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Jaycel Adkins

Apprenticeship vs. Schools vs. Self-Taught

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Hello,

I posted a reply to Joe Capobianco's thread about schools being Bullshit that I thought some people might be interested in discussing, refuting, adding to, etc.

Mike H. mentioned a few artists who were self-taught, rather than having gone through a traditional apprenticeship, let alone a school.

My question: if you were going to go the route of teaching yourself, what would be your rules of the road?

This is what I came up with in my reply post:

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!!

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go out and get an apprenticeship!!!! the school is bullshit, what can they teach you in 2 weeks?!?!?!?! If one is lucky enough to get an apprenticeship just please realize the gift that you have been given and respect the industry.

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Sometimes the reason one can't get anyone to apprentice them is because they are a moron. I'm sure there are a few guys who stated out self taught that are good now, but I bet even they at some point met someone who helped them out even if it wasn't called an apprenticeship.

I think you can read as many book as you want (and it's good to do so) but you still need the hands on practice that only comes from someone else showing and teaching you the little tricks that would other wise take you years to stumble upon.

For a non-tattoo example. I started out as a self taught seamstress/embroiderer but when I started seeking instruction from others who were ahead of me my skills advanced in leaps and bounds compared to the rate of improvement when I was going off books and internet alone. I learned in a one weekend class what would normally have taken me months to figure out on my own.

It's great if someone has that internal desire and drive to do something but everyone can benefit from the wisdom of those who came before them.

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As the saying goes "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing"

Yeah, we really need a step-by-step guide to 'Teach yourself to tattoo - in 9 easy steps!'

While there may be a few crumbs of sound advice in the 9 point program, the fact it's laid out like a 'how to' stinks, sorry.

Nobody is self taught.

I never had an apprenticeship. I could say that I'm self taught, but that would be egotistical and more importantly, incorrect.

I learned and continue to learn from the people I have worked with, the people I currently work with, the tattooers who were gracious enough to allow me to watch them and be present while they worked and the people I've been tattooed by. I could have worked for the rest of my life and never figured out some of the simplest things that were shown to me or that I have seen.

Aw, fuck it. Yeah, ok, I learned by tattooing pigs and grapefruit, taking evening classes in human anatomy and drawing still-life compositions with graphite sticks and writing essays on pop art. I watched every Bob Ross VHS tape. I took classes in CPR, blood borne pathogens, midwifery and chiropody. I took apart my shitty tattoo machines and put them back so that they would be even shittier. But most of all I took advice from every non-tattooer who thought they knew how to learn tattooing.

(only some of the above paragraph is false, but all of it is sarcastic)

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I guess the only thing that is missing is being in a shop. I mean you can take a part a machine all day, but if you don't really know how it's supposed to run what good does that do you. There are so many intangibles that are not in any book, dvd or community college class.

Granted there are a lot of tattooers who didn't have a proper apprenticeship, but most stories i hear are more of a trial by fire or them lying about knowing how to tattoo and they just had to pick it up as they go. But the difference is they were picking this stuff up in a shop with talented tattooers. I see a lot of "self taught" people whose tattoos just don't get any better over time because they have no one to show them what they are doing wrong and shops don't want to take them on because they have been tattoing x amount of years and their tattoos still look scrappy.

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Hello,

My attempt (a poor one that is now evident) to start a conversation has resulted in consternation, much of which is well deserved, for which I offer my apologies.

I know now that it is possible to have one's face redden across the internet at displaying a 'shocking lack of knowledge.'

I took the wrong tone, made some wrong assumptions, and mistook failed wit for wisdom that was not solicited.

Again, my apologies, no disrespect meant.

Jaycel Adkins

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Hello,

My attempt (a poor one that is now evident) to start a conversation has resulted in consternation, much of which is well deserved, for which I offer my apologies.

I know now that it is possible to have one's face redden across the internet at displaying a 'shocking lack of knowledge.'

I took the wrong tone, made some wrong assumptions, and mistook failed wit for wisdom that was not solicited.

Again, my apologies, no disrespect meant.

Jaycel Adkins

Jaycel, do you tattoo?

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Jaycel, do you tattoo?

Hello MsRad,

I do not. I came on the forums to gain some insight about getting tattooed in the future.

Which I am sure begs the question, who am I to offer up an opinion on the subject?

The honest answer is I made two assumptions: tattooing is a craft and I know a far amount about craft [cooking, writing, Plan B's/design thinking, theories on mastery (deliberate practice, ten thousand hours, virtue ethics, etc.)] therefore I could offer up an opinion with merit.

The spirit of the thread was what if you could not get an apprenticeship, but still wanted to learn how to tattoo...what then. So taking techniques of craft in cooking and writing and applying it the craft of tattooing, hoping/expecting overlap.

I meant it as a thought experiment, but my tone made it sound like a lecture, and an ill-informed one at that. I meant the post as 'What about this?' but writing, cutting and pasting it turned it into 'DO IT LIKE THIS!' Annoying to others and embarrassing for myself.

I know I went beyond the scope of your question, but wanted to provide some context.

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To be honest, I think people should always go for apprenticeships, and I realise I'm quite stubborn with that. I get that loads of great artists didn't have the opportunities, but that doesn't mean that they didn't receive guidance, as everyone else has said. Tattooing isn't something you can do on your own. Besides, my dad's pretty technical- I bet he could take apart a tattoo machine and put it back together- if he got a crap one he'd probably even make it better- but would I fuck get a tattoo from him, haha!

I think, instead of guiding people into the whole "self taught" stuff, people should be thinking about what to do to improve their chances of getting an apprenticeship. Learning how to draw, in my opinion, should have been at the top of your list. If you think you can draw, and you don't get an apprenticeship, start over again. If you really have to "get the feel" for tattooing, like so many tattooing at home, why not paint tattoos on a mannequin or something? You'd get a slight feel for how it is like away from a flat piece of paper- you could even take pictures and put them in your portfolio!

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Hello MsRad,

I do not. I came on the forums to gain some insight about getting tattooed in the future.

Which I am sure begs the question, who am I to offer up an opinion on the subject?

I think it begs the question that WHY is this topic you started related to you getting tattooed in the future?

I had similar, or somewhat at least ideas in one topic at tattoodles years ago. Im not bothered to find it but mister Wells put me in my place and smakked some good ol sense into me.

I see people writing stuff about this and that, line weights and stuff, even if they arent a tattoo artist. Not that it matters... But I dont know shit about that kinda stuff and I dont care to know. Like what machine someone uses. As long as it makes a hole, good. When I have gotten tattooed by Sailor Andy, I dont even talk about the tattooing process. Like "what kinda shading and color will you use in that part?". Maybe Im just antisocial or stupid, but I just dont care :)

I care about the history and stuff, but the process, there I am just a another Joe Average who wants to get tattooed and then leaves (after I have payed first and complimented the tattoo, of course.)

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Jaycel, I got the tone of your post and the intention. Although the intention was sincere enough, It's great that you realised, or have started to realise that the principles of most other crafts can seem to be applied but don't translate well to tattooing. Mostly because tattooing is a permanent mark that somebody has to live with and carry with them every day of their life - There is a responsibility that comes with that, although I'm reluctant to discuss it (and other subtleties of tattooing) with non-tattooers as it's easily misunderstood and mis-used by laymen.

The reason any discussion of this type is met with hostility from tattooers is firstly because of the responsibility I mentioned and unlike other crafts, tattooing has magnetic attraction for people who wouldn't involve themselves with any other craft-based endeavour. Many of these people are not prepared to undertake the work necessary to create good tattoos. They are only prepared to do the steps they think are necessary to make sick tats.

Here's the bit that may get me some shit.

Getting an apprenticeship isn't the holy grail. An apprenticeship from a shitty tattooer is worse than no apprenticeship at all.

What's that you say? No good tattooers are prepared to teach you? Well there's a reason for that. That doesn't mean you should let an incompetent fool enable you to become a more inexperienced incompetent fool. This is the part non-tattooers ignore when they spout on and on about 'sticking it out and finding an apprenticeship, doing it the right way' It's not right if you are taught wrongly.

Many many shitty, inexperienced tattooers have an apprentice. Some of those apprentices have a lofty sense of self-worth and think they are 'real' tattooers because they cleaned the toilet of a shitty tattooer for months. Eventually the work you create and the way you conduct your affairs becomes more important then the way you got there.

Mel, I seriously doubt that your dad could make a shitty machine better. Maybe better looking or better constructed, but without knowing how to tattoo, or having a great tattooer teach you. It isn't possible to make a tattoo machine work well.

If someone came to me asking for an apprenticeship with pretend tattoos drawn on a mannequin, I wouldn't take them seriously at all. An apprenticeship isn't an art school mixed media project. There are a million smaller things to learn before you get to that point.

If any budding tattooers/apprentices read this, the important thing to remember is - Never take advice from someone who isn't a tattooer. Even better, don't take advice from someone who isn't teaching you.

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The spirit of the thread was what if you could not get an apprenticeship, but still wanted to learn how to tattoo...what then. So taking techniques of craft in cooking and writing and applying it the craft of tattooing, hoping/expecting overlap.

If you've been getting heavily tattooed, and practicing drawing and painting and no one will apprentice you, there's probably a good reason.

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Well Stewart, colour me corrected. Don't get me wrong though, I wasn't saying you should treat tattooing like some arts and crafts project, it was just a reaction to the many times I've heard people say, "how can I tattoo without knowing what it's like away from paper?"- the majority of those people have been those butchering up their friends, of course. I mean, of course it's not the same thing.

Anyway, I agree that most of this stuff people should listen to tattooers about. Some more than others.

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You can't. It's as simple as that. No simulation, no dry runs. Just the real deal.

Oh yeah of course man, I mean I agree with you, but it's like talking to a brick wall if you have a conversation with someone who's giving that excuse. To be honest, I don't think I know many good tattooers who would even take on an apprentice who's had the "practice" on their friends, over someone who hands in a portfolio of great drawings and paintings, so I don't get why they're bothering to use the excuse.

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I know a fair few tattooers. Some you've heard of, some you haven't.

Of the few of them who have actually taken an apprentice, I don't think they did so based on a folio of awesome drawings or paintings.

I think they took them on because of their attitude and dedication, sometimes based on the tattoos they have already done. The drawings came later. Much later.

It's a common misconception/dream that showing a tattooer your finished drawings will impress them so much that they will teach you to tattoo. It's like the dream a busker has of being 'discovered' playing covers in the subway.

Even though I've not been tattooing a long time, I've been shown a hell of a lot of drawings and paintings by hopeful people. Up to now, I've never been impressed. Although I have been impressed with attitude and dedication over a span of time. I still haven't been tattooing long enough to take an apprentice. I don't see that changing any time soon.

On a slightly related note, I'm not sure when hopeful apprentices decided that paintings were the way to learn to tattoo. They are the way to impress your hopeful apprentice-level peers and get popular on the internet, but they don't teach you a thing about tattooing in the real world. Maybe it's something non-tattooers on the internet advised them to do.

Anyway, nobody even shows us drawings anymore. They don't even come to the shop. They call and ask if we 'do apprenticeships' or they send me a generic email with 'dear sir,...... I'm a fan of your work and the work from your studio...'

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Hello,

I'll try and just answer some questions/comments that I know/believe were directed at myself:

Petri Aspvik:

I think it begs the question that WHY is this topic you started related to you getting tattooed in the future?

That is why I came onto the forum overall, not why I started this particular thread.

I started the thread to start a conversation about what would be the right way to learn to tattoo without access to either an apprenticeship or a school.

In reply to the good points in the rest of your post: I'm very interested and invested in the idea of craft and always seeking out conversations about it, regardless of whether I practice them as a livelihood or, dare I say it, a hobby.

Mel Noir:

I think, instead of guiding people into the whole "self taught" stuff, people should be thinking about what to do to improve their chances of getting an apprenticeship.

It was a thought experiment, so by necessity, took the apprenticeship route off the table. Just seemed like an interesting problem that I might have an idea or two about, or not.

Also, in regards to a previous post, the list wasn't meant to be from most to least important, it was just a way to separate the different ideas, that's all. If I had put that much thinking into it, I think I would have written it better and saved myself quite a bit of embarrassment. :p

Stewart Robson:

Jaycel, I got the tone of your post and the intention. Although the intention was sincere enough, It's great that you realised, or have started to realise that the principles of most other crafts can seem to be applied but don't translate well to tattooing. Mostly because tattooing is a permanent mark that somebody has to live with and carry with them every day of their life - There is a responsibility that comes with that, although I'm reluctant to discuss it (and other subtleties of tattooing) with non-tattooers as it's easily misunderstood and mis-used by laymen.

That's the conversation that I love to have, but not meant to be. I apply the idea of Craft more broadly then common usage, i.e. to really any sort of vocation, but most importantly to the idea of what it means to be a human being, 'the grand goal of living.'

Ursula Thomson:

If you've been getting heavily tattooed, and practicing drawing and painting and no one will apprentice you, there's probably a good reason.

Certainly a true point, but bit of a conversation stopper. If by 'you've' you mean 'me,' then it's a non-starter because I don't have a desire to be a tattoo artist, my history and path took me someplace else.

Apologies for the length.

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I meant 'you've' in a more general sense. If you've been around a while and it's obvious you want to learn but no one is willing to teach you, you've probably either given them a reason not to or not a good enough reason to teach you. And again thats directed to anyone not specifically to you. It's like stewart said. It's less about the quality of your sketchbook and more about proving you have the dedication and desire to learn and showing that if you do learn you'll respect tattooing.

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Ursula:

I agree with you 100% with one caveat.

Sometimes it's just not meant to be, the would-be apprentice could be good and a stand up person and it still not work out.

A personal example:

Owned a high end chocolate shop where I am from, but luxury chocolate in the south during the Great Recession, not a recipe for millions, I assure you.

But while winding down Plan A..b...c...d...e...f...and finally making it work in a grand fashion with Plan G, I had alot of people want to come and study with me, given what I know and who I had studied with myself. I turned everyone down, not because they were creepy, but simply didn't have the place for them, my life was on another track.

So I just want to note that there are ALOT of things that could go into taking someone on or not, while being fully aware of the existence of difference between what I do and what people here do.

But I agree with you and Stewart, the number one thing I would have looked for is dedication and integrity, as long as they possess the qualities that I CAN'T teach, I'll take care of the techniques that I CAN teach....I hope I make sense there and it has some applicability.

Great posts, after a rather tumultuous beginning, I very much appreciate everyone's views and opinions, interesting conversations, and a burnt hand lesson.

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Dan, I'm having a hard time figuring out the tone of your message. I hope you aren't trying to imply with the last sentence that tattooing is a more special thing than other trades. I can assure you there are people who feel as strongly about their trade or craft as tattooers do about theirs. There's people who put as much hard work, time, money, etc. into their craft as a tattooer or tattoo apprentice does.

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