Traditional Apprenticeships vs. Tattoo "Schools"

What is an Apprentice?

According to Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary... Definition of apprentice
1 a : one bound by indenture... to serve another for a prescribed period with a view to learning an art or trade
b : one who is learning by practical experience under skilled workers a trade, art, or calling...

A tattoo apprenticeship is an arrangement in which a professional tattoo artist teaches in exchange for assistance in daily activities. Apprenticeships have been the relied upon training method for carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other trades for years. Benjamin Franklin was a printer's apprentice, Henry Ford apprenticed under a machinist, and Leonardo DaVinci apprenticed to be a painter.

There is usually only one apprentice per mentor; this individual training ensures true understanding of the lessons contained in real life situations. There must be a mutual trust; you become a representative of your mentor, he stakes part of his reputation on your performance. Respect for the knowledge, wisdom, skill, and experience of the working professional teaching you is the key to a successful apprenticeship. Your mentor is how other professional tattoo artists come to know and respect you. An apprentices success is ultimately that of the mentor as well.

Why choose a traditional tattoo apprenticeship?

A traditional apprenticeship is the only tried and true way to promote a thorough education in safe, responsible tattooing.

By being immersed in the daily function of a real working tattoo studio, with hands on training by an actual tattoo professional, you learn not only the techniques involved in the tattoo application process, but also customer service skills, attention to detail, self-discipline, and respect that just aren't possible to learn in a classroom.
Through assisting in the daily operation of a tattoo establishment, alongside knowledgable experienced professionals, you accumulate real world experience and training. The individual oversight only attainable in a hands-on apprencticeship ensures that lessons are learned satisfactorily before moving on to the next.
There is no week by week schedule; your advancement in your apprenticeship is based on performance and improvement, and this continues throughout your career as a tattoo artist.

Tattoo "Schools" Come Up Short

Tattoo Schools are not staffed by working tattoo professionals, they hire people with minimal experience to be "instructors", in a classroom setting, in a place with no actual tattoo studio. Remember, real tattoo artists work in real tattoo shops.

These so called "schools" are owned and run by shameless profiteers who are NOT part of the industry, who exploit the hard work and talents of professional tattoo artists. What's to stop more of these tattoo factories from opening in our state, in Hartford, New London, Groton, or across the street from your studio? These are not artists, you will not appeal to their sense of decency and they do not care about professional respect or your artistry. They do not care about the inferior quality of "education" they are selling. They are an impersonal business concerned about the bottom line and making money.

Paying high fees to have someone "teach" you how to tattoo in a few short months is not going to provide the skills required to be a professional tattoo artist. The reality is, that without doing a traditional apprenticeship, you miss out on being exposed to the most important things, those that you simply can't learn from a seminar. As in any skilled craft, individual hands-on training is crucial; you won't get that as one face in the crowd in the back of a classroom. Tattoo "schools" will take your money in exchange for a certificate of completion. They will even give you the title of "Junior Tattoo Artist", there is no such thing. Make no mistake, you are not buying an education. You will be engaging in a fantasy experience, they put a tattoo machine in your hand and tell you that you are qualified. This is along the same lines as attending Space Camp and claiming to be a "Junior Astronaut". It will not give you the skills required to succeed, nor will your certificate entitle you to any employment as a tattoo artist. Inquire about employment opportunities for "tattoo school graduates" at any legitimate tattoo shop, and you will get a common answer. Their guarantee of job placement only means that when their graduates can't find a job in a real tattoo shop, they have no choice but to work for the school.

Obtaining an Apprenticeship

There is no one right way to go about getting a tattoo apprenticeship, but there are many common wrong approaches. The most common is asking a tattoo artist whom you've just met, or barely know, if they will take you on as an apprentice.

A better approach is to spend some time in your local tattoo shops, and get to know different artists. Find a Professional Tattoo Artist who actually does tattoos for a living in a legitimate tattoo establishment. Someone who you would get tattooed by yourself, someone who's work you respect. Assuming you like tattoos, you should consider getting tattooed yourself, this would be a far better use of your time and money than an introductory seminar. While there, you can see what goes on in a real tattoo shop. Most likely you will see other tattoo artists and people like yourself getting tattooed. Remember, your tattoo artist is at work, and you may possibly begin to get a realistic view of what daily life is like in a tattoo shop.

Don't confuse being persistent and passionate, with being pushy and impatient. If you ask for critiques of your drawings, accept their honest opinions of your work. Talk to your artist, ask a few intelligent questions, but don't expect them to teach you anything for free. Professional tattooers have put in their time to get to where they are. In order to succeed, it takes years of hard work, focus, and dedication. Since a working relationship must be established, any mentor will want to assess your character, your dedication, work ethic, punctuality, etc. These are all things that are difficult to judge upon first impressions, and a potential mentor will want to know who you are before committing to anything. Just like any goal worth working towards, it won't be quick and easy.

You Shouldn't Learn About Tattooing on the Street

Teaching yourself to tattoo at home, or learning from a disreputable underground tattooer leads the way to all kinds of problems. Receiving inaccurate advice, or struggling to figure out techniques for yourself will get you rooted in bad habits. There is no solid foundation for you to build upon, and it is difficult to improve.

Unsafe practices and the exposure to blood causes an unnecessary increase in the likelyhood of disease transmission. Improper handling and treatment of contaminated equipment in an uncontrolled environment is irresponsible and dangerous to yourself and every person you tattoo. And what about your friends and family who let you practice on them? Nothing will haunt you like that horrible tattoo you plopped on your girlfriend's forearm.

Do It The Responsible Way

There are no shortcuts to a quality education.

Just showing up until the end of the semester doesn't make you qualified.

Beware of those claiming that they will make it easy for you and guarantee you job placement.

No school can guarantee success.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.