out for all.

In terms of barriers to entry, I think that four years of schooling, namely the length of time and the cost, since college isn't cheap, anymore, though with accreditation, hopefully school loans can be utilized can serve as a sort of gut-check.

Not to be presumptuous: but, in the end, for tattooers and the tattooed, what matters is the quality of the tattoo, period.

edit: But I think you are 100% right that the idea of, as someone else has pointed out, creating a 'puppy-mill' that churns out people who think they now can tattoo every two weeks is the death of tattooing. But I think it might be a symptom of another problem, namely the current state of apprenticeships.

edit: I think that if the fundamental mode of teaching in tattooing in breaking down for the vast majority of the field, for a host of reasons, then freezing apprenticeships, while alleviating the harm of a surplus of 'tattooers' will likely not fix the underlying problem that has lead to the rise of tattoo schools, namely poor apprenticeships. I think there certainly are people who are interested in not paying dues by going to schools, but I think most people want to be respected in their field and by their peers, it's just human nature to want that.

Again, thank you for your posts on the issue of schools and for replying to my own questions, which you answered in a great manner.

My apologies for the long comment.

Link to comment

List of self taught tattoo artist:

(and this is a small list)

Tim Hendricks


Paul Booth

Jun Cha

Call those guys and let them know because they haven't learned the craft the way YOU want, that they suck and do everything wrong.

The part that pushes my buttons here is the greed. Joe I am a huge fan of your artwork. But even you were on a TV show called MIAMI INK (a fake studio and the main reason tattooing became so main stream) So why now be the hardcore tattooer? Your popularity and fine work speaks for itself. Why the fuck would you assume every tattooer in the world should and need to follow a set pattern to become something.

So here is the deal, I'm already a tattoo artist, I go and make DVDs, sell prints and even star on a TV show that put tattooing in the state it is today. But hey! you little kid, you cant follow in my shoes because you cant get the correct apprenticeship, because you live in a shithole city,town, or a place that has all scratcher shops that don't know shit anyways. So forget your dreams, get a job at the 7-11 and just stay away from my business....if you cant do it the way we do it here in america (because lord knows the only way to learn is from an apprenticeship).

Next I want to make sure you know I disagree with the tattoo school also. I do not support it because of the perception that tattooing can be taught and learned in 2 weeks. That is probably the thing that I disagree with, the dumb-ing down of a talent,skillfull and time honored job such as tattooing.

I cant believe that ALL THESE FREETHINKING ARTIST, want MORE REGULATION, on there FREETHINKING INDUSTRY, not smart people not smart.

Link to comment

Hey Mike, You miss understand me. and I unfortunately did not make my point entirely clear.

In past posts. on several message boards, and blogs, over the years, I defended the apprenticeship standpoint. But also made a point in saying that there are many phenomenal artists in the world that did not get into the industry in this manner. They did start out in there Kitchens, homes, banging up there friends, and family first, and getting there chops that way. Eventually making it to where they are today. I'd never dispute that. Its the individual that makes the difference here. When you blatantly make getting into the trade this easy (thru schools, shitty suppliers, insane amount of tattoo adverts), than you invite every lazy ass, knuckle head, dumb ass that thinks they'd make a good tattooist. Not to mention the fact that the school is ill prepared to properly teach folks.

That is what this post was about. Granted, it does sound as if I come off a bit heavy handed, in favor of apprenticeships. Not entirely my intention. But when I say that it should be made more difficult for individuals to get into this industry. I mean it. Tattooing is not, and should not be for everyone. I stated that I loathe the idea of a standard of teaching, and am against state, and federal governments getting involved (probably didn't make that clear enough). But by the same token something needs to be done. Obviously we've lost the ability to govern our selves.

You are correct I've done the Miami Ink thing, Hell I may even do more like it. I find the media to be a powerful tool, and feel that good people should be showcased in it. And the only way that happens is when good people step forth, and take them. Tattoo schools are a nightmare, and there are many located throughout the world. Are you a tattooist, do you not see the pressure that is put on the local tattoo shops, and feel that there is just tooo fucking much?! All IM saying is that if you take on an apprentice, than make sure its the right one. Know the people you teach, and bring in. Because that individual can easily fuck you and everyone around you with poor, and spite full decisions that can easily effect your business, and those around you.

Again too much to say, and probably too much said already.

Link to comment


After taking a step back and thinking some on this question of apprenticeship vs. schools, given all the pitfalls and backlash against each, I think this:

Disclaimer: I am educating myself about tattoos without any designs whatsoever on wanting to be an tattooer, but if I did have that as my goal I would do the following:

Do all the following while holding down a full time job, if you can't, pack up your kit and buy a tie, stay a 9 to 5er.

1. Educate yourself about the history of tattoos, world-wide, spending hours a day just reading and studying the work of various tattoo lineages and cultures from true tribal up to present day.

2. Buy two tattoo machines: one to take apart and learn how it is put together, the principles behind it's construction, the craftsmanship involved, etc. The other to use on yourself and for #4.

3. Learn how to make your own needles, and any other pieces of equipment that is necessary.

4. Call up a butcher and see if s/he will let you buy a 40 pound case of frozen pork skins, use that to teach yourself to lay down a straight line, etc. Spend hundreds of hours to teach yourself to put down CLEAN lines. I have no idea if pork skin will work, but it's better than nothing for a newbie. And better than learning on someone elses skin, given what I have seen on this school website is profoundly unethical. Turn your work into chicharons, when you are done....if you're brave.

4. Educate yourself about all the health concerns involved in tattooing. Find classes at local colleges, university, online, whatever. Be able to pass any of the tests with 100%, no wrong answers.

5. Umm....learn how to draw! Take classes, buy books, dvds, youtube videos, whatever to make yourself a good illustrator, to be able to put what is in your head down on some paper exactly as you meant it look.

6. Learn human anatomy, not just for drawing, but since the skin is your ultimate canvas, be aware of what is beneath it and how that can effect for good and bad your tattoos. Study the bodies of old people, see how age and gravity affect the flesh, plan the tattoos of your clients, accordingly.

7. Buy the book, Talent is Overrated and The Outliers, learn what the 10,000 hour rule for Mastery is, plot your self-education and career based on that.

8. GET TATTOOED BY GREAT ARTISTS!!! That has been the biggest takeaway for me from reading/watching interviews of great tattooers, whether it's Shige of Yellow Blaze or Tim Hendricks, you want to learn how to tattoo....then get tattooed!

edit: 9. Find a good tattooer who is willing to look at your drawings, etc. and give constructive criticism, i.e. please leave your ego at the door, appreciate that someone, who is probably busy and dubious, is taking the time to give you some bits of education/advice. And when you do start tattooing other people, and you do get some recognition, make sure to have a category on your blog titled "People I Want To Thank," and (with their permission) list them and the contribution they made to your craft, while taking responsibilities for all 'fuck-ups' as your own: Give Thanks, Take Responsibility.

If tattooing is your passion, your craft, your livelihood and how you are going to spend nearly half of your actual total hours on this earth doing, then don't listen to anyone, twiddle your thumbs hoping/wishing/praying/begging for an apprenticeship, just put a plan together, put your head down, and GET TO WORK!!

I'm not a tattooer, but I believe tattooing is a craft, and craft is something that I know a little about. Some supporters talk about paying your dues, via an apprenticeship by being demeaned, harassed, bullied, hazed, etc.

I'm sorry, but that's a bit of a joke.

edit: The sense I get for the 'paying your dues' portion of an apprenticeship, oddly the only part most people seem to want to talk about and empathize, is that it is basically a long fraternity hazing, designed to weed out those who are not serious, that are not dedicated, disciplined, respectful of the craft they are about to be initiated into.

Whether someone is willing to be constantly 'punked' for months on end, proves that? Really?

Does that actually accomplish it's intended purpose? Or are people just doing what was always done, without thinking about it, or because it's funny?

There are great tattooers, who never went through an apprenticeship, but stayed up late working on tattooing problems, being forced to reinvent the wheel, coming up with a new styles by virtue of that, alone, not having anyone to tell them they were doing good or bad, wondering if all these hours were a waste, a waste that no one but them knows about or cares about, living with that gnawing fear in their gut that they are going to fail themselves.

Which do you think commands more respect, the above, or the guy/gal that got to be a punchline for a crew and had to clean some toilets....

Edit: if you were able to get both things from one teacher/shop, that's Awesome, and I hope that you share your story, but thinks that type of relationship is pretty rare.

Which one really paid their dues?

No offense meant to people who have done their apprenticeships, but feels there is a third way, a just as valid one.

Looks forward to hearing other people's thoughts/opinions, what you would add, have you tried to use pork skins? etc.

Link to comment
Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...