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What does it take to be a tattoo artist?

Ever wonder what it takes to become a professional tattoo artist? Answer: years of practice and complete dedication to their craft — oftentimes without compensation. No two journeys are alike, and individual highlights may vary from artistic exploration to building emotional connections with clients. Below is a deeper look behind the artist in the chair beside you. 

An eye for aesthetics

No artist can go without their own unique appreciation for art. To be able to bring ideas to life in the sketchbook and ultimately on a permanent, living canvas takes strong observational skills and an eye for design. Although becoming a tattoo artist does not require a formal art background, learning the fundamentals can be incredibly useful. Whether it’s taking art classes at a local college or becoming an apprentice at a tattoo parlor, tattoo artists pick up tools over time that eventually allow them to discover their own artistic style. 

The initiation into the tattoo industry

We all go through rites of passage during our lifetimes, and for tattoo artists, that includes an apprenticeship with an established artist. These usually last one to two years, where much of the time is spent away from ink and needle, completing menial tasks and observing the craft. The journey to living skin is long, beginning with practice on fake skin or fruit in spare time. When the apprentice is ready, they will typically complete tattoos on clients for free for a period of time before becoming a certified tattoo artist. 

It takes courage and perseverance 

Mistakes happen, even for seasoned tattoo artists. From crooked lines to spelling errors, tattoo art cannot be covered up by an extra layer of paint or washed out like watercolor. Though mistakes are irreversible, good tattoo artists will keep their ego in check and put their self-critical tendencies aside in order to continue practicing and improving. That said, such flexibility must be accompanied by an immense attention to detail and focus. With intricate designs, sessions that last hours long, hygiene procedures, and precise ink recipes, an artist must carefully tend to all facets of the job.  

Art with an emotional connection  

At times, the tattoo chair becomes a chaise lounge — a therapist couch. Clients will often come in with painful memories and experiences they hope to work through by getting a tattoo. For each client, the process of getting a tattoo might be highly personal, and this becomes a shared journey with the tattoo artist. Like many professionals, tattoo artists must leave their own emotional baggage at the door and be fully present for their clients. 

What’s your favorite tattoo artist’s story?
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