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Frankie D

Apprenticeship Questions

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Hey guys,

I'm new here and I have some questions about how to GET INTO the tattoo business. I've decided that I want to become a tattoo artist, and I've been working on my drawing for the past few months, and now I'm wondering, what is the next step? Here are some of my questions:

1) Anyone out there have any tips on how to get a decent apprenticeship?

2) More specifically, what should a portfolio include/ not include?

3) Anything I should be weary of or avoid when looking for an apprenticeship at certain shops?

4) How do I know when my art is good enough to approach a shop? I've only been drawing a few months, and while I realize I'm not the best artist in the world, I do believe I'm getting better, and have much potential for growth as an artist.

Thanks in advance,

Frankie D

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How To Build an Impressive Art Portfolio to Find a Tattoo Apprenticeship

From Karen L. Hudson, for

Filed In:

1. Tattoos - General Info

If you're searching for an apprenticeship so you can be trained to become a tattoo artist, you'll need to impress your prospective mentor. To do that, you'll need to create an impressive portfolio. This is how.

Difficulty: Average

Time Required: 1-2 Hours

Here's How:

1. Purchase an actual art presentation portfolio, not just a photo album or binder. Get one that is large enough to accommodate your largest drawings and/or paintings. It doesn't have to be an expensive leather-bound portfolio; just get one that adequately organizes your artwork. This shows that you take your art seriously.

2. Gather all of your best and favorite pieces of art that you want to display in your portfolio. Choose a variety of pieces that show your range of skills and your ability to work in as many mediums as possible. Make sure you have at least a few pieces that are done in a tattoo style if possible.

3. Be sure every piece is signed by you so you can prove that it is all your own unique artwork.

4. If you have larger artistic pieces that can't fit into the portfolio (such as paintings on canvas or sculptures) then take photos of them to include in your portfolio. Take clean photos and multiple angles if needed. The larger the photos, the better you'll be able to show your work.

5. Begin organizing your portfolio by carefully placing each piece in its prospective sleeve or pocket. Add a photo section if needed.

6. Include copies of a photo resume that you can leave behind at the studio after your interview. The resume should highlight any art education, personal experience and your reason for wanting to be a tattoo artist. Behind your resume, include a page of smaller photos of the artwork they would have seen in your portfolio during your interview. This will help refresh their mind as to who you are and your abilities.


1. Hobby and craft stores are the best places to find a wide variety of art portfolios in a range of affordable prices.

2. DO NOT include any photos of tattoos you may have already done at home. Tattoo artists are usually not impressed with scratcher work and it will only make them feel that they are probably going to have to re-train you to eliminate any bad habits. If you want an apprenticeship, you agree to start from scratch.

What You Need:

• An art presentation portfolio

• Sleeves and protective pages to display your art in the portfolio

• Pieces of art that will fit in the portfolio

• Pictures of art that is too large for the portfolio

• A photo resume

While much of your education in animation will revolve around producing a final demo reel of your work, the demo reel is by no means the only important presentation piece in your repetoire. A printed portfolio of artwork and stills is also important, and can display talents that may not be so apparent in the digital medium. Here are a few guidelines to producing a professional portfolio that will reflect positively on you as an artist, animator, and potential employee.

Never, Ever Use Originals.

When compiling your portfolio, each piece should be a copy of the original artwork, not the artwork itself. Copies can be resized to fit your portfolio; copies are also replacable, while the originals are not. If you lose your portfolio, that can be recreated. If you lose your original artwork, you've lost something much more valuable that you've put a lot of time, effort, and thought into.

Always Use High-Quality Prints.

Original artwork should be scanned at at least 300 DPI, though 600 DPI is preferable for color. After being resized to fit the portfolio size that you've chosen (I usually prefer an 11" x 14"; it's large enough to display pieces well, but easily carried), you should take them to a professional printing service (most would recommend Kinko's, though I've had various bad experiences at the local installments of that particular chain) and print them out on clean, smooth, high-quality paper. You can go with paper as thick as cardstock, if you'd like, to keep the pieces from bending and creasing and to attain better paper quality; however, I wouldn't recommend glossy paper, because they'll already be behind a gloss of clear, protective sheeting and that will just double the glare.

Running your portfolio off on your home printer from shabby, low-resolution scans is never a good idea; you end up with grainy pictures on low-quality paper, and most home printers can't handle larger-size paper to fit in standard portfolios.

Don't Settle for Shoddy Binding to Save Money.

The portfolio itself is as much a part of the presentation as the pieces inside it; if you want to look professional, spend a few extra dollars to buy a nicer case in leather, vinyl, or even pleather, as long as it looks well-made and neat. Skimping and buying the plastic, velcro-tabbed portfolios will add an amateurish feel to your portfolio, and will detract from the quality of your work; what that says to potential employers is that you're not willing to invest in presenting yourself nicely, and people viewing your portfolio will probably spend more time eyeing the scratched and bent edges of the plastic box than your artwork.

Plastic was fine for quick high-school presentations. It's not acceptable when you're preparing the results of your educational labor in order to enter the work force. Unless you absolutely can't spare another penny, spend the extra money. It'll be worth it.

Don't Ever Leave Your Portfolio With Anyone.

By the time that you finish, you may have poured hundreds of dollars into the creation of this presentation piece. While it is replaceable, do you really want to? Your portfolio should enter with you, and leave with you; however, there's no harm in having smaller samples ready to leave for further perusal.

Pick Your Presentation Pieces.

The presentation of the portfolio itself aside, let's focus on the actual content. Your presentation portfolio isn't intended to be a 200-page visual novel of your artistic prowess; instead, it's a sample of the best work that you want to display to potential employers or others who might have reason to view your work. I'd recommend keeping the number of pieces in your portfolio between 18 and 24; 20 is the ideal number.

You'll want to pick your pieces based on two things: quality, and the skills that you want to highlight. If you're only interested in showing off your painting skills, then pick your 20 best paintings and scan them (or high-quality photos of them, if they're too large for any available scanners) for your portfolio prints; if, however, you want to show off your paintings, your 3D texture map composites, your Adobe Illustrator digital art, your motion studies, and your CGI lighting projects, then pick your four best of each and include those in your portfolio as demonstration of the wide range of your talents.

Remember, however, that not everything is marketable. If you absolutely can't stand to leave a piece out but you know that potential employers will frown on it, save it for your bound sketchbook.

Arrange Your Pieces to Complement Each Other.

There should always be some kind of order to the arrangement of your portfolio pieces, even if it's just simply ordering them by type. But you'd be better off organizing them by quality, so that they cushion each other, the stronger pieces providing support for the weaker ones. Space them much as you'd space clips in your demo reel, with one of your better pieces first and your best piece last, with more of your better displays interspersed with some of the "just good enough" ones to keep from creating long stretches of impressive artwork followed by long stretches of less-than-interesting pieces that might leave a lasting dull impression.

Include a Bound Sketchbook.

The sketchbook is the catch-all for all of the artwork that got left out of your portfolio, and a way to display the diversity of your talents more fully. Almost anything can go in your sketchbook; mine is a massive collage of nearly 300 pages of pencil sketches, landscapes, musculature studies, cartoon breakdowns, figure drawings, motion studies, object studies, lighting experiments, CG art, a few photo manipulations, and even various renders of 3D projects from toying with lighting, morph targets, and biped animation to create idle poses that pleased me. Sketchbook work doesn't even have to be completed work; it's more a gathering of your ideas, and sometimes employers prefer looking at sketchbooks over portfolios, as it gives them a glimpse into the raw developmental process of your work.

The sketchbook, like the portfolio, should never be composed of originals; instead the originals should be scanned and printed onto standard letter-size paper (you can get away with printing these on your home color printer) before being bound into a standard notebook. You can usually get them ring-bound or spiral-bound with vinyl covers for under $5 at your local printers, depending on the thickness. You can tote it with your portfolio anywhere; just slip it in the inside pocket and then if, during an interview, someone expresses a desire to see more, you can offer the sketchbook.

Your portfolio is just as valuable as your demo reel; you should put just as much time and effort into its composition as into your multimedia presentation. The two together are a formidable pair, and should be used to present yourself in the best way possible.


my advice Draw Draw Draw.... get what ever you need to be licensed BBP, first aid, cpr certifications done etc... before you go looking

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Frankie, have you gone and talked to any of the shops in your area? what made you decide you want to become a tattoo artist?

also, no offense, but I'm not sure that this is going to be the place that you get the advice you're trying to find. i could be wrong, and since i'm not an artist, i'll let the artists speak for themselves, but from my observations and the discussions i've had with artists who have been in the business for quite some time, this is not the time to get into tattooing, and very few hand outs are given to those who show interest(and understandably so). again, i could be wrong, so hopefully others will chime in.

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I'm sorry, I'm with MsRad. I know many, many talented tattooers, can't think of a single one with an apprentice. You will have to draw for many many more years, not months, and you should wait until you feel like you ARE a great artist before you approach anyone. And for the amount of time it's going to take to get from where you are now to earning a living might take longer then becoming a doctor or a lawyer or a airline pilot. That article on building a portfolio is great regarding building a portfolio, not sure its a surefire way to get an apprenticeship, but I bet it'd get you into art school. Wonder how they came up with the "Time Required: 1-2 Hours?" Maybe that's how long it would take the average person to walk to and from the art supply store to buy the portfolio?

Here's a thread that I love, you might find it eye opening:

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If you've only been drawing for a few months you really need to consider what dari said, you have a better chance at becoming a doctor. The kids that get good apprenticeships these days have art school backrounds and are very lucky to even get an apprenticeship. For the most part good tattooers have closed the doors to people seeking apprenticeships. Too many people watching tv think they can just get in and be famous like that. This craft takes years and years of serious sacrifice and dedication before you can even support yourself. Good luck!

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That article on building a portfolio is great regarding building a portfolio, not sure its a surefire way to get an apprenticeship, but I bet it'd get you into art school. Wonder how they came up with the "Time Required: 1-2 Hours?" Maybe that's how long it would take the average person to walk to and from the art supply store to buy the portfolio?

those instructions aren't even going to get you into art school these days. unless you want to go to a commercial school (like the Art Institutes of America) or a portfolio school (which are not accredited). it usually takes at least 2 hours to put together a good portfolio, but when i was applying for art school in '03, it took me at least a few days to get everything together how i wanted it, and i had thought about it for at least a few months in advance.

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hey Frankie D, just thought id give a little PMA regarding your goals,

I think that the idea that you could become a doctor before you could become a tattoo artist is just not true, you may not become Chris Garver in ten years but who does? Nobody on here knows how good at drawing you are and you may not even know yet yourself? I have heard many talented tattooers say that they didn't really even draw that much before they started tattooing and now they are one of the best, shit, Grime said he didn't even draw before he started tattooing, so in reality I think that you becoming a tattoo artist just depends on how bad you want it, keep drawing every night, keep bugging all the tattooers around your town and maybe offer to sweep up there shop if they will look at your drawings & give you advice on shading or styles and what not.

Personally Im not a tattooer, nor do I know much about the tattoo world compared to a Pro tattooer, but I do know that we are spinning through Space right now with a giant ball of Fire spinning around us that lets us see the paper that we draw on and our balls to wash them so if anybody on here tells you that you cant become what you want because of this and that and because your hands are too small or your skin is too black or your daddy cant send you to medical school or art school or whateverrrr, its allll bullshit and its bad for ya, like carlin said, but I digress, Ya frank the bottom line is that haters are either too scared to grab life by the balls and do what they are telling you that you cant do, Or maybe they just dont want to give away info that they found out the hard way.

Most on here may hate me for saying this but if you cant get a chance at working in a tattoo shop and nobody will help you for whatever reason, Fuck it, go on ebay, buy a machine some single use needles, buy some ink, and start tattooing all the drunks, skaters, punkers, thugs and wannabees in your neighborhood for free or next to free, dont lie about your skill and never steal anyones photos of their work, If no one will help you, do it on your own, life is short and all the haters will be six feet deep one day anyway so fuck em!

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i wrote this a couple of years back and some people have found it to be helpful. if you dont dig it... add to it.. or take away, whatever... cheers

Getting an Apprenticeship:

First and foremost, you aren't going to be able to learn from someone that knows nothing. You are going to have to do your research on where a good place to potentially learn from is. I am not saying that you have to find the best artist, with the most awards or magazine coverage, (although that would be great) but definitely stay away from people that don't have a portfolio that reflects top notch skill. Think of this as the gateway, and foundation to all you will soon be able to learn. You do not want this time to be spent learning habits that you will spend the next years of your career trying to UNLEARN. This potential shop must contain a group of things that in conjunction will paint a picture for a great place to learn. The shop must be clean. Anyone that doesn't take pride in their shop, is going to take less pride in their work. The shop is the FIRST thing a potential client sees, and it is their first impression. Does someone greet you when you walk in? Are they friendly and knowledgeable? Ask to see portfolios. Are lines crisp, clean and uniform? Are the colors bright, smooth and solid? Do the tattoos look like works of art on skin, or do they look like stamps from the back of a biker mag? Ask about their autoclave, and sterilization procedures. If you are met with resistance here, immediately get out. A lot of times if an artist has resentment about sharing their knowledge of cross contamination and sterility, its because they have none. Spend some time talking with the artists, and if you find an artist whose work you admire, get a tattoo from them. That time you are paying for with the tattoo is also a time where you can talk to an artist about what they are doing, and how they got into the business. They too can give you some tips on how, and maybe even where to approach an apprenticeship and this information can be very valuable. It helps to find someone whose art and personality you connect with, and would be willing to steer you in the right direction artistically, and possibly for that apprenticeship.

Don't set your sights lower than the best, and be persistent. No usually means that you didn't try hard enough, so keep trying and make it impossible for someone to say no, after they saw your work. Tattoo artists get asked multiple times weekly for an apprenticeship. Persistence is the key here. Don't be an overbearing pain in the ass, but do approach it with respect and a WANT to learn attitude. Ask for tips or critiques on drawing and apply then to your work and return with them applied. Keep trying and stay positive. If its meant to be, than tattooing will sweep you up into it.

The biggest thing that a potential employer is going to look for, is that taking you on will be an asset, not a liability. I can't stress this enough…Draw, Draw, Draw and then draw. All things. Things that you could potentially see as a tattoo and things that just show your skill as an artist. You don't have to be the finest artist in the world, but you do have to show a wide array of drawings over a period of time that show technical improvement. Presentation is very big at this point. Have some pride in your artwork, but be willing to take the criticism of people that are better than you. Have your drawings in a portfolio on drawing paper. A notebook with lines and pen scribbles is NOT a portfolio. This is why you should start drawing right now, if you aren't already. If you arent tattooing already, you should stop reading here and start drawing. I am NOT kidding.

Keep in mind that tattoo artists take a lot of pride in the knowledge they have and potentially are willing to share. It takes a lot more behind the scenes work to become a tattoo artist and this all should be approached with a great deal of respect. You should approach this as someone that knows very little about tattooing, interested in learning all there is to know. It definitely closes all tattoo doors if you "already tattoo", "tattoo out of the house", or have pictures of "tattoos you have done". I would not be impressed with someone so arrogant to think they could start tattooing on their own and find their way. I would be impressed with someone that has enough patience and respect for tattooing to keep it sacred and to learn the RIGHT way.

You have to be personable. To me this is huge. Friendly, knowledgeable, patient, and although some might not agree, you have to look the part. I wouldn't trust a dentist with no teeth, so it might help to have at least one tattoo, a good tattoo at that. This takes research on your part as well, but if you did your research on WHERE to apprentice, than finding a top notch artist at that location wouldn't hurt your position either. Also what I mean by looking the part, is…you can't look like a lunatic, or be a drug addict to get a job in a respectable tattoo shop. Take as much pride in yourself as your artwork. I'm not saying to look like you came out of the pages of GQ, but I am talking about taking a bath. You would be surprised how many times this is overlooked.

Patience, and willingness to work your way from the bottom up. Expect having to take out the trash and mop the floors from open to close for months before you are told how to even clean equipment. This patience WILL help you in every aspect of tattooing, from dealing with clients, to fully understanding every aspect that goes into tattooing, not just the art itself.

Working in that apprenticeship: Working in an apprenticeship is almost a sacred time. Its when you are allowed to "screw up". Ask questions, make notes, read books, draw, observe other artists, and try and absorb as much as you can. Its not as easy to take it all in, in between multiple clients, and or, trying to promote your own self. This time is a selfless time where you really need to observe as much as you can. Sometimes it can seem thankless, and hard work. But remember, you are getting an opportunity to be a part of one of the greatest and most sacred professions in the world. Make sure you listen to your mentor, they have years of experience, and things that you don't understand will be nothing more than second nature to them. Watch every single aspect of their behavior from dealing with clients, to setting the mood for a tattoo. Watch how and what they set up and what they do to prepare for the tattoo. Watch every motion the machine makes, what tubes and needles were selected, from how the tattoo leave the shop, and how everything is torn down, cleaned and sterilized. Draw, Draw, Draw you are in one of the most inspirational environments. Never stop drawing, Clean the floor, draw, scrub the tubes, draw, draw, draw, answer the phone and then draw. It never ceases to help your ability. Do line drawings, trace, copy, steady your hand, and Draw. From here you really need to pay attention to your mentor about the critiques they have regarding your personal tattooing. Apply it and work harder than ever before.


And hopefully this is a good reference for all people that have that question.

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Watch the interview videos. If you don't have any tattoos to show that you are serious to even get into tattooing, most shop owners will see this is just a "lust" to get into the business. If you are serious, start getting tattooed by people work you are into, and try to build ontop of that.

Sorry but drawing a few months and walking in with you're art isn't going to work. You need to know how to paint, do layouts, know what makes a good tattoo/design and what doesn't. You just can't get into tattooing with having some "months" of drawing, unless you have been an artist before considering this as a profession. To the guy above that said go on e-bay and get a kit, and fuck up whoever is willing to get tattooed, don't do that. Chances are those people getting fucked up, will go to a shop and see your work eventually. Don't buy machines off e-bay, you aren't supporting the people in the industry, and they run like shit.

Good luck with you're adventure, most shops won't take anyone, as of now, it is VERY over-saturated with a bunch of people in it for the wrong reasons.

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I wonder if Frankie D knew what he was getting himself into when he asked that question on this site? hahaha lol

I had to click on your link Alanna, dang I almost wish i didnt ;) your baked goods look delicious, now im craving Lemon pound cake, god damn i love lemon pound cake, I may have to take you up on your cake Mistress deal, sweet, soft and tangy just how I like it. lol

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Conor blue eyes, great article. Thanks for posting it on here.

And Frankie D, I'm certainly not trying to pooh pooh your dreams, just answering your question as honestly as I can. I don't know you, I just know how hard it is and how many years of sacrifice are required before someone can earn a living tattooing. I can't draw for shit, I feel confident that I'd finish med school before I'd be tattooing professionally. There's a full suitcase of everything I would need to start tattooing 3 feet from where I sit right now, but if I invited the neighbors over and started tattooing them tonight that would make me a jackass, not a tattoo artist. Please don't start tattooing people in your home before you find a teacher. Dispite your best intentions, you could accidently give someone something far worse than a bad tattoo due to lack of sterilization equiptment.

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Please DO NOT start tattooing from home. The shops I know of won't even consider you if you do that. Do be persistant and humble in your approach. You have to really want it and be willing to learn.

Also, consider why we have decided you want to be a tattoo artist. This is not the glamourous life that some make it out to be. Check out the apprenticeship horror stories link. I added a couple of my own experiences there and they deal with nasty bodily fluids. It's hard work. The artists work long, hard hours with aching backs and hands. Difficult annoying customers are a daily occurance. Weekends are our busiest nights so forget about going out with your friends. Shops aren't going to take you serious if you come in with stars in your eyes. Let them know you understand it's going to be hard work and are willing to commit. And then be willing to follow through. Just my 2 cents.

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I'm not going to get on here and scream about how you shouldn't be a tattooer, even though that's a preset gut reaction nowadays and it's totally valid. After all, I'm a fairly new tattooer in the game and why should I be telling people what they should or shouldn't do. However, what I will bring up is something that continues to plague me at every turn, and it's something that I struggle with every day.

Think and consider a few things most people don't before they just "decide they want to be a tattooer". Such as the effect you have on the craft and it's craftsmen/women. Specifically in your area. With every new tattooer the pieces of the "tattoo pie" get smaller and smaller. The pie being the personal benefits of tattooing. Not just financial, but all the benefits. The more tattooers, the smaller the pieces of the pie. Less money, more people doing desperate things to try to grind more loot out of tattooing, especially in the slower seasons, like tons of random discount days, undercutting the previously established shops prices to steal clients, etc. Think about what you're doing to the people who've already been there, who've already worked their asses off to establish a clientele, and a relationship with their neighborhood. Think about the taking you will be doing.

That's not to say that you should not become a tattooer. What I'm trying to say is this: before you start on your journey to take from this craft and the people who held it on their shoulders through all it's iterations and think about how you're going to justify your actions and their consequences.

How do you justify making everyone's pie smaller? How about by becoming lots more pie to those people.

Get tattooed by righteous tattooers. A LOT. Blow loads of money on them. If your sitting here reading this thinking that " I can't do that because tattoos are too much money and I'm broke, which is why I want to be a tattooer in the first place dudes!" then you probably shouldn't be considering becoming a tattooer.

On the other hand, if you are thinking "well, shit I'm broke, but if I get this second job and stop dropping a bunch of money on sneakers and beer then I could afford lots more tattoos, so now let's look and see who is good and figure out how I can throw bunches of money at them frequently", well then maybe you might be an asset to tattooing.

I won't give anyone any advice beyond that. Tattooing is a career and if you become a tattooer that's a lifetime of taking. Maybe start evening the score early by giving back to it first. If there is any hesitation in your mind about that at all, don't even try. Save us all the next money sucking middle achiever. We already have enough of those.

I'm not saying any of these things to be harsh. My mind is heavy with these thoughts all day long. I spend hours working my ass off, trying to make my clients as happy as possible but that's no where near enough. I spend all my money on tattooing. I buy tattoos, machines, pigments, supplies, flash, prints, paintings, books etc from righteous tattooers. I owe heavy debts to the guys that brought me up and I will never be able to repay it. Anytime I get a compliment from anyone on my tattoos I let them know who taught me. It's important to pay to your lineage no matter who it was. I spend time conversing with as many tattooers as I can that I admire just to hear what they have to say. I have a list of tattooers in every state and I frequently refer people to places to get the work they desire. Al that and I still feel like I owe tattooing everything. I expect I will always feel the need to justify my existence here among the people that I respect and admire by paying them heed in any way that I can. They do deserve it after all.

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to the hyena... i must say your post was just so perfectly written. wow i loved it dude!

i just would like to add...

there is a legitimate reason why shops despise those who decide to learn on thier own. aside from putting the local population in a health risk due to lack of knowledge in bloodborne pathogens and cross-contimination, there is also the fact that government and health departments across the board all pool-in tattoo shops with people tattooing from thier homes. they see no difference between the professional and those experimenting on thier own. laws are then created as well as uninformed rules on professionals to follow due to public scares created by people tattooing in thier homes.(ie. health dept thought rubbing alchohol was an effective way to wipe a tattoo machine... duh). learning from home will give you a reputation in your area which could leave a black mark on you should you persue tattooing as a career.

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