So, you want to learn how to tattoo or pierce? If you're serious about it, you'll do it the right way. The wrong way is by buying a "shop in a box" kit and trying to teach yourself. The right way is through apprenticeship - learning from a skilled artist with hands-on experience.
Finding a tattoo apprenticeship, or should I say finding a good apprenticeship, is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. There may be many offers with pricey dues, or no offers at all. With so many "traps" and cons out there, the hunter many times becomes the hunted. Don't become the victim of your own prey. Gear up, my friends! The hunt is on...
Your Mission: Apprenticeship
To find an apprenticeship within your means that will provide the proper training to get you into the business of tattooing. This is not a "get rich quick" scheme. You are looking for an apprenticeship that will last long enough to provide you with the proper skills needed - not just in tattooing - but also in sterilization, proper cleaning, and business management. Among these skills you may also learn things such as needle making, prepping, making stencils and every other aspect of the business. A complete apprenticeship cannot be accomplished in just a few months time. A good mentor won't even let you begin tattooing until you have learned all these other things.
Your Prey: Tattoo Artists
There are many out there - some good, some not. You must find a strong, able tattoo artist with plenty of experience, usually at least 5 years, preferably more. You obviously need to find one that is willing to take a budding new artist under their wing and train them. You will want to find someone that you believe you can get along well with, as you will be working side by side with them for an extended period of time.
The Bait: Your Portfolio
To show a prospective mentor your artistic abilities, you will need to carry along a portfolio of your best work. This can be drawings or paintings, but can also be pictures of wall murals, sculptures, or anything else artistic you have done. If you have had any formal training, bring along any certification you have received. This is not absolutely necessary though - if you have enough raw talent, your mentor will help you to hone these skills over the time of your apprenticeship.
The Trap: Enthusiasm & Humility
A prospecitve mentor is going to be looking for someone with a lot of enthusiasm and a real love for the art. If you walk in with the attitude that they owe you something, you're sure to leave empty handed. Knowing at least a little bit about the business is also helpful, and it doesn't hurt if you have a few tattoos!
Your Weapon: Money
Although there are a few artists out there that still offer free apprenticeships, these are few and far between. The other end of the scale are the artists that are more interested in your money than providing you with an education. You will more than likely be looking for a happy medium between these two - a price you can deal with and make it worth the artists time for training you. If you happen upon an artist that offers apprenticeship at no cost you have found a real gem. But don't think this means a free ride! You will have to work very hard and be as dedicated to your training as they are.
Your Armor: Contract
Be sure to sign a contract before all is said and done. This will protect you in the event that your apprenticeship does not turn out as you expected. Sad as it may be, serious deals cannot be made with a handshake anymore. Do not sign anything unless you agree 100% with the terms in the contract.