What you need to know if you want to become a tattoo apprentice

Tattooing has gained a reputation for being a hard industry to get into- and with good reason.

It’s notoriously tricky to find a genuine, professional apprenticeship, as many studios are simply too busy or uninterested to consider working with someone new. Furthermore, there are a lot of tattoo studios now, especially if you live in a busy area. There’s a lot of people who want to get into this industry too, as it’s fast-paced, exciting and creative.

So, how on earth can you stand out from the crowd and find yourself an apprenticeship that’ll teach you everything you need to know? In this blog, I’ll be going over my own personal experience finding an apprenticeship (spoiler alert; it took me 4 years) and giving some advice on how to maximise your chances of finding your own apprenticeship.

Just be really annoying

This may sound like strange advice, but it’s essentially the pattern I followed to try and get my apprenticeship. For the last four years, I’ve been researching who my favourite studios are in England, and contacting them regularly asking about work. I’ve called them, emailed them, messaged on social media and even just turned up in the studio unannounced. Find your studios, and annoy them- this is how I met Ursa Major.

Of course, don’t try to actually annoy them- I just mean you need to be consistent. Go to conventions to meet new artists, follow them on social media (not in real life, please) and don’t take the first no for an answer. It can be disheartening to go through this process for sure, but it’s important to keep yourself focused on what your goals are.

Something I found that really helped is to ask for advice alongside a job i.e. ‘Even if you’ve got no vacancies, I’d be really grateful for any tips or advice on how to do better’. This opens up a conversation, and can reward you with some great industry tips too.

Draw every day, all of the time

This is the piece of advice that I received the most from all the artists that I’ve spoken to, and it’s certainly one of the most important. Whether you’re in the mood to draw or not, you need to be drawing all the time. Sketches, doodles, ink drawings- you name it. You’re going to need a lot of art to take to visit studios and conventions, to show what you can do.

Don’t feel limited to just doing tattoo flash, though. So many artists nowadays value new, interesting types of art and mediums. I’ve met artists who have degrees in illustration, who’ve studied art and some who never did an art GCSE. All types of art are important, and they all contribute to your journey (although flash is still very important to focus on).

Make sure you can handle criticism

This is one that I definitely had to work on when I was contacting studios at first. I considered myself to be someone with pretty thick skin, but after a few years of trying to get an apprenticeship I’d basically developed an exoskeleton.

I’ve been ignored, insulted, yelled at and talked down to by plenty of studios. Some people simply didn’t have the time, and some people simply didn’t like me. Some people were rude to the point where I know I’ll never go back to get tattooed by any of their artists.

Of course this isn’t to say that all studios are like this at all, as the majority of people I’ve met have been absolute sweethearts! It’s a very small minority of studios, but it’s worth noting as it can be pretty surprising when it happens for the first time.

Don’t take it to heart. Brush yourself off, take some time to cheer yourself up and get straight back on to speaking to the next studio.

Get really good at sweeping floors

Obviously, apprentices aren’t let near a machine when they first start. There’s so many reasons why this is a bad idea, and they follow the same reasoning as to why people should not be buying their own kits off of eBay before training. If you’re considering doing this before you’ve been trained, please don’t! It’ll limit your future work opportunities and reputation so much, and it could harm your clients as well.

When you first start an apprenticeship, expect to be helping around with lots of different things. I spend a lot of my time helping with cleaning, setting up and tearing down stations, going to the shop and running general errands. I’m now starting to help out with projects like this blog, which is fun.

Don’t expect to immediately get to tattoo or even draw. Go into an apprenticeship with an open mind and a willingness to help out, and I promise you’ll find it so much easier.

Don’t worry about having your own style yet

This is one that surprised me. I was worried that I didn’t have a noticeable style in my art yet, but was told that this was actually a good thing! Don’t stress out if you haven’t got an established style yet- this will come with time.

I still don’t have my own style yet, I’m spending time learning how to draw all sorts of different styles and researching new artists to see what works best for me.

It’s important to stay up to date with the industry

As you’ve probably noticed, tattooing has become quite a social media based industry. This has both advantages and disadvantages, for artists and clients. As an aspiring apprentice, this is fantastic news for you. Use the resources to your advantage, and try to keep up to date on the latest industry news.

Is there a new social media trend? Has one style of tattooing faded out of popularity? How are your peers doing online? There’s so much to learn about this industry, and it’s important to get started where you can.

Contact lots of artists

This point is fairly obvious, but it’s important to reach out to plenty of different artists. I’d go to local conventions, to see which artists are working in your local area and to get chatting to some new people. Conventions can be strange, but from the point of view of an aspiring artist, they can be really inspiring.

What’s important to bear in mind is that contacting lots of artists doesn’t mean contacting every artist. Make sure to do your research, to see who’s producing high quality art and offering a great experience. The quality of your art will depend on the quality of your teacher, as will your customer service and reputation.

The customer service aspect is important too. You might have found a great artist, but they might have upset everyone who’s walked in the door for the last year. Social media is definitely your ally in this regard.

Learn what you can, but be willing to learn more

One of the most important things to remember when trying to get into tattooing is that there’s always something new to learn. There’s a vibrant history behind it, tons of interesting styles, inspiring artists and people to research, and the technical aspects too. I’d suggest reading up on as much as possible, and trying to find extracurricular ways to learn more too.

For example, I’m a freelance writer and this has been pretty handy in terms of learning more about tattooing. I had a client from a tattoo studio in Thailand who bought some work off of me about the history of Sak Yant tattoos, which was intriguing to write.

Try out new art styles and mediums

The final thing that I’d suggest is to experiment with different styles and mediums where possible. As mentioned, you don’t need to have a defined style to get an apprenticeship. You do need to have a lot of art at your disposal though, so I’d suggest taking this time out to experiment and find some new styles that you’re interested in.

Online courses can be helpful, as can visiting art galleries and museums. Inspiration can come from anywhere, so try to explore new avenues in all areas of your life. I’m personally really inspired by pop culture in my art, so I started watching new films, learning about new art movements and playing new video games to expand what I was drawing earlier this year.

To sum up

Overall, it’s pretty hard to get into an apprenticeship, but if you spend a good amount of time and effort, then you’re sure to find somewhere great to learn in the future. Make sure you’re drawing on everything and everyone, and get people to critique your art wherever possible. Also, try to brush up on your sweeping skills- it’ll help.

If you’re looking for high quality, bespoke tattoo art then make sure to check out Ursa Major in Oxford. Our team has a wealth of experience and practice all sorts of styles imaginable. Whether you’re looking for stunning realism, intense illustrative blackwork, dainty dotwork or something else entirely, we’ve got the artist to help bring your dream tattoo idea to life.

Want to find out more? Drop us an email at admin@ursamajortattoo.com, reach out on social media or check out our website to see how our team could help you today.


Emily Stonham