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.