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Career advice for a newbie?


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hello ladies and germs.

my name is g. and i am in a bit of a quandary about the future of my tattoo career. i am curious to know what some of you(tattooers especially), may think about my situation and if you care to share your advice with me? i have been on this site long enough to know that this is not the place for another "help with an apprenticeship" story. but i feel this may be a lil' different. so if you have a minute, please let me plead my case. and sorry in advance for the long post.

so, today marks my 1 year anniversary as an apprentice at a shop here in california. i am very excited about this and very proud of the work and time that i have been able to put in up to this point. when i signed on with the shop, there was no real agreement about anything. they kinda said, "well, we'll see how you do and see if you work out." kind of deal. but if i did work out, they mentioned they would like me to stick around as long as possible, and not just learn from them and take off. within the year, i think i have been able to prove my worth and pull my weight with these guys, and even if they don't show it, i think they have come to respect me for all of my hard work and positive attitude through it all. not that i expect it.

within a couple of weeks of being there, i was quick to realize that the shop had virtually no business walking through the door and the folks working there didn't have much of a personal clientele either. also, the shop was very outdated in their methods and basically, kind of falling apart and it felt as though the shop was at risk of closing it's doors any day, and this is still the case today. please don't get me wrong, i still felt very fortunate to be there and in that situation, these guys straight took me in off the street for god's sake! and i am still very grateful for that. we all have to start somewhere, and i appreciate that big time. these were just my first observations.

so, i started tattooing my friends at the shop 4 months into my apprenticeship, and continued to bring in as many people as i could up until june, at which point they said i could start taking the easy walk-ins. the month before, there was a mass exodus at the shop and i was the only one there, other than the shop manager. i really felt like the other folks had really taken a shine to me, and were kind enough to teach me what they knew and i was stoked! i really felt like i was learning. since they've been gone my education seems to have come to a halt. although, i get along with the manager pretty well, i feel like he doesn't really care much to keep teaching me.

we have since hired a new person, and i am at the bottom of the rotation at the counter for walk-ins. they asked me to make cards and the whole deal. although i feel like i am getting somewhere, my problem is this;

there is no business at the shop. and they want me to be tattooing as much as possible, as do i. days go by most weeks without seeing a single walk in and everyone is pulling zeros. and if someone does come in for a tattoo, i'm definitely not getting it. i'm not learning anything most days or progressing with my work at all. i'm completely stagnant. i feel really stuck, and i feel like i am being judged for it. it's hard for a newbie to build up a clientele with no business. i'm doing all that i can, i hand out my card to friends and family, random tattooed people on the train and grocery store, etc. get my stuff on facebook, etc.

the real issue is this; if i was a single bachelor just doing my thing, you wouldn't hear a peep from me, and i would keep truckin' along over there. but i have a child and an amazing wife who has been supporting our family solely, by her self for the past 2 years while i have been persueing this path. we are both starting to feel like that she cannot continue to this for much longer, and it is time that i start carrying some weight in this family, generate SOME income and lighten her load a bit. she has goals and aspirations for this life and family too, ya know? as a man, father, and husband, i can not tell you how hard and stressful this issue has been for me, it weighs heavily on my mind and health and was the cause of nasty anxiety attack a few months back.

i feel like at this point i need to act and advocate for myself and my career. and most importantly, my family. i don't want to break my commitment with the shop so soon, but i feel like i have to in order to get anywhere in this business, or life for that matter. i truly feel and fear i have no future there. i love tattooing with all my heart and i'm not just trying to make a quick buck with shitty tattoos. i had the fullest intentions of doing this right, with respect towards those who taught me, and i have. but i do need to make a living, and i have a very serious passion to learn as much as i can to be the best tattooist i can be. i also realize at this point of my career, i'm not going to be "rolling in the dough." that's not what i ask, how could i? i just need lunch money and something to contribute to my family and rent each month.

i am confident that my tattoos show promise, originality and tradition. even though, i still have soooo much more to learn, and i know we never stop learning as artists or beings. as well, i know a good deal of people in the industry who have been very supportive of my pursuit which has really kept me going. i've got some good people in my corner, and i think there might be some opportunities out there for me if i explore them. should i?

i think i've got a plan for myself, but i would be stoked to gather some advice from some tattooers and people who are familiar with the ins and outs of the profession. it's complicated for me. i don't want to be disrespectful or burn bridges. but i also know for a fact that some of the big hitters out there wouldn't be where they are now, without taking risks and doing what they had to do.

a big thank you for listening.

sincerely,

g.

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Whew, nice to see you posting again dude. Also, nice to see a post that's thoughtful and possibly the only apprentice/career-related post in recent memory that's legit. Sounds like you've got a good head on your shoulders and that you already know what you need to do. I can't speak from a tattooer's perspective, but from someone who's worked in two shops with plenty of issues, it sounds like you're on the right track.. if you gotta leave, you gotta leave. This "mass exodus" -- seems like everyone who was teaching you basically left? Hopefully some folks can give you some advice on here.. Good luck dude, and I'd be willing to bet you land on your feet.

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I think you have summed up things quite astutely, and that hold on your current situation is more beneficial than any advice anyone could give you. You know what you want, and you are focusing your energy on it. Nothing is stronger than the will to survive. I hope some of the tattooers on LST who aren't too busy (well, they always are) are able to give you solid advice.

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Let me preface this by saying I'm an artist, not a tattoo artist...

How are your self-promotion skills, g.? Do you have an Instagram/ blog/FB/Twitter that you update constantly? Cards are kind of the old school way of doing- people want to pull you up on their phone- give them that ability. The reason I ask should be apparent. As an artist, you have to view yourself as a brand and a business in terms of income generation. It's the reason a lot of mediocre artists get noticed and greats get slept on. Let's get real- I know about 90% of the tattoo artists I do because of MARKETING- whether that's the web or print. The 10% I know from word of mouth are still out there on the web and in print. When you mention a mass exodus of artists, I'm assuming they're still in the same city, which means people in that town are getting tattooed. You have to figure out how to get those people interested in your work and what you have to offer. And start using your real name and website in your signature- it back links to your portfolio in search engines. ;)

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thanks guys for all of your understanding, support and kind words. it really means a lot.

yes, the mass exodus was a voluntary one on their part. and i know they are really enjoying their new positions elsewhere and are continuing to learn more and expand their crafts everyday. i wish them the best of luck.

i do use facebook daily, and i know i really need to get up to speed with modern marketing techniques, and i do want to view myself as a business and hustle. although, i can't afford an i phone at the moment unfortunately, or else i would be on instagram with everybody else. i know i am missing out by not doing that, so i'm hoping to get one asap. twitter i am still not familiar with using. but, i will be as of tomorrow. i'm also going to get a blog going and see what else i can do to get my work seen.

i feel like i don't have a lot to offer at the moment, mainly because of the short time that i have been tattooing combined with the little amount of time i actually get to tattoo. i need to be able to expand as an artist and get to that point where i feel confident enough to compete in the race, and i just can't do that where i am at. bummin'...

thanks again for the advice folks!

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Sounds good- be sure and start a Facebook page for your tattooing and load up your albums with portfolio stuff. Then go out and make friends with all the tattooers you like, and make friends with their friends. Post links to art stuff you dig (like Last Sparrow ;), Tattoo Age, other shops and artists), but also other things you might be interested in- people like seeing variety. A good example is Bailey Hunter Robinson's The Fabled White Buffalo Co. -its a Tumblr that has pics of his art, but also cool things he finds inspirational. Once you do that, you can link your Facebook to your Twitter so all you have to do it post from Facebook and it tweets to your feed on Twitter.

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