10 Principles of success for aspiring tattoo artists.
- Respect goes a long way.
You are the culmination of all your good or bad decisions in life. This holds true within your circle of influence no matter where you are on your journey as an artist. Tattooing starts as a dream followed by one step in the right direction: finding a mentor. Seek out artists you admire and get tattooed by them. The key to adding value to yourself is adding value to others. It’s not about what opportunities you can get from someone, it’s about what you can do or give to support the bigger picture.
If you are just starting out, honor those who came before you and helped shape your industry. Be grateful. Remember, you are not reinventing the wheel. The biggest, baddest artwork has already been done ten times over so be humble.
2. Build your dream portfolio.
You don’t get opportunities. You give them. Draw things you want to tattoo and offer them up. Repeat process. Do giveaway promotions. Support the people who support you. Take a moment and talk your clients into work you think will be better. Don’t just glance at their references in despair and treat them like idiots. Grow with them and render their references to your style. If you want to do sleeves, study sleeves. If you want to do portraits, study portraits and promote the style. The only way to get better is to continually develop yourself. Build your network of peers.
3 Tattooing is not a competitive sport.
It is an intimate process and a high level career. Treat it as such. The only person you should be competing with is the one in the mirror. With that being said, you should build solid collaborative friendships with other artists and work as a team to produce something great. In high school, we can observe the cliché groups: the jocks, the goths, the nerds, etc… In tattooing, we can see a parallel social structure. The only difference is a tattoo career is a real world experience and you will suffer the consequences of acting like a high school student. Be nice. There are copious amounts of tattoo artists in the world. The ones who collaborate and exhibit interdependence are the ones who excel and are happy and confident in the workplace. Gossip will kill your relationships. Keep that in mind. It is also key to build relationships with people outside of the industry like photographers, web developers, and social media specialists. Building a team framework outside of the tattoo shop will make you excel within the tattoo shop.
4. Travel to conventions and seminars.
Travel opens your eyes to a world of talent and opportunity. Tattoo conventions give insight to new techniques and styles that will help expand your potential as an artist. If you are fearful of change and insecure about your artwork, you simply won’t grow into the person who you are fully capable of becoming.
The more you travel, the more doors will open for you. The conventions are a perfect way to take your artwork to the world’s stage.
Aside from being exposed to new experiences and networking opportunities, you will have the opportunity to invest into tattooing seminars taught by world class artists. These educational experiences are worth every penny and highly recommended for your development.
5. Fine art fundamentals are key for growth in tattooing.
In the digital age, it’s easy to just copy and paste tattoos from google and tattoo them on people. Please don’t. Study art fundamentals and integrate your skills with the technology. Use the technology to push your limits, not as a cop out. Create a plan to help you grow daily with your artwork. Watch YouTube videos, bust out the oil paints and sketch pad. The second you stop growing with your work is the second you’re irrelevant. Reading is also still a thing, so don’t be afraid to do a little research
6. The attitude of gratitude.
You get to draw on people for a living. A good living. Please be grateful. That is all.
7. Slow down. Start small.
Small mistake, small problem, small cover-up. Big mistake, big problem, laser tattoo removal. Focus on small tattoos in inconspicuous places when your first starting out. Make sure your level of fine art is three steps above where your tattooing is. Drawing and painting should come first before you work on that realism portrait. If you can’t Paint it, you absolutely should not attempt to tattoo it. When working on any tattoo, no matter how small it may seem, give your 100%. These are people’s lives we’re talking about. Have some sympathy. Don’t attempt it if you’re not willing to do your absolute best. If you’re in this for collecting a paycheck, get out and get out quick.
8. Save up to buy the best equipment from the start.
If you’re serious about becoming a professional tattoo artist, you should ask a mentor what equipment they use and model your toolkit after theirs. Any time you cut corners, you make two more. Spend the money and do some research.
9. Don’t bring your personal issues through the front door.
PSA: You are aspiring to be a public figure. This is a leadership position and a leader doesn’t moan about work. A leader definitely does not complain publicly about the customers they should be grateful for. The things you say will either help further your career, or eat at your foundation like a nest of termites. When you communicate with another person, you will either leave them a little bit better off or a little worse off. Your tattoo career is like a new born child: it is resilient, yet fragile and you must crawl before you walk. When you mix personal strife with your work life, it will detract potential clients, mentorships and opportunities while pumping the brakes on your personal success. Let your tattoo sessions be therapeutic for the client, not you. Go seek counseling if you’re feeling depressed or anxious, not your paying customer. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it.
10.It's not your artwork; it's the clients.
Believe it or not, tattooing is a service industry. With that being said, don’t let your ego get in the way of your customer service. Young artists see these rockstars and automatically assume that they are one. The truth is, a real rockstar doesn’t act like a self-serving high school student. You are an important person in your client’s life. Always remember that. Even if you don’t remember one single fact about your clients, they know a whole lot about you. You are an artist and you are a bleeding heart. You find purpose in telling your story. Make sure your story is one of empowerment and kindness. You can build a career off of kindness and customer service over talent any day of the week.