According to historical lore, the first professional tattoo artist in the U.S. was German immigrant Martin Hildebrandt, who stepped onto the Boston docks in 1846. Since then, tattoos have become a major part of American culture, with an estimated 21,000 tattoo parlors across the country.
Have you ever wondered how to become a tattoo artist in the 21st century? There’s no single path to becoming a professional tattoo artist, but there are a few common ways people get into the trade. If you’re serious about coming a tattoo artist in 2016, then here are three ways to get started.
1. Becoming a Tattoo Apprentice
As with piercing and a few other trades, the most common way for people to become a tattoo artist is through an apprenticeship. Unlike applying for a job at a restaurant or bank, tattoo shops aren’t likely to solicit open applications. Serious tattoo artists are a close-knit group, and often word of mouth, referrals, and personal relationships are required to get your foot in the door. Also, just because someone is a talented tattoo artist doesn’t necessarily mean they will be a talented mentor. If you want to pursue this route, find artists whose work and career you’d like to emulate, then ask if they have ever accepted an apprentice.
2. Apprentice Tattoo Kits
Many U.S. subcultures like the early punk communities, countless indie record labels, and the riot grrrl scene are committed to a DIY ethos, and many tattoo artists are the same. Many professionals in the industry are largely self-taught self-starters, who never asked for permission to start inking their friends. There are a number of websites where you can buy apprentice tattoo kits online, which include everything you need to start practicing on your own.
Of course, there’s only so much you can learn from tattoo apprentice kits. Never discount the real life experience you can gain from an actual mentor.
3. Tattoo Trade School
In the 21st century, we’ve seen the first tattoo art schools start to open, mostly concentrated in big cities like New York and Los Angeles. Still, for those who have had bad luck with apprenticeships, or who want to learn more than they can from DIY apprentice tattoo kits, tattoo training schools are a great way to learn everything you need about the art form, industry, and technical side of the business.
Finally, if you’re still struggling to get started on your path to a career in tattoo art , and if there’s now school for tattooing and piercing in your area, then simply talk to the tattoo artists you know and trust. Ask them how they got started, and what they would recommend.
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