The Life of an Apprentice

Updated: Oct 17, 2019

Accomplished work by resident artist & studio owner Glen Carloss

Tattoo Trivia 7% of people born in the 50s are likely to have a tattoo, but 42% of people born in the 80s and 90s have one. [1]

Tattoos are much more popular and prevalent than ever, in British culture particularly. Like any rising industry, the providers are experiencing higher demands and more competition. It might seem like a great, growing industry to become part of. And it is! However, with higher demand comes higher expectations, and the level of art is at an all time high. Therefore, if you want in on the game, you need to be at the top of yours.

The tattoo industry has a strange juxtaposition in that to sport a piece of body art may seem like a very modern, forward thinking thing to do. Yet the way the skill is taught has it’s own culture, and is rooted in the traditional passing down of knowledge. With the practice not being formalised, the best way to learn is from an experienced, practicing artist. This is why securing an apprenticeship with a good artist is key to your own progression.

Securing an apprenticeship is the best route in to the business. But before you find one, consider these points:

- While there is no formal, recognised tattooing qualification, more and more apprentices are coming through that have some formal training behind them. Be it a Foundation Diploma in Art & Design, or even a Fine Art Degree, there will be competition from people who have experience with studying and developing art, and creating good portfolios.

- If you are under 19 years old and from the UK, most Foundation Diploma’s in Art & Design are free. If you are studying for A Levels and think tattooing may be for you, it could be well worth your while to apply for and undertake a free year’s tuition. [2]

- Once you’re ready to make a portfolio, ensure you have a good quantity of quality drawings. Be selective, don’t put in ‘filler’ that you don’t think is your best work. This might mean working harder to ensure you have enough work to show you are consistent; but this will all be good practice.

- Research and find good, reputable studios.

- Look for an artist whose style you want to work in, this will give you the best, tailored teaching when it comes to actually putting ink to skin.

Sometimes, the ‘Don’t’s can be as important as the ‘Do’s:

- Do not buy equipment online and start teaching yourself how to tattoo. You’ll waste your time and money, and could cause lasting damage to yourself and others.

- Do not send generic emails to studios that are advertising apprenticeships, or that you would like to start in. You’ll show your seriousness and commitment by going in and speaking to someone. Always have your work with you.

- Don’t give up! It can be a difficult industry to get started in, and even harder to grow in. But if you put in your all, you’ll give yourself the best chance of succeeding.

Being aware of, and adhering to, the standards of hygiene needed to be a reputable tattoo artist are as important as your skill. Think of practising good hygiene as an extension of your wider artistic practice. The attention to detail you posses when drawing needs to translate in your attention to keeping environment, equipment and the skin clean. There is free information available from the government[3] regarding standards of practice, and although you should learn this from any reputable teacher, it is good to familiarise yourself with it prior to and throughout your training as an apprentice. This way, it will be second nature by the time you are accountable for adhering to these yourself. Not only will you then be a responsible artist, this will assist your business by building your reputation as a safe and clean worker.

Case study

Teacher - Glen Carloss (Instagram @glencarloss)

Apprentice - Beckie Benson (Instagram @beckiesbecks)

Recent work from Glen

Our apprentice Beckie, started at the studio early July 2018. For her, the process began with searching for apprenticeships online. She found studio owner Glen’s Instagram post, announcing he was looking for an apprentice.

Beckie sent in her statement. She had previously found that as she was young, other apprenticeship opportunities had not been given to her as her youth was viewed as akin to inexperienced. It’s important to acknowledge potential weaknesses, and demonstrate how you can develop from there, or how there may be a flipside to it; a positive. Beckie explained how, as a young prospective artist, she is impressionable. She will therefore be extremely open to absorbing any and all knowledge that comes her way.

Your statement should also reveal your commitment, and a little bit about yourself. But really the standard of art has to be of such calibre that it is able to stand alone and speak for itself at this point in the process.

Part of Beckie's Portfolio Submission

From Glen’s perspective, he saw potential in Beckie’s artwork, and she came across well in her statement. Glen received between 50-60 serious applications for the role, and interviewed 3. You should bring your well-presented portfolio to the interview for the artist to have a closer look through. In Glen’s case, he used the interview to go through the conventions and workings of the industry. For him, it was important that the reaction to hearing how much hard work was to be put in was one of positivity, determination and zeal.

Glen was looking for someone who not only had the level of artistic skill, but the mind-set and capability to work in such a unique and difficult industry.

Beckie is very new on her journey towards becoming a successful tattoo artist, she will learn the actual skill of tattooing, and building on drawing and designing techniques. But perhaps the most crucial skills Glen intends to teach her, based off of his own experience as an apprentice, are time management, patience, focus and preparation. Being a successful tattoo artist involves dedication, hard work, long hours and good management of your time, people’s expectations and your finances.

While there is no tattoo curriculum, and apprenticeships can last anywhere between 6 months to 2 years, the very basic syllabus can be demonstrated below.

- Practice drawing, given tasks in colour, script, familiarising yourself with technology and software that will assist with designing (Photoshop etc)

- Begin tattooing silicone skin. This is very different to normal skin as it doesn’t heal. Nothing can fully prepare you to experience the level of damage (and how to minimise it!) that actually putting needle to skin will give you. It does however provide you with a good feel for the equipment, as well as acting as rehearsal for the hand movements needed for the real deal.

- Begin tattooing close friends and family for free. These tattoos will probably be palm-sized and can be in colour or black and grey.

- You will then begin tattooing paying customers, at a reduced rate.

Tattoo Trivia Glen’s first piece in the studio he trained in was some stars on someone’s shoulder.

Beckie's first colour study @ the Studio

There are no set achievements to unlock, or designated time line to reach subsequent levels of your training. Your teacher will have a feel for when you are ready to progress to tattooing people, start having paid customers etc.

Once you complete your apprenticeship, you may stay on at your studio, or move around. But the hard work never stops. You will find the job difficult, the commitment intense but the end product rewarding. By the end of your apprenticeship, your skills will have improved massively and you should have found the confidence and developed the correct mentality to deal with the stress and business of being a working tattoo artist. You will find that you will need to develop a thick skin to draw on someone else’s! The journey and development will be worth it. Just keep working; and keep working hard.




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