Great Lakes Tattooing

Do we really need apprentices?

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I've taken on an apprentice. I'm 12 years in and do not feel like I could've or should've taught anybody before this. First, a little shop background I work in an small isolated area that is expensive and inconvenient. You can't drive in or out and while we have some of the modern conveniences, like costco, we do not have a lot of things, like art supply stores or fast food restaurants. I bought the shop almost two years ago from the original owner, who moved back south. I did not ever expect to take on an apprentice. I also did not think I'd work alone for a year and half straight. I thought I'd make the shop the best I can and some one would slip right in to that glass slipper and it'd be sweet. Well, nobody did. A few artists expressed interest, but costs, inconvenience and ever gloomy weather killed the deal every time. Sometimes the tattooer would be pumped, but their significant other couldn't hang with living a borderline "village" lifestyle. So I worked alone for a while. I wanted the best for the shop, so I didn't turn down anything and worked myself silly. I got a sweet eye twitch out of that that has finally went away unless I'm really tired.

So after talking to enough artists about why they couldn't make the move, I started to realize that I may have to grow my own. I took on one of our shop's regulars as counter help. How do you get to work at a tattoo shop? I wasn't looking to hire a friend as I've seen that go bad, so I hired someone that I had built a professional relationship with already, because they were always at the shop getting tattooed. Once I saw that he was doing a good job and began to notice that his other plans (school, etc) starting to fall to shit, I realized that I may be able cultivate a mutually beneficial apprenticeship. It wasn't that I didn't want to mop, or I wanted my ego stroked or I wanted to try and get an extra $15,000. We talked a lot about his future and future plans before we entered in to this and if fulfilled, he will contribute back into the shop for several years as his obligation for having a place to learn and a person to learn from. It was understood that he would not be tattooing for quite a while, it would be the slow road and that he's going to have to learn a lot of things that are other people don't, like needles, mixing pigment, painting flash, taking apart machines, making footswitches and all the other stuff folks with real deal apprenticeships learn. I'm trying to give him a combination of the apprenticeship I had and the apprenticeship I wanted.

So far, I'm pretty proud of the little fucker. He filled a sketchbook of traditional designs cover to cover ( most tattooers I know haven't done that), put a machine together, rewired a footswitch, made needles and we've done an oversized split sheet on coquille. He studies a lot. He looks at good stuff. And while we have a pretty good generational gap, I'd like to think we've become friends. Being busy, isolated and working by myself made me feel like I was a little stagnant. He's into it and younger, so he looks at both my influences and shows me the stuff he's into. So it's not out of the question for him to introduce stuff to me, even at this point. When you have to teach, it makes you step back and present things to somebody else. That step can often make you put thought towards something that had previously become automatic. So, in that respect, I get charged up on shit again. That's the new blood factor.

Overall, I hired a regular who was already familiar. Not a friend who will break my heart if things didn't work out right away. And I do feel as though there is a need for entry level tattooing at the shop here. That can free me up a little to do the best I can on the bigger projects for now. There is another factor that I don't know if it has been addressed directly (richard's quotes were closest) but yeah, it takes time and a lot of effort to teach somebody right. I'm invested in this shit now. I have a one year old baby and a wife, and I'm sneaking out in the middle of the night to teach him how to make liners at 3am on a friday night. Why would I ever do that for a stranger? I don't know if I could even hang in the same room with the person,let alone have to teach them all these pain in the ass aspects about tattooing in the middle of the night. Also, If I still tattooed down south, I would never take on an apprentice. There was just never a need.

ps- I also asked the people who taught me if it was ok for me to teach someone. They looked at me like they had nothing to do with the decision and granted me permission, but the fact it, if those important people to me said no, I wouldn't have an apprenntice right now

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I've taken on an apprentice. I'm 12 years in and do not feel like I could've or should've taught anybody before this. First, a little shop background I work in an small isolated area that is expensive and inconvenient. You can't drive in or out and while we have some of the modern conveniences, like costco, we do not have a lot of things, like art supply stores or fast food restaurants. I bought the shop almost two years ago from the original owner, who moved back south. I did not ever expect to take on an apprentice. I also did not think I'd work alone for a year and half straight. I thought I'd make the shop the best I can and some one would slip right in to that glass slipper and it'd be sweet. Well, nobody did. A few artists expressed interest, but costs, inconvenience and ever gloomy weather killed the deal every time. Sometimes the tattooer would be pumped, but their significant other couldn't hang with living a borderline "village" lifestyle. So I worked alone for a while. I wanted the best for the shop, so I didn't turn down anything and worked myself silly. I got a sweet eye twitch out of that that has finally went away unless I'm really tired.

So after talking to enough artists about why they couldn't make the move, I started to realize that I may have to grow my own. I took on one of our shop's regulars as counter help. How do you get to work at a tattoo shop? I wasn't looking to hire a friend as I've seen that go bad, so I hired someone that I had built a professional relationship with already, because they were always at the shop getting tattooed. Once I saw that he was doing a good job and began to notice that his other plans (school, etc) starting to fall to shit, I realized that I may be able cultivate a mutually beneficial apprenticeship. It wasn't that I didn't want to mop, or I wanted my ego stroked or I wanted to try and get an extra $15,000. We talked a lot about his future and future plans before we entered in to this and if fulfilled, he will contribute back into the shop for several years as his obligation for having a place to learn and a person to learn from. It was understood that he would not be tattooing for quite a while, it would be the slow road and that he's going to have to learn a lot of things that are other people don't, like needles, mixing pigment, painting flash, taking apart machines, making footswitches and all the other stuff folks with real deal apprenticeships learn. I'm trying to give him a combination of the apprenticeship I had and the apprenticeship I wanted.

So far, I'm pretty proud of the little fucker. He filled a sketchbook of traditional designs cover to cover ( most tattooers I know haven't done that), put a machine together, rewired a footswitch, made needles and we've done an oversized split sheet on coquille. He studies a lot. He looks at good stuff. And while we have a pretty good generational gap, I'd like to think we've become friends. Being busy, isolated and working by myself made me feel like I was a little stagnant. He's into it and younger, so he looks at both my influences and shows me the stuff he's into. So it's not out of the question for him to introduce stuff to me, even at this point. When you have to teach, it makes you step back and present things to somebody else. That step can often make you put thought towards something that had previously become automatic. So, in that respect, I get charged up on shit again. That's the new blood factor.

Overall, I hired a regular who was already familiar. Not a friend who will break my heart if things didn't work out right away. And I do feel as though there is a need for entry level tattooing at the shop here. That can free me up a little to do the best I can on the bigger projects for now. There is another factor that I don't know if it has been addressed directly (richard's quotes were closest) but yeah, it takes time and a lot of effort to teach somebody right. I'm invested in this shit now. I have a one year old baby and a wife, and I'm sneaking out in the middle of the night to teach him how to make liners at 3am on a friday night. Why would I ever do that for a stranger? I don't know if I could even hang in the same room with the person,let alone have to teach them all these pain in the ass aspects about tattooing in the middle of the night. Also, If I still tattooed down south, I would never take on an apprentice. There was just never a need.

ps- I also asked the people who taught me if it was ok for me to teach someone. They looked at me like they had nothing to do with the decision and granted me permission, but the fact it, if those important people to me said no, I wouldn't have an apprenntice right now

I appreciate you sharing. You seem to have your head on straight. Kudos to you sir.

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I don't need apprentices, I don't get tattooed by them. Tho I've seen some work done by apprentices that would put to shame long established tattoo artists. And those possibly we'll need in a couple of years to keep things moving.

And Zeke's letter made my bloody day!

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I don't need apprentices, I don't get tattooed by them. Tho I've seen some work done by apprentices that would put to shame long established tattoo artists. And those possibly we'll need in a couple of years to keep things moving.

And Zeke's letter made my bloody day!

Truth.

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@Jennifer Stell "Richard has always ALWAYS said... Taking an apprentice is like getting married and someone taking your last name as theirs.... And there is no divorce, that's forever."

That has to be one of the least talked about things in this thread. I had to remark only because I recently started and apprenticeship, and I really respect the man. He is an amazing artist and an outstanding human being. Respect between the artist and apprentice ( I think ) is a must. And for an Artist to take someone under his or her wing (a good artist) they must trust that the person is going to show the craft the respect it deserves.

Just my thoughts...

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Too many chiefs and not enough indians, as we used to say back in the pre-PC days. Far too many tattooers have simply put a few pieces on their legs, rented a shop, and look ma, I'm a tattooer.

I'm an apprentice - It's a time consuming, grueling process (loving it all the way).. I definitely agree that it acts as quality control - or SHOULD.. my mentor has only ever had two apprentices in his entire career.. Ill be the last... Like children you don't just go make 10 because you can LOL...

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Normally I like to use quotes so its clear what I am talking about...but there are so many gems in this thread and I don't know how to save drafts:(

Being highly skilled in another medium seems to be a rare quality of a prospective apprentice. I have worked at three shops now and have seen many people come in and inquire about apprenticeships. Only one person, and I repeat one person only came in with a nice, presentable portfolio filled with well drawn and colored tattooable designs. The amount he had was not even that much...like less than half of a full(10 sheets 11x14) set. I was still very impressed.

I someone were to come in and show me a full set of flash, completed and comparable in quality to the better stuff out there, I might be compelled to teach that person. It may never happen! 99.9% have some pretty poorly organized amatuerish drawing if that. Its like art was just an afterthought or something. Then of course some fuck up their chances by showing some of the scratches they inflicted on friends and family.

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I've taken on an apprentice. I'm 12 years in and do not feel like I could've or should've taught anybody before this. First, a little shop background I work in an small isolated area that is expensive and inconvenient. You can't drive in or out and while we have some of the modern conveniences, like costco, we do not have a lot of things, like art supply stores or fast food restaurants. I bought the shop almost two years ago from the original owner, who moved back south. I did not ever expect to take on an apprentice. I also did not think I'd work alone for a year and half straight. I thought I'd make the shop the best I can and some one would slip right in to that glass slipper and it'd be sweet. Well, nobody did. A few artists expressed interest, but costs, inconvenience and ever gloomy weather killed the deal every time. Sometimes the tattooer would be pumped, but their significant other couldn't hang with living a borderline "village" lifestyle. So I worked alone for a while. I wanted the best for the shop, so I didn't turn down anything and worked myself silly. I got a sweet eye twitch out of that that has finally went away unless I'm really tired.

So after talking to enough artists about why they couldn't make the move, I started to realize that I may have to grow my own. I took on one of our shop's regulars as counter help. How do you get to work at a tattoo shop? I wasn't looking to hire a friend as I've seen that go bad, so I hired someone that I had built a professional relationship with already, because they were always at the shop getting tattooed. Once I saw that he was doing a good job and began to notice that his other plans (school, etc) starting to fall to shit, I realized that I may be able cultivate a mutually beneficial apprenticeship. It wasn't that I didn't want to mop, or I wanted my ego stroked or I wanted to try and get an extra $15,000. We talked a lot about his future and future plans before we entered in to this and if fulfilled, he will contribute back into the shop for several years as his obligation for having a place to learn and a person to learn from. It was understood that he would not be tattooing for quite a while, it would be the slow road and that he's going to have to learn a lot of things that are other people don't, like needles, mixing pigment, painting flash, taking apart machines, making footswitches and all the other stuff folks with real deal apprenticeships learn. I'm trying to give him a combination of the apprenticeship I had and the apprenticeship I wanted.

So far, I'm pretty proud of the little fucker. He filled a sketchbook of traditional designs cover to cover ( most tattooers I know haven't done that), put a machine together, rewired a footswitch, made needles and we've done an oversized split sheet on coquille. He studies a lot. He looks at good stuff. And while we have a pretty good generational gap, I'd like to think we've become friends. Being busy, isolated and working by myself made me feel like I was a little stagnant. He's into it and younger, so he looks at both my influences and shows me the stuff he's into. So it's not out of the question for him to introduce stuff to me, even at this point. When you have to teach, it makes you step back and present things to somebody else. That step can often make you put thought towards something that had previously become automatic. So, in that respect, I get charged up on shit again. That's the new blood factor.

Overall, I hired a regular who was already familiar. Not a friend who will break my heart if things didn't work out right away. And I do feel as though there is a need for entry level tattooing at the shop here. That can free me up a little to do the best I can on the bigger projects for now. There is another factor that I don't know if it has been addressed directly (richard's quotes were closest) but yeah, it takes time and a lot of effort to teach somebody right. I'm invested in this shit now. I have a one year old baby and a wife, and I'm sneaking out in the middle of the night to teach him how to make liners at 3am on a friday night. Why would I ever do that for a stranger? I don't know if I could even hang in the same room with the person,let alone have to teach them all these pain in the ass aspects about tattooing in the middle of the night. Also, If I still tattooed down south, I would never take on an apprentice. There was just never a need.

ps- I also asked the people who taught me if it was ok for me to teach someone. They looked at me like they had nothing to do with the decision and granted me permission, but the fact it, if those important people to me said no, I wouldn't have an apprenntice right now

I'll stroke your ego sweet pea.

Great Post Dave!

Love,

The Pumped Tattooer that couldn't convince....

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Im gonna be completely honest here and I might receive some hate from this but I dont care. When I started tattooing 6 and a half years ago, I was seeking out an apprenticeship, but no reputable shop in my area would do it because of the over saturation in the industry. My mom got her first tattoo around the same time i was looking for an apprenticeship. Her co-worker refered her to her boyfriend for the tattoo. So she went to Jimmy Coffin. He has been tattooing for a long time and is pretty well known. I talked to him about it and he advised me to do it the same way he did. Just start tattooing. He said I would eff up a lot of people but thats the only way you can get better. So I did that for about 5 years. My work got better but no where near where I wanted to be.

Then a year ago I decided to go back to my roots and become an apprentice. I did that and learned a great deal. Refined my fundamentals and have been working on taking it to the next level. But I did learn something in the apprenticeship. The artist that taught me was extremely lazy. I know that being an apprentice is a lot of stuff no one wants to do and thats fine. Once I started tattooing more and wasnt so much the apprentice he still wouldnt do anything. All he ever wanted to do was try to hook up with clients and party. That is why Im no longer at that shop there was just waaaaay to much drama.

He now has two apprentices, he is never without an apprentice because he doesnt want to clean his own tubes, or clean his shop, or sched his appointments, he doesnt want to do anything. He is extremely lazy. With that said I feel that if your going to take on an apprentice then teach them to tattoo not to do all the B work. If someone ever asks to be my apprentice then I will take the time to make sure they learn and are able to do it. Tattooing isnt for everyone and you gotta learn that. Ill be tough on them to see if they really want it and not doing it just for the title of being a "Tattooer".

Thats just my take on this and people wont agree on how I started, but thats how my journey went, and I think ya I shoulda done it differently but I cant go back and re do it so I made it better!

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Coming from someone that would kill for an apprenticeship...it's been rough.

The excuses I get is that they're worried they won't *like* the person. (Which can be easily solved!)

I also apparently need to become 'buddies' with these people first... and even then they get a million idiots like me asking for an apprenticeship. Kinda tough finding artists that don't have their nose in the air.

My issue is if you seriously don't want me tattooing in my home then teach me!!!

But until then, I'll continue to practice on fake skin & grow my own way. Not many options...

One shop OWNER told me he's not able to teach another because he's only been tattooing for 4 years....yet you own a shop..... wow...

This industry feels like a cult sometimes...

I understand your frustration. However here in Oklahoma you cannot take on an apprentice until you have been open for five years I believe. This may be the same where you are at. I recently landed my apprenticeship and would say don't give up hope and above all else stay positive.

- - - Updated - - -

@Jennifer Stell "Richard has always ALWAYS said... Taking an apprentice is like getting married and someone taking your last name as theirs.... And there is no divorce, that's forever."

That has to be one of the least talked about things in this thread. I had to remark only because I recently started and apprenticeship, and I really respect the man. He is an amazing artist and an outstanding human being. Respect between the artist and apprentice ( I think ) is a must. And for an Artist to take someone under his or her wing (a good artist) they must trust that the person is going to show the craft the respect it deserves.

Just my thoughts...

I second this whole heartedly... It was my respect for the history of the trade that helped me land my apprenticeship. I did not walk in as a kid with a stack of drawings, I walked in as a middle aged man with artistic talent looking to learn a trade I respected.

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NO, the industry does not need any more apprentices. Half the new shop owners who are already apprenticing others could really benefit from an apprenticeship themselves, as many never had a proper one. These days it's like the blind leading the blind. Honestly, these days, unless a person is really a top-notch visual artist already, they would do better to find another profession. Tattooing doesn't need them.

I have been tattooing for nearly 17 years and have in that time apprenticed 3 people - two are now successful and respected shop owners themselves, and the third was a cover story in Tattoo Artist Magazine. At this point I would not consider apprenticing someone unless they brought something really special to the table.

Beside, I no longer need someone to make needles and clean tubes for me, as I buy all that stuff pre-packaged and disposable now. So what do I need an apprentice for?

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So...what happens to tattooing if not a single tattooer takes on an apprentice? What are the immediate and long term effects of the same pool of people being the sole practicioners(i'm gonna take a wild guess and say I spelled that fucked up) in an industry?

I have already made my view fairly clear, as have many others, but what about tattooing as a whole...what happens?

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"The sky is falling! The sky is falling! And I'm afraid that the bottom will drop out!"

Of course we need new blood. I don't know who this "Yoshi" person is mind you (please lift my rock and let me know if I'm missing something here) but the "market" for tattooing has gotten huge since the late '70s. If you have the dream, the talent art wise, and you can stomach it, go full steam. It's not like the cream does not rise to the top anyway.

You are NOT going to see interviews or documentary films about me. Ever. And that's cool.

I've heard the old saying that everyone needs a place to sit. I've met plenty of used to be artists, or people who say they can tattoo. I've also met many people who have a excuse for why they don't or can't too, and sure some of them are telling the truth.

People want into this, and while I understand that apprenticeship is a form of boot camp that some wash out of, the old "yell at them and make 'em by you lunch for a few years" thing may work for some, but to many with some self respect, it just don't fly. If abuse is your thing, by all means, but I don't think that because that's the way it's always been done makes a whole lot of sense.

Apprenticeship is a two way street. "Because I am hard you will not like me," Is great for the USMC, but I used to work retail. I know just how pompous and full of BS people can be.

So yes, we do, and no, maybe not. People get all flustered that the "boom" will end some day. It will, it's true, but there will always be good artists out there. If people want to buy by price, or go to the lowest scratcher on the face of the globe, let them.

As to adding "drama" to another's life? C'mon now!

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I think everyone who has a tattoo gun nowadays considers themselves a "professional". The world needs more quality and less quantity.

That's a good point you have there.

But then it begs the question; "So I was looking for a shore leave tattoo and the place was booked up for eight months. What do I do?"

Whaddya think?

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Hi, a couple of years ago there was a bad trend washing over Norway regarding apprentices only used as shopkeepers. They where promised a good apprenticeship but ended up cleaning and keeping the shop up running without learning anything about the art of tattoo. After a couple of years they bail out and buy their own equipment to start at home. That trend seems to fade out now, but as mentioned here, we do need them to keep the art alive.

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I can't recall any shop I've been in where the apprentice was actually learning the art, like actually sitting next to the tattooer while he's working and asking questions. Most of them were responsible for setting up the ink/machines/supplies, then getting the customer to sign the paperwork and ringing them up once the tattoo was done, greeting people as they walked in, asking what they wanted, then conveying that to the artist. Maybe they're learning the craft after hours or whenever the tattooer is off, but most of the time what they're doing is nowhere near what a traditional/true apprenticeship should entail.

I mean, what's the point in an apprenticeship when you can go to a tattoo school and become a master tattooer in only two weeks?!

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I hope apprenticeships are alive, well and growing. How else will new ideas and styles come about without bringing in new artists ? Young talented artists that are creative and can draw well might see tattooing as an option.

I've seen some really beautiful drawings, tattoos and then found out the artist is relatively inexperienced in tattooing.

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