tattoo apprenticeship

so you want to learn to tattoo?

tattoo apprentice

Here is where I will lay it out for anyone who is considering tattoo apprenticeship, and give you the time and information that most tattoo artists will not offer you.

tattoo apprenticeship is a very difficult and time-consuming undertaking for both the teacher, and the student. Applicants for apprenticeship should be aware that submitting to a formal tattoo apprenticeship is akin to enrolling in any other trade school. I would venture to say that any person claiming to be interested in a tattoo apprenticeship who is not willing to read every word of this page to learn as much as possible about the realities of a tattoo apprenticeship, is not qualified to apply for a tattoo apprenticeship.

The old days of acquiring an apprenticeship simply by sweeping floors and answering phones are more or less gone forever due to the increase in the perception that tattooing is a desirable career, and the subsequent overwhelming increase in those with little or no knowledge or respect for the art of tattooing seeking apprenticeship. The industry professionals have seen a devastating number of would-be tattoo apprentices quit their apprenticeship early, due to problems with their egos, feeling they have learned enough or simply no longer finding themselves willing to submit to the requirements imposed by their teacher. These quitters then simply go out and seek employment in less reputable tattoo establishments or tattoo from home and do a terrible disservice to the community by tattooing the public with incomplete and insufficient training. This renders the time spent on the apprenticeship as an absolute waste, of both the teachers time, and the public trust. This is why most tattooers will refuse you.

Tattoo “schools” and disreputable tattoo shops do offer tattoo “apprenticeships” to under-qualified and immature would-be tattooers, at differing costs or for differing exchanges of services, however I would STRONGLY caution any would-be tattooer from enrolling in any “apprenticeship” that involves a “tattoo school” or in any studio that is not a highly acclaimed and successful business staffed by leading industry professionals. Successful tattooers UNIVERSALLY do not respect or acknowledge any tattooer who “graduates” from a “tattoo school”. These institutions are a “bang-em-out” money grab that will NOT give you the skills or knowledge to have a successful career in tattooing.

*Learn more about tattoo schools by clicking here.

The competition in current times is SO STIFF that if you become a tattooer with anything less that a TOP-NOTCH education, you will find it impossible to get a position in a good studio, and will certainly find your dream of being a tattooer dashed by the realities of poverty.

It may be helpful to think of it this way: You want an apprenticeship, which basically means that you want a tattooer to teach you EVERYTHING they know, impart upon you all skills, knowledge, and understanding required to give you a successful career and essentially transform you into their most fierce competitor… so what are you going to do for them? What do you have to offer that is equal in value to the thousands of hours they will spend training you IN ADDITION to the skills they are imparting which are intended to finance your life and allow you to make a good living for as long as you practice them? You had better have something in mind that is more significant than “I will clean the shop and answer the phone” if you want to be taken seriously.

Why do you want to become a tattooer? Do you have tattoos? Do you know anything about what it means to be a tattooer that you didn’t learn from “reality” television? Most of the applicants I’ve had seek apprenticeship from me couldn’t even name a single industry professional, or even tell me the name of their favorite tattooer.

*Before you go looking for an apprenticeship you had better do your homework. Learn who is tattooing in your area, know their names, and the styles of tattooing they practice, and try to identify who is good, and who is not.

*GET TATTOOED by the artists you respect. The time you spend in the chair paying for tattoos is the best opportunity you have to learn what it means to be a tattooer, and to talk with an artist you respect about tattooing, and why it interests you. Any joker who stumbles into a shop and asks “are you looking for an apprentice?” is going to get shut down, and for good reason.

*Offer to help out around the shop where you get tattooed. Not in trade for the tattoo apprenticeship, but FOR FREE. This demonstrates a interest in and loyalty to the studio, as well as a level of humility which are each important qualities in a potential apprentice. If they allow you to help out around the shop, they MAY be giving you the opportunity to become known to them, and eventually consider you for apprenticeship. Different tattooers will respond differently in this situation. Some will just take advantage of your offer for as long as possible, and use you up for all the free “bitch-work” they can get out of you without ever even considering you as an apprentice. Regardless, you should NEVER expect that your helping out around the shop is going to guarantee you a tattoo apprenticeship, it merely serves as a way to create a reason for your being there, and allows the shop employees to get to know you, which improves your chance of being taken as an apprentice, if you have any to begin with. NEVER just hang around a tattoo shop and not DO anything, unless you already have a very good personal relationship with the tattooers who work there and have been invited to make social calls.

*Take art classes on your own. I know most would-be apprentices tend to think their art is already radical and awesome and that their shit doesn’t stink and all they need to learn are the tattoo tools and techniques… but they are wrong. The reality is that your drawings and paintings are probably piss-poor. And the sooner you check your ego and admit it, the sooner you will learn something and get better. Naturally there are always exceptions, and some very highly skilled artists do come into tattoo apprenticeship positions, however, even these know little if anything about good tattoo design, and need to learn all of their design techniques all over again in order to make tattoos that stand the test of time. If you cant manage art classes, then you had better be drawing OBSESSIVELY… don’t stroll into a tattoo shop and show them a handful of sketches and call it your “portfolio”. You had better have STACKS of sketchbooks FILLED and overflowing with drawings that demonstrate your PASSION for drawing if you want any good tattooer to take you seriously.

*Be prepared to make the tattoo apprenticeship your TOP priority. This means that any other jobs, relationships, or obligations come SECOND, and that if your teacher tells you to be somewhere at a certain time, the answer is “yes sir, I’ll be there”…not “oh i can’t, I have this other thing I have to do”. All successful tattoo artists know that the only way to get through a tattoo apprenticeship and into a career as a tattooer, is to be ready and willing to sacrifice EVERYTHING. We have paid our dues, and for nearly all of us that included a period of POVERY, working 80 hour apprentice weeks with little or no pay for a year or more, no time for serious romantic relationships which results in loss of partners, friends, and missing out on “good-times” and activities we might like to have partaken in. Theres no comfortable way to become a highly successful tattooer, and anyone who thinks it will be easy, is fooling themselves.

Still interested in an apprenticeship at hubtattoo?

hubtattoo is not currently interested in offering an apprenticeship.  But if I were, the following is my own personal blue-print for how I feel an apprenticeship should be structured.

TATTOO APPRENTICESHIP REQUIREMENTS

The candidate must meet several requirements in order to qualify for the apprenticeship.

  • Pre-existing artistic ability, on some level, which can be cultivated
  • Desire to learn, study, and immerse themselves in tattooing
  • Excellent personal hygiene
  • Ability to commit 30-40 hours per week to the education
  • Reliable transportation
  • Cell phone

 

TATTOO APPRENTICESHIP COST

The cost of the apprenticeship shall be twenty thousand dollars ( $20,000.00 ) and will be paid, in full, at the outset. There will be NO REFUNDS in the event the apprentice quits, gets fired, or for any other reason or circumstance that may arise that prohibits the apprentice from finishing.

TATTOO APPRENTICESHIP DURATION

The apprenticeship shall last for one year. If there are any circumstance that arise during the year such as travel, illness, injury, or any other event that prevent the apprentice from studying directly under Michael Norris, the amount of time that is missed shall be made-up. For instance, if Michael goes on vacation for one month during the apprenticeship, the actual duration of the apprenticeship shall be 13 months.

WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THE TATTOO APPRENTICESHIP

Michael will, over the course of the 12 months, teach the apprentice everything they need to know in order to carry out a successful career in tattooing. As well as other periphery knowledge that may supplement and enhance a tattooing career in other artistic and business endeavors. Following are some examples of the types of knowledge which will be passed on…

  • Sterilization and aseptic techniques necessary for disease transmission prevention
  • Knowledge required to identify, from a tattooers perspective, a “GOOD” tattoo
  • Basic book keeping, filing, secretarial, and office duties relative to tattoo studios
  • Advanced understanding of client relations guaranteed to increase business overall
  • Well-rounded understanding of tattoo industry, community, and local competition
  • Multimedia art lessons designed to educate beautiful / time-safe imagery for tattoos
  • Lessons that will produce custom tattoo flash, and knowledge of how to profit from it
  • Lessons that will produce fine art paintings and knowledge how to profit from them
  • Every detail involved in the correct tattoo process, from beginning to end
  • Opportunity to earn considerable money while tattooing as a student
  • All required technical information on how to physically apply a tattoo that will heal properly
  • Tattoo-specific techniques to insure tattoo designs are well suited to specific body parts
  • Thorough understanding of tattoo machines of all types and how to use / maintain them
  • Access to every supply company, and every product necessary for tattooing
  • All information relative to being able to work in tattoo studios anywhere
  • All information relative to opening, owning, and running a successful tattoo studio
  • One full sleeve tattoo from Michael Norris, beginning on the 6th month
  • Opportunity for employment after the apprenticeship is finished

WHATS EXPECTED

The apprenticeship will function in some ways like a vocational school, there are certain standards which must be maintained in order for the student to “pass”. In a tattoo apprenticeship there are also certain standards which must be maintained in order to finish. In the event the apprentice does NOT meet these standards, the tattoo apprenticeship will be terminated and no refund will be given. Obviously, some of these behaviors may need to be learned, and warnings, when appropriate will be given, and the apprentice will have the opportunity to change their behavior. Other circumstances may result in immediate termination, at the sole discretion of Michael Norris.

Accountability: When the apprentice is given an assignment, they will be expected to complete it by the deadline provided.

Punctuality: The apprentice will be expected to maintain the highest standards of punctuality. In the event that a schedule cannot be met, the apprentice will be expected to inform Michael Norris ( or any relative persons ) with as much advance notice as possible. Tardiness to work, late homework, and general disregard for deadlines will absolutely not be tolerated.

Honesty: The apprentice will be expected to maintain absolute honest and fairness in all dealings, both privately and within work settings. Theft will ALWAYS result in IMMEDIATE TERMINATION. General deception or lack of moral integrity will not be tolerated. Nobody is perfect, however, the apprentice will be expected to show basic solidity of character, and the ability to be forthright.

Personal hygiene: The apprentice will be expected to demonstrate good personal hygiene and basic good grooming habits while affiliated Michael Norris, and hubtattoo.

Affiliated costs: Some exercises and lessons will require added expenditure from the apprentice. For example, painting lessons will require the purchase of art supplies, such as sketch books, canvas, paint, brushes, paper, inks, etc. Other lessons and tasks may require driving, which will require a reliable, insured vehicle, and gas expenses. Furthermore, at some point during the tattoo apprenticeship the student will be required to purchase their own tattoo equipment and machines.

These expenses will NOT be paid by the initial tattoo apprenticeship cost of 20k, and will be the sole responsibility of the apprentice… I would advise any apprentice not being supported by other means, to acquire part time employment in order to support these expenses.

Dedication: The apprentice will be expected to show basic respect for, and serious dedication to their teacher, and tattooing in general. Failure to complete assignments on time, disregard for or complaints about lesson content will not be tolerated. By purchasing the tattoo apprenticeship, the apprentice acknowledges that Michael Norris is qualified to instruct them, and must for the duration of the apprenticeship submit to the wisdom and better judgement of Michael Norris in regards to all things tattoo related. All assignments and tasks are designed to enable the apprentice to transition into tattooing as a career with all required skills for success, though the relativity of some may not be immediately apparent.

STRUCTURE

The time-line of lessons is not set. Each lesson and the timing of the integration of each phase of education is determined based on the apprenticeʼs aptitude and ability. I will break the education into four phases, beginning with phase 1 and integrating another phase roughly every three months until all four become part of the curriculum.

PHASE ONE

  • Custodial duties, and basic customer relations.
  • Train for management of sterilization procedures
  • Take responsibility for inventory and supply acquisition
  • Secretarial training ( handling of the files, emails, phone calls, ordering of supplies )
  • Muscle memory exercises, and basic tattoo design concepts.
  • Tattoo aftercare theory and methods
  • Tattoo community research and development exercises
  • Painting and drawing exercises
  • Personal assistant responsibilities
  • Compiling data into reference material for future business management
  • Selected reading assignments
  • Photographing tattoos 101
  • Apprentice makes actual tattoos on “volunteers” for free ( Michael’s discretion)

 

PHASE TWO

  • Begin development of tattoo flash
  • Tattoo machines 101
  • Needles and their uses
  • Development of portfolio
  • Advanced explanation of tattooing process
  • Intermediate painting and drawing exercises
  • Development of the apprentice as a brand
  • Promotions tasks
  • Apprentice begins to make tattoos on “ volunteers” for nominal fee

 

PHASE THREE

  • Tattoo flash goes into production / distribution
  • Advanced painting and drawing exercises
  • Acquisition of apprentice’s own tattooing equipment
  • Michael will begin work on full sleeve tattoo on apprentice
  • Apprentice tattooing as often as possible on “volunteers”

 

PHASE FOUR

  • “Pilgrimages”… assignments that require travel
  • Art show
  • Apprentice tattooing as close to full time as they can on “volunteers”, at increased rate

WHAT COMES AFTER THE TATTOO APPRENTICESHIP

At the end of the twelve months of study, having met all requirements and completing the tattoo apprenticeship, the student graduates. From this point on they are no longer considered an apprentice, but a tattoo artist. Ideally, the apprentice will complete his or her tattoo apprenticeship having created a good relationship with the teacher, and all other shop employees. If this is the case the apprentice, having graduated will be invited to stay on as an artist at the shop. Typically the artist would remain at the studio where they had served their tattoo apprenticeship for at least one year, but are not required to do so. In the unlikely event that the apprentice does complete the apprenticeship, but does NOT manage to develop a good working relationship with the teacher and other shop employees, the offer to stay on as an artist will NOT be extended. In this scenario, the apprentice, upon graduation, will be required to clear out immediately after graduation, however, having completed the apprenticeship with Michael Norris, they will have all the necessary skills to find gainful employment elsewhere. The latter scenario is INCREDIBLY unlikely, because in MOST foreseeable circumstances, if the apprentice cannot develop a good working relationship with the teacher and all shop employees, they will not graduate.

As a tattoo artist, ones responsibilities change. A tattoo artist is responsible for cleaning and sterilizing only their own equipment, handling their own supplies, bookings, and filing. The artist is no longer solely responsible for the custodial duties of the studio, but must continue to see to their own custodial needs.

Many of the responsibilities of apprenticeship do, however, remain… such as maintaining the integrity, passion, drive, honesty and hygiene that qualified them in the first place. These qualities are integral to the success of ones career, and if they falter at ANY point, at ANY reputable shop, ones employment comes into jeopardy.

Given an appropriate level of dedication, enthusiasm, and effort, a newly minted tattoo artist in Austin can reasonably expect to make sufficient income to sustain themselves independently. Depending on the raw and developed talent of the artist, they may live quite well, certainly making more and working less than any other service industry job could offer… perhaps 30-60k in the first year. A tattoo artists income is intimately related to their attitude, their talent, and their level of effort in all areas of the job. It is reasonable to say that any artist who makes a reasonable score in these areas, will increase their income steadily as months and years go by, and as their career develops and their ambition grows, there is really no limit to the dollar amount one can make.

If you have further questions, or need other information feel free to contact me directly .

tattoo apprenticeship, michael norris, atx, hubtattoo, tattoo